Training The Will

A  plethora of DVDs and books purporting to teach “special forces fitness”, “seal physical training”, “ranger P.T.”, and other dramatically-impressive modes of personal readiness and body-building that bear titles intended to appeal to those who are familiar with the justifiably respected so-called “elite units” of the military, abound. The ads must bring in millions, because they keep appearing in the periodicals, and people keep sending away for the DVDs and books.

Certain facts should be, but aren’t, either pointed out or generally appreciated by those who stand in awe of those whose fitness regimes they seek to follow: 1. Training for the elite units is more of a breaking down of the trainee (or an effort to break him down) during the preliminary stages, than it is a method of building him up. 2. Such building up that is a goal of the training once the trainee has passed selection and assessment is more task-directed than it is directed toward “muscle-building”. And 3. The critical factor enabling a trainee to pass muster for any elite unit is his will to succeed and to qualify; his tenaciousness in never giving up, and his dogged determination to become a member of the unit for which he is in training. Mental toughness, more than physical toughness, is what is required, what is tested, and ––– ultimately, for those who qualify ––– that which is constantly being honed in and for all special operations forces.

The WILL is the special operator’s most crucial “muscle”. Developed and nurtured to its limit, the will makes all of the other muscles of the body do that which is demanded of them.

Every human being is capable of many more times the concentrated effort of mind, spirit, and muscle than he is normally aware of, and certainly more than his normal daily existence in the private sector of society ever demands of him. It is that concentrated, fanatically-focused and determined mental, spiritual, and muscular effort that training for the special units is intended to foster and educate. The person who possesses the required level of this will-driven power to qualify for special operations forces will not quit when circumstances appear overwhelming, terrifying, or hopeless. In fact, the possessor of this fully cultivated will does not label a situation “hopeless”. He functions down to his cells with the committement to never give up so long as he is alive and capable of movement.

Private citizens who have no firsthand experience with any of what constitues preparation for and performance of desperate and all-but-impossible mission accomplishment often are surprised to discover that members of elite and special forces do not necessarily appear to be extraordinary. Unlike the bodybuilders whose shockingly extreme development they proudly display on the posing dais, the special operator may look “ordinary”. No bulging muscles. No strikingly exaggerated and physically imposing presence. How disappointing. Can these fellows really do the often incredible things that are occasionally reported in books and in films? Yes they can. Don’t be deceived. They are human, and the truly impossible is impossible for them, too. But given dangerous tasks that persons who have not and often could not have measured up to their capacities, these men can accomplish pretty impressive and unusual things.

Appearances are very deceiving.

The fellow whose impressive physique has enabled him to win a “Mister” type title may be panic stricken at the mere thought of attempting certain of the tasks through the accomplishment of which the special operators have qualified for their positions. Parachuting. Rapelling. Cliff scaling. Surviving on literal jungle fare in the jungle. Downproofing and water survival. Pursuit by men and dogs. Experiencing real conditions of captivity and imprisonment, interrogation, and as close to actual physical and mental abuses as can be imposed without inflicting permanent injury or death (like water-boarding, and sleep deprivation). The ability to bench press 300 pounds and flex 18” biceps, impressive and real as these accomplishments might be, have nothing to do with the person’s ability to withstand and function well in spite of horrific, frightening, unhealthy, always risky wartime conditions.

You may be able to pass the fitness test to qualify for entry into a level of assessment training for special forces, but that does not say anything about your will or lack thereof to tackle the course and see it through despite fatigue, fear, pain, discouragement, hunger, and thirst.

Every special unit of every military service in the world recognizes that training the will, once it has been determined they have a recruit who already has a sizable degree of will power to begin with, is key.

For every trainee’s benefit we urge that he address this matter and take the development of his own will seriously. Teach yourself not to quit. This does not mean “don’t ever quit anything”. It means that, once you hae decided that a course of action is truly necessary and desirable, and that you want to attain the results of taking that course of action you set yourself to doing it, and do not allow anything to stop you. Easier to say than to do we admit.

Fear, fatigue, pain, and discouragement: These are the four obstacles that ––– in your training and in your life ––– it should be your goal and purpose to defeat, overcome, and triumph in spite of. 

Everyone experiences fear, but few act in spite of it, and continue when they know that that which they fear must be overcome.

Everyone experiences fatigue, but few will push themselves despite their desire to rest. When a situation is desperate and threatening, fatigue must be ignored and your vital reserves must be called upon to keep you in the (literal or figurative) battle.

Everyone feels and dreads pain. But when a situation is pressing, and an obstacle ––– human or otherwise ––– must be overcome, pain must be blocked out for the duration. Just do it! Pain relief can be sought when the matter has been resolved. This applies to mental/emotional as well as physical pain.

Everyone has known discouragement. Often it is enhanced by the nagativity of those around you, and the feeling of “what’s the use?” feels overwhelming. That feeling must be overcome. It must never be accepted as a valid guide to action when the matter at hand is a critical and urgent one. Don’t give up!

Training the WILL. It may not have occurred to you before how absolutely crucial this is for success in physical and close combat training. But you know it now.