progressive martial arts academy

An Overview and Implementation of the Muay Thai Clinch

*On September 13-15, 2018, 5 PMA students tested for and earned their Black Belts in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo. Follow along over the next few weeks, as we share some blog posts that were written by PMA’s newest Black Belts during their preparation for Black Belt. Today’s post is from Matt Thomas. Matt is 35 years old and has been training at PMA for 11 years. Alongside Bill Molony, Matt became one of the first PMA students to earn Black Belts in both Kenpo and Jiu Jitsu!

Many fighting arts contain various strikes to an opponent’s face and head.  A problem arises with this however–human beings have an aversion to being struck in the face.  An opponent will usually protect his head and face to the fullest extent of his ability because he understands the devastation of a well placed and timed shot to the head.  One of the answers to this problem has come from Thailand.

Matt began his training at PMA fresh out of college! He started with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, before adding training in PMA’s Phase Program (JKD, Kali, Kickboxing & more), and lastly added FILKENJUTSU Kenpo to his training a few years ago.

Matt began his training at PMA fresh out of college! He started with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, before adding training in PMA’s Phase Program (JKD, Kali, Kickboxing & more), and lastly added FILKENJUTSU Kenpo to his training a few years ago.

“Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is the national sport and cultural martial art of Thailand.  It was developed several hundred years ago as a form of close combat that utilizes the entire body as a weapon” (  Muay Thai has its origins in the city of Sukhothai.  An army was raised here to defend the government and inhabitants against invasion from surrounding tribes.  This army was taught to use weapons as well as using their entire body as a tool to defeat enemies.  Muay Thai or “The Art of Eight Limbs” formulated the primary martial combat system in Siam (now Thailand) and was widely taught to commoners and high society individuals as well ( 

Matt alongside two of his training partners and Black Belt Test partners, Monty and Iain!

Matt alongside two of his training partners and Black Belt Test partners, Monty and Iain!

Modern Muay Thai has transformed over the last 100 years while being spread throughout Europe and America through the teachings of Thai soldiers.  This formidable combat system will continue to be regarded as a staple for the progressive fighter, and, as we will see, the Muay Thai clinch can be useful in a variety of situations which call for overwhelming an opponent with high-power, close range strikes.

Matt as a BJJ white belt, back in 2008!

Matt as a BJJ white belt, back in 2008!

Combat Muay Thai can easily be recognized by violent punches, elbows, kicks, and knees.  However, like the closed guard in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, what decisively separates Muay Thai from the other striking arts is its unique clinch position (  A traditional Muay Thai fighter’s most distinguishable advantage when put in the ring with another opponent of differing style will be his ability to close to the clinch position, and be extremely adept at the inner workings of the technique. 

In 2013, Matt became a certified instructor at Progressive Martial Arts Academy!

In 2013, Matt became a certified instructor at Progressive Martial Arts Academy!

First, the entry into the position must be achieved.  Most times this will involve closing distance with an effective guard while taking minimal damage.  Using strikes to close distance can be useful as well.  By forcing the opponent to defend strikes his attention will be minimal in regards to the impending doom of the clinch.  Once the inside control around the head is obtained, one misconception is brute force is all that is necessary to control the individual.  Balance must be maintained while employing a “snap” of the opponent’s head when delivering strikes.  Once balance is achieved, which will most likely involve off balancing the opponent, precise knees, elbows, and headbutts can be delivered.  Unlike other combat styles, in the Muay Thai clinch, a fighter can place the opponent’s head in the optimal position for the strike.  In addition, the head can be “snapped” into the strike, thus creating more combined power.  The pattern of off balancing and striking continues until the opponent defends and pummels to inside control and reverses the position, gains distance, or is incapacitated.  If for some reason the clinch must be abandoned, a take down can be attempted or a quick forearm shove to create distance for traditional striking can be used.

Sempai Matt and his daughter, Wylie, alongside his instructor, David Corrigan, and his son, Auggie. Wylie and Auggie shared the same due date!

