I am a fairly high level, long time practicing martial artist. Generally when talking to people I don't know, if the subject comes up I get (almost invariably) one of two reactions from people that are not also martial artists.

  • Oh, you do TKD? I took [insert art here] for x months y years ago. I got to [insert low rank here] but had to give it up.
  • Wow, I guess I better not get you mad then!

The first is easily handled, I tell them that's great, it's too bad you didn't keep at it but you can always go back.

The second is pretty much a grit my teeth and smile kind of thing, as to me it perpetuates a bad stereotype that anyone trained in martial arts is some sort of slobbering grobian ready to explode into violence at the slightest provocation.

How can I respond in a way that is tactful and yet lets them know the comment is inappropriate?

To clarify the second part: yes, I can tell when it is just an idle comment, and yes, there have been a lot of the sarcastic/mocking/derogatory tones. Same for the first, if they seem interested I reciprocate, if it is an idle response I go along the lines of what I stated. I am more seeking input on the second type of response.

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    Are these people you have some kind of positive involvement with already? Have you known each other a long time? Did you know each other before you were involved with martial arts?
    – user271
    Oct 12, 2017 at 1:06
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    No, no and no. Generally it is social mixer type situations. Random twosome playing golf, work event, etx.
    – JohnP
    Oct 12, 2017 at 1:24
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    The question in the title is a good one. If only you asked about it in the question body. Because your examples would not normally be considered mocking. Oct 12, 2017 at 6:49
  • Comments deleted. Please do not write answers in comments; turn them into answers instead.
    – HDE 226868
    Oct 12, 2017 at 15:55
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    Why do you want to "let[] them know the comment is inappropriate"? Is your goal to punish them for the comment, or to prevent them from making it the next time they meet a TKD expert, or ? If you have to choose between "tactful" and "letting them know the comment is inappropriate", which is more important to you?
    – 1006a
    Oct 13, 2017 at 0:34

17 Answers 17


What is important is continuing the joke with more joke rather than taking it overly seriously. I'm sure that it's very serious to you and it's certainly reasonable to respond in a way that will counter their immediate fear reaction (OMG this guy could probably kill me) by responding in a way that's both lighthearted and informative.

It's likely that most people have seen Karate Kid and other such films and know that a big part of martial arts is learning discipline and how to de-escalate situations, so many of these respondents may actually know that you'd be unlikely to attack them if they made you angry... they're simply unsure how else to respond to your statement.

You're also a film fan (based on your M&TV reputation), so consider incorporating that into your response. Tell them that Mr. Miyagi would disapprove of attacking them in anger. Or tell them that you prefer to follow the way of the Jedi and not give in to anger and hate.

Follow this up with a comment that generalizes this response like "and all faithful martial artists are the same".

I'm sure you have more references you can use but this should be a gentle reminder that martial arts is about avoiding the use of your skills, not actually using them. And a measured response may open a conversation into explaining more about the techniques you've learned.

  • I kinda like the movie references. I know it's just an example to use them. It just gonna be uncomfortable if the other person doesn't know the movie. Anyway i also think it's a good option to keep joking about it.
    – Otto V.
    Oct 12, 2017 at 6:58
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    A very fine answer. However, the OP has added a clarification that he is seeking for approaching mocking tone rather than joking, so you might want to add to that.
    – Vylix
    Oct 12, 2017 at 7:14
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    @Vylix What is mocking, if not joking taken too far?
    – Anoplexian
    Oct 12, 2017 at 17:22
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    @Anoplexian Joking and mocking use the same tools, but have very different goals. The difference is in purpose rather than degree. Oct 13, 2017 at 9:22
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    @OttoV. If they don't know Star Wars, well then you have an opening for mocking them back :) Oct 13, 2017 at 12:30

I'm also a martial artist, as well as a lover of other hobbies that are arguably even stranger than that and similarly intense if you allow them to be. Almost every one of my strange hobbies provokes that same duality of:

  • Let me tell you how I didn't take what you love seriously...
  • Here's a joke based on the lowest level of stereotypical knowledge
  • (extremely rare) - Hey! I do something similar (or the same) and here's a really neat conversation (and maybe a new friend)

I find that the third bullet is what I hang in there for. As you say, the first is easy to handle in a positive way, by being enthusiastic and encouranging.

