Physics of a head butt?

We’ve all seen somebody head butt some on tv and in the movies. It’s always devastatingly effective, and portrayed as a clever, ballsy way to attack someone.
Not wanting to try it myself, I’m curious how this works. I’m sure getting hit in the head works, whether it’s by someone else’s head or a baseball bat, but can you really administer a head butt without hurting yourself? Is it just some physics thing where all the force flies into the other person’s noggin and you don’t hurt yourself much?
Or is it just a Hollywood thing that would hurt like hell in real life?
– Greg, Atlanta

I always figured it was a Hollywood thing. We used to do it to the younger kids in my old scout troop and it hurt both of us… but we were too busy laughing to really care back then.

“If God had meant for man to eat waffles,
he would have given him lips like snowshoes”
-Rev. Billy C. Wirtz

The answer is yes and no. Strictly speaking the way Hollywood characterizes the head butt isn’t 100% accurate. You wouldn’t want to head butt somebody skull to skull. Rather you want to land the hard part of your skull to the soft part of their face. I think you can see how that would be effective.

Also, in the bare knuckle boxing days, boxers would “head butt” the opponents fist since the knuckles are much easier to break then your skull.

Finally, you can condition your skull to become very hard just like you can condition any part of your body (my knuckles, for example, can be applied to 14" of concrete without a scratch). If you toughen your head enough then you could theoretically head butt even the strong part of your opponents skull relying on your tougher skull.

One last thing, the head butt is commonly taught in self defense classes as a means of attacking your opponent in grappling range.

Glitch is right. But you must remember the correct order: apply the top of your head to your opponent’s nose.

If you get the order wrong, you lose.

There’s also a strikee (hurt more) vs. striker (still hurt, but less) thing going on here. This works with the head butt but it can also be seen in the simple header in soccer. If someone throws a ball and it hits you on the head, it can hurt. If you apply the same force with your head to the ball, the pain goes away. Theres a physics explanation here (impulse? momentum?) but it’s cloudy to me. Now that I’ve muddied things up, I scamper away.

Heck, my knuckles can be applied to 3 meters of diamond without a scratch. Just touch the object very gently.

I was taught to use the part of the skull just above the forehead. Depending on how blockheaded (I mean that in a good sense here) you are, this would be where your skull starts to curve back. I forget if that is the hardest place or if you get a force concentration by reducing the area of contact. Just slamming somebody with your forehead is not a good idea.

One cannot properly discuss head butts without a mention of the great professional wrestler, Bobo Brazil. His “Coco-Butt” finished off many of his evil opponents. My memory fades but as I recall, he used the flat of his forehead. A tribute…

“Hope is not a method”

I’m sorry, but a very effective head butt can be delivered to your opponent’s skull without serious harm to yourself. I really don’t understand the physics of it - although I agree it is similar to the soccer thing. However, I did want to post this to reaffirm the OP contention that there was something real going on here (that apparently no one posting so far understands either).

I have been on both the receiving and delivering end of said head butts (never at full strength) and let me tell you, it is a very powerful blow. Yeah, you could use it to break someone’s nose, but it would be just as well to give them a concussion.

I beg to differ that nobody else knows what is going on. I have been teaching martial arts for 17 years, 14 years as my own dojo owner. The concept of a proper head butt is simple enough the hard part of your head to the soft part of your opponents head.
Although it is possible to head butt your opponents skull directly injuring him and not injuring yourself it is an extremely poor martial technique, relying on the pure luck of the impact and recoil to injure him but not you.

The physics of the lucky head butt is also simple enough. It is simply a matter of the nature of the impact and more importantly the “elasticity” of the bounce. If more energy from the impact is transferred into your opponents skull than yours the worse it is for him. This is not unlike bouncing to hockey pucks off each other in a simple physics experiment, except that hockey pucks don’t feel pain. Of course, there are far too many variables to hope to calculate the exact energy transfer and such since you would need to know the angle of the blow, the elasticity of your head & your target’s head, the force of the blow, etc.

Not likely except again by pure luck. If we aren’t ignoring pure luck it is possible to give a person a concussion with a single strike from your fist, if you hit just right, but is it likely? Of course not.

A multitude of martial arts manuals and self defense guides concur on this.

I am curious about this. The head butt is not a very common street fight technique. It certainly isn’t something that is practiced with an uke in any dojo with great regularity (unless you train at the Shaolin monastery om China). So, how exactly did it come to be that you were head butting somebody who was head butting you in return?

I assume that it must have been a buddy of yours and yourself head butting each other for kicks. I assume this because it wasn’t at full strength, so it wasn’t somebody who was trying to hurt you. So, since it sounds to me like it was you and a buddy just doing this for kicks (which is strange enough), what makes you think that you were doing it right, in any event? How accurate were your samples that his was hitting you and it wasn’t hurting him in return? I have heard of buddies who head butt each other when they are drunk for kicks, if you were drinking what makes you think your analysis would be very accurate? In any event, your evidence sounds a little circumspect to me and not formed on a solid basis.

Allright, everyone. Here’s the straight dope. First of all, everything Glitch has so far posted on this thread is incredibly accurate. Everyone at my school (not college, my MA school) knows these things. The Head-butt is very effective and simple.
Glitch sez:

Quite right, my man. More specifically, I think the best approach is to put the crown of your forehead (where a normal hairline begins, usually) into the bridge of your opponents nose. That has worked the best for me. However, Glitch also sez:

This also is true very true. In high school, all the other 'roid boys and I would head-butt each other for fun all the time. Before our games, when all the other players were getting psyched by head butting each other, so were we. We just didn’t wear helmets. Yes, that was stupid, and I now regret the scars.
And last but not least, Glitch sez:

This also, is 100% right on. Tucking one’s chin when your opponent throws a jab or a cross is a great way to have them smash their relatively soft(usually, unless they have conditioned them, like appartently Glitch has) knuckles to your hard head. Once again, they will hit the hardest, thickest part of your skull, the crown of your forehead and say something like
“OW, FCUK!!!”
Anyway, like I said, Glitch has yet to feed you any bullshit, and I hope I never have to fight him (or her, as the case may be.) Unless it’s in a tournament… :DWoo-ahh :smiley:

“And on the eighth day, God Created beer
to prevent the Irish from taking over
the Earth.”

Oh yeah, And I almost forgot!
I wrote:

I forgot to mention "don’t to try this at home… since if you don’t do it right it could possibly, very effectively, compress your cervical vertabrae and cause you to lose consciousness or even have nerve damage. The chance is small, but it is there.

Oh, how nice? Like to pick on old men (well old for tournament fighting anyway) in tournaments do ya? Jeez, nice martial arts spirit of honor and fairplay there, buddy. :wink: I haven’t been to a tournament, except to referee, in 15 years! (I am just ribbin’ ya of course :))

and for future reference, him. :slight_smile:

Yeah, guess I should’ve done my homework in your profile, Glitch. But, you must admit that for an old dog :smiley: <snicker> :smiley: you could probably whup me. Thankfully, I will never find out

“And on the eighth day, God Created beer
to prevent the Irish from taking over
the Earth.”