Sempai Matt and his daughter, Wylie, alongside his instructor, David Corrigan, and his son, Auggie. Wylie and Auggie shared the same due date!

Being an effective Muay Thai clinch fighter entails “relaxed, efficient application of strength, not just brute force” (  One must use large, primary muscle groups to maintain the position.  An active core is paramount to maintaining balance, keeping tight elbows, and delivering forceful strikes.  Thai fighters will set aside 30 minutes after training to develop the ability to battle in the clinch for long periods (  For the application in self defense scenarios, the Muay Thai clinch gives the martial artist the ability to deliver slicing elbows, crushing knees, and sneaky headbutts all the while controlling his opponent’s balance and distance.  This technique from Muay Thai will continue to be taught, learned, and evaluated by professional fighters and serious martial artists as a primary in-fighting and fight ending tool.      

Matt, with his wife, Crystal, and their daughter, Wylie, at last year’s PMA Halloween party.

Matt, with his wife, Crystal, and their daughter, Wylie, at last year’s PMA Halloween party.

What Style Do You Teach?

This is probably the second most popular question from prospective students walking into a dojo, second only to "How much do you charge?". At Progressive Martial Arts Academy, the easy answer to "What style do you teach?" is simple - Kenpo. At the heart of our method of teaching (FILKENJUTSU) is Kenpo. The thing is with Kenpo though, when you trace our lineage back to where our family of Kenpo (KAJUKENBO) got started, you find that even then they recognized one "style" didn't cut it. Hence the name KAJUKENBO, which is an acronym for many styles integrated into their method of teaching - KArate, JUdo and JUjitsu, KENpo, and Chinese BOxing.

While KAJUKENBO got started before Bruce Lee's heyday, Bruce Lee was a major contributor, if not the main contributor, to this idea of not being confined by your "style." Around his personal emblem or logo that he used for his method of teaching (Jeet Kune Do) were the words "using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation." He was one of the first to forget about trying to decide which "style" was better and just train to be the best martial artist you can be. This was the founding belief my father had behind both our method of teaching, FILKENJUTSU, and the name of our academy, Progressive Martial Arts.

So the next time you are talking to a friend, coworker, or family member and they ask what style of martial arts that you train in, you have to make a choice: "Should I give them the easy answer or the real answer?" Either one is okay! Decide which one they want to hear, and go with that. If you have the time to explain the above and tell them about all of the "styles" involved in our method of teaching, that's great. If not, just go with the easy answer and tell them Kenpo, Karate, Jiu Jitsu or something along those lines.

And if they have 30 minutes to spare, you can send them to the PMAOakRidge YouTube channel to watch my family's presentation on our method of teaching. Here it is if you haven't seen it yet:

Gracie Hall: Why I Train Martial Arts

I train martial arts for many reasons: self-defense, fitness, strength, and countless other benefits training provides. The main reason I continued training, though, is that it gives me something to live and work hard for. Besides my loving family and good health and fortune, much of my life has been unstable. My military family moved around a lot, and I never really knew where I fit in or what I was a part of. Sometimes, I’ve even thought I wasn’t good at anything. I have felt like a disappointment in the shadow of my incredible older brother, I’ve felt worthless when being used by boys who made me uncomfortable, I’ve had a terrible self-image, I've struggled with my faith, and I've felt lost.

I used to find stability in terrible, unhealthy ways, and I became someone I wasn’t proud of. In fact, martial arts came to me when I was at my lowest point, and everything changed. Training renewed my entire perspective, not only letting me become someone I love, but also showing me that this person had been there all along. It gave me a much better self-image, confidence, pride, and something I know I am good at, and will only improve in time. Most importantly, it gave me something to have faith in, and something to let me know it’s okay to have faith in myself.

Martial arts training is my stability, because even if I won’t always be able to physically train, the morals, principles, and confidence they teach are ways of living that I can believe in. Martial arts are a way of life, PMA is a family, and I am someone so lucky to be a part of it, it really saved my life.