For that troublesome middle state, I amuse myself by taking a variety of approaches based on my current mood, role in the group, and relationship to the joker. Examples:

  • Someone who seems honestly a little concerned that I might just hurt them - I answer the underlying concern. I may say "I use my awesome powers only for good", or I may even say "you're not really worried about that... right?" and follow up with an honest discussion about the discipline of a good martial arts study and how it actually helps you be more calm and to take stress in stride.

  • Someone who always seems too competitive, or who I feel needs a good scaring - I may joke back "I could kill you with my pinkie" or "Don't worry, you won't see me coming".

  • Someone neutral or in a situation with no deep connections, I joke back:

    • "Don't worry, I'm more of a danger to myself than others",
    • "As long as you are on the light side of the force you have nothing to fear",
    • "Oh I don't do my own dirty work, I pay people for that" - moving it from a dumb martial arts movie, to a dumb gangster movie.

I would say - don't take this stuff too seriously - I haven't met all that many people who REALLY believe that martial artists will suddenly break into a rage and go hurting people. I can usually tell from the joking tone that they are striving for some sense of connection, but because they don't know anything about this thing that I love, they don't really know how to approach it.

If my light and witty reparte then provokes and honest to goodness question or even a follow up comment - then I do take it more seriously and move into the mode of being an ambassador of the art that I love. And that means talking about how we safely get new people started, how we train mentally as well as physically, and how the masters that I've met are more calm and more controlled that most of the other people I know.

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    I think you added a negative cast to John's first point? People like having things in common with someone... you can choose to take it as a negative or you can take it as their attempt to share something to a lesser degree than the third person... or perhaps there are really four responses? I'm guessing that every grouping will likely mis-categorize someone, as categorizing often leads to this... But I don't think you have to take the first instance as a negative thing and you do a disservice when you do.
    – Catija
    Oct 11, 2017 at 22:27
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    the OP has added a clarification that he is seeking for approaching mocking tone rather than joking, so you might want to add to that.
    – Vylix
    Oct 12, 2017 at 7:14
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    I can usually tell from the joking tone that they are striving for some sense of connection. Even though the whole answer is great, this is an important part by itself. And distinguish mocking that joking tone may not be so obvious.
    – Walfrat
    Oct 12, 2017 at 7:58
  • Outstanding answer, I'm in the same boat with hobbies and tend to get responses that fit neatly in those 3 categories.
    – the_SJC
    Oct 12, 2017 at 22:27
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    It just struck me as odd that neither of you ever get any "positive" responses, especially since part of the issue might be when to give people the benefit of the doubt.
    – 1006a
    Oct 13, 2017 at 13:12

I too have a black belt, although I gave up training some decades ago.

It doesn't often come up, but if it does, and people say "gosh, I'd better be careful around you", my response is to look puzzled and say "Why, what were you planning to do?".

When I was younger, people might say, "don't you ever get into fights?" The answer to that is; "of course not, I might kill someone. And I would lose my licence." Then smile and laugh.

Since I am small and female, I am OK with people knowing I have a black belt. I did karate classes for a reason, after all.

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    Your first point made me laugh. I never even thought about that response. +1, thank you!
    – JohnP
    Oct 12, 2017 at 14:48
  • "don't you ever get into fights?" - I often answer this with "What I do actually helps me keeping myself out of fights."
    – Fildor
    Oct 13, 2017 at 8:40

Wow, I guess I better not get you mad then!

I suspect this may just be a light-hearted response to something they don't know much about, outside of seeing martial arts choreographed in films. I wouldn't take it as an insult, but rather an opportunity to enlighten them on what this art means to you personally.

