Abandon all weakness, ye who enter here.

Live for Strength, Die for Toughness

When I was a young fellow I was knocked down plenty. I wanted to stay down, but I couldn’t. I had to collect the two dollars for winning or go hungry. I had to get up. I was one of those hungry fighters. You could have hit me on the chin with a sledgehammer for five dollars. When you haven’t eaten for two days you’ll understand.

-Jack Dempsey

Years back, I wrote an article about the strength of spirit.

About toughness.

I realize that some may have trouble differentiating the two.

I present this article to you, in hopes to clear up the issue.

You want to embrace death to become tough, yet walk the life of strength to become mighty.

Following the various training programs and systems on the planet today, you can achieve a ridiculous amount or strength, muscle, whatever you desire. With the right focus and discipline, you can take twelve weeks and become like a completely new person with the strength fit to render sturdy pieces of iron into pretzels.

All of these programs can give you a strength on a level that's probably unfamiliar to you, but none of these programs will make you tough.

The people of societies past had to face many struggles that, as a people, we are largely unfamiliar with today.

Slaves faced the prospect of forever serving a master in a sub-human lifestyle, enduring beatings, and working in terrible conditions while likely being permanently separated from their families.

Immigrants worked in entirely unsafe conditions, for long hours, in order to feed starving families under racist, sexist, and selfish workplace environments. Sick days meant a day's wages, and people couldn't afford that.

Excavating in coal mines without protective equipment was the norm. Work days dragged and went on well beyond the average 9-5. Physically, this kind of work may have extensively weakened the people subject to such social environments, labor, and otherwise.

However, it truly made the survivors tough, a level of toughness that I truly believe is sparse in my generation.

Suffering does a lot to a people. They often band together to end it, which is often why military commanders may be angrily disrespectful to a new regiment to give them a common enemy to unite against.

Individually, such suffering has the effect of making the sufferer often quite mad. If you come across a great problem or a huge cause of despair, and you see no way out, you may go rather crazy.

But if you are able to persevere and survive, for whatever reason, you learn to become much more durable as a person, even if you can't squat 900 lbs like Bud Jeffries.

And Bud knows a thing or two about toughness, beyond strength.

Strength is a communal way of life. The lifestyle of strength is an amicable one, and it's filled with competition, camaraderie, and progress. Physical culture truly is a culture at its core.

It is also very relative; your strength in comparison to a powerlifter in comparison to a gymnast in comparison to a bear is going to differ in relative level. Your goal will often be subjective, basing your own strength on those before and around you.

But the way to true might, a combination of strength and toughness, is a way of death. No subjectivity, because Death who greets us all in the end.

This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai: if by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. 
His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.

-Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure

Now, this doesn't mean that being mighty kills you; contrarily, it empowers you beyond belief, beyond life.

But to be tough, you have to take a walk with death, and that is a personal journey. You also don't have to seek out suffering situations to advance yourself. But acknowledge your brief existence on the planet. You can be the strongest person in the world and be extinguished like a candle.

My father was one of the toughest men I've ever know. From living in the ghetto to fighting in Vietnam, and growing as a husband and father, he faced innumerable hardships throughout his life.

Poverty, drugs, disease, multiple jobs with 2 hours of sleep, and a partridge in a pear tree.

He faced all of these challenges standing with confidence until Agent Orange and some strokes and heart attacks forced him off his feet. Even still, not many can suffer 8 strokes and 5 heart attacks in quick succession and endure for over a year afterwards.

He was quite strong for his size, but not the legendary strength you might imagine. His toughness, his ability to work through situations of various evils and surviving, was bar none.

Raising two young kids as you battle with not only your own health problems, but those of your wife (who had a list of diseases longer than the dictionary), requires a toughness that truly comes from a fiery desire to thrive, despite all opposition.

That's might.

It may not be long that I become stronger than my father in various aspects, but becoming as tough as the man who faced Death so often he knew it's middle name will take much longer, perhaps forever.

Warriors lived their lives prepared for death at any moment. They set their affairs in order for their families and went to battle, knowing that they could very well not return.

When you have no fear of death, yet recognize that it could come to you at a moment's notice, you may learn to face all of your life's joys and struggles confidently, creating a toughness within you unmatched by your peers.

Your strength training journey will be filled with many challenges, but not as many as the challenges that pervade your life. Your journey to toughness will be in death; your journey to strength will be in life.

When you can walk both journeys at the same time, confidently, you will become one of the mighty.