Thursday, April 11, 2002

Headbutts or How to be a Nutter by Gerald Moffatt

Headbutts or How to be a Nutter by Gerald Moffatt

Date: 1998/03/10 

1.0 Introduction

I decided to write about head butts not only to indulge my boundless ego and sense of self-importance but also because I feel they are neglected techniques, Most MAs think they know how to do head butts, but really don’t. Few MAs ever practice or train for headbutts - offensively or defensively. (Other techniques in this category are biting and eye gouging.) 

I will talk about head butts primarily with respect to stand-up situations (head butts with groundwork are a whole different realm). This stuff is just one man’s opinion - I would be very interested in any input, comments, arguments, etc. from other nutters. I will try to cover the main types of head butts, basic mechanics, setups and combinations, and a bit on training. 

I categorize head butts into four main types: forward, rising, sideways and backwards. There are also variants and hybrids (e.g., diagonal butts). In understanding how to do head butts it is important to recognize that they are primarily (but not exclusively) head-versus-head techniques. Accordingly, it’s important to know which parts of the head make good weapons and which make good targets. Let’s divide the head into the face (eyebrows down) and the skull. The face is exclusively a target area (unless you’re a lot tougher than I am). For the skull the rule is simple: thick bone and/or high local curvature make good weapon areas, while thin bone and/or flat areas make good targets. A prime example of a weapon area would be the forehead near the hairline (unless yours has receded), while the temple is a good target area. The targets are quite localized - for instance, some parts of the forehead may be moderately vulnerable (not prime targets but often the most available ones). 

2.0 Basic Mechanics 

I will initially discuss headbutts from a more-or-less static position (no stepping) , between two opponents of roughly the same height, and with no holding - later I will offer some comments applicable to when these conditions do not apply. 

2.1 Forward Headbutt

The forward headbutt is the one that everyone is sure he knows. When you consider how much practice it takes to develop a powerful, well-timed, and accurate soccer header (which has very similar body mechanics) you may be less sure. The strongest and most common way of doing it uses a mix of two main body motions, a head bow and a stomach crunch, optionally augmented by a knee dip (or step back, etc.). The head bow is more-or-less the same as a sneeze. The stomach crunch is like a sit-up but done explosively. The weapon area is near the hairline (if done straight on). Be sure to keep your mouth shut (closed but not clenched). It is possible to add more power to the front headbutt by dipping your knees (i.e., a slight body drop) just before impact. This dip also helps align you to the prime facial target area rather than going forehead to forehead. The dip can also help set up many followups such as a rising headbutt or an uppercut. (With footwork added, a step back instead/plus the dip also sets up a followup knee.) The ideal places to land this headbutt are the bridge of the nose, the cheekbones, or the top edge of the eye-socket (eyebrow ridges are tough, but not as tough as your forehead). The middle of the opponent’s forehead is an inferior secondary target but one that is usually readily available. If the opponent isn’t square on, the temple, especially near the outside corner of the eye, is a very vulnerable target or sometimes (it’s rather far to get to) the hinge area of the jawbone. Besides the powerful disorienting effect of any head blow, any of these strikes can chip or fracture bones. Another prime ‘benefit’ of the headbutt is that it is a wonderful cut generator - many opponents freak out at the sight of their own blood and head wounds bleed profusely. Hitting the opponent’s mouth and teeth is effective and will probably break them, but this often results in mutual cuts. Because of this, I would not normally aim lower than the opponent’s upper lip (but you take what you can get). Almost any opponent who isn’t asleep will duck his head as you strike (a very few may turn sideways) - to avoid getting his ‘defensive headbutt’ (planned or otherwise) aim a bit low (the knee dip or step can help here). 

It is possible to land repeated forward headbutts using the technique as described above - however, after each, you must withdraw your head quite far back in order to ‘recock’ and this gives the opponent some chance of retaliating. A fast, but weaker, forward headbutt (especially for the second and following strikes in a series) can be performed as follows. After the first strike the body is left leaning slightly forward. For the second and later butts the stomach crunch will be less pronounced. The head is moved forward and back with a forward thrusting motion that I can best describe as ‘walk like an Egyptian.’ Because of the forward tilt of the body, these butts are directed slightly downwards, rather than purely horizontally. There is little or no knee dipping with this technique. This quickie forward headbutt fits in well with butting combinations.
Next installment, the neglected superstar, the rising headbutt. 

Date: 1998/03/11 

Now for my favorite, the rising headbutt. 

