French soccer great Zinedine Zidane was ejected from Sunday's World Cup championship game after head-butting an opposing player. After exchanging words with Italy's Marco Materazzi, Zidane bent down and thrust the top of his head into Materazzi's chest. (Here's a video clip.) How was Zidane's head-butting technique?
Impeccable. Experts in self-defense and mixed martial arts say Zidane's head butt was a flawless demonstration of the form. He positioned his feet close to his opponent and stepped into the blow, contracting his abdominal muscles to curve into the attack. He was also careful to keep his chin down as he approached, which helped him land the strike with the top of his head as opposed to his brow or face.
Zidane employed a classic "forward head butt," favored by street fighters in Europe and the United States. Also known as the "Liverpool kiss" or the "Glasgow kiss," the forward head butt is used most often on an adversary's face. The head-butter tries to smash the relatively hard bone at the top of his head into the head-buttee's softer nose, cheeks, or jaw. Aiming for the mouth can do a lot of damage, but it can result in a laceration for the attacker. Likewise, it's very important to avoid forehead-to-forehead contact.
The proper motion for a forward head butt is described as something like a sneeze, or even a bout of vomiting. The attacker steps in with his neck muscles relaxed and his mouth closed. Then he bends at the stomach and snaps his head down while stiffening his neck. Another type of forward head butt works with an uppercut motion, as the attacker springs from the legs.
A head butt to the face can be very dangerous, and the maneuver is banned in almost every kind of professional fighting. Even the freewheeling Ultimate Fighting Championship has a rule against head-butting.
Zidane aimed his head butt at the chest, not the face. If he had been in a real street-fighting situation, this move would have put him in a perilous position—up close to his opponent with his head bowed down, perfectly set up for a guillotine choke.
Zidane isn't the first soccer player to deliver a head butt on the field. Indeed, footballers who train at "heading" the ball will have an easy time mastering the proper head-butting technique. Strong neck muscles can increase the power of the "big knuckle" and may help stave off self-inflicted head-butting injuries.
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Explainer thanks Marc "Animal" MacYoung of No Nonsense Self-Defense, Dennis Newsome of Os Malandros de Mestre Touro, and Burton Richardson of JKD Unlimited.