Most of the people I've known that were practicing martial artists kept at it for the self-discipline, meditation, and exercise. If that's why you do it, take a second to explain that. If it were me, I might continue the light-hearted joke as well:

Well, I'd rather you not "get me mad" <insert laugh> but I really enjoy my art because....

Often people will use light jokes to keep a conversation flowing, they usually don't mean any real harm. If they're perpetuating a stereotype that you don't appreciate, a light correction can sometimes do the trick.

In the case of someone saying it in a sarcastic or mocking way, the above approach could work with an adjustment of tone and body language.

Well, I'd rather you not "get me mad" <force eye contact> but I really enjoy my art because....

This may be a little more aggressive/intimidating than you want to be in the situation, but it will likely send a clear message that you don't appreciate their tone.

If they're reading the martial arts talk as machismo, you still have the option to diffuse the situation by laughing it off with the first light-hearted approach. I've definitely seen people brag about their training in a grandiose way, if that's not your intention, joking about it may be an easier way to go.


For your specific case, you are oversensitive. None of the examples you list are mocking you. The first one is someone trying to relate to you (it actually says more about you then them if you think that's mocking). The second one is playful. In your case, learn to stop being so oversensitive.

How to respond when people mock a skill or talent they just found out you do/have?

Since this question will come up in searches, here are some examples of mocking and how to handle them. Actual mocking:

"You don't look like you do TKD."

"You do TKD? HA HA HA HA HA. Yeah right! C'mon be honest."

"Sure, you do TKD! And I can bench press my car!"

If you react, you will immediately confirm their suspicion or mocking. People lose all the time in martial arts matches, so if you can't take actual mocking, it does raise some suspicion about your legitimacy. The same is true anytime you tell someone something they mock as unbelievable. What the person is actually communicating to you is

You don't seem like the person who would do that because of your personality.

Ironically, the fact that you saw the comments as mocking confirms suspicions. Stated this way: body-slamming doesn't affect you, but a person's words do? Really? That's very inconsistent. Other cases, the person may be jealous or envious and feel the need to put you down. Why engage and get defensive? Again, this says more about them than you, if this is true.

The best response is either to either not react, or agree with them and have a little fun, such as:

Them: "You do TKD? HA HA HA HA HA. Yeah right! C'mon be honest."

You: "Okay, you're right. I just listen to TKD podcasts."

Or ...

Them: "Sure, you do TKD! And I can bench press my car!"

You: "So can I! As long as it's my son's toy car."

In both cases, if you respond, you're making it clear that you can have fun too (some teasing can be playful). If they're teasing you because they feel inferior, these responses help because they show you're not trying to validate yourself to them. The only people who go around boasting about what they do and want to be taken seriously are people seeking validation from others. That's begging for trouble (which is why the problem in your case is on your end - you're way too oversensitive).


"the comment is inappropriate" That's a rather extreme statement, if this question really is about the example given.

Inter-personal skills is about getting along, at a minimum, and connecting genuinely, beyond that. Thin skin isn't a recipe for either.

"How to respond when people mock" is a valid question, but the example given isn't that. I recommend learning to tell the difference between mean-spirited or insensitive mocking, and banal chit-chat.

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    This seems to be merely commentary on the question, not an actual answer.... you have stated a few things that sound like they could be a start of an answer but, as written, this doesn't answer the question. If you would like to say "don't do that", that's acceptable but you need to actually explain why. If you think the title of the question and the content are at odds with each other, that's reason to comment on the question asking for clarification, not a reason to answer it.
    – Catija
    Oct 11, 2017 at 23:57
  • You may think the comment is banal chit-chat, however, the perception belongs to the recipient of the comment. Thin skinned also implies this happened once and I am all upset. I have been hearing this comment or variants thereof for 30 years. I am asking for better ways to approach it. I think that is what the site is about.
    – JohnP
    Oct 12, 2017 at 0:09
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    "I have been hearing this comment or variants thereof for 30 years" - then perhaps it's time to consider that maybe the comment is in fact banal chit-chat, and people haven't just been mocking you for the past 30 years. The perception belongs equally to the person making the comment since only they know the intent. It's very unlikely that for 30 years people have been intentionally mocking you.
    – ESR
    Oct 12, 2017 at 1:03

