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ARTICLE | PORTRAYING THE TOUGH GUY - CLEVER OR NOT? | by Orjan Pettersen

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

When facing violence, showing how tough or brag about how skilled you are can be effective, but it can also backfire catastrophically. This article is about how you can more alertly navigate that choice based on the situation you’re facing.


Elevating your ‘presence’ in a potential conflict, by telling, moving or drawing attention to your Krav Maga, martial arts or self defence skills can be a natural reaction. It maybe driven by your pride in your skills, as a perceived deterrent or simply through your ego being prodded, so it should be examined.


Is it generally a good choice?

Displaying your ability to exert force is a high-risk tactic. It has three central and potential damaging implications.

The first implication of it is its legal ramifications. Expressing what you can do physically to another person verbally in a very threatening, explicit or abusive way may be seen as a criminal act in itself in many legal jurisdictions. Threats to injure or kill are often illegal. You will simply be breaking the law.

It may also make a future claim of acting in self defence potentially more difficult. Saying ‘I’m a black belt and I’ll break your bones’, and then not retreating from the situation yourself is not a great scene-setter for any legal aftermath when you rely on ‘genuine belief’ for fear for your personal safety and use of ‘reasonable force’ when the opponent is treated for fractured bones. How did you know what was ‘reasonable’ even before the physical action took place? Your actions appear premeditated and intended to injure.

If you grab something to use as an improvised weapon, or just to show the other person your capability for violence, you must be able to articulate afterwards why you applied either a common object as an offensive weapon or indeed used an actual weapon such a restaurant steak knife, a metal or sharp ornament or a broken bottle. You must be able to state why the threat warranted this escalated force option, especially if they do not switch to violence but turn the situation back on to you. “Yes, Police, please. This guy is threatening me with a knife. I’ve done nothing, was just talking to him...”. Now you’re on the hook.


Secondly, any verbally or physically expressed force option cannot be bluffed. If it doesn’t impress the opponent, you’ve just raised the stakes enormously. Now you’ll be asked to use the skills or adapted weapons you’ve got. Are you ready for it?

If the force doesn’t intimidate, or it actually angers or motivates the opponent (see below), you’ve just set yourself up to be compelled to use the hardest of responses, maybe even without the necessity for it.

If the opponent dismisses your ‘skills’ and gets closer, your option to move away and keep the distance for safety is now a sign of cowardice and weakness in their eyes, and to anyone watching, too. You’ve just achieved exactly the opposite of what you set out to do. Tough guy when talking, but chicken in real life. Your words to elevate the risk to the aggressor are now a sign that you are an even lower risk than before.


Thirdly, you’ve now removed any element of surprise you may have in any escalation into violence. Indeed, you may have reversed the advantage to a disadvantage as the opponent is now determined to be at the top of his game in facing you, or even worse, you’ve positioned yourself as a highly desirable target for someone monkey-dancing and your back on the floor is a great trophy for their prize cabinet. He’s extra motivated now, because he can’t back down after your boastful parade.


These scenarios are especially applicable to social violence, where someone is fighting for ego, status or perceived territory. Remaining in a social violence situation, a so-called ‘monkey-dance’ that leads to violence is in itself questionable as to a claim of self defence. You should remove yourself from the situation as soon as you possibly can.


The act of fighting is in itself a crime, regardless if the other person threw the first punch, if you voluntarily - and especially through escalating words or actions - stayed in the situation.


When it comes to predatory violence, the situation may alter. A predatory criminal, someone who is looking to hurt you deliberately, maybe to beat, rape or kill you, is doing the math (as long as they are mentally functioning in a normal way) as to the risk to themselves conducting the violence on you. These criminals don’t seek an audience, so don’t expect witnesses to be present or concerned about.

If you can reappraise the risk you pose to them by appearing a more difficult target to overcome, you may cause the predatory criminal to back down or hesitate, buying you more time. This will come at a cost of revealing the element of surprise you have, so there’s no black and white answer as to the correct action. On the upside, you may appear to be such an undesirable and difficult target to take on, so the predator moves on.


To made a distinction between social violence and predatory behaviour is not always an easy one, but it is a critical element if you decide to display the tough guy (or girl) and show what force options are available to you.

‘You may have heard the mantra ‘Your. Ego. Is. Not. Your. Amigo.’ This is often true with regards to social violence. When the violence isn’t social, play your ace cards very carefully indeed.

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