Head Butts
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By W. Hock Hochheim

"Of course head butts work. But, do they work to well! Back against you! "


"Hock I am writing to you, because you have made a case against head butts. I am a certified instructor under ____ _____ and his Filipino Concepts. As you know from personal experience, ____ emphasizes head butts. I am also a police officer in _______, Indiana. One night I interrupted a burglary of a pharmacy. A crew was at work and they posted a lookout on the street. I questioned the lookout. He had no answers for my questions and I attempted to arrest him him. A fight ensued. We grappled each others arms. I got his his head and had a clear head butt and tried to drive my head into his nose.

When I woke up. I was down on the sidewalk. Hock, both my pistol and badge were taken from my body. The burglars escaped. They did not finish the burglary, but they got away with my badge and gun. I realize that I had knocked myself out when trying to use my head to hit his head.

This has been a joke at my department. Once at a pistol qualification the guys taped a helmet to my target. Like I would use a head butt instead of a bullet. This sounds funny, but I could have been killed that night. I had practiced and simulated head butts for years, never really doing one. Then I did one. Now I know what happens when I really do one. Never again. We have never recovered my gear."


Texas - 1989. Two of my students charged and wrapped arms in the classic “fighters clinch.” They crashed and both, independently, decided to simulate head butts-just sudden, simulated forehead smashes that were meant for the opposition's nose. The bad news was…when they did them simultaneously and for the first time in their lives actually cracked their head against something. One wavered and went dizzy, while the other dropped to one knee! I weaved my way through the battling groups in my martial class over to the duo.

Y'all alright?” I asked, and being young and tough, they shook it off and continued. Both however, had lost a few precious seconds. At session's end, the topic came around in our parking lot gossip session.

“Is that what can happen to you if you do a real head butt?” he asked.

“Possibly,” was my answer, but now years later, I have a medical/scientific answer to that very question. What I discovered many martial artists are just not going to like to hear. That answer is a very big, real “yes!”

If indeed dangerous, why is the head butt so prolific in the martial arts? Why, recently did a major, martial arts magazine run an article with a woman attacked by a man and in the photo demonstrations, she did no less than five head butts? First, came the usual groin kick, but next came the series of head hammerings, which of course the acting criminal reacted with over-dramatic, thespian devastation. She turned to run, but wait! Time for one more head butt! She stopped and without even looking, knocked her head sideways into the side of the attacker's head, then she ran off. She was swinging her head around as though it were an impact weapon! With articles and photo spreads like these, it is easy to see why so many are simulated head butts in training. I myself can fake a darn good one, but honestly at times when doing so, I often feel a second of dizziness. That is without any contact!

Why the head butt craze? The head butt is often promoted as some kind of easy, secret, dirty, tough-guy weapon. Observing a simulated head butt is a very seductive motion to the novice student seeking street creds. Simulated! But vets tell a different tale. Worldwide, very few military close battle manuals even mention head butts. Most soldiers are wearing helmets anyway, but some special operation personnel may not. One British commando manual warned,

“The practice of striking the enemy with your head in a butting fashion can be foolish, as you could well be stunned or fall unconscious, either way subject to considerable enemy attack.”


For Your files:
A neurologist is a medical doctor who has trained in the diagnosis and treatment of nervous system disorders, including diseases of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles. Neurologists perform neurological examinations of the nerves of the head and neck; muscle strength and movement; balance, ambulation, and reflexes; and sensation, memory, speech, language, and other cognitive abilities.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported a warning to all active people to wear helmets in their activities, mentioning the light tap of a soccer ball should be avoided. If the skull is so tough and resistant, how did football players like Dallas Cowboy Troy Aikman, their heads ensconced in the latest padded, high-tech helmets, suffer repeated knockouts and concussions? Because their soft brains inside the hard skull, inside the helmet still, freely splash and twist against the inside of the cranium.

“Never do a head butt.” Cautions Dr. William Baker, a noted neurosurgeon.
"Never," say Dr. Leiman one of the top five Brain doctors in Texas.