Why I Train Martial Arts

I don't remember ever making conscious choices to train martial arts when I was growing up. It was just something that my family did. I cannot remember a time that I was not training martial arts, or that my older brother Nick wasn't training, or that either of my parents weren't training. I come from a family of martial artists. When it is something you have always known, it is part of who you are, and to not train makes you feel like something is missing. And it is! It wasn't until high school that I started to really ask myself why I was training. Questions about my future led me more and more to meditate on my motive to keep training.

What are you going to do when you graduate high school? What are you going to major in? What are you going to do when you graduate college? What do you want to do? Who do you want to be?

Thousands and thousands of kids just graduated high school last month and are being asked the above questions over and over again. The worst part is that most of them don't know and this will stress them out. I didn't know either.

But one of the first times I remember realizing how important training and teaching martial arts were to me was when I was a sophomore in high school. My brother and I were both on the wrestling team and there were many nights that I had to miss training at the dojo for wrestling practice or meets. This really used to bother me. I hated the feeling of not being around the academy when things were going on. So at the beginning of my Junior year of high school, I did one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I told my wrestling coach that I wasn't going to wrestle for the high school anymore so that I could dedicate my time to the academy.

Over the next couple of years of high school (and throughout college), I came to the realization that I really enjoyed teaching martial arts. I realized that I was making an impact on people's lives. All sorts of people! From the 4 year old Lil' Dragons up to the grown men and women with successful careers. I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I've never looked back.

Goals: When to Use Them and When to Lose Them

We all set goals. We set S.M.A.R.T. goals (more on that acronym later). We set STUPID goals (that one isn’t an acronym, just emphasized). Some goals we achieve, and some we don’t. The problem is, between the goals that we never achieve and the ones we achieve at first but lose afterwards, we end up with a net growth of close to zero! Let’s take a look at how to set the right goals, know when to use them, and know when to lose them.


Learning how to set SMART goals was really helpful for me. For those that haven’t heard of this before, SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. This is a method of setting goals that is taught in many different branches of study because goal setting is useful in almost any activity, career, or lifestyle.

A specific goal means taking the time to think about the details, rather than setting a general goal. For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to get back in shape,” you could say, “I’m going to join Progressive Martial Arts Academy and train 2-3 times per week.” :-) We want to lay out a plan for our goals to help achieve them.

A measurable goal is just what it sounds like. Make your goals things you can measure. This enables you to actually track your progress, which will keep you motivated. For example, numbers on a scale, waist size, money in savings, and time spent with loved ones can all be measured to give yourself some numbers to check.

Setting an attainable goal means setting goals that are possible to achieve. For me, it means setting smaller goals along the way that help me see that I am growing closer to my ultimate goal. This will increase your confidence and determination to reach that final goal. The obvious martial arts connection here is the colored belts we use to measure progress. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to get from white belt to black belt if there weren’t any belts in between (it used to be that way)! The other colors are extremely useful for tracking our progress, seeing our progress, and feeling like we’ve made progress at each level. All of these smaller progress indicators will help you reach your BIG goal.

Realistic goals come back to being attainable. This doesn’t mean you should only set small goals. In fact, the big goals are sometimes the easier goals to achieve because you want them so badly! Have you ever completed a big task and felt so good afterwards that you said, “That was a lot easier than I thought!” Chances are the task wasn’t easy, you were just highly motivated to do it.

Timely means to put some timeframes on your goals. Sooner than someday, though! Don’t use the “someday” word, although this one has to tie into the rest of the points. For example, saying you want to achieve your Black Belt in 2 years could be very unrealistic. This is both something that is ultimately not your decision, and highly unlikely depending on the martial art that you are training in. On that note, I don’t recommend using belts as your goals to try to achieve a belt by a certain time. For weight loss, timely also means in a “reasonable” time. It’s best to shoot for between a 1/2 pound to 2 pounds per week. Any more than this is not encouraged.

