Why I Started Punching Jerks Again

Men, please take this as the verbalization of fantasies I know everyone of you has had. Ladies, take this as an inside look at the hardwiring of the male mind…

Perhaps it’s too much flying monkey or watching mating battles on Planet Earth, but I’m beginning to think (once again) punching jerks might not be such a bad idea.

The current issue of Esquire brought out my inner Tyler Durden with a hysterical article called — I believe — “Why I Started Punching Jerks Again.” I believe? I believe so because the online editors changed the title to “In Defense of the Fistfight.” Shame on them. The original makes more sense, as it’s first-person…

If you dislike some artful use of profanity, please close your eyes now. Here’s the lead from Esquire:

This whole thing started — or maybe it ended — with these guys engaging in some ritualistic, Hare Krishna clapping shit. They were sitting at a table across the bar from my buddy Phil and me. We were trying to enjoy a quiet pint in our quiet local on a quiet evening, but these hippies wouldn’t quit with their clapping. Swear to God, they might as well have been crashing cymbals in my ears.

I asked them politely to stop. “Make us,” they said, and then they clapped louder, smiling their dirty-toothed smiles at us, twisting our nipples. One of them was named Jericho, I picked up. He was a skinny bearded guy who looked as though he’d wear Guatemalan mittens in winter. “Jerry,” I said when they finally took a break, “come on over here, have a chat.” He did, and shortly thereafter, he loosed a throat pony into my face. It was Jerry’s bad luck that I had resolved to start punching people again.

It wasn’t a snap decision. I’d reached the end of the road after what seemed like a perpetual assault from life’s Jerichos — the sorts of assholes who not only act like assholes but celebrate their assholedom: the grease spot who gave me the forearm shiver in our recreational soccer league and said, “It’s a man’s game, bitch”; the walnut-headed midlife crisis in his convertible who cut me off and then gave me the finger. It felt like they had me surrounded, clapping in concentric circles. I mean, Jesus, a skinny bearded hippie named after a biblical city had just spit in my face.

How’d we get here? Blogs are part of it, along with the incessant frothing of TV pundits and reality-show contestants, especially that lippy midget from The Amazing Race: Everybody thinks they’re above being edited. And the saddest part is, the Jerichos are right to feel bulletproof. Somewhere along the way, we’ve evolved into a culture without consequence…

What?! Punch people in the face?! Read the whole article — it’s worth it.

I’m not suggesting that we just run around whacking each other in place of words. However, it seems to me that in this land of no physical consequence, where flaming is spreading offline, and where freedom of speech makes it alright to spit in someone’s face but not OK to give them a judo chop in return… could something be wrong?

Born premature and small throughout school, I was on the receiving end of hazing for more than a decade, but I put up a good fight. Being small didn’t mean I couldn’t operate in a world with a line that, once crossed, meant you had to put up or shut up.

Now, I don’t get in street fights and I don’t recommend looking for them. But how do you uphold a certain basic standard of respect and gentlemanly conduct when the Jericho-like instigators seem to be multiplying faster than “u r a douche” comments on Digg?

Is there a chance that we would have fewer AK-47-toting high schoolers if it were socially acceptable to take of a glove, slap it across an offender’s face, and issue the good ‘ol “Sir, you have insulted my honor” challenge? I think a little fisticuffs would do most men a world of good, giving options to the masses who put up with too much, consequences to loudmouthed idiots who would then think twice, and a release valve to a gender that otherwise comes up with far worse things to do to men, women, wives, and children.

The real question is: how do you create a common social contract that allows for this type of correction without bullets or lawsuits flying? Is it possible, or do we have to continue to walk through a world that seems to consist of either Mohatma Gandhis or Joey Buttafuocos?


Perhaps I’m just spending too much time in NYC and need to get away from all the I-bankers and crazies. I’m going to the gym.

[Thanks for letting me vent a little! The next post will be a how-to guide to collaborative filtering, which can feel like a punch in the face but tastes better.]

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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253 Replies to “Why I Started Punching Jerks Again”

  1. On the one hand — see what you mean. On the other hand, I’ve lost count of the number of times I — a tall woman who looks like, well, a tall woman — have had guys threaten to punch me in the face. Why? Because their girlfriend had been an ass to me about something (like the twits who pounded in my door at 10:30 at night, not cluing in the reason why the living room was visibly dark from the street and there was no music playing was because I wasn’t hosting the party they were looking for). So the basic pattern is woman acts like an ass, different woman calls her on it, man comes bounding in threatening violence, even though he’s taking the side of the person who was being a jerk in the first place.

