The Fallacy of “Self Defense”

by Johnny Pain

The term “Self Defense” is something that has bothered me for a long time. In a literal sense, the term is fundamentally flawed. You see when people discuss “self defense” scenarios, they are not talking about sporting events like mixed martial arts or boxing, nor are they referring to a shoving match at the local pub. When people think “self defense” they think of dealing with situations where their life, or the lives of others, are in danger, in the face of an asocial criminal.

Before I go any further, I’d like to address the difference between a “social conflict”, and an asocially violent assault. A social conflict is the type of thing that happens when two people argue over something, and it escalates to violence. These are the situations that we all gathered to watch in the school yard, yelling “Fight!” and encouraging the participant that we liked.

An asocially violent spin on the school yard scenario might involve one of the parties returning to school with his father’s handgun, and opening fire into a crowd, something that we’ve seen in the news far too often in the past decade. In those situations, no one wants to watch, no one is excited, or otherwise interested in hanging around. Asocial violence, violence that happens outside of any agreed upon code or law, is something that is repulsive to us as human beings.

Aggravated robberies turned homicides, rape, murder as part of gang initiation, home invasions, and the like are all examples of asocial violence. You are dealing with a person or a group of people, who have already decided to operate outside of what makes sense socially. The rape victim that is brutally stabbed to death after heeding the advice from the media and her college rape awareness class by complying with her attacker has made the fatal mistake of projecting her own morality, or that of someone else who has advised her but does not recognize the psyche of the sociopath, onto her attacker. “If I comply, he won’t hurt me”.

In her case, the mistake cost her her life.

The home owner who wakes to find himself in the presence of two large, drugged out gang bangers in his bedroom, who attempts to reason with them, offer them money, or otherwise give full compliance, even after they begin beating him and making preparations to rape his wife lying next to him, has also made the same fatal mistake.

In either of these situations, “defending one’s self” is a fantasy. It’s something that sounds nice to us as morally sound, socially adjusted human beings. The problem here is that we are up against opposition who is not of the same cloth. They are wildly different in what is “normal” to them, and what they are willing to do in order to fulfill whatever needs that they may have, and which motivated their crime.

Simply put, there is no talking your way out of a situation like this. Additionally, any attempt to truly “defend yourself” in the traditional manner is not going to fare well.

The only thing that will ensure your survival in an asocially violent situation is to incapacitate your attacker(s).

A solid, working knowledge of how to truly incapacitate (read: render unconscious, cripple, or kill if necessary) another human being with your hands is, in my opinion, the most valuable human skill that you need to learn. If and when the time comes where you need that skill, there will be no other solution.

We all keep smoke detectors in our homes, yet how many of us have actually had house fires? If you have, and have lived to tell about it, I’m sure that you would not scoff at anyone who wanted smoke detectors or extinguishers in their home. Likewise we have fire escapes, “TOT Finder” stickers to put on our kids windows, and all other sorts of contingency preparations for something that we hope never happens to us.

So we are ok with letting firemen on the ground know where our children sleep in the event of a fire, but we are not ok with learning how to rupture a man’s eye, and fracture his skull at the lambdoid and saggital sutures, causing him to expire due to cerebral contusion, if he is attempting to stab our child.

We want shotguns in the house for home defense. We accept that a mechanism which requires another human to operate, and can and will render us unable to see well (due to muzzle flash) or hear (muzzle blast) when fired under low light conditions while under duress in a home invasion context, is a valid investment in our personal protection. We accept that the wound that the shotgun would inflict on a violent intruder would certainly kill him in his tracks, but then turn our noses up when someone like myself discusses how a man who has had his thyroid cartilage crushed, and is asphyxiating as a result, needs to be knocked unconscious so as to die in his sleep so that he can’t cause any damage in the one to five minute window during which he will be shutting down from his injury but still can pull a trigger or stab out with a knife.

Asocial violence warrants a violent response. I’m not talking about sports here; I’m not talking about dick measuring over a girl or other sleight at a bar. I’m talking about life or death. I’m referring to a situation where inaction results in certain death.

These are the situations that people want to learn to defend themselves in, and these are the very situations in which “self-defense” has no place.

In order to survive an asocially violent situation, you need to be able to put the brakes on another human being. You need to be able to shut him or them off, and destroy their ability to use the only weapon that they have, their brain. Regardless of what tool may be in their hand, be it a gun, knife, blunt instrument, you name it, they are incapable of causing you, our anyone else harm without the murderous intent in their brain necessary to wield it.

Think about it like this. Has a knife ever jumped up and stabbed anyone? No.

Without a brain to allow the attacker to use the knife, the knife is not dangerous at all. This goes for all weapons. The only true weapon on the face of the earth is the human brain.

Learn to use your brain to incapacitate anyone that possesses an intent to do you harm. Stop worrying about what he’s doing to you, or what you don’t want him to do to you, or how to block or otherwise defend against whatever he’s doing to you (that type of thinking leads to morgue photos that look like the one at the top of this article), and put the focus on what you’re doing to him. What are you doing, with intent, to destroy his ability to harm you or a third party? That’s where the focus needs to be.

