Is not the headbutt somewhat pyrrhic?
February 24, 2011 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand the efficacy of a headbutt as an offensive opening gambit in a bout of fisticuffs...

I've been thinking it over, and it seems to me to be a problem of the conservation of momentum. That is to say, m1v1 = m2v2. From a purely mathematical standpoint I imagine that one would do as much harm to oneself as to one's opponent (all heads being of equal mass). Am I missing some key element? Please, I find myself a rather confused man.
posted by dougrayrankin to Science & Nature (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

You're aiming the hard part of your head - right about the hairline on your forehead - with their face, which is much more fragile. It's also loaded with sensitive nerve endings and bits and pieces you need to see and breathe, all of which are very mashable.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:34 PM on February 24, 2011

The element you're missing is that head-butting is not just smacking heads together, it's smashing your hard, boney forehead into his fragile, sensitive, cartiliginous nose. You feel a crunch, he suffers from blinding pain that causes his nose to bleed and his eyes to tear up. It's obviously beneficial in a fight if your opponent is literally blinded by pain while you have little more than a nougie to your centre forehead.
posted by fatbird at 4:35 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, what others said. Plus it will surprise and possibly scare the crap out of them.
posted by delmoi at 4:36 PM on February 24, 2011

Just a tip for an effective headbutt: do not swing the head back before headbutting. It doesn't make the strike any harder, it telegraphs what you're about to do and leaves you very vunerable for a second.
posted by zephyr_words at 4:41 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Giving someone a headbutt to the bridge of the nose will take the fight out of someone quicker than anything other than a quick kick to the nuts. Or, at the very least, it will make their eyes water like mad, and then you've got an opening for pretty much whatever you want to do.

Like a swift kick in the nuts, say, if it's someone who's bein' too nebby towards yer lady friend.
posted by elder18 at 4:42 PM on February 24, 2011

Yep, hard part of head to soft, sensitive part of something. In other words don't head-butt someone's fist, elbow, foot, etc.
posted by Ashley801 at 4:50 PM on February 24, 2011

Fatbird has this about right.

Beyond that, it is a little unexpected. Depending on what type of fisticuffs preamble is taking place, your opponent might be expecting a fist, an elbow, or a knee.

Your forehead is probably closer to the opponent's face (a well known vulnerable spot) than either of your fists. Further, there is often shirt-grabbing or pushing that takes place. The key here is to very quickly get two hands full of shirt, pull them off balance toward you and smash the hardest part of your head (go ahead, feel for it, right around the top of your forehead, called the crown) into the softest most sensitive part of their face. The pull and the headbutt come together to create a pretty explosive impact.

Depending on the opponent (and how you feel about how the rest of the fight might go) the disorientation this causes gives you either time to disengage and flee or a little while where you have a clear advantage. If you have done this correctly, your fleeing will be aided by the fact that their face is a bloody, shattered mess (their bad vision and breathing might give you an edge in GTFO-ing). If you stay, use their bad vision and disorientation to increase the efficacy of the rest of your blows.

Like headbutts, knees are very hard and very mobile, and require little skill (unlike,say, fists). If you ever manage to get their mangled face down near one of your knees and you still end up losing the fight, you never really had a chance anyway. This should be the knockout blow.

Enjoy :)
posted by milqman at 4:51 PM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was accidentally headbutted in 7th grade PE class. It gave me a black eye and probably a broken nose - their head was fine (I think they got a tiny cut from my glasses).
posted by muddgirl at 4:51 PM on February 24, 2011

I've been seriously whacked by babies and toddlers (their forehead, my face) and they suffered no ill-effects. I was quite uncomfortable.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:10 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I mentally rehearse a scenario in which I'm accosted or mugged. I would try to trick him (i.e. by offering my wallet) into letting me get a grip on both his hands, then I could headbutt him with extra force by pulling on his arms. After the headbutt comes the kick to the nuts.
posted by neuron at 5:10 PM on February 24, 2011

Also answered on Slate. How To Head Butt Like a Pro.
posted by true at 5:25 PM on February 24, 2011

The correct use of a head strike.
posted by longbaugh at 6:15 PM on February 24, 2011

It also suggests that you have a bit of a take no prisoners attitude to the conflict, that you are prepared to not follow the Marquess of Queensberry rules. So it's a psychological blow too.
posted by wilful at 6:24 PM on February 24, 2011

Here is the correct way to telegraph a headbutt.
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask a parent who has been headbutted by a toddler. As others have said, hard part of one's head (forehead) is smashed into soft squishy part of another person's head, i.e., nose area.
posted by fifilaru at 7:37 PM on February 24, 2011

In movies and on TV it always looked to me like people were headbutting other people in the forehead, which seemed like an excellent way to break your own nose. I kind of always figured that headbutting was a British thing. They're known for their politeness, and what's more polite than grievously injuring yourself at the beginning of a fight, therefore rendering the ensuing fisticuffs more than fair?
posted by katyggls at 8:52 PM on February 24, 2011

Yeah headbutting definitely doesn't hurt at all, if it's done correctly. The key is to strike from your legs up through your back, without ever bending your neck, as zephyr_words mentioned earlier.
posted by Glendale at 10:05 PM on February 24, 2011

@katyggls - I always figured the British/headbut thing had something to do with the relative prevalence of brits who know how to hit soccer balls with their heads.
posted by zombiedance at 10:29 PM on February 24, 2011

David Lee Roth's take...

"Tuck your chin all the way down until it touches your chest, and imagine there’s a pie plate sitting on top of your head. Grit your teeth and nail as much of the pie as you can into your opponent’s skull.

Guaranteed, the recipient is going to be late for the dance. It’s not a traditional head-butt; it’s Chinese. Traditional head-butts hurt a lot. They leave scars; you’re going to wind up with a lot of dry-cleaning bills. With this, all you’re going to have is a little bump. And a hell of a drinking story!"
posted by orme at 6:05 AM on February 25, 2011

Another benefit of the headbutt is that if you're grappling with your opponent, he can't use his hands to block it.
posted by electroboy at 7:00 AM on February 25, 2011

I kind of always figured that headbutting was a British thing.

Somewhere, I read that one alternate name for a headbutt is a "Glasgow Kiss," which I think is my favorite name for any fighting maneuver ever.
posted by COBRA! at 7:27 AM on February 25, 2011

I heard Liverpool Kiss, but I imagine every tough guy on Knifecrime Island is probably trying to claim it as their own.
posted by electroboy at 8:10 AM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that to spot a headbutt requires recognising movement via depth perception, since the head is coming straight towards you. Punches and kicks can, generally, be spotted since they involve a degree of sideways motion as they approach. The human eye is much better at noticing moving than approaching objects, giving one more time to defend against a punch than a butt.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 12:03 PM on February 25, 2011

The headbutt is not merely delivered with the momentum of your head. You put your upper body behind it too. Plus, you tuck your chin in as you come forward, adding further momentum with a sort of neck-snap (not too great in amplitude or you will hurt your neck. Keep the muscles taut). And you hit the soft part of the target's face (bridge of nose, ideally) with the hard ridge of your brow.

Done properly, it's a nasty old business. And sadly, I do speak from experience.
posted by Decani at 12:59 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of my favourite movie headbutts. Cahm 'ere, ya facker!
posted by Decani at 1:07 PM on February 25, 2011

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