    I don’t call that a good scene, and if that’s the wiring if the male brain, I want off this planet.

  2. Tim, I have to say, I think you overestimate the difference between “male” and “female” minds. I’m a lady, but this sounds less like an insight into some mysterious enigma of the male mind and more like something I also relate to. Yes, I would believe there are averages in personality traits that men tend to gravitate to and that the women’s average is different, but the difference in individuals, regardless of their sex, is pretty widespread. This is the kind of generalization of gender that I’ve seen you make several times. By those generalizations of gender I should think I’m a man! As a female reader, those kind of statements really hurt your legitimacy.

  3. yeah, I had to sort a guy out last year – he was surprised and squealed – many around town were thrilled with the action – dude got sorted

  4. That is the problem with most things I see today. Every one has rights, I get that. But we have raised a society that says I have rights without consequences. Most take no responsibility for there actions and most will never see consequences from there acts. And that is a shame. We have raised a generation that gets reward for every little thing. And now feel in title.

  5. I grew up playing competitive ice hockey in the midwest. To me, the guys I grew up with, and the people who share a similar upbringing the rules of hockey are the rules of life: If you step over the line you will be held accountable. Somewhere along the line the lawyers got involved. It used to be if you were out at a bar with a girl and some clown touched her or got a little too chatty he got hit. He knew why he got hit. And, he accepted the fact that getting hit was a result of his actions. This is respect in the real world. Then all the suing started. You want to know why bullying gained widespread media attention over the past few years? Because nowadays you can’t tell your kid “Just hit him and shut him up”. Because that bully’s mom is going to bring a lawsuit against you and win and take everything you have.

  6. it’s not very stoic.

    Jerichos will still be douches even if you smack them in the chops.

    the only difference is that if enough people whoop them then hopefully it will deter them from so willingly displaying it in public.

    so in this situation: to enjoy silence the price is i have to physically throw my fist in the face of a prick.

    and the alternative… is to not enjoy the silence. so overcome this obstacle by getting drunk and not caring about noise or talking louder, using it as an opportunity to discover another bar, get the staff on-side to assist.

    for me, I would find it much easier and happier for me to walk to another bar than to be personally responsible for the maintenance of societal expectations through violence.

    but! you will say… why should I have to go to another bar when they are being unruly??

    So let me answer that objection.

    because if you go to another bar then there has been an injustice. someone in the wrong has gotten his own way and you have had to leave when you should have been entitled to stay in peace. it isn’t fair. the punch in the face isn’t to hold Jerichos to a social account, but it is just so your ego doesn’t feel like you have been seconded. why do you have more of right to a quiet evening in a bar than the Jerichos have to be noisy douches? The Jerichos don’t have a problem with you. So you should just leave. But it is your selfish Ego to impose your way that resorts to violence that you mascarade behind protecting the values for all.

  7. As someone who has spent a lot of time in bars, I agree wholeheartedly! The healthy fear of a bloody nose, a fat lip or cracked tooth, developed as a young boy in competition, leads to respectful interaction as an adult male. The absence of this learned fear creates a false freedom to say whatever you want or act disrespectfully, as there are no consequences. Real or imagined. I’m all for the occasional nose punch to keep things civil!

  8. Great article Tim! I think a 30 minute Donnybrook every day would solve all these problems. Violence is not the solution, but it is an option!

  9. Growing up in a town of 104 in central rural Texas, fistfighting was a normal, routine thing. I dont ever remember drinking down by the river with friends without a fight breaking out. Shirts are torn off, blows delivered by those who actually know how to throw one, and then usually, hours later, the two bloodied buddies are arm in arm, singing a country song. I only learned in junior college that punching someone was not something the rest of the world did when assholes arise. I am 48 now and am still kind of taken back when someone says “I’ve never been in a fistfight..unless you count in 3rd grade…”. My “little” brother who was always bigger than me busted each other up on a weekly basis, I honestly don’t know how our parents tolerated us. The whippings and beatings on us did not abate us either. He’s 6’8″ now and stronger than a bull, so I let him be. I live in DC now and would NOT punch someone in a bar or coffee shop unless they hit me first, as being charged with assault is something I care not for, or sued by some moron for smacking them, even when they had it coming.

