It is not the biggest or the baddest who wins the girl, the big contract, the game, or the fight—it is the toughest! How tough are you?
To handle any confrontation, you must know what to do (know what techniques to use), be capable of doing it (be able to perform the techniques effectively), and be willing to do it (have the courage to do what is necessary). If any one of these elements are missing, you will probably not handle the confrontation and will suffer the consequences. To handle a confrontation you must be tough enough to face it and do what is necessary, no matter how distasteful that may be.
Toughness is not being a bully or always trying to intimidate people by looking and acting big and bad. Toughness is enduring stressful circumstances without complaint or excuse and doing the best you can under the circumstances, even while sick, injured, in pain, or emotionally distraught.
Toughness is often thought of as being a physical characteristic. While being physical tough is certainly important, in the real world, it is not the only requisite; you must also be mentally and emotionally tough. Toughness is not no just being able to resist physical, mental, or emotional stress; it is also being able to recover quickly from these stresses.
I had a Shiba Inu dog that weighted 25 pounds, looked like a miniature Akita, and was so adorable that, when people saw him in the car with me, they would stop me in traffic to inquire about him. However, he was also a very dominate male. When any dog, no matter the size or temperament, approached him, he never showed fear. He just stood his ground and displayed the behavior that let other dogs know that he was the boss. He did not want to fight them and they did not want to fight him; they just knew from his demeanor that he was not to be messed with. Submissive dogs were allowed to approach him, but other dominant dogs just walked away. Toughness does not mean you are violent; it means you will not submit to violence. When you are tough, violent people sense it and tend to leave you alone.
Toughness is associated with talent and skill. Talent is a genetic propensity that defines the upper limit of your physical, mental, or emotional toughness. It is something you are born with, it cannot be acquired through training. You may never have used it but it lies away in your inner being, similar to a sleeping lion, waiting to be awakened for battle. If you choose to use a talent, it may be developed through skill training.
A skill is a thought process or movement that may be developed through repetition and practice, such a taekwondo side kick or being tough. You may develop a skill up to the limit of your talent. For example, all martial artists may develop their jumping skills but the one with a talent for jumping will develop quicker and will usually always jump higher when performing a jump-spin kick.
Even though a martial artist may have a talent for jumping, he or she may not have the toughness required to develop that talent. Whereas, a tough untalented martial artist will persist until he or she can jump as high as physically possible.
Being tough does not mean one always has to be cold, insensitive, calloused, or ruthless. Being tough also means being able to perform consistently at or near the limit of your talent and skill regardless of the circumstances. Even though toughness has the genetic talent aspect that cannot be changed, it also has the skill aspect that may be developed. Therefore, toughness is not so much something you are born with; as it is something you have learned, either through training or through life experiences.
Some people face adversity with a fierce determination to conquer it, while others just give up. When facing adversity, a tough person is relaxed, calm, confident, focused, alert, and ready to react instinctively. Tough people will usually defeat adversity, but, when they cannot defeat it, they will not let it get them down. They will just get tougher so they are more prepared when the next adversity comes.
Tough people may not be the most talented or the most skilled, but they are persistent and present an indomitable spirit at all times. Toughness is a desired trait in a soldier, so, over the centuries, the military has perfected the process of making soldiers tough.
The martial part of the martial arts
The martial arts were created as a way to help soldiers kill the enemy in war, so they use many military customs and techniques. General Choi, the disputed founder of Taekwondo, was in the military when he developed his Taekwondo techniques and he taught the techniques to Korean soldiers as a part of their warfare training.
For centuries, soldiers have marched. Nowadays, even with modern combat vehicles, when you need to move large numbers of soldiers over ground, marching is an effective means. However, marching is has more utility than just for moving troops.
During recruit training, marching is used to move troops, but it also used as teaching tool. Marching builds discipline, confidence, courage, concentration, fitness, helps soldiers overcome their fears. Marching soldiers move together in unison following the commands of the leader. To march correctly requires strict attention and discipline. Soldiers that march in perfect unison have a feeling of accomplishment and feel confident in themselves. Sometimes marches are long and arduous, so soldiers learn to be tough and courageous in the face of adversity. They learn to hide their exhaustion and appear fresh while exhausted. Making movements in unison on command requires concentration, so soldiers learn to concentrate under adverse conditions. Long marches in full battle gear increases the fitness levels of the soldiers. All these benefits of marching help soldiers learn to be tough.
Marching techniques are also used in the martial arts, just in a different form. Students bow in and out of class in a group in response to commands to build discipline. During training drills, students perform the techniques in unison in response to commands and the drills are sometimes long and arduous. This requires concentration and builds fitness. Patterns are repeatedly performed to build discipline and concentration.
As warriors in training, martial art students learn to toughen themselves and learn how to behave in a disciplined manner when under stress, such as answering up to commands, carrying out commands immediately, and maintaining pose without displaying weakness, fatigue, or negative emotions. They build their confidence, develop courage, and learn to overcome, control, and hide their fatigue, injuries, and fears.