When to Use Them and When to Lose Them

Goals are great to use in the beginning of a journey. The first few weeks of working towards a goal are usually the most difficult to get through. During this period you are breaking bad habits or building new ones (usually both) and this can be both very challenging and very frustrating. This time is where many people lose motivation. During this period, if you have set some SMART goals, they might just be the motivation you need to keep going.

Have you ever reached a goal only to lose the progress you made shortly afterwards? Of the thousands of people that have tried the famous BeachBody workouts (such as P90X or Insanity), most people don’t make it through (because they are challenging!). But of the few people that do, all of them that I have met have fallen back to where they were before the program within a year of completing it! The problem is that most short term programs usually aren’t maintainable. If you can’t maintain what you did to reach your goal after the program finishes, you will likely fall back to where you started.

Try this for analyzing a program before you start:

What if we lay out not only intermediate goals and plans for the timeframe we think it will take to reach our ultimate goal, but also a maintenance plan for after we do? With fitness I think this is a lot easier than we make it. Find some exercise that you enjoy doing, and then follow a healthy but maintainable and enjoyable diet and you are all set (just kidding, I know it’s not always that easy). If we have to do a workout plan to achieve our goal that we won’t be able to maintain afterwards, let’s NOT do it! Wouldn’t it be better to lose that 20 pounds over the course of a year if it meant it stayed off for the rest of our lives?

The same applies to martial arts. If you set your sights on Black Belt as your goal, and follow a training plan to get there that you aren’t going to maintain once you achieve it, will it really be worth it? If your goal was just to scratch it off a bucket list, then that answer may be yes. But if your reasons for achieving your Black Belt include growing as a person, learning to defend yourself, being more confident, and getting in the best shape of your life, then you won’t be happy to learn that those benefits will all disappear within the first year of quitting your training.

The Answer

What if we learn to set SMART goals for the items I just listed (growing, defending yourself, confidence, fitness, etc.) at the beginning of our journey? Then, as we grow closer to reaching the goal that we originally set out to achieve, we wean ourselves off of using goals and learn to just enjoy what we’ve achieved. We become motivated to maintain what we have because of the value it adds to our lives. If you learn to set smart goals, enjoy the journey, enjoy the training, and then enjoy the benefits of reaching your goal, you will continue to reap the rewards for the rest of your life. Remember the name of this blog - The Martial Arts Way of Life.

In a sense we could call these lifestyle goals. We set small goals towards making something part of our lifestyle - healthy eating, fun exercise, spending time with loved ones, relieving stress, getting (and staying) out of debt, and the list goes on! Then once we have made them a part of our lifestyle, the goals disappear. You are now motivated by the joy that you get from living a positive, healthy life with the people you love. This phenomenon is what occurs on the mat. It may take you many years to make it to Black Belt, but once you get there you realize that it was only the beginning of the journey, because now the rest of your life is in front of you. You used the goals in the beginning (white to brown) but then ditched them and just enjoyed the lifestyle once you got there (black).

On a final note, we should never stop growing. So once you have achieved a goal and integrated it into your life, remember to move on to another area that needs growth (or reduction!).

"In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it." - Robert A Heinlein


If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. - Bruce Lee

I think you could argue that plateaus are one of the toughest opponents when training martial arts, losing weight, or strength training. I have seen many students get stuck on a plateau and give up. You are training consistently, doing everything that you should be doing, but you feel like you just hit a wall. No matter how hard you try, you feel like you aren't improving.

This can happen off the mat as well. People hit plateaus in their jobs, in their diets, and even in their relationships. Have you ever felt stuck in the same place at your job? Do you feel like you aren't moving forward anymore? What about with your diet or weight loss? Is there a number on the scale that you just can't seem to pass? And in your relationships? Do you ever feel like you and the other person just aren't growing together anymore? Maybe you are just bored?

