10 Defenses Against the Clinch

Strategies for Ring and Street Encounters

The clinch is a strong position that allows a fighter to control their opponent while delivering devastating knees and controlling the body for a takedown by sweeping, or single leg takedown. Escaping the clinch requires a combination of technique, timing, and strategic thinking. I prefer to counter rather than just escape, while using the clinch against the opponent.

1. Maintain Square Posture: In JKD, just as boxing, and MMA, we stand in a “lead.” However, when in a clinch, either a right or left lead can result in a single leg TD or a sweep. I use a lead in the clinch as a transition for an attack or evasion, but I don’t stay there for long. The first line of defense against the clinch is to maintain a strong and upright posture. Keep your back straight, shoulders and hips squared, and chin tucked. This makes it more difficult for your opponent to establish a tight grip and control over you.

2. Hand Fighting: Use your hands to disrupt your opponent's grips and control over your neck and arms. Push their arms downward or outward or create space by framing against their shoulders. Trap one hand and go across the face with the other and do a pull and push motion. This will peel the opponent off by using their head, without letting them break away and make distance. Distance often means safety. You can also quickly move your hands to fight to the inside or top to break their grip and break a dominant position. The key here is get square, and quickly set yourself up so that your opponents grip becomes their downfall.

3. Hip Movement: Use hip movement to create angles and disrupt your opponent's balance. Pivot your hips to the side while simultaneously stepping away, making it challenging for your opponent to maintain the clinch. By turning your hips, you can create openings to escape or counter-attack. I like to use the collar tie on one side of the back of the head. Say using my right hand collar tie, then a left hand to put pressure on their right elbow, as I step to their right. This breaks their grip and will allow you to scoot your hips to a 45 to their right. There’s your angle.

4. Footwork: Footwork is crucial in JKD, and right here it is critical for escaping the clinch. Step laterally or circle away from your opponent to create distance and break their grip. Controlling their elbows, as I mentioned above, is a good way to keep them from adjusting to your angle. Avoid standing still or moving directly backward, as this plays into your opponent's advantage. This lines you up for attacks and gives them leverage.

5. Counter Attacks: While in the clinch, create and/or look for opportunities to counter-attack. Use their leverage against them, use an ABD to create a response which you can exploit. Use short, close range punches, elbows, or knee strikes to cause damage and create openings and force your opponent to release their grip. Hit them again on the way out. Effective counter-attacks can deter your opponent from initiating the clinch again. If you nail them once, they’ll respect you and not do it again. Now you can use your own threat of a clinch in a Progressive Indirect Attack, or an ABD.

6. Level Changes: Use level changes to disrupt your opponent's balance and break free from the clinch. Lower your level by bending your knees and dropping your weight, making it difficult for your opponent to maintain their grip and control over you.

7. Head Movement: Keep your head moving and avoid staying stationary within the clinch. By bobbing and weaving, you make it harder for your opponent to secure a tight grip on your neck. Additionally, use head movement to create openings for escapes or counter-attacks.

8. Explosive Breaks: Explosive is a key word in JKD. When your opponent least expects it, explode out of the clinch with a burst of energy. This sudden movement can catch your opponent off guard and allow you to break free. Ensure that your explosive break is accompanied by proper technique to prevent your opponent from re-establishing the clinch. Better yet, use the straight blast to catch your opponent on the way out.

9. Clinch Defense Drills: Practice specific drills designed to improve your clinch defense. Work with a partner to simulate various clinch situations and focus on implementing the techniques mentioned above. Repetition and drilling are essential for developing the reflexes and muscle memory needed to escape the clinch effectively.

10. Mental Toughness: Lastly, maintain a resilient mindset when facing the clinch. Stay calm, focused, and determined to escape. Remember that escaping the clinch requires patience, timing, and perseverance.

Remember, in a stand up sport fight, clinches can and tend to carry on longer than a JKD artist would train for. And in an MMA or street fight, the risks go way up the longer you struggle in a clinch. Don’t play that game of clinch to clinch dominance. Be explosive, and execute your attack, whether a counter, or using their attack and evergy against them. Check out my youtube channels for more examples of dealing with a clinch.