2.2 Rising Headbutt

To perform the main version of the rising headbutt imagine that you have just completed the main type of forward headbutt previously described and are frozen in position. Your knees are bent, you are inclined forward slightly with your stomach contracted and your back rounded, and your chin is (nearly) touching your chest. It’s better if you start even lower - with your hairline touching the opponent’s chest. Now straighten up and unwind explosively. When first training, exaggerate the lift of your head until you can just see the ceiling above you through your eyebrows. You don’t just stand up - you thrust up. The striking area is again the hairline or perhaps slightly further into the hair. Be sure to keep your jaw shut with this butt. The impact is not always a pure strike with this headbutt - there can also be a large smearing component (which is a tremendous cut generator). If the opponent keeps his head down, then the blow will land as a mixture of strike and smear - if the opponent’s chin is up, it will be mostly a striking impact. With the smearing version, you can sometimes get cut from the opponent's teeth - oh well, every technique has risks! Here's an important detail. To ensure that you ‘get under’ the opponent’s face or chin, stay very close - make sure that you ‘wipe the sweat’ off your forehead on his shirt as you rise up. Otherwise he can lean/sway his head back and you'll just graze or miss him entirely. 

Now for a common variant of this technique. From the (low) start position described above, turn your head to look towards your left (or right) shoulder before you start the butt. Turn your head to the straight ahead position as you rise. It’s like tracing the shape of a ‘J’ from bottom to top as you strike. You may hit with the same spot as before (hairline at the middle of the forehead) or more outboard on your forehead (anywhere at or above the slight knob on your forehead above each eye near the hairline - a previous poster [Thanks, Chas, for reminding me it was you] once said to imagine you have small devil’s horns.) The J version works well from a clinch. 

I'll have a bit more to say about the 'horns' when discussing linking diagonal forward and rising headbutts, but that will first require a look at sideways headbutts. And I'll do sideways (and rear) butts next installment. 

Date: 1998/03/12 

2.3 Sideways Headbutt

The sideways headbutt is performed by briskly tilting the head sideways. The striking surface is the outboard curved part of the parietal bone on the side of the head. The striking zone is a line (it’s not really that crisply defined - more of a band) starting about 3 inches directly above and slightly behind the ear-hole and extending forward from there roughly 3 inches. In order to locate the exact striking zone on your head, apply the earlier rule regarding areas of high local curvature. The main thing is to strike with an area high enough on the side of the skull - lower down on the side of the skull, the temporal bone and further forward, the temple area, are each pretty flat and these are therefore prime target areas for headbutts. 

There are two variants of the sideways headbutt: the long and the short. The long headbutt tilts the head from the base of the neck, as if you were trying to touch your ear to your shoulder with a snapping strike. The head and neck tilt as a unit. The short headbutt is performed by mainly tilting just the head, kinking the neck. It’s as if you were trying to touch your ear to the base of your neck rather than your shoulder. The long sideways headbutt has a bit longer range and is arguably more powerful. However, I generally prefer the short version since it brings my striking area further down on the side of the opponent’s skull as well as making it difficult for the opponent to counter-butt the side of my skull. 

For an even stronger strike, the force of the sideways headbutt can be increased by turning your head away from the direction you will strike before starting the headbutt. This adds the force of head rotation to the primary motion of tilting the head as you turn back to straight ahead. 

2.4 Rear Headbutt

The rear headbutt is performed by snapping/tilting the head backward - the head motion itself is somewhat similar to the rising headbutt but instead striking backwards. The strike will be more powerful if you start with your head tilted forward, chin (nearly) touching your breastbone - although this risks telegraphing the technique. The ideal striking surface is the bump on the occipital bone just below the crown of the head, but the whole occiput is pretty strong. The blow can be directed straight back or diagonally back to either side.
The movements that can be added to this headbutt are in the grey zone halfway between how to make the technique land harder and how to set it up. The main supplementary movement is to tilt forward at the waist or hips prior to delivering the blow. This body bend is generally done not just to increase the force of the subsequent headbutt but also to get free from some hold applied by the opponent, or get ‘working space’ between his head and yours. For maximum force (some might say utter overcommitment) you can bend your knees and then thrust/arch back as if you were attempting a backwards somersault. 

Although the rear headbutt can deliver a very hard blow to the opponent’s face/head, I think this technique has been oversold. I mostly find it can only be landed on the stupid or unwary - and how did such a person get behind you? It also exposes the neck to chokes. 

2.5 Diagonal and Linked Headbutts

What we’re now about to discuss covers diagonal and linked headbutts but also wanders a little into training methods. The diagonal headbutts rely heavily on Chas’ horns as striking weapons. The diagonal headbutts blend the movement of the forward or rising headbutts with the head tilts and rotation of sideways headbutts. I’ll discuss them in terms of an imaginary opponent directly on front of the headbutter. 

