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Headbutts don’t get a lot of recognition; however, in a self-defense situation, they are highly effective at ending the attack. They are prohibited in all types of sports, including martial arts competitions because they are dangerous and can be deadly.

The headbutt sounds straightforward, but if it is done incorrectly, it will hurt you more than it will hurt your attacker. If you have bumped heads with someone while playing a sport, you know how painful it can be and how long the headache lasts.

Do you remember when you were a child playing with other children on the playground and you accidentally bumped heads with another child? Probably one of you starting crying while the other stood there confused, with little or no pain. The head that struck with a snapping motion had very little pain, the other head had excruciating pain.

The face has a lot of fragile bones, teeth, cartilage, etc. while the skull is basically one big, thick bone. In a collision with the skull, the face usually comes out with the worst injury but that does not mean the skull is immune from injury. Sometimes, after a collision with the face, there are teeth embedded in the skull.

Performing a headbutt

Many instructors say you should headbutt using the front of the forehead near the hairline since the bone is thicker in this area. However, if you look at the bone thickness of the skull, you will notice it is as thick, if not thicker, on the sides as it is in the front or back.

The skull is not round, it has an oval shape, like an egg, narrower from side-to-side than from front-to-back. Anyone familiar with stunts that use an egg knows that an egg is much stronger when force is applied to it on the ends than when it’s applied to the sides. This is a characteristic of an oval object. Thus, the skull can resist damage better when force is applied from either the front or back than it is when force is applied from the sides. In addition, the neck muscles that move the head forward and backward are much stronger than the muscles used to move it from side to side.

There are two pointed, bony features at both the front and back of the skull that point inward toward the brain. When the forehead is struck or strikes something, the brain bounces off the inside of the front of the skull and then rebounds and hits the back of the skull, which is called a "coup-contra-coup" injury. Therefore, when you headbutt with your forehead, your brain bounces off those pointy bone structures.

If you headbutt with your forehead, there is a good chance of splitting the skin on your forehead. This means you will have blood pouring into your eyes, which is a hindrance in a self-defense or competitive situation.

Taking all these things into consideration, in a self-defense situation, it is best to use the side of your head for a head butt whenever possible. In a clinch, where the opponents grab each other to pin the arms, the top of the head is usually used for a headbutt since you can thrust it upward under the opponent’s chin. When in a rear bear hug, a headbutt with the back of the head is used. No matter which striking area of the skull is used, the movement of the butt should be a snapping motion, like that used in kicks and punches. This helps ensure that the receiver of the butt is injured instead of you, just as when you accidentally headbutted the child on the playground.

Headbutt attacks

Experienced streetfighters expect a headbutt since it’s as commonly used as a groin kick. However, inexperienced fighters will probably not expect it, although they will be watching for a groin kick.
The head is skull itself is solid, but the facial area is delicate. So of course, this is the area to aim a headbutt. Another deadly target is the temple area.

Forward headbutt

  • Tilt your head slightly downward with the mouth closed and teeth clinched and stiffen your neck muscles.
  • Frown to help concentrate your energy and attention at your forehead.
  • Be careful with your aim so you don’t hit any hard parts of the opponent's skull.
  • Now make the same motion as a big sneeze. Quickly lunge and snap forward, connecting the top of your forehead with attacker's nose, thrusting your body weight into the attack.
  • Bend forward at the middle of the back rather than at the waist during the attack. 
  • You may even pretend to sneeze; then your attacker would then be expecting a sneeze, not a broken nose.

Side head butt

  • Keep your neck and upper body stiff.
  • Lean forward from the waist and toward the side of your attacker.
  • Aim for the side of opponent's nose or the face, not the mouth.
  • Snap the head across to the side, striking with the upper corner of your forehead.

Backward head butt

  • You must be very close to the target.
  • Don’t worry about aiming since you can’t see the target. 
  • Tilt your head and torso forward and down.
  • Snap your head backward, hard and fast.

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