The key to getting past any plateau is remembering that it is only a plateau. It is not a wall. You will get past it. Let's say you've been stuck in a rut with your training, and one night you just feel like staying home. I promise you this will not get you past the plateau! It's funny how the brain works. When things get difficult, we want to give up. Never give up on a plateau! Sit for a second and consider all of the benefits that you will get by persevering, and then make the choice to get up and go. (If you haven't read the post on choices - go here)

If you hit a plateau in your career, the first step to getting through it is to recognize it. The solution may be a career change for some, but for others it is not. You may need to reassess your goals, objectives, and what you want out of your job. I've talked to many people that say once they changed their outlook on their job, the feeling of being on a plateau disappeared. The hard truth is that in some jobs the plateau may be moving up the ladder, and that may take a good 20 years or so! But for many people that is ok. You have to sit down and ask what you want out of your job. If the answer is family stability, a stable paycheck and health insurance than the plateau may not matter.

The divorce rate in the United States is over 50%, and I think that plateaus are a huge factor here. My father told me growing up that when looking at a relationship, you have to remember that some things will occur no matter what person you are with. Never leave the person you are with over something that will happen in your next relationship too. I don't like to compare people to objects, but the analogy of a new car is perfect here. Your new car isn't so new and exciting a year after you buy it, and 5 years down the road it could be very boring. The car may still be fully functional and look exactly the same as it did when you bought it new, but it isn't new so it is boring. This in essence is a plateau. If your solution is to go out and buy a new one now, just remember you are going to inevitably hit this same plateau with the next one!

So what do you do about it? In your relationships, I think the key is to always keep the initial spark alive. Treat every date like the first one. Be kind, listen, appreciate one another, and respect one another. In speaking to couples that have been together for 20, 30, 40, or 50 years, these are the keys.

With your training, you just have to push through. Talk to your instructors. They will most likely have a different perspective on your plateau, and in many cases, have the directions you need to get through them.

Let’s Start with Choices

You are in control of your body and make the choices that will ultimately form your habits. To create an excellent habit, we must choose excellence. What are the areas of your life that you are always looking to make changes in?

Eating better? Exercising more? Sleeping more?

No matter what area of your life you are striving for excellence in, let’s start with our choices. The little choices day in and day out that we make will ultimately form a habit. So let’s make the first good habit that we form consciously thinking about the small choices we make each day.

The next time someone hurts you emotionally and you want to make an entire box of oreos disappear, make the choice to make them disappear into your trash can instead of your stomach (they shouldn’t be in your cabinet in the first place!). When it’s time to get up off the couch to exercise, and your mind start’s convincing your body to stay put, make the choice to get up and exercise. Building a strong habit will ultimately come down to making choices.

As a martial artist, I promise you will have days that you think you’d rather stay home. For whatever reason, there is something else pulling you away from the mat that night. These are the most important nights to get to the dojo and train. Make the choice right there to not even consider the idea of skipping class anymore, and get up and go! You know that you won’t regret your decision once you get on the mat. You just have to make the choice to get yourself there. Your instructor will do the rest!

Let’s stop wasting time and start making choices for excellence.

It's What You Do That Defines You

I’d like to discuss how Batman relates to my journey in martial arts.

In one of my favorite movies, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” there is a part in which the maniacal Joker has rigged two boats to blow up, one filled with innocent passengers and the other with criminals. He gives each boat a trigger that will blow the other up, but both will explode if no one takes action. Of course, this situation sparks a huge debate amongst the two boats about who should get to live. In an extremely powerful scene, a huge, scarred, and angry-looking criminal approaches the ship captain with the trigger. He says, “Give me that trigger, and I’ll do what you should have done ten minutes ago.” The captain shakily hands him the trigger, and the criminal throws it out of a window.

Now you’re probably thinking, “What did that possibly have to do with martial arts? There was no fighting!” Naturally, I have learned techniques, forms, attacks, defenses, and other fighting skills in the time I’ve been at PMA, but martial arts has taught me a much more important lesson: To ignore labels.