  10. Appreciate this, Tim. I got into a fight with two bullies a few years back outside of a bar in my neighborhood in Philly. Long story short, these two guys decided to bully the wrong one. (I wrestled since I was in diapers and had been no stranger to fights in my youth) Afterwords I was so high on adrenalin that I couldn’t get to sleep the rest of the night. Part of it was the fact that I helped two bullies get what was coming to them and it seemed the world was now a better place. Though my arm ached from my middle knuckle to my elbow for a month, it was well worth it.

  11. Great article. I had many years of wrestling in school and then another 12 years of coaching so it was easy to see a direct responsibility tied to ones behavior.

    One thing my dad taught me was to never back down from a bully or you would never be free of him. His advice was to fight back and be willing to lose but make sure your opponent came away knowing he was in a fight.

    Similar to that guy who took out Jericho my old wrestling buddy, Now 59 years old had an encounter with a young punk on the golf course that kept hitting his ball into him despite being asked to wait. when he was asked the last time the young man responded. ” F— you. what are you going to do about it old man?”. my pal (without thinking it through) responded by decking him with one shot. fortunately no long term physical damage to the punk and witnesses seemed to recall the kid swinging first so there were no negative consequences.

  12. Lol. I had this conversation just the other day with some co workers. I had said “imagine if when someone got so out of line and rude that it could be considered assault, if you could give them good hard back hand just bring them back to reality. Help them realize that there were consequences for their actions as well as their words.” Several people didn’t think it was a good idea but I think it would be great. I’m not talking a beat down. Just a shocking reminder that not everyone will put up with their garbage.

  13. I was reminded at the gas pump today that jerks are everywhere. Still, violence is a very specific tool for a very specific job. If you are going to use it then it needs to be over the top all out disabling. There are experts that teach this. A punch and leaving the other guy at the completion of the encounter in a state that he can still move means you shouldn’t have done anything at all. The judicious use of force is a trained skill. Walk away and let the jerks wait until they encounter feral man.

  14. As a child of the late 60’s/early 70’s, I had my share of fistfights. Never instigated them, but sometimes would need to back up a friend or worse, get involved in a melee. If you think it’s only about throwing a punch, forget it. More like how well you can take one. And sometimes the scrawniest runt can pack a real haymaker.

  15. Great challenge, Tim! How do we make jerks think twice before being so? I guess everything lies in the motives besides their behaviour. Because for sure from their perspective, it’s the right thing to do in being jerks. Maybe if we provide them a different kind of validation that they are looking for?

  16. A couple of days ago I saw an Interesting scenario in Lagos Nigeria airport between a passenger and a baggage handler. This is a fairly large international airport crowded with security police everywhere. There was some misunderstanding by a passenger about something that happened with his luggage and he stepped into the luggage handler grabbed him by the collar and almost picked him up while demanding his money or something. Shaking the guy and almost hitting him. Others people came and separated them but not one security or police intervened. Very old school. I cannot imagine that happening in the US without this guy ending up getting strip searched, jail time and some kind of mandatory counseling. In the end it passed and the man went away while the baggage handlers came back to the area laughing and joking about the event. We used to show respect to each other because it was mandatory, if you did not you could get a beating.

  17. I am going to come out of left-field with this but my recommendation, if you feel compelled to throw a punch at a Jericho, is to go in like a lion, out like a lamb. I am a woman, but I have learned that this method is effective from 2 sources..1) Martial Arts and 2) Horse Training.

    There’s something about handing out a beat down, or “applying pressure” as it is called in horse-training land, with swift and severe efficiency and then acting like you meant for it to happen that way…which REALLY messes with the opponent.

    Its hard to explain, but its like the contact, combined with the jarring realization that you’ve just moved on like nothing happened, is just enough to make the other person go “Damn, I am NOT messing with them again. THEY are NUTS!” 🙂

  18. The best emotion I have had recently is knowing that a little girl’s life in Kenya has been saved because she is living in the orphanage I designed (an extremely minor part in getting the project off the ground) and going to school. Maybe if you do tremendously good things for people in desperate need there will be no need to feel like punching douchebags? Or maybe you could move to the struggles of the third world for a while? #firstworldproblems I hope this comment is cool enough, I have not yet developed better skills at bursting ‘first world bubbles.’

