Toughness>Being tough

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Being tough


It’s not the biggest or the baddest who wins the big contract, the game, or the fight—it is the toughest! How tough are you?

What is toughness?

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 is 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 physically 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 just being able to resist physical, mental, or emotional stress; it is also being able to recover quickly from these stresses.

I used to have a Japanese Shiba-inu dog. He weighed 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 tough, dominant male. When any dog, no matter the size or temperament, approached him, he never showed fear. He just quietly stood his ground in a stance that let other dogs know that he was the boss. He didn't want to fight them, and they didn't want to fight him because they knew from his demeanor that he was not to be messed with. Submissive dogs could approach him. He would sniff them but they could not sniff him. Dominant dogs just stared and then dropped their heads and 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 attributes. It is something you are born with; it cannot be acquired through training. You may never have used it, but it lies in wait in your inner being, like a sleeping lion waiting to be awakened for battle. If you choose to use a talent, it may be further 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. 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 than others when performing a jump 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, through training and 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 always persistent and present an indomitable spirit. Toughness is a desired trait in a soldier, so, over the centuries, the military has perfected the process of making soldiers tough.

Martial part of toughness

Martial arts were created 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 helped develop taekwondo techniques from karate and taekkyon and he taught the techniques to his 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 the ground, marching is an effective means. However, marching has more utility than just for moving troops.

During recruit training, marching is used to move troops, but it is also used as a teaching tool. Marching builds discipline, confidence, courage, concentration, fitness, and 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 increase the fitness levels of the soldiers. All these benefits of marching help soldiers learn to be tough.
"Most everyone can perform well under good conditions; warriors perform well under the worst conditions."
Marching techniques are also used in 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 arts 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.


  • Lamkin, E. (2003). Toughness Training. [Online]. Available:  [2005, November 3].
  • Check out this online copy of the book Get Tough!, written in 1943 by Major Fairbairn, a real warrior who taught the techniques he used  in World War II. The book was written before the current proliferation of "realistic" martial art styles.
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