You can perform the forward and rising headbutts alternately in a pure up-and-down fashion as if you were mimicking the body language of a ‘yes’ (and I suppose you could invent a pure side-to-side rotational headbutt that mimicked a ‘no’). A better method, I think, is to practice linking the forward, rising, and diagonal headbutts by moving your head as if a spot on the middle of your forehead was tracing an imaginary ‘figure 8’ or alternatively an ‘infinity’ symbol. I find the infinity version especially good for diagonal headbutts using the horns - be sure to practice it both rising up (‘goring’ the opponent with your imaginary horn) and dropping down (striking the opponent with your horn) at the crossover part (X) of the infinity symbol. You can occasionally add (one or more) pure forward thrusting headbutts (the ‘Egyptian’ kind) into the middle of the X. You can also incorporate a pure downward or rising butt from time-to-time. Hell, you can even link the figure 8 and infinity moves. By now your head should be reeling - literally. The whole thing starts to feel a bit like knife or stick methods from the Phillipines or Indonesia. And you can actually apply these moves in a real fight; however, you don’t deliver a great long intricate sequence - just a brief ‘excerpt.’
An important warning: Never practice this training method outdoors - you could find that you are viewed by some large bird as having successfully performed a mating ritual. 

Date: 1998/03/12 

Here's installment 4. 

2.6 Other Headbutts 

Before we move on from the types and mechanics of headbutts, let me state that what I’ve discussed so far are the main types but I don’t pretend my list is exhaustive or encyclopedic. For instance, there are some long-distance ramming techniques with the head, about which I know nothing. I also know little about using the head for guntings, but at least I know that I don’t know (and that’s the beginning of wisdom according to Socrates). Maybe Chas or other gunting specialists will add info. 

3.0 Setups and Applications

There are many ways to apply headbutts, but they usually can’t be launched against skilled opponents without first setting them up. And it’s hard to talk about setups without also discussing specific applications, so I’ll bend the two topics. Setups include several subtopics: footwork, grabs and controls, helper moves (shoulder bumps, etc.) and complementary moves (uppercuts, elbows, knees, etc.) 

3.1 Footwork

Now footwork is a huge subject all by itself and moreover it tends to be style-specific. I’m only going to touch on a few aspects. The main areas of footwork applicable to headbutts are: entering into close range, positioning the head for a blow or increasing its power, and setting up followups. Everyone knows to use a preemptive forward headbutt if a (prospective) opponent is mouthing off at close range. Or a close position suitable for butting may just arise naturally during the course of a fight. Otherwise you must get close enough to butt him and to do that you can use whatever entering methods are in your style. A few suggestions for entering (assuming you’re both in left foot lead): 

1. Slip his left jab over your right shoulder (or fold inside his hook), step forward with your left foot (about eight inches to about 11 o’clock position - the right slides up afterwards to narrow your stance), bend forward, dip the knees, and put (that ‘put’ can be a forward headbutt) your forehead on his breastbone or your cheek on his chest (looking to the outside). You’re now set up for a rising headbutt. The forehead-on-breastbone (with your hands on the inside) is a wonderful position for inside punching (a good place to be if you’re the smaller man) as well as for butts. Use the cheek-on-chest if you favour clinching before butting. (You can sometimes do a ‘rear headbutt’ from the cheek-on-chest. Bend your head forward so you’re looking down and then unwind to strike the bottom/side of the opponent’s jaw with the back of your head. Your cheek stays in light grazing contact with the opponent’s body throughout the delivery.) 

2. Slip the jab etc. as above but step in deeper and more diagonally to the left. Don’t bend or dip, just right sideways or diagonal butt as you tie-up on the inside. 

3. Do a wrestling-style penetration step (don’t hit the knees) with the left leg going deep. Rise up a bit when inside and again go for forehead-on-breastbone or cheek-on-chest. (You can also rise up as if you had tried for a snatch double, gave up, and were just coming up into a clinch - don’t stop and clinch but keep rising, resulting in the ultimate rising headbutt. If he leans back to avoid it, go for a takedown - or step in further and forward butt.) You could instead have simply gone for some version of a wrestling tie-up that may result in a forehead-to-forehead or cheek-to-cheek and you could than initiate a butting duel form there (although you must get your hips closer first). 

I also should mention that in a wrestling tie-up you can sometimes ‘post’ with your head (forehead or even top of the head) in head-to-head or head-to-chest position. You mustn’t linger here or you will eat uppercuts, get snapped-down, etc. but it can be a good starting point for butts. 