  19. “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft”

    -Mary Schmich

  20. I feel ya. Been thinking about that a lot. Consequences, especially socially embarrassing ones (I.e. Getting your ass kicked) could benefit our (excuse me) Teflon-coated bullshit-slinging society so much!

  21. the chant of ‘hare krishna’ and the rant of ”make me’ in the article can well give me the frustrating state of the writer’s imagination.well if you yourself would have ever imagined the state of chanting hare Krishna, you certainly would have dissolved your hand in louder clap of writing better peace of shit(don’t let this thing loud) but anyway, the lippy’s are smacked now and the unbuttoning of your very self, clapped a better sense of barking resolution may be felt stoned in the end.

    btw your point is very genuine and tim took an even more sense of stand than the bigger degenerating ideals but the need to peace and bigger mode of coping with the ritualistic ancient hack could be worth a hack into hare rama hare krishna practice.

  22. This post is astoundingly coincidental for me. Just this weekend, I got into a mild fisticuff with another man. I went 30+ years without smashing my knuckles into another human being (I was 12 and he didn’t like my skin color) but the douchebaggery simply went too far this time. I had let the previous violations go because I knew that immediate confrontations always end in violent conflict. However, the antagonist persisted in trying to “get a rise” out of me, and I snapped.

  23. What a timing! I never read this when it was originally posted. Thanks, Tim!

    I’ve had plenty of Joey Buttafuocos in my life. I fought with some of them, ignored many as I grew wiser. I’m mastering the art of ignorance. It works. Most of the time.

    I now see them in my gym… and honestly am not sure how long will I be able to ignore this…

    I wish I could end all this with a punch in the face. But I know, that’ll just complicate my life further…


    PS: In India… chances are that one Joey Buttafuocos would know a couple of dozen Joey Buttafuocos… and then they gang up. And things just become nastier…

  24. I’m reminded of the old Samurai films; there was a gentility to their demeanor, even to their enemies, that was admirable. All the while wearing Katana on their hip, and knowing they can decapitate someone in 2/10’s of a second. Is is a mix of social conditioning and personal strength? Ironic, how it seems in our modern climate to be almost idyllic.

  25. Agree. But we still have to pick our battles, can’t be going off at every little thing. But sometimes, yeah, battle is appropriate.

  26. Oh, Tim. You are adorable when you’re angry. But in all seriousness, what happens if you just ignore them? Maybe what they want is a fight, and engaging in one is only satiating their desire.

  27. I feel this way in the many many similar encounters I have run across in life. I’m pretty sure Taleb would completely approve this line of thinking (BTW get him on the podcast if you have to wrestle him)

  28. There are three sides to every coin: heads, tails and the roundness that connects them, so the guy’s story seems like an important element might have been left out–like veritas.

    Throwing down the gauntlet might sound like a great thing but there’s many a slip between punch and lip. The great thing about martial arts like Aikido is that it gives you options. Instead of one or two how about a hundred?

    You never know who you’re fighting till you find out it’s your own worst weakness. That old saying is true: the strongest person is the one who has control over himself. Read or watch Musashi.

  29. Times have changed. I’m a former prosecutor. Hit someone hard enough to cause any meaningful damage and you will be arrested for a felony. The fist fights we engaged in as kids are no longer acceptable at any level of society.

    A lot of guys who used a punch or even a hard push to avenge a perceived wrong in a bad or on the street have suffered life long felony convictions, jail time and restitution penalties. Tim’s tech buddies have also seen to it that anyone can get on line and discover that criminal record on their iPhone.

    Walk away from all fights unless your a** is on the line and your actions are undoubtedly self defense or defense of another.

  30. If you even have to write this article and ponder the act, you should probably leave that to others. It’s not your thing.

  31. A fair and apparently necessary venting! And you answered your own question: You do need to get out of NYC to shed the Jericho’s, mentally and physically. Come to Florida, get on the water and you’ll feel much better: mind, body and soul!

  32. In self defense only. Otherwise, you may be encouraging those who have nothing better to do and nothing to live for. If someone is being an aggressive asshole, stand up for yourself, but learn how to defend yourself.

    Note: I run a women’s wrestling company with nothing but women. Sometimes, they do irritating and completely irrational things. While it may not seem as extreme, trying to logic with them when they are mad and ordering them “what to do” might as well be punching them in the face.

    The anger spreads, so the best thing to do is not to push it forward.

    Note 2: It feels great punching an asshole in the face. I get it! However, more times than not it can come back to bite you in ways you wouldn’t have first perceived.

