Toughness>Staying tough

↩ Back

Staying tough


Getting tough is not the end of the journey. Once you get tough, it takes a lot of work to stay tough. Life situations change that make it difficult to stay tough and there are some times when you just don't feel tough. To stay tough, you have to persevere through the tough times.

Staying tough while feeling weak

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 feelings 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 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.


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 prefight so Leonard wanted to show him a lesson. During the fight, Leonard stood toe-to-toe with Duran and fought it out. Duran’s punching prowess was better than Leonard’s 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 embarrassed and being humiliated.

With 16 seconds left in the eighth round, Duran tanked, telling the referee, "No mas, no mas!" and refused to fight anymore. 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 behaviors used by the weak 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 acting in response to those commands by releasing hormones, adrenaline, etc. Once these chemical processes are in progress, the brain cannot consciously prevent their effects. 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 action 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.


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

No comments: