Principles of Violence: Targeting

by Johnny Pain

The following article runs parallel to the “Targeting” chapter in my soon-to-be released book “Principles of Violence”. The book will cover the subject in much greater detail and will shed additional light on this invaluable component of your education in the application of the principles of violence to save your life or that of a loved one.

Targeting is an absolutely critical principle that one must learn in order to most effectively and efficiently use the tool of violence against a would-be assailant. It is therefore the first principle that students spend time learning and developing proficiency in, and the one in which they receive the most disproportionately large amount of instruction in a seminar setting.

Quite simply, targeting is what allows one to predictably and reliably produce injuries to another human being. Injury is necessary in order to disrupt that individual’s ability to function normally in some manner, and also to elicit a spinal reflex, which in turn renders the individual a slave to their spine for a valuable bit of time, exposing him to further injuries, and causing him to be incapable of “defending” against, said injuries.

Targeting simply involves focusing one’s strikes on areas of the human body that are likely to produce an injury. Developing a comprehensive knowledge of the targets of the human body, their associated spinal reflex, and the injuries associated with each when struck in specific manners is the educational investment that will make the most difference in terms of one’s ability to incapacitate any human being in a violent encounter.

What Targets are Not

Now that we’ve identified that a target is simply an area of the human body where injury is likely to occur when struck with sufficient force, let’s look at what targets are not.

Targets are not “pressure points”. Pressure points are areas of the human body, which produce pain when struck or grabbed. Martial arts such as Tai Chi, Ninjutsu, Chin Na, and even more esoteric styles like George Dillman’s “Kyoshu Jitsu” (Google George for a laugh sometime. His “knockouts”, specifically the “no contact” ones are hilarious to watch) make heavy use of pressure points in their teachings. While some points certainly are painful when grabbed or struck, it is important to remember that injury, not pain, is what needs to be produced in order to incapacitate a human being and save your life in a violent encounter. Causing pain, particularly when dealing with someone amped on adrenaline or narcotics, is a very poor strategy when the other guy wants your head on a platter. You simply cannot bet your life that his intent to cause you harm will be broken because “it hurts”.

Targets are not the body’s “weak points”. There is nothing inherently weak about a man’s sternum or knee. It will take kinetic energy generated by your body in motion with a viable body weapon at the end of it to smash either and render the man non functional.

Targets cannot be conditioned to withstand punishment or injury. For example, a boxer can condition himself to soak up blows to his midsection, or develop his “chin”, or ability to take shots to his head, but there is nothing that he can do to toughen up his clavicles, his metatarsal bones, or his lateral neck. These structures simply do not allow for conditioning against injury.

Trauma to Targets Produces a Predictable Spinal Reflex

Spinal Reflex, which will be covered in depth in its own article, and in much greater detail in my upcoming book “Principles of Violence”, is an invaluable principle when learning to take a man apart.

Spinal reflex is simply the process that occurs when a target area receives a trauma of significant enough magnitude to trip a threshold switch in the spinal cord and cause the body to move in a predictable manner. This is what happens when you touch a hot stove, or step on something sharp. In my previous article “Aggression” I touched on this by using the example of a man kicking you in your groin full force with his shin before smashing his Ulna bone on the back of your neck, and then stomping on your neck once you were down and out for the count. Everyone can imagine what a man looks like that has just taken a shot to the groin. We’ve all seen it; hell we’ve all probably experienced it at some point in our lives. Understanding the reactions to trauma for each target is a bit of an unfair advantage when it comes to doing violence to another. It allows you to access targets as they present themselves after the first injury, and render him incapable of doing anything about your intentions of causing further injury.

It’s crucial to point out that in the groin, back of the neck example above, many would think that the pain produced by the groin kick would be sufficient to bring the situation to an end. This is not necessarily the case.

While a hard shot to the groin certainly may take all of the fight out of most human males, a man jacked up on PCP may not feel the pain from the strike and go right on his merry way smashing you into oblivion or eviscerating you with his knife if you choose to stop at the kick. What you can bet on however, is that the stimulus that the kick produces to the nerve plexus in the man’s pubic area will absolutely produce at the least the minimum spinal reflex, i.e. his hands will go to his groin, his chin will pop up, he will bend forward at the waist, and his mouth will open. Take this time to step back and assume a fighting stance, and you now have a “fight” on your hands, which is something that we never want. Take the opportunity while he is involuntarily reacting the trauma (not the pain) to bust his knee with all of the finesse that you would use to bust up a wooden pallet for firewood, and you now have a crippled man on your hands who is much simpler to deal with.

What is the Best Target to Strike in a Violent Situation?