4. One of my favorites: the drop-shift. Starting at medium range slide the left foot back about 10 inches and then take a full step forward with the right foot - you are now in right leg lead and deep inside. This move is a distant relative of some of the triangle stepping methods (although it comes from western boxing). 

With respect to footwork applicable once you get to (or if you start at) the inside, I’ll mention two: 

1. Step back with one foot and bend your knees as you tilt your head forward. This is usually a defensive reaction to the opponent’s forward headbutt so he strikes his forehead on your forehead or top of head, but it can also be done as an attack by pulling the opponent’s face into your head/forehead (using a neck hook, etc.). It works well against a taller opponent. A natural followup after the headbutt is to knee with the leg that was drawn back, or you could add a rising headbutt in between the forward butt and the knee. 

A typical combination based on the step back is: forward pull-in headbutt with left leg stepped back, left knee to groin (belly, leg, etc.) with knee somewhere between a front knee and roundhouse knee and your head leaning past the left side of the opponent’s head, place left foot on ground (forward) and sideways (or diagonal) headbutt to opponent’s head just as your weight comes down on the left foot. (You might have had a double lapel grab throughout this for control.) 

2. If you start with your feet fairly close together as you stand in front of the opponent, step forward diagonally with one foot or the other and forward butt him. (Your foot goes out diagonally but your body and head go nearly straight forward.) With a longer step you could take your head past him and then land a sideways (or diagonal) butt. Again, some form of grab helps ensure that the technique lands. (If you don’t have a grab and he turns/leans away from the sideways/diagonal butt, nail him with a hook, uppercut, or palm-heel with your far hand.) 

Next time: grabs and controls

Date: 1998/03/14 

Here's installment 5. I changed my mind - I think I need to do helper moves before grabs and controls. 

3.2 Helper Moves

The helper moves I want to talk about are shoulder strikes, bumps, and pushes; the rising shoulder; and the elbow roll. (I won’t cover ordinary hand/arm pushes and shoves.) These moves have a larger sphere of application (both offensively and defensively) than just helpers for head butts, but that’s the only context I’m going to discuss now. 

The shoulder strike is such a beautiful inside move that it brings tears to my eyes (and if you do it right it will bring tears to your opponent’s eyes). The shoulder strike is comprised of many elements: hip twist, shoulder twist, shoulder roll, leg turn and dip, twisting ‘sit-up’, and body lean. That’s a lot of subtlety to pack into one technique. Put up with me while I walk you through its components (in exaggerated practice form). 

Practice the hip and shoulder twist by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and twisting to alternately bring you shoulders to right angles with the line between your feet. At first do it without moving your feet, which requires twisting your shoulders more than your hips. Then let just the rearward foot twist on the ball of the foot. Exaggerate the foot twist until on each turn the big toe of the rear foot points to the middle of the other foot (getting more hip into it and ‘leading’ with the hip rather than the shoulders). Now instead of an even-weighted twist, shift weight to the forward leg each time, bend the rear knee and raise the heel.
The twisting sit-up part is done just like the supine version - now we’ve involved the belly muscles (recti, obliques, etc.). The shoulder roll part brings just the shoulder forward (and slightly in) without involving any other body motion. And the body lean is a simple forward tilt about the hips or waist. 

Practice the shoulder moves on the heavy bag three principal ways (but with different mixes of the component motions): as a strike into (the centreline of) the bag (from short to very short range), as a near-centreline push (in backwards and diagonally-backwards directions) starting with contact with the bag, or as a bump to the right or left side of the bag (does a bag have sides?) in order to keep it centered in front of you. Try adding small steps as well. 

You may have some trouble keeping a bag (or opponent) centred using just shoulder bumps. You can improve your control by adding an elbow roll. The elbow roll is easy to do but tricky to describe. I’ll break it into parts, but remember the following is explanatory, not a fighting application. The first (and main) part is rotation of the upper arm. Take a boxing stance, left leg forward, hands eye level, elbows bent about 90 degrees. Rotate your left arm clockwise (only in the shoulder socket) about 180 degrees until your forearm is roughly vertical, hand pointing down. Your elbow moves only a little, rising perhaps 2 or 3 inches. Now perform the same move but also try to move your elbow horizontally further towards your centreline (depending on your flexibility this will be zero to a few inches.) You may also find that you spontaneously tend to add some shoulder roll - that’s good. With the elbow roll the bumping/pushing surface is the outside (almost back) of the upper arm. Now you don’t have to rotate the arm into position to get the benefit of the elbow roll - you can just start with your arm already down. You seldom do an elbow roll by itself - you usually add a little to a lot of shoulder twisting or rolling as well. Although illegal, this move is quite popular with boxers who fight on the inside. What you give up (temporarily) with the elbow roll is good hand striking position, although there are fighters who can do a pretty fair job starting with the hand down. You can practice alternate left and right shoulder-bumps/elbow-rolls starting with your hands down and leaving them down throughout - good on the heavy bag. 

