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Getting tough


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 to face and deal with your weaknesses and fears. You must seek new challenges that stress you in the areas of your greatest weaknesses.

Gain strength from the challenge

Some view a challenge as a threat, but warriors view it as an opportunity to perform. To some, winning is the challenge. To warriors, 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 himself 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.

Dealing with pain

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 to 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 training so you may recover and be able to continue your training.

Stress yourself

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.


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.

Getting mentally tough

As you are getting tough physically, you must also toughen yourself mentally. Visualize being tough and being able to handle anything that comes your 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 making me stronger.”
  • 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, move on, and don’t repeat them.
  • Commit to achieving 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 to get through this today,” and then tomorrow, do the same thing.   

Acting tough

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 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.

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 through the pain.

Emotional pain is more difficult to deal with since it interrupts the thinking that we use to maintain physical control, but it too 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 can 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.

Once you are tough

Sometimes you must 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.

Remember: We need warriors, but warriors don’t necessarily need us.


  • Lamkin, E. (2003). Toughness Training. [Online]. Available:  [2005, November 3].
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