Villain A to Z: Fearlessness

by Johnny Pain

Fear in its most basic sense is a gift. Most of what we call fear is not fear at all, but simple anxiety. Understanding the distinction is crucial.

The title of this post is fearlessness, a characteristic that any proper villain man should possess. What is important to note here is that this not imply that one does not ever face anything that is unsettling or uneasy, but that the difference between real fear and nervousness or anxiety is clearly understood, and does not act as a hindrance to ones success or quality of life.

Real fear is a primal instinct. It is empowering in nature, allowing people to act almost entirely in the subconscious when faced with a severe enough danger that the fear response is induced. The woman who stabs an attacker thirty-five times, or escapes from a captor’s layer, is acting out of real fear. The butterflies you feel in your stomach when another man gets loud with you, or approaches your car door with malice in his eyes is simply not the same thing.

The Proper Villain must learn to recognize anxiety for what it is, and act in a manner that reflects this knowledge.

We as humans are frequently presented with situations that make us uncomfortable. Our environment, upbringing, and a variety of other factors greatly influence how and to what degree we become uncomfortable. This discomfort, nervousness, can be a crippling thing if it is mistaken for something more serious.

Take into consideration the idea that on the day of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there were two hundred and twenty seven civilians aboard the four planes that were attacked, and only nineteen hijackers. That works out to less than five per plane, armed with razor knives.

There was almost a twelve to one ratio of passengers to hijackers, yet the planes still were brought down.

Let me ask you a few questions:

  • What is the absolute risk when facing a box-cutter wielding assailant? How much blood can a human being lose before going into hypovolemic shock and being incapacitated? What targets on the human body are exposed enough to be wounded in a manner that would cause such blood loss/ incapacitation?
  • What are the odds that someone aboard each of the planes had some basic knowledge of first aid?
  • What are the odds that someone on board the plane had some experience flying, even with a flight simulator?
  • What are the odds that someone was radio savvy enough to communicate and receive instructions from the tower?
  • Lastly, what are the odds that a knife-wielding assailant could overcome a twelve on one attack from passengers intent on causing him grievous bodily harm, and saving the lives of all on board?


I’ll be honest with you; the attacks pissed me off quite a bit. Obviously, any attack on my country angers me, but I was additionally angered by the lack of action of the passengers aboard the planes. I apologize to any readers who lost loved ones on that day, hopefully the heads my boys and I made roll in Afghanistan after the fact will assuage any anger you have towards me for my comments.

I can assure you that there were those on board who could have absolutely turned the situation around. I can also assure you that the perception of fear is what caused the passengers to ride to their deaths, paralyzed into inaction.

As I mentioned before, real fear is an empowering thing. I promise you that those who would have acted would have been super-human in their efforts. They would have fought with a tenacity and oblivity to pain that those not in the same situation cannot understand. As a combat veteran I can speak from experience on the trance-like manner in which one performs when fighting for his life.

The attacks on 9/11, and the resultant deaths, are a grave example of what failing to act in a situation where you feel uncomfortable or unsure of yourself can lead to. In true JP fashion, I’ll share with you a much more relatable tale from my youth that illustrates a principle I use with coaching clients to help to break them of this devastating habit.

As a young boy I grew up in a great neighborhood. I was involved in a few scrapes here and there, but for the most part everyone “fought fair” and shook hands after rolling in the dirt for a bit. Once I moved up into middle school, the world around me changed quite a bit.

A series of events in the community caused a large influx of students into my school from other neighborhoods, many of which were a bit rougher than mine. The kids from these other schools had it out for us, and quickly sought to establish their place in the pecking order of things. I fell pray to bullies in large groups, who harassed me, and beat me up each time I tried to use the hallway bathroom between classes.

Mainly I was targeted due to my skin color. I know what it is like to be on the shit end of racism, and it is not fun. I am not a fan of the idea, and loathe the type of blanket racism that exists in many circles today.

One day I had a conversation with my Pop Pop, whom I have referred to many times in various media. He was my hero, and the most powerful man I ever knew. People feared him and loved him at the same time. He was a nightmare to those who crossed him or stood in the way of his empire, and a saint to those who he took under his vast wings.

He asked me how school was going, particularly with regards to the new influx of students. I told him that all was well. I hated to lie to him, but could not bring myself to tell him that I was being bullied and was afraid to go to school.

He asked me flat out if I was bullied. I told him “NO”, but that many other kids were. He told me that bullying was something that he wouldn’t stand for, and that any man who would let another man walk on him like that was not a man at all.

After that weekend I returned to school Monday morning, as nervous and scared as ever. I went to my first class, Social Studies. This one I knew I would be attacked after if I tried to use the bathroom, but I felt a serious pee coming on, and knew I couldn’t hold it until the next period. Using the bathroom during the class was out, because there were always a few older kids hanging out in there skipping class, and I knew that visiting during that time was a recipe for disaster.

I sat there and listened to my Pop Pop’s words echo in my head. I found myself becoming enraged and daydreaming about what it would be like if he were there with me. Surely no one would mess with me then. They’d be terrified of him like everyone else was.

