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michael rosenbaum
michael rosenbaum's picture

Over the past year or so I've become increasing obsessed with headbutts and their applications. I've even taken to practicing them on the bag by working them into my regular combinations, however I draw the line at breaking tiles, bricks or boards with them.

I'm curious though and would like to ask the following questions.

1. What are your views on headbutts?

2. How do you practice them?

3. What defenses are there against headbutts?

4. Which kata are they found in?

5. Should children be taught headbutts?



Gavin Mulholland
Gavin Mulholland's picture

Headbuts are  really useful tool to have in your armoury - fast, hard, difficult to defend, and highly effective.

I don't practice them a lot but we do have a headbutt drill which includes attack, defence, reversal and a return headbutt.

I'm sure they are in a lot of kata but in Goju they can be found in both Seiunchin and Shisochin, both off grabs as you would expect.

miket's picture

My two cents, Mike:  Headbutts (and shoulder butts, for that matter) are extrekmely effectvie at close quarters, especially with a (chest) 'bumper' where you may be cauyght with hands down (literally).  The  headbutt is one of about ten tactics that are in integral part of our offensive 'core combatives'.

Practicing them:  typically the usual stuff:  Insert them in bag work, in focus mitt training, in shadow boxing, and (with helmest and light contact) in some scenario work.  Pantomime them in partner clinch fighting/ attached striking drills.  Mix them in with elbows and knees (e.g. Paul Vunak's RAT system)

Execution:  the way I teach them is to lower the center mass (so you are basically looking at the guys chest, then 'launch' the crown forward like a wrestler's shoot while holding the head /head & shoulder, etc.. I don't prefer the 'chicken peck' becasue of the stress on the neck and failure to employ the entire body; also the likely hood of 'reversing the impact' if he ducks his crown YOU are the one who ends up with the skull in the face.  We do use that once in awhile vs. rear grabs but I tend to privelege a good arch stomp if its available.

Kids:  I do teach kids headbutts, but not as part of 'playground' type defense.  While its obviously dangerous to teach children that they can 'fight' an adult assailant, we do employ headbutts in both front and rear snatch and grab type scenarios where the arms are pinned.

Eidt PS  Kata:  I don't see them, per se.  I think you can 'find' a lot of stuff to say they are in there if you are motivated to.  One that comes to mind is the "X-block grab" at the end of Kusanku Dai.  Arguably, you could interpret this as a crossing forearm throat strike and/or collar choke entry with the 'pull' as a headbutt but I think this is a less effective method and why in a cat stance?  Typically weight is well forward when executing a proper headbut, not settled back.  Beats me.

PaulA's picture

I learnt headbutts as an integral part of my Ju Jitsu clinch-work, much as miket suggested (good for an instinctive strike if grabbed from behind). I see them much as a close quarter and breakup sequence. Even so I have seen just how much damage a strike like this can do if used as a devistating first strike, and I think this may be why its use is so disturbing. The main one that comes to mind was a cornered victim (he was astride a motorbike; engine off). His attacker closed the distance quickly whilst accusing the victim of some slite. Once the victim offered sone kind of excuse his attacker then moved backwards as if appealing to heaven, then launched the butt. That was the end of the encounter; victim with smashed nose (I mean completely smashed), and attacker walking off a little shaken by the damage he had done (so were we, I can tell you).

Dave Moore
Dave Moore's picture


3.21 is the time too look for and its an absolute beauty even if it was a bit wrong you can't help having a bit of sympathy for the guy who does it. Don't think the guy receiving it expected it .

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

michael rosenbaum wrote:
Over the past year or so I've become increasing obsessed with headbutts and their applications. I've even taken to practicing them on the bag by working them into my regular combinations, however I draw the line at breaking tiles, bricks or boards with them.

I'm curious though and would like to ask the following questions.

1. What are your views on headbutts?

Headbutts are not as widely practised as they should be. I think they can be an effective part of the mix, but they need to be used in the right context. I have seen people throw headbutts from far too far away for “theatrical effect”. Sometimes they got lucky, other times they lost an opportunity.

2. How do you practice them?

I use them on the bag, they are found in our set pad-work drills, our testing combinations, they are in our bunkai drills, and we allow them in some sparring drills (with control). Keep the neck aligned, make contact with the right part of the skull, project bodyweight into it, and use your gripping skills to locate the target and clear a path.

