Newton’s Laws of Violence Part One

by Johnny Pain

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. -Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton’s contributions to the world of physics are legendary. His “three laws of motion” formed the basis for much of what is known about the subject today. In my teaching at the Greyskull Academy of Combat Sciences, I frequently cite Newton as his three laws of motion apply both directly, and in parallel to, the subject of human violence. This is the first in a three part series examining how Newton’s laws are relevant to our pursuits.

One of the first principles that we discuss with trainees is the principle of action versus reaction. As you may have gathered from my previous articles on the topic of violence and self-defense, acting; doing violence to another human being for the purpose of preventing violence done to you or a third party is the backbone of what we teach.

Action vs. Reaction: Action always prevails.

Much of what is taught in conventional martial arts or self-defense classes is based on the idea of defending oneself against the actions of another. Students are taught techniques that represent responses to a variety of common attacks. In this case, they are taught to react to what the other person is doing. To use a dance analogy, the other guy is always leading.

While I can (and will later) elaborate on the problem with technique based self defense when compared to a principle-based system, that is not the focus of this article. Suffice to say that when there is a man or group of men charging you with murderous intent, there is no time to scan your mental Rolodex in search of the predetermined response that you’ve been taught when faced with said situation.

I do not teach people to react to what the other guy is doing. I teach people to act, and force him to react. Since we know that action always wins, this is the only approach that will see you emerge victorious when faced with asocial violence.

One of the simple drills that I do with students to illustrate this principle is to have two of them kneel facing each other with an object on the ground in between them. One student places his hand roughly one foot above the object; while the other student places his or her hand approximately double the distance from the object, well above their partner’s hand. The student whose hand is closer to the object is instructed to not move until the other person moves. The student whose hand is farther away makes a move for the object with the simple directive of covering it with their hand. Keep in mind that in addition to their hand being twice the distance from the object, the other person’s hand is in their way on the way down.

Time after time after time, the person whose hand is farther from the object is able to cover it or even pick it up before their partner can reach it. The interesting thing here is that the partner whose hand is closest to the object knows exactly what the intentions are of their partner. They have an extremely simple action that they must take (covering the object) in reaction to their partner’s movement. Think about how different this is from a situation where another human’s intentions are not as crystal clear, and you are waiting to block, counter, or otherwise defend against (react to) what he is doing.

You simply do not have the time. Action vs. Reaction: Action always prevails.

Beyond the simple idea of the reaction time gap, there is the idea of action vs. reaction, cause vs. effect at play anytime two or more people engage in combat. One person is injuring the other person, and one person is being injured. This is true in every single example of human on human violence that you can possibly imagine or demonstrate. One is the doer, and one is the do-ee.

It’s pretty clear to see which side you would like to be on.

When you act, and produce an injury on another human being, for example striking him in the pneumogastric nerve sheath in the lateral neck with a forearm strike, a series of reactions take place. For one, he is rendered unconscious. That is a reaction to the action that you took. Also, his body moves in a very predictable manner with response to the trauma. You saw this idea demonstrated in my previous article “Aggression” when we referenced the guy slamming his shin into your groin full power.

Learning how the body moves with response to various traumas is one of the fundamental principles that we teach. The beautiful thing about this principle is that the movements are generated by the brain stem, not the conscious portion of the brain and are thereby uncontrollable. The reaction to trauma that one’s body demonstrates in terms of how they move is a product of the autonomic nervous system. Once we understand that they are locked into a spinal reaction once an injury is caused, we understand that we own the man after the first injury so long as we continue to injure him while he is locked into reacting to the previous injury or injuries.

Understanding these predictable movement patterns also allow us instant feedback as to whether or not we struck our desired target. For instance if we kick a man with the ball of our foot into the groin, and instead of seeing his mouth open, his torso bend violently forward at the waist, and his hands go to his groin, we see him “flinch” downward at the waist and resume his upright position, we know instantly that we did not get our target. We also know that the injury therefore did not take place, and we had better get to work injuring another exposed target.

This is why there is no give and take associated with what we do. The last thing you will see one of my students do is strike a man with an open palm into the trachea at the suprasternal notch and then back up allowing him time to recover or “answer” his action. In the next installment of this series we will look at one of Newton’s other laws that more directly addresses the concept of not allowing him any breathing room (no pun intended) and continuing to cause a series of injuries on him until he is incapacitated to the severity that we deem optimal for the given situation.

The take away here is that in every violent situation there is someone who is acting, and someone who is reacting. In a “give and take”, “offense and defense” scenario, the participants are taking turns acting and reacting to the other guys actions. Since we know that action always wins, we are never interested in reacting to anything that he has for us.

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”

 “For every cause there is an effect”.

We act, we cause.

We force him or them to react, and we cause the effects that we see fit.

Understand that action always beats reaction. Choose to act, choose to cause, and buckle up, it’s the law.

Until next time,


 Click Here to register for the first three-day seminar to be held at the new Greyskull Academy of Combat Sciences this September. 


Johnny Pain is the man behind as well as the East Coast’s notorious Greyskull Barbell Club, the newly launched Greyskull Academy of Combat Sciences, and several other ventures. He is the author of several books on subjects pertaining to strength and conditioning. He can be found comically entertaining questions on his Q and A forum at or can be reached for consultations, training seminars, or speaking engagements at

Also, you can follow him on Twitter: @thejohnnypain




3 Responses

  1. simon

    speed, surprise, and violence of action.

    June 20, 2013 at 3:14 am

  2. Nate

    Curious to read your take on the balance between self defense and excessive force.

    June 24, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    • Nate,

      I get a lot of questions regarding the appropriate use of force, and avoiding prosecution in protecting yourself from another person or people. I will cover this in a full length article response for you on the topic later this week.

      For now, recognize that we teach people to use violence to survive the unimaginable. The situations where the information presented is applicable are not those in which you will be brought up on charges. Remember that the basic rules for justifiable homicide are that you need to be in fear of your own death or that of a third party, or grievous bodily harm to yourself or a third party. When I speak of killing, crippling, or otherwise maiming a human being, I am referring to situations like these.

      Think about deadly force from a firearms perspective; if you would not be in the right to shoot and kill your attacker, then you probably would not be in the right to kill him by other means either.

      As I will cover in the post, you run the risk of killing someone any time you choose to engage in violence (as I will cite from numerous examples in the news of two people having a simple dust up, and one of them ending up dead accidentally as a result). Likewise, a bar fight can lead to your prosecution on a variety of other charges. We teach people the tools they need to use force appropriately for the situation. If you learn to kill, you’ll never do it accidentally, and you’ll always be able to dial it back if the situation doesn’t warrant that extreme of a response. However, if you need to know how to kill but do not know how, it is too late and there is nothing you can do, the knowledge and skill simply won’t be there for you.

      As always thanks for the question and for the inspiration for another post topic. I encourage anyone else reading to follow Nate’s lead and submit to me any questions you have that you’d like to see answers to.


      June 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm

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