By raising the elbow, doing more snap/follow-through and less push, and similar small adjustments, you can eventually develop a seamless progression of the elbow roll into the conventional horizontal or diagonally-downwards elbow strike (e.g., elbow roll - raise elbow - elbow strike). Or you can deliver a rising or diagonally-rising elbow after a roll (e.g., rotate the left elbow back counterclockwise, then go forward and up). For instance, if the opponent pushes back against your elbow roll, suddenly let him ‘win’ by relaxing the elbow roll, using his force to help power the rotation of your elbow back for a rising strike on the inside. You should also practice speedy ‘recovery’ of the hand to standard guard by way of blows such as backfist, hook, sidearm strike, etc., so you never get stuck in an awkward position after an elbow roll. (Damn, this keeps expanding; it’s becoming a treatise on inside fighting, not just headbutts.) 

The last shoulder technique is the rising shoulder. It’s easy to describe and the move is very useful (don’t let the shortness of the discussion convince you it’s trivial). The move is a simple shrug of one shoulder with possibly a bit of forward roll. You can add to it by first dipping the knees and then thrusting up. Or you can pull the opponent down towards it first. It works great against a shorter or same-height opponent, particularly in the cheek-to-cheek position. 

In closing this section, I want to emphasize the value of shoulder moves and elbow rolls. I jokingly used to say that if you’re good enough at shoulder moves, elbow rolls, and headbutts you can beat up an opponent on the inside while keeping your hands in your pockets. 

Next time (for sure): grabs and controls

Date: 1998/03/15 

Here's installment 6. 

3.2 Grabs and Controls

Because head butts are short-range techniques, grabs and controls are a major part of keeping the range, feeding the opponent into the butts, shoulder strikes, or other blows, and defence. Now grabs and controls can encompass a wide variety of techniques: trapping, chin na, wrestling tie-ups, judo grips, Thai head controls, etc. I’m not going to even try to tackle the fancy ones, but instead I’ll try to give an inkling of some applications of three simple ones, neck hook, double lapel grab, and double elbow grab (and even these aren’t all that simple). 

3.2.1 Neck Hook

The neck hook is a key technique in at least two martial arts, Thai boxing and wrestling, although it is applied somewhat differently in each. I’ll try a hybrid explanation. 

Bend your (right) wrist into flexion with a lot of ulnar deviation as well. Slightly cup your hand with fingers together and thumb alongside. Now put your forearm across the left side of the opponent’s shoulder where it joins the neck and hook his neck (there’s no grab) with your wrist and the meaty base of the hand (little-finger side). Pull forward and down. Here’s an important detail. Keep the ulnar surface of your forearm touching/pressing against his clavicle and your elbow well down and on your centreline. It is anathema to let your elbow flap to the outside. Don’t just pull - ‘hang’ some of your weight on him (but don’t rely on him for support) - to do that you’ll have to bend forward a bit. Your elbow is bent 90 degrees or so and points straight towards your centreline. 

Some variants and applications: You can use more elbow bend and go for a cheek-to-cheek tie-up. You can push with the forearm on his clavicle. You can pull the opponent into your headbutt (several varieties). You can release the neck hook and forward/rising elbow him in the chest (the exact reverse of this is a good way to get the neck hook in the first place). You can push him to your left or, less effectively, pull him to your right with fingertip pressure, to set up headbutts (or elbows, knees, etc.). (I’ll ignore fancier stuff such as shucks, but you can do them too.) You can suddenly snap him down or, do a weaker snap intended to ‘fail’ and forward butt him when he pulls up and away. 

A few more points: You can pull him into your left shoulder strike (the pull starts to include a palm-heel guide part-way through) or, less effectively, into your right shoulder strike. Defensively, if he attempts to forward/diagonal butt you, the pull-in to either shoulder can smother his attempt. Release him unexpectedly and side-butt him. 