“But Doc,” I have asked Baker and so many other MDs and EMTs, “what about using the harder parts of the skull to strike with, such as he crown-circling the top part of your head?” This is often high-lighted by martial experts as a so-called “safe” surface to head butt with. Then other artists will tell you if you should head butt, try to strike the nose of the enemy and there is much solace in the collapsible nose giving way under such a hit.

“When you are stunned or knocked unconscious, it is from your brain essentially splashing against the inside of your skull,” Dr Stephen Mendel told me. “If your brain smashes up against one side, it will in most cases splash back, injuring the opposite side to a lesser degree. Unconsciousness can also result from your brain twisting, even ever-so-slightly-inside your cranium. At times with this twist, connectors can stretch or even rip free. It has absolutely nothing to with what part of your skull is thicker or harder and everything to do with the force that moves the brain inside the skull.”

Another neurosurgeon, Dr Kenneth Chen reports, "Sometimes the simplest bump on the head or a ding from a fall could take away your sense of taste for life, or your sense of smell, depending upon where the injury occurs. You don't want to risk these injuries.”

"A blow to the head that at first seems minor and does not result in immediate pain or other symptoms can in fact turn out to be a life-threatening brain injury. It's very common for someone to appear perfectly lucid just after the impact but then to suddenly, rapidly deteriorate," warns Dr. Carmelo Graffagnino, director of Duke University Medical Center's Neurosciences Critical Care Unit, in a March, 2009 CNN interview. "The nerves surrounding the bruise can begin to stretch, causing what is known as an axonal injury. "The brain is like Jell-O. Imagine if you dropped a bowl of Jell-O on the floor and it looks intact at first but when you examine it really close, you can see it has teeny tiny cracks all in it."

People have actually died later from the most insignificant head bang. This more serious condition is commonly referred to as "talk and die" syndrome among neuroscience physicians and surgeons, because the patient can decline so rapidly. Graffagnino told CNN the initial head impact, fall or car injury doesn't have to be hard at all. The delay in symptoms can range from five minutes to three hours after the accident.

Specifically, there are accelerated and decelerated brain injuries. If your head is hit from an outside force your brain is accelerated inside your skull, hitting the far side of your skull. If your head travels to hit something, you experience a sudden stopping or deceleration of the brain. SPLASH! At best, these splashes are also called-concussions! A concussion is a temporary loss of brain function. There are three kinds of concussions.

1) Mild- Confusion without amnesia. No loss of consciousness.

2) Moderate- Confusion with amnesia. No loss of consciousness.

3) Severe- Loss of consciousness. If you find yourself unconscious for more than about four minutes you really need to visit a doctor.

Dr. Doug Hansen is a Ph.D. Biochemist and forensics experts who has operated toxicology and analytical chemistry laboratories for over 25 years. On blunt force trauma to the brain, he says: "The brain can be damaged by trauma in two ways. When the head is struck by a hard object the cerebral cortex (gray matter) can become bruised. If the force of the blow is sufficient to cause a whiplash like circumstance then the injury can occur to the nerve cells (axonal injury) deep in the white matter of the brain. Injury of this type involves a variety of forces including the acceleration of the object and the acceleration force imparted to the brain by the object. Injury results from the direct contact between the object and the head and the greatest injury to the head occurs from the initial direct impact with the blunt object. The area of contact may be large or small, but the velocity of the impact will largely determine the extent and type of damage caused by the resulting blow."

At near worst, on this list of brain injuries, next are contusions-the bruising of brain tissues and the worst, a hematoma-a collection of blood from a broken vessel. The brain will swell from injury and captured inside the rigid structure of the skull makes this a dangerous event. The nerve cells of the brain are unable to regenerate. Repeated hits to brain, even little ones, can cause a host of grave consequences. Repeated injuries, even very minor ones have been investigated. I found deeper medical studies reporting problems like drug addiction, crime and other social misfit activity.

Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, and co-director of the CSTE told CNN in Januray, 2009, "until recently, the best medical definition for concussion was a jarring blow to the head that temporarily stunned the senses, occasionally leading to unconsciousness. It has been considered an invisible injury, impossible to test -- no MRI, no CT scan can detect it. But today, using tissue from retired NFL athletes culled posthumously, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), at the Boston University School of Medicine, is shedding light on what concussions look like in the brain. The findings are stunning. Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has thus far been found in the brains of five out of five former NFL players. On Tuesday afternoon, researchers at the CSTE will release study results from the sixth NFL player exhibiting the same kind of damage."

Sure, everyone has an anecdotal story about some Joe who did a head butt one night and survived, or we know of a Neanderthal buddy who has done several. Joe was lucky. And I want you to take a good look at Joe. Did he finish high school?

Does the giver of the head butt suffer less, the same, or no damage at all compared to the receiver of the head butt? In order for you to ignore the medical facts or justify your opinion you would have to ignore or consider these sets of facts. The main fact is that the brain is sudden, jarring injuries from accelerated or decelerated brain splash impact to the inside of the skull.Does the giver of the head butt suffer less, the same, or no damage at all compared to the receiver of the head butt? In order for you to ignore the medical facts or justify your opinion you would have to ignore or consider these sets of facts. The main fact is that the brain is sudden, jarring injuries from accelerated or decelerated brain splash impact to the inside of the skull. Here's more-


The Common Forehead Head Butt- yes, this head butt is actually taught as a top five fighting tool in some systems. At least if you are solidly locked onto the opponent’s head, some systems’ suggest aiming for the nose. If you are delivering the head butt, and are lucky enough to strike the collapsible nose, the impact to your head is less harsh. But remember the immense strength the common opponent may have in his bending torso and neck from a reflexive duck from an incoming object. His forehead may appear where his nose once was. Splash and splash back. And then you have -

You - The Deliverer.
If you are delivering the head butt, you set your head and jello brain in motion. When it stops suddenly, your brain suddenly decelerates by hitting the inside of your skull at the point of impact. It splashes back with lessor force on about the opposite side of the skull.

You - The Receiver
If you receive the head butt on or about your skull, upon impact your head is hit and moves, setting your head and jello brain in motion. Your brain is suddenly accelerated and splashes against the inside of the skull near the opposite side of the impact. It splashes back with lessor force on about the point of original impact.

Who wins?
The head butt causes the brain splash of both people. But who wins? The neurologists I have asked cannot determine a single answer because of the possible variables, but all agree on two points, you should not use your head as an impact weapon and you will receive receive accelerated or decelerated brain effects to some degree.


"It is not really a question to me about long-term damage, but rather
what your brain splash/impact might do
to you at the second inside a fight for your life."



It is not really a question to me about long-term damage, but rather what your brain splash/impact might do to you at the second inside a fight. Some mighty big name martial artists have been carried out of the bar after knocking themselves out doing a head butt. Do not misunderstand me. I am not telling you that you should never, ever, under any circumstanced do a head butt. I just think sometimes there is no other choice. In some "do or die" situations, you may have to head butt! The only desperate solution is to steel yourself for the impact (like rolling with the punches) and talk yourself into surviving. There are rare times and positional situations when that may be all you can do. Steel yourself and do it! Tighten up your neck. But, If you are holding the enemy's head in your hands to try a nose smash? Then you could and should probably hammer-fist the nose instead.

Some of the biggest proponents of head butts have actually knocked themselves out when they have really done them! What I am warning you about is that you must not, cannot and should not build an entire fighting system around head butts. If you still disagree with these brain surgeons and neurologists you may already suffering from the effects of one too many head butts!

If you head butt my face? It will hurt me. Of course head butts work. But do they work too much! back against against you - the tough guy deliverer! That is not in question. The question is how much will it hurt you? Will it splash your brains? As an instructor of self-defense and survival, you have a responsibility to prolong your survival and minimize your damage. This does not include risky behavior. As for head butts being the main staple of an attack? Stand down on the head butts! Use them as a last resort. God did not make your head to be an impact weapon.

For more on sport concussions read Dead athletes' brains show damage from concussions

Got an opinion on this one? I'd like to hear it. Post it on HocksCombatForum .

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