The headbutt is an incredibly vicious and effective way to KO someone in a self defense situation even though it’s illegal in most martial arts.
But if you use it incorrectly you can hurt yourself as badly as your opponent. So it’s worth thinking about how to do it properly!
How NOT to Headbutt!
The wrong way to land a headbutt is forehead to forehead.
This video of mine from the Self Defense Tutorials Youtube channel explains why…
Unfortunately the wrong way of throwing a headbutt – forehead to forehead – is perpetuated by countless movies and TV shows.
If you go forehead to forehead then it really comes down to a skull thickness contest.
If you have more Neanderthal DNA in your body than your opponent then you win. But if he has a thicker skull and a smaller brain then he wins.
That’s NOT the kind of contest you want to participate in.
So instead let’s look at…
How to Land a Headbutt Correctly
OK, we’ve established that you don’t want to use your own forehead to deliver the headbutt.
So what should you do instead…
The optimal way to land a headbutt is with the TOP of your head against a VULNERABLE part of his.
The crown of your skull is relatively strong, doesn’t have too many nerves, and doesn’t bleed as much as the forehead. Which is why you want to let your opponent hit you there if you’re forced to take a punch, rather than flush in your face.
Also pressure against the top of the head means that it’s in good anatomical alignment with the rest of your spine (discussed further in this article here) so that your brain won’t shake around as much.
The most typical place to land a headbutt is on the underside of his head – his jaw, chin, and bottom of his nose – are relatively weak structures (although no, you can’t kill someone by driving their nasal cartilage into their brain)!
In fact, the underside of his head is one of the biggest knockout points on the human body.
So the ideal situation is when a strong part of your skull meets a relatively weak part of his.
I’ve done a fair amount of studying and experimenting on the topic of headbutts during my decades of martial arts training.
But fortunately you DON’T have to take my word on this. After all, I could be wrong.
However there’s a brutal Burmese martial art called “Lethwei” which uses them all the time for real.
You see, Lethwei happens in a ring and is sort of similar to Muay Thai.
The main differences are that they DON’T use gloves and they DO allow headbutts.
Which is why it’s called ‘The Art of the 9 Limbs’ – 2 fists, 2 elbows, 2 feet, 2 knees and one head.
It’s pretty brutal stuff and I’m sure all that headbutting isn’t good for either fighter in the long run, but does mean that there’s TONS of pressure-tested corporate knowledge about headbutts in this art.
Here’s a clip of a Lethwei headbutt in action. Any guesses what part of the aggressor’s head lands on his opponent’s face?
Yup, you guessed it. Check it out, it’s really short…
Other Applications for the Head
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the only thing you can do with your head in a fight is pound it into your opponent’s face over and over…
The video below covers some of the non-headbutting uses of the head in standing combat, including…
- Elevating your opponent’s head to set up your own hand strikes (covered at about 2:15 in the video below)
- Dominating the clinch and stopping takedowns (about 3:04 onwards)
- Taking your opponent down to the ground (5:00 onwards)
The head is also incredibly important on the ground too…
In old school MMA people using the guard really had to monitor the head to prevent the headbutt from coming right down the middle.
And in modern BJJ the head gets used as an extra appendage all the time to open the guard, push and pull your opponent’s limbs, apply pressure, etc.
Here’s BJJ legend Fabio Gurgel in an upcoming Grapplearts instructional teaching pressure-based guard passing using his head to create a ‘Pez dispenser’ effect to get his opponent to open his guard.
How to Train Headbutts (and Other Dangerous Techniques)
Headbutts are dangerous in a fight but they’re even dangerous in training.
I know lots of fighters who have sustained serious cuts in training just from accidental head clashes.
So how on earth can you train intentional headbutts without repeatedly ramming your head into your training partner’s face?
The key, as with any dangerous technique, is to do lots of safe training and a only a little bit of dangerous training.
If you spend time kickboxing, and clinching you’ll get a really good sense of distance and timing. Your reflexes will get sharpened and you’ll be able to stay calm when fists are flying.
This kickboxing competency is your delivery system. Once you have that you can deliver anything you want.
I broke down this idea of primarily training your delivery system at length in an article on this site called How to Train Eye Gouges, Throat Grabs and Groin Strikes.
And the exact same idea applies to headbutts.
Back to Burmese Lethwei for a minute… what do those fighters do?
The video below shows some more Lethwei footage but also shows a trainer teaching a slightly different form of the headbutt (a whipping side strike with a wrist pull). First they drill it cooperatively, and then they use a focus mitt starting at about 1:20…
Finally any use of the head as a striking tool, clinching tool or grappling tool will be more effective if you’ve got a strong neck.
A stronger neck will also prevent your head from shaking around as much, reducing the amount of brain trauma you’re going to take if you use your head as a battering ram. Headbutting isn’t good for your brain, but a stronger neck definitely makes it less worse…
Hope that gave you some food for thought about using your head as a weapon.
The headbutt isn’t the safest of options, but it’s incredibly powerful and effective, so sometimes it’ll the right thing to do.
And now you’ve got a little bit more information about the right way to perform it reasonably safely (for you)!
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My name is Stephan Kesting and I’ve been training for 37 years. I have with multiple blackbelts and instructorships in 5 different martial arts at this point.
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