This is a common question that I receive from the uninitiated when the subject of what I teach arises. Most people are looking for a small “toolbox” of target areas with associated, and equally simplistic “techniques” to use to strike them. “Go for the throat” or “Go for the eyes” are the type of things that they’d like to hear me say. Many overly simplify the subject in this manner, and it is a dangerous way of teaching (if you can call it that).

Imagine for a moment that you are minding your own business outside of a building while using an ATM machine when you are blindsided and struck with a punch to the head. You find yourself flat on the ground with a man standing over you who produces a knife and demands your ATM card and the PIN number. If you’ve been taught to “Go for the eyes or throat”, then you’re going to have a hard time using your tools. Now if you’ve been taught to access a multitude of targets all over this man’s body, then you are more than comfortable causing injuries from any position that you may find yourself in whether seemingly advantageous (standing over him), or disadvantageous (him standing over you after he’s cold-cocked you in the side of the head and potentially broken your jaw).

You may, for instance, see his ankle next to your body, and roll onto it from the inside, placing your forearm above his medial malleolus (ball on the inside of ankle) to lever him down and snap his ankle. From here you may then dive elbow first into his exposed groin, keeping your weight on his internal saphenous nerve on his injured leg. From there, the lateral neck may present itself to you as he sits up violently in an effort to get his hands to his wounded ankle, and in response (spinal reflex) to his smashed testicles. At that point you may lay your ulna bone across his lateral neck and shift all of your weight above that point before bouncing your weight on it to produce a massive parasympathetic nervous system stimulus by attacking his pneumogastric nerve sheath, and knocking him out.

Keep in mind that the “technique” detailed above is not a technique at all in that it is not a rehearsed series of movements that is taught to students. It is simply how one situation may have panned out based on what targets became available, and how you used the spinal reflexes from the injuries to open the gates for each successive injury in your quest to incapacitate the man and eliminate the threat of him killing you for your money.

It’s also important to note that the above could have been performed by anyone, regardless of size or athletic ability. Man, woman, even paraplegic could have executed the movements detailed above with the same result. The person used weapons of their body, in this case the ulna bones of the forearms, and the elbows, with their entire body weight behind them to take the man apart.

Students learn how to access targets based on what is presented to them at that point in time. With over one hundred targets available, there are many options to exploit. Students build their “vocabulary” of targets rapidly, particularly in the immersion style format of a three-day seminar. Students learn that there is no “best” target, or targets. There is simply the target that is most readily accessed given the situation.

Striking targets to produce injury is light years ahead of the idea of throwing strikes at the man’s “head”, “body”, or “legs”.

Do you want to bet that your thai kicks are stronger and more devastating than his intent to kill you?

In the above situation, do you want to bet that taking him down and “mounting” him to reign blows on his face BJJ style is going to prevent him from slamming that knife under your ribs?

If you opt to attack his knife hand, and “kimura” him, are you willing to bet that his accomplice is not laying in wait to David Beckham your head off while you’re trying to submit him or tear out his shoulder with both hands?

Learn to access targets and produce injuries. Otherwise you’re constantly gambling on your technique or experience versus his, your size and strength versus his, and last but certainly not least, his desire to break you over your desire to render him broken. The latter being the most critical, and the one that you are most likely to lose before you even begin.

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. Chad

    I can’t wait for these manuals. I’m dying to see more of this side of J.P. The training ebooks are top notch and I expect no less from these.

    Get some videos out soon too; I can’t get enough of this stuff.

    July 12, 2013 at 10:38 pm

  2. Dave

    I just stumbled upon your site and man I’m glad I did. I’m a martial arts instructor in the Marine Corps and a lot of your “grass roots/to the point” logic is exactly where I stand on defense and the preservation of life (yours/and those around you) by any means necessary within the continuum of force. I’m do back in the states shortly from a deployment (AFG). I will most certainly look into supplementing myself with your books. Would love to attend your seminar…have to convince the wife on that one…Seriously this stuff is so spot on! Not blowing smoke at all. There is a lot of “fluff” and “bells/whistles” techniques out there…even in our own system. The strength/conditioning stuff is awesome too. I’m currently on a LP w/ an Olympic lifting emphasis and we do tons of sprints and fast paced conditioning out here. I’ll spread the word about site/products for sure. Anyways I just wanted to say again awesome stuff. Take care man.


    September 15, 2013 at 3:21 am

    • Thank you. Our mission here, as always, is the systematic extermination of BS. My job is to make people combat effective in the shortest time period possible and that simply can’t be done if I’m too busy trying to sell “the one ultimate method” or technique.

      We’d love to see you at an event sometime in the future. I’ve got one coming up in December. If you’re home maybe you can convince the wife it would be an excellent early Christmas gift;)

      September 16, 2013 at 5:44 pm

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