The Head Butt

One only need look back at soccer’s World Cup series of 2006 and the devastating head butt delivered by French player Zinedine Zidane to Italy’s Marco Materazzi to realize how effective this tactic really is. Although you may not possess the timing or the athleticism of a professional soccer player, the head butt is still a devastating tool for anyone—including law enforcement.

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One only need look back at soccer’s World Cup series of 2006 and the devastating head butt delivered by French player Zinedine Zidane to Italy’s Marco Materazzi to realize how effective this tactic really is. Zidane delivered a powerful one to Materazzi’s chest that literally knocked the Italian central defender flat on his back. Although you may not possess the timing or the athleticism of a professional soccer player, the head butt is still a devastating tool for anyone—including law enforcement.

To understand how this tactic is useful, you first have to understand why it works. The top front of your forehead is a very hard mass of bone. It has to be. When we’re first learning how to walk, we bump our heads—a lot. Mother Nature has made this portion of our skulls thicker to help us deal with these bumps and bangs.

This harder, tougher bone mass is a lot stronger than someone’s nose or eye socket/orbital bone. It is also tougher than someone’s chin or jawbone. Without delving too far back into basic high school physics, when a harder mass meets a softer mass, the softer mass will give way and the harder mass will prevail. To put it into layman’s terms, when the harder mass of your forehead meets the bad guy’s nose with a driving force, the bad guy’s nose is going to break.

When All Else Fails

Now that we’ve gotten the physics lesson out of the way, let’s go over when the head butt might come into play, and then we’ll discuss how to perform it.

This tactic is not a first choice for defense, but there are many ways you could end up with the head butt as the best choice. We could go over a whole host of scenarios leading up to a gun grab. Imagine you and the bad guy are now fighting for control of your gun.

You could attempt to deliver some counter strikes with your off hand, but that involves removing one of your hands from your gun while the bad guy continues to try to wrestle your sidearm away from you with two hands. Two against one are not very good odds.

You could simply pull the trigger and fire some rounds into the bad guy. Some officers take pause before contemplating this tactic. All of us can imagine the headlines in the morning paper, “Officer Shoots Unarmed Man.” But you have to understand the reality of the situation. The bad guy is not attempting to take your gun away from you to scare you with it. He plans on killing you or, at the very least, shooting you to make his getaway. Both of which are unacceptable.

The fight is on, and the bad guy is actively grabbing your gun, so you’ve elected to put some rounds into this perpetrator to end the fight before he gains control of your gun and kills you. The only problem is that when you pull the trigger, nothing happens. During the struggle, your gun has been taken out of battery.

Taking a semiautomatic handgun out of battery, in essence rendering it unable to be fired, is easier than you think. And every gun, even a revolver, can be taken out of battery at some point.

You’ve elected to use deadly force, but it didn’t work. You have decided not to use counter strikes because you don’t want to take one of your hands off of the gun while the bad guy continues to try to take your gun away from you with two hands. You could try to wrestle the gun away from the bad guy, but suppose he outweighs you by 50 or 100 pounds? Or maybe you’re injured and he’s not. Or how about you’re out of shape, and he’s been working out every day for the last five years in the state pen.

You want to end this struggle as quickly as possible, before you run out of steam or get injured. It’s said the average person has about 60 to 90 seconds of all-out fight in them, before he or she becomes fatigued and starts to run out of energy. So ending this fight as quickly as you can is of paramount importance to your safety and to your survival.


One way of stopping the threat is using the head butt. We already know that it’s a devastating tool that can knock a full-grown soccer player off of his feet, so why not use it to your advantage? It is a powerful technique to have in your tactical toolbox. The head butt allows you to deliver counter strikes without having to take your hands away from the struggle for your gun. It is also a surprise weapon that will catch your opponent completely off guard. The head butt is so unexpected that many times the person being struck is actually looking right at the person delivering the blow.

The bad guy will expect you to try to struggle away from him in your attempt to gain control of your firearm. Instead of trying to break away from him, step into him and quickly deliver a head butt to break his nose or the orbital bone under his eye. If you’re lucky, you may even knock him out. At the very least you’re going to cause him some pain, which may lead him to rethink his plans of harming you.

To effectively deliver a proper head butt you need to strike the bad guy with the top portion of your forehead where the hairline meets the forehead—or for some of us, where the hairline used to meet the forehead. This is the hardest part of your head. It has very few nerve endings and the bone is a quarter inch or more thick. Don’t worry too much about getting hurt when delivering a head butt. If you strike the bad guy with this portion of your skull, about the only sensation you’ll feel is that of making contact with the other person.

Aim for his nose, lower jaw, his eye socket, or any other area low on the head, like his ear. The orbital bone under your eye that forms your eye socket will break just as easily as the bone in your nose, so try to aim for those areas.

Be aware of the more severe effects of this technique if you hit certain areas of the face or head. Besides breaking a nose or an orbital bone, you have the possibility of causing some lacerations and abrasions. You can knock someone out with a head butt, and you can cause a concussion, as well as permanent nerve damage. If you head butt the bad guy in his temple, breaking the temporal bone (the bone under the temple) can lead to possible death.

The Finer Points

This is a tactic that has to be performed quickly, and without hesitation, to keep the element of surprise on your side. You’ll want to pick out your target area as you step into the bad guy and quickly deliver two or three powerful head butts to his face, ear, or any other area you can successfully strike. Even if you miss the intended target of his nose, eye socket, lower jaw, etc., you can still cause some damage and pain.

Look up and watch the target area you’ve picked out, all the way to contact. This will prevent you from hitting the bad guy with the wrong part of your head. You’ll want to avoid striking the bad guy with the side or back of your head. You could injure yourself, permanently, by striking with these areas. By watching your intended target all the way through to contact, you’ll also ensure that you achieve a solid strike against your intended target.

As you deliver your head butts, pull your gun in tight to your body; this is where your power over the gun will be. Think of it as opening a tough jar of peanut butter. Do you hold the jar out away from your body at arm’s length to try to open it? Or do you pull the jar in close to your body to exert the greatest amount of energy over that stubborn lid? Do the same thing with your gun. Hold it in close to your body where your power is. From here you gain control over the gun and take the appropriate use-of-force action.

The head butt is not the end all answer to weapon retention, but it is a powerful tactic to have in your tactical toolbox. I suggest incorporating it into your force-on-force training scenarios so you and other officers will think of this tactic should you ever find yourself in a life or death struggle for your firearm.

Your survival or, better yet, your winning a life or death confrontation on the street depends on having options. The head butt is a tactical option that should not be overlooked. It can be a sudden “fight stopper” when used properly.


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