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Gotta Have Mental Toughness

From USKMA Chief Instructor, Mark Slane.

I haven’t seen Survivor in years but there was a time I wouldn’t miss an episode. One of my favorite challenges each season was when they would see who could be uncomfortable the longest. They would do something like have the group stand on a log and see who would last the longest. This was really nothing hard, just stand there and keep your balance. Well, it was always funny to see that the least mentally tough would be done in an hour while the winner would go on for ten, twelve and even more hours. The most athletic, strongest or even the youngest wouldn’t win. The mentally toughest would. It was most often a woman, which always intrigued me. Here are a few that I found on youtube;

In Laurence Gonzales’ great book DEEP SURVIVAL (highly recommended along with Ben Sherwood’s THE SURVIVORS CLUB) he tells the story of Debbie Kiley. Debbie was on a yacht, the Trashman, that sank at sea. Before the accident happened she told of how the Captain and his first mate were heavy drinkers and actually drunk when they sailed. She goes on to talk of the first mate’s girlfriend and how helpless she acted. The one’s doing all of the work were Debbie and another crew member. After the accident they all got on a small raft that was being severely tossed in the storm. The two who kept control of their thoughts and attempted to think of solutions (Debbie and the hard working crew member) were rescued many days later. The other three died during the ordeal. The difference? Mental toughness.

If you really want to read about mental toughness get some of the books written by the Viet Nam war POW’s. One story I read recently was that of Jim Thompson. After being captured Jim was forced to live in a small wooden cage that he could neither sit up in nor stretch out in. Several months later he was moved to solitary confinement…for four years! Finally he was moved in with other prisoners, but of course the torture and beatings continued the entire NINE years! Oh, and during all of this he managed to escape five times, only to be recaptured and tortured some more. Fellow prisoners at time thought he was a corpse in the next cell as he weighed all of ninety pounds when he finally was released. Other POW’s facing the same treatment didn’t last six months. Jim’s mental toughness was immeasurable! Sadly Jim did die…30 years later, of natural causes, in Florida!!

I love watching the Ultimate Fighter. You can pick the mentally tough ones out early…and the not so tough. They all think that they want to be in the UFC, think they are bad dudes. It seems like the ones who do all the talking about how great they are, how they’ll die in the ring before losing and how losing isn’t an option are the first ones to just stand and freeze in the ring or purposely give up their backs so they can tap out. The mentally toughest usually last the longest in that show and, I would think, in a true violent situation.

I don’t care what techniques, system or art you are learning, if you aren’t building mental toughness you won’t last long when confronted with real world violence. I would bet on a mentally tough person with little training in a horribly violent confrontation way before I would a black belt from any system or art that isn’t mentally tough. This is why you have heard me say many, many times that it isn’t the art, system or techniques that will keep us safe if violence ever finds us. It is attitude and mental toughness. This is why Krav Maga is based on philosophy and not techniques I don’t care what techniques you know if you don’t have the “flinch reaction” of go forward, go hard, go now and go until the scumbag is down. Even if injured, even if outnumbered, and even if afraid for our lives we go off with rage and swing for the fences.

This is why when students in class ask me to slow the class down so that they can learn the techniques better I tell them “no”. Those techniques won’t save them. Learning to keep going with the stress, exhaustion and not knowing what’s coming next in our drills is what will save them. Developing mental toughness is way more important in keeping our students safe than any of those cool techniques! BE SAFE!