Other aspects of the military are used in martial arts training. All martial art students wear the same uniform and wear rank designators. Students salute (bow) and they refer to each other by title or sir/ma’am. When in class, students are not individuals; they are part of a group and learn to act as a group, however, they are expected to be individually tough. Students learn to listen for and follow commands immediately without comment. Students learn to hide their emotions and personal problems and act and behave as confident, well-disciplined warriors. Through constant repletion, students learn to fight boredom and perform in stressful conditions. The instructor acts as the Drill Instructor (DI) who teaches, commands, and coaxes students to do their best while under stress. All this helps martial art students become physically and mentally tough.
Being tough while feeling soft
We perform best when we feel well. Athletes speak of being “in the zone.” The zone occurs when everything comes together to permit optimum performance. We feel relaxed, calm, alert, and focused on the task. We are confident in our abilities, full of energy, and ready to do our best. Do we feel this way because of being in the zone, or did these feeling put us in the zone? Since the zone is a result, the feelings must be the means used to achieve the result.
The zone is a rare occurrence, which means we usually must perform under less than optimal conditions, such as when we are fatigued or ill. This is when toughness comes into play. We must stay relaxed, calm, alert, focused on the task, and confident in our abilities, even when we are weak. To accomplish this, we must have acquired enough prior physical toughness to will carry us through our weakened times. Then, we must visualize ourselves as being in the zone and in control of the situation. If the brain believes it is in control, it will control the body even when the body is sending signals to the brain that it is weak.
This control comes from toughness training. When we train in drills during class until, and after, we are exhausted, we learn to be tough and express fatigue. We learn to act tough, even when we do not feel tough.
Part of acting tough is dealing with physiological and psychological pain. Martial artists deal with physical pain every day. We always have aches and pains, so we learn to train though the pain.
Emotional pain is more difficult to deal with since it interrupts the thinking that we use to maintain physical control, but it must be controlled if we are to be tough when we are dealing with adversity. Even if you are not tough, if you act tough, it may be enough to get you through a stressful time.
Not all martial artists are able to be or act tough. Some can be tough when there is help around, such as enduring an injury during a tournament when friends and medical help are available. However, when they are on their own in the streets with no backup available, they are unable to be tough when facing a criminal. In stressful situations, some even tank and give up.
When a martial artist runs out of gas and is unable, mentally or physically, to continue, it is called “tanking.” He or she is exhausted and frustrated at their inability to control the situation and their emotions, so they quit.
In June 1980, welterweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard faced challenger Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran, who was known for his deadly punches, Duran had “bad mouthed” Leonard so Leonard wanted to show him a lesson, so Leonard stood toe-to-toe with Duran and fought it out. Duran’s punching prowess was better than Leonard’s was so Leonard lost his crown.
In November 1980, Leonard faced Duran again for a rematch. This time, Leonard fought his fight, dancing around the ring, using quick stinging punches while avoiding Duran’s punches. In the seventh round, Leonard was so confident he began showing off. He wound up his right hand, as if to throw a bolo punch, and then surprised Duran by slapping a left jab in his face. Duran was not only losing the fight, he was being humiliated.
With 16 seconds left in the eighth round, Duran tanked, telling the referee, "No mas, no mas!" and refused to fight any more. After regaining his title, Leonard said, "To make a man quit, to make a Roberto Duran quit, was better than knocking him out."
After the fight, Duran made excuses and refused to accept full responsibility for his failure. This is a common rationalization used by people who have tanked, especially the ones who are considered talented. They need to preserve their status and their ego so they make excuses to explain their failures. Excuse makers tend to give up when pushed too hard since they will just use their excuses to explain their failure. Excuse makers never reach their full potential and they cannot be counted upon during a crisis.
One may think that anger and negativism are signs of toughness but they are actually behaviors used by the weak in an attempt to hide their weaknesses. Some use anger to motivate themselves since anger generates energy. Some use anger to help themselves overcome fear, but opponents can sense the fear and weakness and use it to their benefit. Some tankers use negativism to rationalize their behavior by telling themselves things such as “That was stupid,” or “That was a dumb thing to do,” but it does not help and they keep slipping until they tank
Fear is something everyone must deal with when facing adversity but some do not handle well. Some people choke, which means they let their negative emotions take control and their performance level decreases. Choking is not as bad as quitting, making excuses, getting angry, or using negativism; at least the person keeps trying and has not quit.
When your emotions gain unconscious control of your actions rather than your brain retaining its conscious control, you choke. Sometimes, even professional athletes choke. Toughness means coping with choking rather than trying to stop it when it occurs.
When choking occurs, the brain is sending negative commands to the body and the body is taking action in response to those commands by releasing hormones, adrenaline, etc. Once these chemical processes are in progress, the brain cannot consciously prevent their affects. Therefore, once a choke is in progress, you have no control over it until it has run its course. The best way to deal with choking is to take actions to prevent it.