3. What defenses are there against headbutts?

Grinding your own head into the enemies can work well (also sets up bites, gouges and elbows) as shown on the Beyond Bunkai DVD. Placing a “claw hand” into their eyes also give a good incentive to take the head back as opposed to brining it forward. Driving the thumbs into the eyes to take the head back (as found at the end of Shotokan’s Heian Yodan) is also good. Taking a “Thai clinch” (found in Naihanchi) also puts “props” against the shoulders and stops the head from coming forward. Pushing the head back with one hand and then hitting with the other also prevents headbutts and sets up strikes (seen in quite a few kata).

4. Which kata are they found in?

Out of the ones we practise, Naihanchi would be the main one (the head turns that are often thought of as “looks”). Gavin has mentioned Seiunchin and Shisochin. Kururunfa has a rear headbutt in it too. The same rear headbutt is referred to in the Bubishi and Mabuni shows it in his 1938 Nyumon book (page 184).

5. Should children be taught headbutts?

Because we don’t take on under 14s and don’t have a dedicated “children’s syllabus” our juniors will learn them. Although the small number of under 18s are not allowed to used them in sparring and only tap the pads when drilling their combinations. If I was teaching younger children in greater numbers I think I’d totally omit them.

Interesting topic this!

All the best,


PASmith's picture

What defenses are there against headbutts?

Knock him out before he gets close enough to get you with one. :)

Dave Moore
Dave Moore's picture

when its happened at work

1 ducked my head forward and not backwards, very important unless you want your nose splatteredsmiley

2 grabbed them and locked my arms out so they ended up flayling about and ended  much ado about nothingyes

3 moved my head side ways so they missed, this appeared quite comical but I was wedged against a window opening at the time so options very limited laugh

4 never get that close unless you have toenlightened

all worked very well and my nose still looks good,  even if I do say so myself.wink

Eric Forsythe
Eric Forsythe's picture

Hi all,


From my own perspective and experience..two separate scenarios.

1.  One night walking home from a night out, (didn t really have too much that night thankfully) this guy came toward me, tried to get close, kept a relative distance then he launched into a headbutt, thankfully he was well drunk as I seen the head move backwards and then he exploded forward - at this point I moved my head back, although the tip of his head grazed my nose

2.  Only other time was when in school, and we were play fighting (as you do in school) this guy tried to headbutt me, I put my head forward so that he impacted the top of my head with his nose, worked well for me on this occasion.

Great thread this smiley

All the best,


Paul Anderson
Paul Anderson's picture

Amusingly enough I see headbutts a lot since I live in lovely Glasgow.

Best application I've ever seen is a mate of mine who I have seen a number of times interveening in a confrontation, walking up to the aggressor and putting out his hand to shake it, seemingly trying to calm things down.  Once the aggressor has clasped hands he simply uses the grip to pull the other person in and head butt them, and remove hands from the equation.

Very sneaky !  But very effective !

I see this kind of behaviour in loads of fights by untrained people, the action of pushing someone off balance and then overhand right.  There's an underlying untrained princple of putting someone off balance and then striking.  I've read many times that the movements in Kata accentuate natural movements and on this thought I can see this loads of obvious bunkai, like bassi dai in movements 22 - 24.

In that same sense when people say Karate always starts with a block, in my head Karate always starts by unbalancing your opponent and then striking or other aggressive action (like the hikkite etc).  I think it's a simple/Okinawan version of Sink, Float, Swallow, Spit princeples you see in Chinese systems?

sarflondonboydonewell's picture


Gun v headbutt!!! Brillant!!!

Stan Meador
Stan Meador's picture

1. What are your views on headbutts?

I do like them. They can generate a good deal of power  in a close situation. They should be a part of all clinch fighting, for certain. Many people use them without specific target focus, except for say "the nose". I think they can also be used for other specific targets to great effect when worked in conjunction with other techniques and set-ups.

2. How do you practice them?

Mainly in shadow-boxing type training, very little on bags. I have used a headbutt for a two board break, though that's as thick as I'm willing to use for breaks.

3. What defenses are there against headbutts?

As in all things - awareness. Controlling distance in the conflict is also very helpful where headbutts are concerned. Senstivity training like sticky hands or push hands can benefit here as maintaining body contact can allow us to check the movement at the shoulder or torso so that the head cannot complete its forward motion.

4. Which kata are they found in?

Beats me. I don't see the headbutt as an explicit kata technique. It is probably possible to insert them in almost any kata training.

5. Should children be taught headbutts?

From the standpoint of physiological development they should not be taught in a way that trains with resistence until maybe 14 years of age. So, can you teach children what they are? Probably. Can you break out the pads and have a 7 year old smashing his head into firm objects? Not wise. My guess is that any 14 year old who hangs out in the streets will learn headbutts pretty quickly anyway, so we should probably be making those we train aware of the techniques and tactics.

Just my two cents - Stan