How to intimidate someone with a knife…

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“Also, I think knives are a good idea. Big fuck-off shiny ones. Ones that look like they could skin a crocodile. Knives are good, because they don’t make any noise. And the less noise they make, the more likely we are to use them. Guns for show. Knives for a pro.”


I’ve heard the term “intimidation factor” several times in my life. It was always used when discussing a weapon. The “intimidation factor” of a .45 vs a 9 mm. “That’s a nice knife. Good intimidation factor”. For example, here’s an article on “mouse knives” by Lynn Thomson of Cold Steel knives (If you have the money, buy Cold Steel. If you don’t have the money – save up and then buy Cold Steel). And you know what? I agree entirely, small knives don’t have much intimidation factor at all. And bigger knives are absolutely preferable to smaller knives (in almost every occasion). It’s just that I have 2 problems with “intimidation factor”…

Firstly, I have no use for an intimidating knife/gun/pecker. I think Rory Miller is right – if you try threaten with a weapon and it doesn’t work, then either you will HAVE to use the weapon, or it’ll be taken away from you and used against you.

“Intimidation factor” has two uses that I can see. To raise the stakes in a confrontation (read: Monkey Dance) to show how big and bad you are so the other guy backs down (sure, that’ll turn out well…). Or else to help scare someone into submission (mostly during crimes). I view knife “fights” as the former for simplicity’s sake. And let’s not forget that a man in the middle of a Monkey Dance doesn’t see a knife as a threat to his life, he sees it as another attempt at one-upmanship. In a monkey dance everybody raises the stakes, from looks to insults to shouts to pushing. Pulling a knife can seem like just another progression, something he needs to one-up, not something to run away from.

If I’m worried about dying then it’s serious shit. I am not about to fuck around hoping I can scare the bad guy off, showing him my ace in the hole and then giving him a chance to find a way to trump what I’ve got. Fuck that. If it’s serious enough to pull a knife or gun then I’m keeping mine hidden until it’s needed, and the first the BG’s going to know about it is when he realises he’s got 4 inches of steel being twisted in his neck. Like I said, I think Lynn Thomson is right, a big knife is usually better, but not because it’s intimidating, it’s because a larger knife reaches organs better and will drop the BG quicker than a small knife will (bigger wound channels and all that).

As to a .45 being more intimidating than a 9 mm. If the guy has a chance to be intimidated then that means you haven’t made the decision to shoot him. This means he has the opportunity to see it as a challenge and start posturing and mouthing off at you because he doesn’t believe you’ll shoot him (and he has a point, he’s seen you pull a gun and NOT shoot him). Either that or you’ve given the BG a chance to figure out his next move (which will probably be to try thwart you).

Aside from holding someone at gunpoint while waiting for backup (because you weren’t sure if he needed shooting or not yet, and you wanted to err on the side of being prepared), there’s very little reason or occasion to “intimidating” someone with a gun. Less face it, what are the odds you’ll be fortunate enough to get enough advanced warning to draw you weapon in preparation for some upcoming unpleasantness. Odds are better that you get jumped while stepping outside to feed the dogs and you’re desperately clawing you pistol out to shoot the BGs before you’re unconscious. I’d say choose your weapons based on that event, not on the much less demanding prospect of having to intimidate a BG into submission. If a mouse gun or mouse knife is what you can draw quickly and what you will carry every day (even around the house in summer), then do it. I don’t care if a .45 looks more intimidating to a BG than my 9 mm – if it comes to needing a pistol hopefully he won’t get to judge how wide my barrel is because the muzzle flash will hamper his ability to gauge these things.

Secondly – legal. If you have a weapon in play, then it usually means that it’s life-or-death. If it isn’t life-or-death, then you might find it hard to articulate to the magistrate why you needed a weapon when your life wasn’t on the line. If a hungry lion is charging you while licking its lips and drooling over the prospect of eating you for lunch, then intimidation is the last thing on your mind. If you pull your 12-inch Laredo Bowie and the lion screeches to a halt and turns and runs away – then great, a bonus. But your intention wasn’t to scare him off, it was to kill him as quickly as possible to minimise the chance of you dying. So big knife, small knife, makes no difference – if you pull a knife it’s most likely because you need to kill, and kill efficiently. Waving and wiggling your knife around won’t kill the BG (or the lion), but it will give the prosecutor ammunition for claiming that you’re reckless and that the weapon was unnecessary.

If you introduce a weapon into a confrontation, aside from the monkey dance raise-the-stakes-so-he-knows-he-mustn’t-fuck-with-me aspect, unless you were about to get killed, then YOU are the one who escalated things to life-or-death level. This makes you a low-hanging fruit for a career-minded prosecutor.

So, is “intimidation factor” important when choosing a knife or gun? Not so much. Choose the weapon you can kill BGs with quickly.

1 Comment

  1. Marc MacYoung has a thing about the word “deserves”, and part of what you’re saying seems to be “gets what he deserves”. One of my concerns with your comment is how little you focus on the avoidance and how much you focus on the “deserves” part.

    The other is the complete lack of definition of “as soon as it starts”. This is actually the most important concept in your comment, and BIGGEST factor for you to think very deeply on – what constitutes “starts”? Him pushing you? Throwing a punch (trick statement – a (single) punch is not an overwhelming assault, it’s just a punch – usually with a monkey dance goal of make you leave/submit). I would urge you to focus your energy exploring what it means for it to “start” for you, in your contexts and situations. Therein lies to key to not over-reacting or under-reacting.

    There IS the danger of the BG “frisk fighting” as Rory Miller puts it (and has cool drills to practice with), but this is most likely if you over-react and pull the knife to threaten the guy (most likely a monkey dance/fear induced tactic) when you’re not ready to use it (especially likely if you misjudged it “starting”).

    You’re also spot on about one thing – it is a knife fight because you brought one to it – and the courts will happily agree with you on that if you over-react and stab a dude who was in the throes of a monkey dance and you could’ve walked away after he swung on you.

    (Forgive my focus on over-reacting. Most people who carry do so out of fear and are more likely to get caught up in that fear and the above shit happens.)

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