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Updated: Dec 10, 2022

‘I see you and I raise you’.

As with poker and other card games based on a financial gamble, where a deciding factor is your ability to control emotion and thoughts as you evaluate outcome and risk, there’s an interesting correlation to a prospective violent encounter.

Playing poker and playing your opponent in self defence are both a game of psychology.

Raising the stakes can be an effective solution to avoiding violence, but one that must be carefully applied.

Criminals, especially predatory ones - those who seek to hurt you without any concern for your welfare, and we include in this category some social violence too, such as the monkey-dancing guy who, whatever you say, have picked you as his next victim - will all still consider risk in their actions.

Being a criminal predator or engaging in a fight carries a risk to those committing it. They will look to minimise this risk. They will pick what they perceive to be a weaker or unaware victim. They will seek an opportunistic chance. They will choose a time and place to their advantage.

Nevertheless, their crime contains risk. Raising the game is playing on this psychology - and making the risk you pose exaggerated. Making the price they have to pay for choosing you as the victim to go sky high - or at least much higher. You can inflict serious damage to the criminal.

That’s your ‘raising the stakes’ message.

This must be done smartly. Using it less cleverly in a monkey-dance can be not only self-defeating, as it may easily be seen as an escalation, where your aim is the opposite. (We’ll come back to better and bad ways to ‘raise the stakes’ later).

During a monkey-dance, raising the stakes is even more negative and dangerous in a different way. Telling someone what you’re going to do to them if they dare to attack you, if witnesses are around, saying stuff like ‘I’ll kill you’ or ‘I’ll beat you to a pulp’, can remove or damage your subsequent claim of acting in self defence.

It’s hardly congruent to later say you had a ‘genuine belief’ or ‘fear for your life and limbs’ when you just stated loudly about what your combat skills would do to the other person.

Indeed, you just placed the self defence claim onto your opponent. He or she needed to attack you first, due to the ‘promise’ of injury you would impose on them. Not exactly your best strategy, is it?

There are however situations where implying your attitude or intent to the other person could be the sensible way to raise the stakes for the opponent in the encounter you’re in. This would have to be done carefully. More about that to come shortly.

As said before, this is not an ‘ego-game’ in a monkey dance. Saying what you’ll do to your opponent in front of witnesses is counter to what you want to achieve, namely deescalation and evasion - and voids a strong legal argument later if you need to preemptively strike.

If you’re not in front of an audience, it’s a much lesser concern - but then you’re probably not in a social violence situation either, you’re facing a predatory criminal.

Instead of verbalising a threat or a violent picture of what you’ll do, you can effectively imply what you’re capable of doing - insinuating the impact on the predator.

‘Man, I’m on probation (parole) for murder/assault/hitting an officer (take your pick). I don’t want to go back to prison for a little fight. Just leave me alone’.

Playing the tough guy doesn’t require a verbal threat. Making someone believe you’re someone already proven to be violent plays on their psychology by elevating the risk to them - and you avoid saying something that later comes back to be troubling in a legal context.

‘Today is a good day to die’.

Stating you’re ready to go down with savagery and carelessness really puts a risk onto your opponent, but only if you come across sincere and believable. People who don’t care have not got boundaries. Who knows what they will do? The risk level to the aggressor just hit the ceiling. It also states that you’re really expected to be hurt, a prerequisite to be able to claim self defence.

More direct and forceful exclamations of intent of violence, such as threats to life and limbs to raise the stakes to the aggressor should be limited to only where there are zero witnesses around and in clear predatory violence situations.

We’re taking here about sexual attacks, physical attacks in isolated areas or other serious violent offences where the intent of the perpetrator seems unchangeable, without other means of talking it down.

Carefully applying a tactical item, either something designed for that purpose such as a pen or torch (but in many legal jurisdictions; not carried for that stated purpose) or something else turned into an improvised weapon will also raise the stakes. Do not do this in a monkey dance - only in predatory violence. This both signals your intent to fight back and your enhanced capability to do so.

Raising the stakes is a gamble. Done at a lower force level, generally at the verbal stage, and using the right implied statements when there are witnesses around, can be effective to portray you as a high-risk target and someone maybe better avoided. In predatory violence, where you’re alone with the aggressor, you can state your intent and means more directly, with plausible deniability later.

Raising the stakes demands you read the situation properly first and that it’s delivered in a credible, congruent and convincing way.

To do that, it requires forethought and practice. Maybe something to think about?

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