Two more ways to get the neck hook: A wrestling style forearm-to-clavicle block as he shoots/rushes or, deliver a (say, left) jab that he can easily slip over his right shoulder and hook his neck as you retract the missed jab. You can also use a double neck hook (very ‘Thai’). This allows you to do side-to-side moves that completely break his balance and leave him open for all kinds of hurtful things. It’s like a slower-speed version of a terrier shaking a rat. Be sure to keep your elbows together in front (most defences/escapes come up the middle). (FYI, the reverse neck hook is also a great move, but it doesn’t lend itself well to head butts.) 

3.2.2 Double Lapel Grab

The double lapel grab is much maligned as an inferior technique only used by the untrained or inexperienced. Maybe so, but it can be polished into quite a sophisticated helper method that is well-adapted to butting. In discussing the double lapel grab I will assume that the opponent is wearing a sturdy garment that transmits forces well to his body (i.e., not too loose or stretchy). Now the actual grab can be knuckles up, knuckles down, or vertical - I’ll assume the vertical. The grip can be quite wide (more a shoulder grab) or narrow - I’ll assume moderately wide. Lastly, the grab can be bent or straight arm - bent arm is necessary for butting (and generally superior anyway). So imagine we’re now grabbing the opponent with both hands, with our elbows down and bent about 90 degrees. 

There’re more moves available than just a straight pull into a forward headbutt. The hands can pull or push to/fro, up/down, or left/right or in mixtures of these directions and each hand can act independently. This leads to lots of different combinations - let’s look at some: 

Just like the neck hook, it’s usually best to hang some weight onto the opponent. The double grab gives you an excellent ‘feel’ for the opponent’s moves. For instance, if he starts a (left) knee, you pull his left shoulder diagonally down and to your right while pushing his right shoulder (less vigorously) up, back and to the left. This traps his weight on his left foot and points his knee away from you. Depending on distance, butt him with a forward, diagonal, or sideways strike on the right side of his face. (If you exaggerate this move with more push you can twist him to the point that you can oblique-kick/stomp on his rear knee as you turn him into a choke, go for osoto-gari, etc.) 

One of the main sub-techniques to practice with the double-lapel grab is the double-arm swing. A description of the practice method follows. Stand square, legs shoulder-width, with each elbow touching your side and forearms horizontal, pointing straight ahead. Pretend there is a rod between your hands always keeping them the same distance apart. Rotate your (right) forearm horizontally inwards until your hand touches your ribs - the left hand is forced outboard. Alternate to either side. Now raise your hands to mid-chest height and do as before. Next, try underdoing and overdoing where you bring the inward hand so it lands either on your breastbone or further out near your shoulder. This is how to use this particular variant against an opponent. You guide one shoulder of the opponent towards your chest more centrally (and a bit down) when you wish to forward or diagonally butt him or shoulder-strike him, but more outboard when you wish to sideways butt him. You move him even further outboard when you react defensively to his attempted headbutt or shoulder strike (by taking him shoulder to shoulder). And, yes, you can even pull him straight in for a forward butt. A good trick is to pull him in and if he resists let him pull his head back, (even help him with a push), then forward butt him (or, instead, duck your head, and then pull him in again, this time onto the top/front of your head or even into a rising butt.) Or you could have pushed him first and when he resists pull him in. Any of these moves can be done a bit sideways by pulling/pushing more strongly with one hand than the other. Experiment and explore. 

3.2.3 Double-Elbow Grab

The last move I’m going to discuss is a double-elbow grab, another ‘street’ move that can be refined and polished and then used with butting. Grab (i.e., clench the cloth in your vertical fist) the opponent’s sleeves just above and to the outside/back of each elbow. (The opponent has lots of counter-moves available but that’s a different story.) Your control is a bit similar to the double shoulder/lapel grab. With this move you have less efficient control of his body but better control of his arms. You can apply most of the same techniques as for the double-lapel control - it’s best to keep him pretty close (you can then do stuff to thwart his escapes such as trap his hand/wrist in your armpit, etc.). The head moves with elbow control often feel as if you were planting a French ‘bec’ on each cheek of the opponent (but with forward, rising, diagonal and sideways headbutts). There are many ways to get the position - one way is to start your hands at his shoulders in a chest-to-chest clinch and then slide your hands down to the elbow. You can also flow into it (on one side) after a biceps stop with your palm/palm-heel. You can also flow *out* of it into overhooks, etc. - don’t think of this position (or any of the other positions) as something you obtain and never relinquish or change - the ‘flow’ is much more important than the individual techniques. 

Next time I’ll look at a smorgasbord of variants and applications. 

Date: 1998/03/17 

Here's installment 7. 

I have not organized the following material and so I’m going to present it as a ‘core dump’ in point form. 