  33. My 9yr old son (who is the smallest kid in our area) has been dealing with bullying from a neighbor and classmate for over 2 years. This bully carried over this behaviour into a hockey game last week, where this classmate took a full speed, 10 stride run at my son and knocked him back so hard, he smashed his head and back on the ice, and is now suffering concussion symptoms. The kid was ejected from the game and was suspended for the season by his own team’s coaches,who expressed that there was no remorse from this kid. We found out after, that the kid threatend my son the days leading up to this game. To make make things worse, the Dad supports the behaviour and also has no remorse, and defends the act, even though there is no contact in 9yr old hockey. Witnesses also say this dad also gave signals from the stands, to have his kid carry out this attack. To make things even worse, this gutless dad knew my wife wife and I were out of town and knew he would suffer no consequences from me at the arena. I am also small, but I have been in enough fistfights to know that if I had been in that arena it would not have ended well for that dad. Feeling helpless now!

  34. Hey TIm, I know that this article is dated but I felt compelled to leave a comment. First of all these so-called jerks got nothing on you. You are physically active! These bone-heads do nothing but sip on their latas and code or brag about what they are driving these days. They are soft; you got this.

    I recently read that you moved to Austin due to the fact that you thought Silicon Valley lost its luster. And that it wasn’t what it was some 10 or 15 years ago, I couldn’t agree with you more. I am thinking about making the move myself.

    Anyways back to the article, I totally feel ya! You can’t even say or look at people these days without offending someone. Its like all the males here have their panties in a bunch. You can’t say this or that and if you even look at someone with a mean stare, you will find yourself with a corporate lawyer cease and apologize letter written to you.

    I don’t advocate fighting by any means cause someone could get hurt and there are other ways of dealing with rude people. But I think if you could get a away it or better yet if there was a mutual understanding among men not to come back with a pistol shooting up the whole place. Then I do believe that some people need to slapped or punched in the face occasionally; they will never learn any respect without doing so. Its healthy every now and then to get “checked” it gives one a sense of perspective if you will lol!

    Just a couple of weeks ago I got into with this dude who I knew from mutual friends did some time in prison. I didn’t care if you had or not. But I was having a conservation with a lady friend of mine. It was not our best conservation as we were disagreeing about something. Anyways, as she was leaving getting into this dudes car, he decided that he wanted to disrespect me in front of her and called me the “N” word.

    I blanked out for a moment thinking, “I know he does not get away with this stuff in prison why is he doing it here?” He walks up to me and asked me if I had something to say. I repeated what I told her and said look I don’t want to get into anything with you due to me not wanting to go jail. He looks at me and says, “I would go to jail over you” And he flinched as if he was going to hit me. But he pulled back. As soon as he did that I stopped him from walking away. I reach out grabbed his sweater and nailed him right in the face.

    To which he yelled that “N” word again and got his butt handed to him. It lasted about only about 5 minutes. But until that time I had forgotten had good a punch felt when it landed just right.I was nervous that someone was going to call the police but none did. I tell you Tim that was like therapy. The kind of therapy that you could not even pay for.

  35. Same story here. “premature and puny. at the receiving end. But when i was little fistfight was okay. So i kicked asses and earn some respect and peace.”
    Still at the same end .. but as a grown up no more fistfight because of the law.
    Love to kick some ass or slap some faces to teach respect to some people.
    Have to keep cool and try to use words to fight back.
    Hope you win yours fights

  36. I have taught my children to fight. We practice kicking, pushing and punching to make an impact, to create a chance to run away. I have also taught them you don’t start a fight, you only fight to defend yourself or others. I have taught them how to br compassionate and empathetic. But the world us such a mix of people and you need both the soft hand and strong hand to survive and thrive. If this happened to me, I would have shoved so hard to knock them on the floor. A spit is a huge affront especially these days. As a woman, I have punched, shoved and kicked and been reprimanded for it. But I walk in the world knowing sometimes it has to be done. Great share Tim.

  37. I’d add.. if you win a fistfight, often times the reward is jail. Lose one, hospital. And if you do manage to tag someone hard enough to knock them out, they can hit their head wrong on the bar or the ground (happens all the time) and die. Then it’s second degree manslaughter and 10-20 years in prison or more.

    My suggestion is to join a boxing or MMA gym, and find a safe outlet for channeling our natural instincts for aggression and violence as human beings 🙂