Confidence helps prevent choking; if you feel insecure, you may choke. High motivation helps prevent choking; the more you want something, the less your chance of choking. If you think about choking, you will probably choke. A tough martial artist is one who will not let a choke stop him or her. When choking, a tough martial artist will not tank or get angry; he or she will continue to fight as best he or she can while trying to overcome the choke.
Strength from the challenge
Some view a challenge as a threat, while others view it as an opportunity to perform. To some, winning is the challenge. To others, the process of winning is the challenge; to them winning is not as important as the battle. A warrior wants to win but he or she loves the combat even more. A warrior knows he or she may die in combat but that is of little concern; more important is how one conducts him or herself on the battlefield. Appearing as a coward or quitter or as unreliable or performing in less than an honorable manner is much more feared than is death. When facing a challenge, a warrior gets tough and draws strength from the challenge.
Making yourself tougher is not easy. You will have to push yourself to your limits and beyond. You must feel discomfort and pain, and learn face and deal with your weaknesses and fears. You have to seek new challenges that stress you in the areas of your greatest weaknesses.
Pain is your body telling you to stop what you are doing for it is being injured by what is occurring, while discomfort is your brain telling you to stop what you are doing because it can no longer bear what is occurring. You must learn to endure discomfort, but whenever possible, you should stop when there is pain. Pain is processed in the brain, so the brain has some control over pain. Sometimes, especially during times when you need to be tough, the brain may reject pain and allow you continue, even when you are injured.
Martial artists must learn to differentiate between extreme discomfort, and pain. You cannot get tough if you are unable to train, so you must know when to stop so you may recover and be able to continue your training.
To get tough, martial artists need to expose themselves to stress so they may develop skills to deal with the stress. This is not as complicated as it may seem. All you need to do is stress your body by doing more than you did the last time. By lifting more weight, running more wind sprints, or doing more sit-ups or push-ups, etc. you may safely apply stress to your body. Doing what you can easily do does not cause stress, you must always try to do more.
Since people usually act the way they feel, you should learn to act tough. Feelings and emotions are expressed through the muscles of your face, shoulders, arms, and legs and in your breathing. Martial artists must learn how to control their muscle movements and expressions to so they may display a confident, tough exterior, even when they are feeling beaten. You may do this by keeping an erect, confident posture and using acting to display the emotion that you want to portray. However, a fake emotion may quickly turn into a real one, so be careful.
To be tough you must be recovered from previous fights and be able to recover quickly from injuries that may occur in the current fight. Always allow adequate time for injuries to heal, before fighting again. When training and before a fight, get plenty of rest, eat properly, and avoid alcohol, drugs, smoking, etc. Before a fight, eat a diet that will stabilize your blood sugar so it does not bottom out during the action.
As you getting tough physically, you must also toughen yourself mentally. Visualize being tough and being able to handle anything that comes you way. Learn to control your emotions, deal with your emotions, and change your emotions as needed. Learn to cope emotionally with mistakes, failures, and adversity.
To toughen yourself mentally:
- Practice changing your thinking to change how you feel.
- Learn to override the temptation to think negatively by visualizing yourself succeeding at what you are doing. One way to suppress negative thoughts and feelings is to verbally tell yourself to “Stop” and then immediately begin processing positive thoughts and images.
- Practice positive thinking and never use terms such as “I can’t” or “I hate.” Instead, say, “I will” or “I can.”
- Use humor to soften negative thoughts and emotions. Make tough tasks more fun by thinking, “I love it!” or “This is fun.”
- Do not dwell on the future or the consequences; instead, concentrate on the present and getting the job done now.
- Concentrate on the task at hand, not on yourself; do not think internally, think externally.
- “See,” “hear,” and “feel” yourself winning.
- Learn from mistakes but do not dwell on them; fix them and move on.
- Make the commitment to achieve your goal; if you want to win, commit yourself to winning.
- Think of adversity as the heat that tempers your will.
- Learn to love the hard work and pain it takes to win.
- Learn from the past, consider the future, but live for today.
- When having to do something tough, do not think about tomorrow, just deal with today. Think, “I just need get through this today,” and then tomorrow, do the same thing.
Once you are tough
Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, for you may get it. Once you have become tough, you and those around you may not like what you have become.
When times are tough, people want tough people around to save them and to help them back to better times, but they do not want to be around tough people when times are good. As stated above, tough people are not always the biggest and baddest people, but they do have characteristics that are not particularly enduring.
Tough people tend to be cold, practical, and show little true emotion. This behavior may be learned from training, such as soldiers who have been trained to be tough, or it may be behavior gained from experience with tough situations, such as police officers who grow to be tough to deal with their jobs.
Tough people survive, they are good at what they do, and they are good to have around in stressful situations, but they are not necessarily the friendliest or happiest people.
Check out this online copy of the book Get Tough!, written in 1943 by Major Fairbairn, a real warrior who used the techniques in war. the book was written before the current proliferation of "realistic" martial art styles.
Lamkin, E. (2003). Toughness Training. [Online]. Available: Elite-Fighters.com [2005, November 3].