Head-Butting Applications

1. With respect to the holds I discussed, it is obviously possible to mix-and-match them. For instance, the neck hook with an elbow grab is a street version of the collar-and-elbow wrestling tie-up. 

2. There are many other holds that can be used with head-butts; I’m fond of butting after trapping. Traps, pummeling, etc. can also be used to release the opponent’s holds and then counter-butt. For instance, there are many escapes from the double-lapel grab. 

3. A *major* point to note with respect to head-butts is that many of the positions are symmetrical - if you can butt him, he can butt you. This puts a big premium on timing, control of the opponent with bumps and holds, and defensive reactions when you lose the initiative. If you train and practice headbutts, however, you will be light-years ahead of both streetfighters and (most) martial artists in being able to ‘flow’ with your headbutts and complementary techniques. The average fighter can only deliver a headbutt as an isolated ‘singleton,’ if he even tries one at all. 

4. Defence against the headbutt mostly consists of moving (slightly) away, moving far away (breaking the range), staying so close (touching) that there is no room to butt, blocking with the hands, stop-hitting or countering with the head or shoulder (or palm-heel, etc.), and applying smothering pull-ins and deflections such as I described earlier. 

I’m going to elaborate a bit on some of these defensive aspects. A major defensive method to prevent butts is to put your head against the opponent’s head. But you usually must do more than just touch heads - otherwise the opponent can quickly pull away to get room to butt. You must either press so that your head follows his if he attempts to get separation for butting (sensitivity required), or you must push his head to the limit of its range of motion so he can’t pull away to butt (strength required). 

Moving (swaying back, turning) your head away from a butt must be done in a flowing manner - otherwise it opens you up and gives the opponent the distance he needs to initiate another butt or other blow. Think in terms of slipping, bobbing, and weaving from boxing (for instance, incoming butts should ‘just miss’ not ‘miss by a mile’). If moving stops working, ‘clinch’ with your head - that is, go back to a tight head-to-head (or head-to-chest) position. These days I’m trying to borrow a page from Bruce Lee and apply fencing theory. For headbutts, this might mean cutovers, presses, beats, disengagments, linear, circle, and half-circle parries, etc. 

If things are going badly you can try to break off the butting duel - push away for greater range. For instance, the double shoulder/lapel grab usually allows you to exercise this option. You can also suddenly push away even when you’re winning the butting duel in order to sneak in an over-the-top elbow, etc. Mixing short and very-short range and the techniques that go with them really confuses an opponent. Very few MAs appreciate the subtle distinctions between these two striking ranges (adding grappling further complicates the picture). (My classification system for striking ranges and corresponding typical techniques goes: long range = kicking only; medium range = ‘outside’ punching/shorter kicks; short range = bent-arm blows, elbows, knees, trapping; very-short range = head-butts, shoulders, palm-heels. The ranges are obviously not sharply-defined and exclusive but a continuum and blows can be used outside their ‘home range.’) 

5. A plug for the shortest striking technique using the hand: the palm-heel. When even short hooks only land as rabbit punches and the uppercut is crowded out, the palm-heel can still be used effectively. Use it not just as a pure strike, but as a ‘grazing’ strike, as a (bastardized) pak-sao/slap, a push/strike, or a pure push. 

6. A few words about blocking with the hand(s). The hand(s) can be used to stop or cushion a butt by absorbing the butt as it comes in (think of catching a fastball bare-handed - you would absorb it, not put your hand up rigidly). If your hands are already on the opponent’s head you can resist by tensing/pushing whenever he tries to butt (sensitivity required). 

I’m not a believer in eye strikes on the fly. (Although bil-jee is a great move, it’s not to my taste - it’s too natural for the opponent to duck and too easy to break a finger). To get the opponent’s eyes, start with your hands already on his head/face or block the opponent’s butt with a double palm-heel, fingers curling horizontally to the outside - then reach the fingers a bit further back, stabilize the opponent’s head, and gouge his eyes with your thumbs. Butt him on the bridge of the nose if he pulls his head back to decrease the pressure on his eyes (or on the temple if he turns away). 

7. For equal-height opponents all the head and shoulder techniques work. For moderate mismatches in height the taller man will find it hard to position himself for rising strikes while the shorter man gives up downwards strikes to the face of his opponent (he should target the breastbone instead) The rising strikes are tricky - for a slightly shorter man they work magnificently, but if he is just a bit shorter than that they start to be hard to land with power. A pull-in of the opponent’s face into the top of the head works well for a moderately shorter man; for that reason a taller man must be alert to avoid any defensive duck or butt when he butts downward. The shoulder strikes can be used by both, but usually work a bit better for the taller man (especially true for the rising shoulder). 