I'm considering only the "better not make you mad" scenario here. I've seen three useful insights in the answers here:

  • "Keeping it light" is a good idea

  • Most people who say things like that really don't believe that you're a grobian (which I don't even know what that is, though it doesn't sound good); people's jokes don't always come out right

  • You might consider a little introspection just in case you're hearing more tone than there is

Okay, fair enough, right? So let's concentrate on those few (honest!) who really are throwing you some nasty tone. Why do you reckon they are doing it?

  • Could it be they believe martial arts are silly?

  • Could it be their ... "alphahood" feels threatened?

  • Could it be that they're just jerks?

I'll suggest that people who instantly get nasty over your hobby are people whom you don't really want to know, and more importantly, why waste time caring what they think?

Recommendation: Draw on the self-discipline and serenity which years of martial arts training instill. Smile, be pleasant, and seek the next opportunity to go talk to someone else.

Take it from me. My hobbies include recreational computer programming, crossword puzzles, and the Byzantine Empire. I KNOW when people think my hobbies are ridiculous, and I'm fine with it. ;D

  • Could it be they know nothing about Martial arts, and what do you say in response to that. Most people aren't good at silence, and those that are appear to be hostile.....
    – boatcoder
    Oct 12, 2017 at 16:17

Wow, I guess I better not get you mad then!


as to me it perpetuates a bad stereotype that anyone trained in martial arts is some sort of slobbering grobian ready to explode into violence at the slightest provocation

Here's the thing... another martial arts expert might consider the comment a respectful acknowledgment of their ability, presented in a jokey way to facilitate connection-building.

I believe that often we don't see the world the way it is, we see the world the way we are. We can attach positive or negative meaning to anything that happens to us. It's our choice.


Just smile and don't go into it deeper.

The response you get is a response from a person who knows so little about martial arts that they don't have anything useful to say about it. It's not mean spirited.

It's meant to not have an awkward silence and probably means you should change the subject. You can not have a meaningful conversation with this person about this subject.

The other response would be a : "Hey I do martial arts","Ok ......" (insert awkward silence)


First of all, I'd like to give you the advice to avoid the situation in the first place by not telling you are a practitioner of a martial art.

That's not only to avoid stupid comments. It also helps to avoid the typical "show me something" situations as well and - I actually experienced that - people do not rely on you to "protect" them.

But that's not what the question is about. So assuming the inappropriate comment happened and it was in fact totally inappropriate ...

"How can I respond in a way that is tactful and yet lets them know the comment is inappropriate?"

I think most of the time it merely shows the lack of knowledge about the specific art and martial arts in general of the commenters. That's why I usually ...

  1. do not take comments personal nor really seriously.
  2. make it clear that suspecting me to be a "time-bomb" is slightly offensive and in fact MA generally help with anger management (but admitting there are exceptions and "black sheep" in the industry). That would be in two or three sentences. Then I'll try and change subject.

Usually I'll use something along the lines of

There are black sheep in the industry that will produce "street-fighters" but any reputable school will reject or expel students that have "a record" or behave aggressively. Actually, practicing MA in general benefits anger management, or why do you think there are boxing classes for teenagers with anger issues? Outside this all, it's never a good idea to make any person mad on purpose, don't you think?

A whole different story is when the commenter obviously is trying to deliberately make you mad (i.e. picking a fight with you). I'll usually deflect by making some reference to "Master Ken" and walk away or otherwise disengage conversation with the person.

Ah - "And don't forget to restomp the groin!" ;)


"Wow, I guess I better not get you mad then!"

This specific example doesn't seem to be mocking in a malevolent way to me. If I feel the person will get the joke, I'll say something like

"You don't know how right you guess ..." (with a ";)" )

or dragging it into funny (if it's a male):

"Oh, I'd never punch a girl."