In the movie scene, everyone expected the criminal to blow the other ship up simply because he was wearing the orange jumpsuit. Instead, he chose the higher moral path. He was not his label. This concept is something I’ve had a hard time grasping throughout my pubescent time in public school as I tried to be someone I thought would make me cooler. Instead, it sent me down a bad path and caused me to lose sight of what kind of person I wanted to be.

When I started lessons at PMA, my self-esteem was rock-bottom. I never imagined I would be where I am now. As I grew as a martial artist, my vision began to clear, and I saw the parts of myself that weren’t so great as well as the ones that made me “me.” Martial arts pulled me off of a bad path and set me firmly on one full of light and success.

Now, I’m independent, confident, and I strive to be the best person I can be. As difficult as it is to ignore the judgments and opinions of others, what really matters is what you think of yourself and being the kind of person you want to be.

You are not your label.  You are not a dork, nerd, loser, four-eyes, fatty, dummy, jerk, wacko, ugly, or anything else you may have been called. Everyone is made up of too much, good and bad, to be labeled. Labels don’t define you; it’s what you do that defines you. So, just like Batman, do what makes you the best you can be!

I am a woman. I am empowered.

I am many things.  Rash.  Romantic.  Sarcastic.  Compassionate.  Impatient.  Funny.  Short tempered.  And I’m a woman.  But my gender doesn’t define me; it isn’t all that I am.  So when a gentleman holds the door for me, I appreciate it.  When he offers to carry my groceries, I say thank you.  When he compliments me, I smile.

Because I know I can walk through a door without help, I know I am strong enough to carry my own groceries, and I know that if he becomes too forward, I can destroy him.  A gentleman may treat me a certain way because I am a woman, but I choose to react the way I do because I am more than that.  I am an empowered woman.

Some people might look at me, see a woman, and think weak.  But when I look in the mirror, I see a woman and think capable.  Because I can style my curls like a professional and I can work a dress like a runway model, but I can also grapple like a division one wrestler, throw an opponent like an Olympian throws a javelin, and choke out a man twice my size like…well, like a capable 24 year old woman who is also rash, romantic, sarcastic, compassionate, inpatient, funny, and short tempered. I am sarcastic because I appreciate dry humor and wit.  I am compassionate because I have feeling and heart.  I am emboldened because I train in self-defense.

I am a woman.  I am empowered.  And I am not afraid.  What about you, ladies?

Home Dojo

One of the things we emphasize at Progressive Martial Arts Academy is truly making the martial arts a lifestyle, or a way of life. Something that can really help you on that path is having a dedicated space in your own home to practice martial arts. Some of the greatest martial artists of all time trained and began teaching from their “home dojo.”

One of the first memories I have of training martial arts was in our garage in Chesapeake, VA. Check out this old picture of a group of students that just finished training. You can see SiJo Bruce Corrigan, Sigung Meg Corrigan and Sigung Shawn Riquelme in there!

Chesapeake Garage Dojo

When creating this area, you want to be very efficient as to not waste space, and make sure that your dojo doesn’t encroach upon other parts of your house that people may enjoy. One of the most difficult aspects of building your home training area is getting the equipment you need to train by yourself. Try building your own equipment, as this can be a very rewarding project that will feel fulfilling every time you practice.

Rorion Gracie's Garage

My father's first teacher in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, was Rorion Gracie. Rorion began teaching from his garage when he brought his family's martial art to the United States. Rorion would offer one free private lesson to anyone who brought in a new student to try a class. He knew that if someone could experience the effectiveness of his art, they would be hooked! I think the intimate training environment of being in his own garage helped with this because everyone got 1-on-1 attention.

As a teenager, I often made trips out to California with my father to train with Paul Vunak. We would stay in SiFu Vunak's home and often training was done in his garage as well! And most recently, we traveled to train with Master Virgil Cavada in the Filipino Martial Arts and spent a week training in his garage and backyard.

So as you can see, even some of the greatest martial arts instructors of all time have Home Dojos!