If an opponent is much shorter, the taller man may only be able to use shoulder strikes, not headbutts - the much shorter man has only the butt to the chest (the shoulder moves would still work but they don’t have good targets). However, the head-on-chest is (ignoring grappling) one of the best places for a small man to be in a fight. (And grappling just makes it different, not worse.) 

Next time, we finish off with training methods. 

Date: 1998/03/19 

This is the 8th and last installment (Whew! This has felt like Mao's long march.) 

Let's look at training methods. Most of this is fairly obvious except perhaps for a few small points. There are two schools with respect to training headbutts: heavy and light impact. I'll reveal my prejudice now and tell you I'm of the light-impact school. Some people have heads of stone (do they operate from a nexus halfway down their spine?) while others get killer headaches from even medium contact. Regularly butting full power onto heavy bags, etc. is too much for me. I'm afraid I'll become like the punch-drunk fighter in Jerry Lewis' sketch who says, "I've had...uh...forty-two fights and...uh...I've won 'em all...uh...except forty-one." 

In point form: 

1. Neck strength is an obvious asset when executing headbutts. Exercises include isometrics, headstraps and weights, rubber bands, self-resistance (hands against head, etc.), and partner resistance. A particularly valuable solo exercise is the wrestler's bridge (forward, backwards and transitions). Once you gain sufficient strength statically, be sure to dynamically work the neck through its entire range of motion with the bridges - flexibility is important as well as strength. A good partner exercise is to single-neck-hook' each other and really hang your weight on the hook while moving around, snapping down, resisting, etc. - go easy the first few times or your whole back and neck will really ache the next day. (And remember, it's an exercise, not a contest.) 

Neck strength is important for wrestling but the defensive benefits for striking arts are often overlooked. A strong neck helps the head and body move (nearly) as one when the head is struck - this results in less 'whiplash' to the head and 'sloshing' of the brain inside the skull. 

2. It's worthwhile to shadow-box with the head using, for instance, the linked butting exercises I discussed earlier. Try to practice the head moves together with the rest of your short-range repertoire (palm-heels, elbows, shoulders, knees, etc.). This helps develop rhythm and coordination. 

3. A solo exercise I recommend for head butts is light-contact using some sort of speed-bag. (Speed bags are too lively for shoulder-strike practice unless you have lightning reflexes.) There are two types that I think are good. For each type you can use a commercially-available bag or the roll-your-own kind. 

The first type uses a head-sized inflatable ball (very like a soccer ball or basketball) suspended on a taut bungee cord above and (important) also below so it returns fairly quickly when hit. It's very convenient to be able to adjust the height so you can practice against simulated tall, medium, and short opponents. Be sure to sometimes mix in the odd palm-heel, elbow, or head pull-in with your head-butts. 

The second type is like a boxer's speed bag (in fact, one of those would work pretty well). It also uses a head-sized inflatable ball. The ball is suspended only from above, quite close to the ball. The apparatus may also include a (removable) backstop a few inches behind the ball from which it can rebound; the bag motions with and without the backstop add variety. I have only seen adjustable-height versions of this type of bag on expensive professional-boxing models. This second type of bag is much faster than the first type and will really sharpen your butting reflexes. (If it's too fast, try deflating the ball a bit to make it deader.) 

4. Heavy bag work is great for shoulder strikes but I would go easy on head butts. Even if you favour light-contact, however, occasionally do a *few* full-power butts to get the feel of them. Be extremely careful (especially before your technique - and your neck - are very strong) to avoid a fast-approaching swing of the bag hitting your head - you can seriously injure your neck. As for breaking boards or other objects with a headbutt, you can do this if you like - I'll abstain. 

5. The last training method is light sparring with a partner. You both wear full-contact type headgear complete with chin, cheek, and face protection. I like plastic faceshields for face protection better than wire grids but shields *are* rather 'steamy' and claustrophobic. The protection lets you do light *not heavy* sparring - don't overdo it! Wear a chest-guard if you're going to include shoulder strikes or butts to the chest. And don't forget your mouthguard! Even with padding and only moderate impact you will gain an appreciation of the power of a good headbutt. 

That's it from me - good luck with your training. And remember: One good butt deserves a nutter! 

Gerald Moffatt


  • Posted to Usenet's newsgroup rec.martial-arts. Archived with kind permission.
  • Posted 10/16/13 as of  4/11/02 mirroring
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Please check out 2 other articles by Gerald Moffatt:

  1. Mobility and the Snap Front Kick by Gerald Moffatt
  2. Iron Palm - A Simplified Method by Gerald Moffatt



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