Depending on the person I also like to cite

The ultimate aim of martial arts is not having to use them. – Miyamoto Musashi

  • "You have no idea how many times I've had to paint the fence and wax Sensei's car. If this martial arts thing doesn't work out for me, I have a great future in the trades..."
    – akaioi
    Oct 12, 2017 at 16:35

Well, instead of telling them your high level, just talk about the subject in a humble, private way.

For example, they say they practice X martial art. You reply: «wow, very nice. I've always enjoyed martial arts. I even practice a bit.» And if the other participant continues the conversation along the same line of subject, you casually, and progressively show that you know a bit more, e.g.« I like some technique or a retreat I did» or «I have this funny story:(...)»,etc. Just don't go saying, right at the start: «I have this much, I've reached this level...» This sometimes amounts to saying «Look at just how awesome I am», i.e., a bit arrogant, and this may be why some people may make a joke or two.

This is my 2 cents...


My answer to "oh, I must not get you mad then" would be a sincere "I'd appreciate it if you didn't". This does not really work with gritted teeth, it basically wants a wry smile: you don't really want to give the impression that the other person is controlling your emotions.


If it truly is a mocking tone, then I would be tempted to counter with a laugh and ask,

So if I weren't a black belt, it'd be okay to make me mad?

I think often this isn't meant as mocking, though. It's meant as respect. A rough translation might be

Wow, I didn't realize you were so formidable!

If you care to interpret it that way, then you can say something like, "You'd be surprised at how unassuming some black belts are! You'd never be able to guess who is and who isn't just by looking!"


I don't do martial arts, but I believe that a lot of the theory involves using an attacker's own momentum against them - is that right?

If so, apply that here, in a non-physical way. If you feel that their comment is just a lighthearted response then just let it go. But if you feel that it is an attack, don't retaliate, but deflect it in a way that shows their response wasn't nice.

"I better not get you mad then!"

  • "Why, is that something like you are likely to do?"

  • "I would hope that you wouldn't do that anyway."

  • "I don't get mad, TKD teaches control."

  • "I wouldn't use TKD against someone that made me mad. If you attacked me, that would be a different matter."

Okay so maybe some of those responses are a bit tongue in cheek, but you definitely don't want to say "you wouldn't like me when I'm angry". What I'm driving at is that you don't want anyone to think that you would get mad - by responding in a way that shows you are extremely controlled, whereas the other person has kind of just threatened you in a roundabout way, you will hopefully come out on top.

  • "I don't do martial arts, but I believe that a lot of the theory involves using an attacker's own momentum against them" - wow. You should try it. So much insight from a non-practitioner is rare - bet you'd do awesome.
    – Fildor
    Oct 13, 2017 at 11:30

One of my children took karate and then kung fu. In one of them he learned "the best fight is a no-punch fight. The second best fight is a two-punch fight." This line seems like a good response to the "better not get you mad" response. It makes it clear you won't throw the first punch and prefer not to be in a fight, while clearly agreeing yes, if we get in a fight it will end quickly. You can finish with a reassuring smile if you like.

If you would rather have a conversation with this person, you can smile at the joke and tell them something about your art. Start by agreeing if you like: "you're right, I don't lose many fights, but don't worry, I never start them. For me, [art name] is more about [discipline, learning, cardio training, whatever] than about hitting people." Then continue on, pausing of course to see if the person is even vaguely interested, explaining why you like working at this skill.

As for person with the short time leading to a low rank, be careful not to dismissive of it. The person is trying to build a bridge to you by sharing something you have in common. Replying "it's too bad you didn't keep at it but you can always go back" suggests a failing or lacking in them. Instead, why not let that be a conversation asking things like "what did you like about it?" or "why did you stop practicing it?" If it's an art you're familiar with, ask "did you get to learn ABC? What did you think of that?" If you're not familiar with it, ask things like "is that a hitting style?" or "was it hard to learn the moves?", that sort of thing. Now you're having a conversation and nobody has mocked anything.