In that moment I experienced one of the most profound epiphanies of my life to that point. I was his namesake, his pride and joy, his clear choice to take over his empire (something I never got to do since he died when I was seventeen), how could I be so unlike him in this moment?

The answer was simple, I wanted him there, and he was going to be there.

When the bell rang, I ran out of the class and towards the bathroom. A few of those who bullied me saw me running, and assumed I was trying to get my business done and get out before they came and did their thing. Instead I ducked behind the door, waited for the first one to enter, and slammed the door behind him. I immediately turned the lock on the door, and proceeded to smash his astonished face with the spine of my heavy Social Studies book. He dropped like a sack of shit.

I stood over him kicking and beating him with my book for what seemed like an eternity. Some passers by outside reported the commotion and a nearby Janitor unlocked the door and restrained me. I was immediately sent to the Dean’s office to face the music.

I don’t honestly remember the punishment, but I vividly remember the freedom I earned that day. I had used superior strategy and ferociousness (two of my Pop Pop’s best attributes) to overcome something that had made my quality of life terrible for weeks.

I was not messed with after that, and eventually became friends with the kid I beat later in the school year. I can honestly say that my actions had a profound effect on how everyone else was treated as well. I can’t say that bullying stopped entirely, but it certainly wasn’t going on around me, and didn’t involve those who I was known to be friends with.

What I did without knowing it consciously in that moment was what we call modeling. The idea is simple, and is present in the concept of the “What would Jesus do” bracelets that are worn by many. It simply involves acting as someone else would act, or thinking how someone else would think in the moment, in order to get you through a situation.

Fear of public speaking? Model someone who kills it on stage in front of a huge audience.

Fear of asking the girl out? Model a lady-killer movie or TV character that has a way with the ladies.

It’s simple to do, and the more you do it, the more the characteristics about the subject you are modeling become your own.

In every violent encounter early in life, I modeled my Pop Pop. What was funny was that before I knew it I didn’t need to anymore, I would simply act that way on my own. I set out to become him, and became Johnny Pain, a unique individual influenced by him, but also by my own beliefs and experiences.

If you find yourself experiencing what you think is fear in any situation, simply think of a person who you know would handle the situation the way you would like to handle it. Who would you want there with you to pass the buck to?

Model that person. Do it every time you need him/her there. Soon enough you will possess those characteristics yourself.

Don’t let anxiety in a fear suit hold you back ever again.

Become fearless and seek to be he who is modeled by others in the presence of that which makes them uncomfortable.


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


6 Responses

  1. JPPShark

    Killer post, this one definitely hits home I knew someone on one of the flights. I don’t find it offensive as it’s true, we’ve all thought it but nobody actually says it much. I can remember the feeling of earning that similar freedom from a bully in my school days as well

    May 25, 2013 at 8:05 pm

  2. TaylorCannon

    Nice to see them coming again.

    May 25, 2013 at 9:27 pm

  3. Great article, the most powerfull I have ever felt is on the other side of completion of a goal. Making people eat shit, after underestimating you is addicting.


    May 26, 2013 at 6:56 am

  4. Great article. I think for the most part the model I use is simply ‘the man I want to be’. The being said I’ve not been put in a situation where I’ve felt fear or been threatened any time recently, so I haven’t had a good chance to put my newlyfound confidence (?) into action.
    The last time I was in an uncomfortable situation like that was years ago when I managed a reasonably rough pub, which was in fact the impetus for starting martial arts and subsequently strength training.. I’m a much different man now.

    May 26, 2013 at 8:25 pm

  5. Billy

    I remember my first big fight in high school. I didn’t start it, but I sure as shit finished it. The ironic thing, after I won that fight, and got suspended, and came back, everyone thought I was a bully.

    Until people actually got to know me. I had people come to me in my senior year in high school so terrified of me that they thought I was going to kill them. People get so dramatic these days.

    However, seeing the recent influx of violence from bullying in schools, I guess I kinda get it now. The days aren’t simple anymore. You have to worry about some douche bag coming back with a gun or knife.

    To me, though, the rules are the still the same. My grandfather told me two things:

    – Always walk with your head held up high, ’cause you have as much of a right to be there as anyone else

    – Don’t start fights, but make sure you God Damn finish them.

    But my father told me one other key point:

    – A real men knows when to fight, but also knows when to walk away. That’s what makes you a strong, bad ass, motherfucker.

    May 27, 2013 at 11:59 am

  6. Cody

    Good article.

    However, people did not fight back against the terrorists on the first planes because the terrorists told them they were not in danger, and that everyone would be let go once they got what they wanted (I believe it was political prisoners being released).

    Once the first two planes crashed, a passenger on the third plane got a call from his wife about what had happened. The passengers on this plane DID attack the terrorists once they learned the truth. They were able to stop the terrorists from crashing the plane into their intended target, however the plane still crashed. They saved the lives of several hundred people in the process though, even though they lost their own lives.

    June 13, 2013 at 11:22 am

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