Matt Jones is a self-defence and BJJ instructor located in Adelaide, South Australia. He runs ISOHEALTH, his own full-time martial arts academy. He is a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Purple-belt under UFC legend Royce Gracie and Luke Beston, and is the Australian Director for Jim Wagner’s Reality-Based Personal Protection (RBPP). Jones represents both Beston-Gracie and the Royce Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Network. Matt’s ISOHEALTH BJJ team is South Australia’s 2010 BJJ State Champion Team and his self-defence students include everyone from military personnel to brain surgeons. Jones can be contacted via email at
This is a difficult thing to comment on without knowing far more about the situation (i.e. what type of workplace it is, how your colleagues and management view this type of behaviour, etc.). However, from the outset I think it’s important to appreciate that workplace violence/bullying can be a big problem. It can escalate to horrific proportions and, while I’m not trying to be dramatic, I think it’s important to mention that a physical response may quite possibly be the worst answer. I have seen first-hand how this type of thing can play out in both a positive and negative way. So, how do you handle this? Well, like I said, it’s tough to give you advice without knowing more, but here are some of the strategies I recommend:
1.Try to determine what is prompting this bully to act this way and have a chat with him. It’s possible that talking with him away from anyone else could actually settle things down because you can both talk without risk of ‘losing face’ in front of other people. Be careful though, because if he is actually a violent person then the last thing you want to do is put yourself alone with him; so maybe a quiet chat out of earshot — but within sight — of another staff member could be the answer. You may actually find that talking to him helps. Some people find certain behaviour like pushing/shoving to be playful jibing and don’t actually realise that it can be really confronting for the person on the receiving end. However, be prepared; talking to him about this may actually encourage him more — some bullies thrive on pushing your buttons, so expressing your concerns to him could possibly act as fuel for his bullying. But then, you’re only back where you started, really.
2. If speaking to him doesn’t get you anywhere and/or makes things worse, then it’s time to talk to management. I know that to some people this doesn’t sound like a tough, ‘martial arts man’ approach, but the truth is that if you do respond physically, you are going to have to use a fair degree of force given how much bigger he is and the situation could get very messy, very fast. If your supervisor does not take your complaint seriously, then you will have to go higher up. If management proves to be a dead end, you may need to inform the bully that if his behaviour continues, you will report him to the police. Some say that talking to the police is useless, but if you do speak to the authorities at least there will be some record of your complaint. This ‘paper trail’ can be useful if you end up having to physically defend yourself, or it turns out that the bully has already been reported for violent behaviour at other times.
3. A physical response in the workplace should only be considered if you are in immediate physical danger. If you respond physically and you beat him up, then you may have to deal with the following:
• Consequences from management: ‘He started it!’ is rarely considered a good defence in the workplace.
• Legal consequences: If you injure this guy when you retaliate, there is the risk that you could be the one who ends up in legal hot water. It may not be fair, but that’s the reality.
• A revenge attack from the bully: You would be amazed how far some people will go to even the score. I know of some extreme events that have resulted from seemingly harmless push-and-shove problems in the workplace and, depending on where you work, things could get very ugly.
On the other hand, if your retaliation fails, you could cop a real beatdown rather than a shove. This would be a very bad outcome because now the stakes have been raised but you are still on the short end of the stick. If you lose a physical conflict that has escalated, you still have to work out how to solve your problem – but the problem is now likely bigger than before.
I appreciate that my solution may not have been the physical response you were looking for, but hopefully you can see where I’m coming from when I say that getting physical in this situation will rarely lead to a favourable outcome. Speak to the bully, to co-workers, to management or even to the police, but be careful about getting all ‘Karate Kid’ on him. The fact that you asked for a technique to use against a shove, suggests that you aren’t sufficiently trained to physically respond with a high chance of success. So, I would suggest some diligent training in a reality-based self-defence system, and not just so you know how to respond if his push comes to punch. As you acquire the skills, you will carry yourself with more confidence and become a less likely target for bullying.