If you're confident that the person is trying to be offensive then you have a few options.

  1. You can respond directly to the comment with something like:

    "Then stop making snide comments."

    This clearly communicates that you didn't appreciate their tone. This can also backfire. If you misunderstood their intent then you will look like an over-sensitive jerk. If they really are trying to provoke you then this will encourage them to mock you further since you've shown you will rise to the bait. If they do that then the best option is to exit the situation.

  2. You can ignore the comment:

    Person A: "Oh I guess I better not make YOU mad. ooooohh! (head leaning back with fingers dancing in the air)"

    You: (puzzled look on your face) "You said earlier that ...."

    This subtly communicates that the other person is being silly. It also signals that you'd like the conversation to move in a different direction. If the person was just trying to make a joke at worst you'll look like you don't have a sense of humor, and at best they'll realize you don't appreciate that kind of joke. The biggest downside is some people might not get the hint and keep trying to sell the joke or keep on being offensive.

  3. You can treat it like a joke even though you're pretty sure they're trying to be offensive. Ideally the joke would include a redirect:

    Person A: "Yeah you and all the other slobbering grobians!"

    You: (in an excited tone) "I didn't know all the other Josh Groban fans were into TKD!? I always felt a bit self conscious working out to his music, but he has the voice of an angel!"

    In my opinion, this works best if the person feels that they're superior to you in some way. That way you let them delude themselves that you were too ignorant to understand their insult, and you get to sting them back because they don't understand you're ribbing them back. I might be weird but I enjoy the symmetry and love the fact that it isn't a zero sum outcome.

  4. You can move on:

    (At a house party) "I think I heard my wife calling me."

    (At charity golf tourney) "It's your shot."

    If you can break away from the person politely then just do it. If you can't then focus on the activity at hand and redirect any further comments back to the task at hand. Essentially just treat them like a child that needs to be redirected continually to keep cleaning their room. Don't take their comments personally. Being able to maintain your composure under difficult circumstances is advantageous in all aspects of your life. Treat the rest of the encounter as a chance to practice this skill.

  5. You can mock them back like a toddler with one word:

    Person A: "Oh I guess I better not make YOU mad. ooooohh! (head leaning back with fingers dancing in the air)"

    You: (look surprised/alarmed) "Why?"

    Person A: "Because you'll pummel me into a bloody pulp!"

    You: (continue to look surprised/alarmed) "Why?"

    Person A: "Because you're a kung fu fighter, fast as lightning, and a little bit frightening!"

    You: (continue to look surprised/alarmed) "Why?"

    Pattern repeats until they figure out what you're doing, they call you some sort of offensive name, and conversation ends.

    I included this because I have a playful personality, and would find the interaction humorous. Your mock angst would also highlight that you think they're being ridiculous. Based on your question I don't think this option is the best tack for you, since you seem to be more of a serious guy.

Of course I could go on and on, but the strategies all boil down to one of three approaches. You either redirect, exit, or ignore the comment. Option 1 redirects the conversation to the offensive nature of their comment. Option 2 ignores the comment. Option 3 redirects the conversation to another topic. Option 4 redirects to the task at hand or exits the situation. Option 5 redirects the conversation to another topic or exits the situation if they don't want to talk to you anymore.

Regardless of the mechanism you employ your options are to redirect, exit, or ignore the comment. Overall I feel like redirecting is generally your best strategy, but each of the three strategies has their place.


One possible option, if you want the atmosphere to remain fun and friendly after your reply to the person is:

Well, you better get nobody mad to the point of smashing one another, because it's dangerous anyway, even for ordinary people. (optional) Moreover, i know which dangerous hits to avoid in a fight, so fighting me would be painful as Hell, but safe enough

The optional part is one of variation, how to speak about another(even thou similar) topic, not discussing whether your companion should get you angry, whom they should or should not.

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