This is the first in a continuing series of posts which I will be addressing this topic. As many of you know, I have been an instructor in these matters for well over a decade now, and have continued teaching on a private scale. I’ve made the decision to release my information to the public for the first time via my website, and upcoming products including the first ever seminar to be held this September at my new facility.

Look forward to lots of updates and new information to be presented. Message me or comment to ask questions or give feedback on what you’d like to hear from me.


Johnny Pain is the man behind as well as the East Coast’s notorious Greyskull Barbell Club 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


12 Responses

  1. Steve Esqueda

    Love it John. Thanks again for all the content you already put out for free to your readers. Looking forward to all the follow up articles. Take care man.

    June 10, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    • It’s my pleasure Steve. Looking forward to you visiting us again in the future.

      June 10, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      • Steve Esqueda

        Done. I will be back. And when you and Devin make it out to the west coast, hit me up. I’ll either host you or come meet you guys.

        June 10, 2013 at 9:01 pm

  2. Worth

    I write now to post my opinion and then realize I’ve never truly been in such a situation. Luckily I believe my military training would kick in. I can remember fighting with my brother, and not truly wanting to hurt/disfigure him, but still wanting to beat him up. Totally different from the asocially violent situation, until we’re in such a situation I feel we really will never know what we’d do. That’s why it’s important to train for such a situation.

    Tip – wear gloves so you don’t get Hepatitis or the HIV.

    June 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    • Great comment Worth.

      Recognizing the difference between social conflict and asocial violence is the first hurdle. Learning the skills necessary to incapacitate a human being to the appropriate level is what’s needed to come out on top/alive.

      Our upcoming seminar in September will prepare attendees for this type of situation by providing education as well as over 12 hrs, over the course of the weekend, actually applying the principles taught hands on. We do this in a safe manner that really needs to be seen to be understood, but absolutely provides the most realistic environment in which to develop the skill of injuring/crippling/killing a human being both with empty hands, and with all common modern weapons such as knives, blunt objects, and firearms. From day one attendees are faced with problems both with and against these tools. This is crucial in learning the principle based problem solving skills that one needs in these situations.

      June 10, 2013 at 9:37 pm

  3. This sounds like it would be a very interesting course.

    I think you’re right in defining the two ‘types’ of self defence, but it made me think in terms of risk analysis. One has a high frequency but low overall risk and the other a lower frequency but high overall risk. Obviously the reader should have the tools appropriate to both situations, but most martial arts and ‘self defence’ systems are inadequate for either.

    My main issue with ‘serious’ self defence, of the kind you’re talking about, is that it’s hard to train it in a realistic environment, because you never really train the actual movement (unless you have a ready supply of expendable training partners!). Krav Maga, CQC and other systems fall under this category for me.
    For this reason alone I’d be very interested in seeing how you run your seminar.

    I would highly recommend the ISR Matrix as a highly funciotnal course for those situations where you don’t want to kill your opponent, but are forced to lay hands on someone.

    Anyway, long-winded reply to what was a good read. look forward to the rest of the series.

    June 11, 2013 at 1:56 am

  4. kev

    JP have you read on combat or on killing? I think you would dig.

    June 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

  5. Joel Melanson

    Great article John. I agree, learning how to incapacitate another human being with your own hands is the most valuable human skill one can learn. Having just finished the Blueprint to Beast weekend, the article is reflective of what we covered during the combative portion. This really opened my eyes to what is truly asocial violence. Even with only a few hours of training, I feel confident that I would have a very good chance of incapacitating a would-be attacker trying to hurt me, or the ones I care for.

    Getting out of a “self defense” mentality – if your attacker does “A” you counter with “B” – is absolutely necessary to survive and walk away from an asocial violent attack. Chances are your attacker is not going to square off with you. He’s going to jump out of nowhere, and he is going to attack you with whatever he can get his hands on. In many instances you will not see it coming until the last second, and he will not play by any rules.

    Looking forward to any other articles you plan to put out addressing this topic and definitely looking forward to the seminar in the fall.

    June 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm

  6. BJack

    Where is the September seminar being held? I live in the boonies of western maryland and would like to attend if it’s within driving distance.

    June 13, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    • The seminar will be held at the new Greyskull location in Holmes, PA. I’d love to see you attend.

      June 14, 2013 at 3:49 am

  7. Nate

    Great article – makes you think how many victims of crimes were taught to “turn the other cheek” or “hitting is always wrong” as a kid. I’m not blaming them for becoming a victim, not at all; however, you have to wonder how things would turn out if more people were encouraged to learn how to handle themselves in an asocially violent situation rather than sheltered from the issue.

    June 17, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    • Excellent point Nate.

      We live in a society right now that breeds victims on a large scale. The sad reality is that a large percentage of makes today can be simply “strong arm” robbed.

      Visit a country with different societal norms, and the robbers have a fight on their hands more often than not.

      The problem with the programming in our society today is that the asocial criminal is not getting the memo.

      June 17, 2013 at 9:01 pm

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