The Spartan Way

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
It was a nightmare I wish I could forget.

The big difference between "SEAL training" and "Attempted Homicide" is that with an attempted homicide you don't expect the guy to survive and escape.

Training from Hell on an industrial scale.

An ultra-hardass military training regimen that produces ultra-hardass soldiers by methods that would drive every human rights activist on the planet into a rage if they hadn't already been used for target practice. May involve live-fire exercises with real missiles, survival training that consists of getting dumped naked into the wilderness a hundred miles away, all the while being screamed at by Drill Sergeant Nasty, anything to keep the casualty percentage in the double digits. One wonders how they've calculated the point where the gain in quality stops being worth the loss in numbers.

The trope takes its name from Sparta, an ancient Greek city-state famous today for uncomfortably similar training methods.

If you hear the term "Super Soldier", it will usually involve this. This will often result in a Badass Army if done properly and taken to the proper level. May result in Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training if the soldiers aren't given a balanced education outside of warfare. When the training is actually simply a way of living, you get HAD to Be Sharp.

Examples of The Spartan Way include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Full Metal Panic!? Fumoffu, Sousuke subjects his high school rugby team to this, in a not-so-subtle Shout-Out to Full Metal Jacket.
  • Ninja in Naruto begin their training at a very young age, to the point that each one is (theoretically) a ruthless assassin and a superhuman martial artist by age twelve - and that's at the lowest ninja rank. Not everyone survives the yearly examination/martial arts tournament to attain the next-highest ninja rank, and only a small percentage actually passes the test each year.
    • While they do begin Ninja Academy at a young age in Konoha, it is shown to be more of a basic skills course. More training is received after graduation through personal instruction by their team's mentor and fairly low-risk missions, as far as the good guy's Leaf village is concerned, anyway. The Mist (and possibly the Sand) village is a different story.
    • That's how it seems. Konoha Ninja Academy seems to be more focused on academia, with, considering their profession, a rather lackluster physical program. Sakura seems to be a standard graduate of the Academy without any extra training, and she wasn't a ruthless assassin/superhuman martial artist. And everyone we see didn't become superhuman through the school, but through either clan training or their Jounin sensei.
      • Attaining the lowest rank isn't dangerous. It's every rank above that follows the trope.
    • The Hidden Mist's genin test in which only the stronger half of each group of candidates survives has some Fridge Logic issues; namely depopulation. Konoha may be (relatively) soft, but it's growing, its shinobi are highly regarded, and its washouts survive to diversify the city's economic base....
    • It also seems to have led to the surviving ninja being less than loyal, as of the small number of characters from that village that are known, one staged a (failed) coup, one killed several daimyos then joined Akatsuki, and one readily abandoned the village to pursue his own goals.
    • Recent information suggests that such practices are no longer in use, as they were largely a result of the previous Mizukage (who is not remembered fondly and was actually under the control of the Big Bad).
  • Inverted in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 in that Setsuna and the other Krugis holy warriors were trained to go beyond Janissary levels of fanaticism (to the point they killed their own parents) and to fight to their own destruction by Ali al Saachez, a cynical rat bastard who had no faith in or love for anything or anyone except war for its own sake. When the trainer is that much of a hypocrite, the entire endeavor is a mockery. Setsuna himself goes from fanatic Muslim to frequently insisting there is no God in any of the situations he finds himself in.
  • Harsh training methods are common for all trying to become a warrior of Athena in Saint Seiya. Some aspiring Saints get off lucky, and get to train one-on-one with a benevolent (or, at worst, indifferent) master such as Libra Dohko, Eagle Marin, or the Crystal Saint. But the vast, vast majority are sent to training camps where they must compete for the right to don the sacred Cloth... if not for their very lives. Andromeda Island and especially Athena's Sanctuary have Death Courses where battalions of trainees must survive both daily combat as well as environmental hazards (and the occasional murderous master.) And even they are easily overshadowed by Death Queen Island training methods.
  • It's become a joke among fans that Nanoha Takamachi's method of parenting is all about the Spartan Way.
    • Don't forget the actual training. Considering the fact that Subaru is a Hollywood Cyborg and Teana is a Badass Normal whose magic levels exceed that of the standard TSAB mooks, and they look like they can barely stand after training, I fear for the lives of Nanoha's new pupils.
  • Burst Angel runs with this and then goes above and beyond by having only 3 surviving candidates of the supersoldier training program...and one would later go crazy and the other would betray the organization. Yeah, uh, not the most successful final training exercise... (and the one who remained loyal was the first of the final 3 to get beaten in the flashback by the other two, also the first major enemy encountered and defeated by the traitor early on, and the one who went crazy shares her name with another anime supersoldier who went crazy.) The fact 3 survive may be a subtle reference to Naked Weapon mentioned below, considering their final exam is similar and also they are wearing skintight 'battlesuits'.

Comic Books

  • In the Marvelcomics Alternate Continuity Age of Apocalypse, Colossus is shown training young mutants for the fight against Apocalypse, expecting them to kill each other to ensure that only the very best remain.
  • A similar situation arose when the mutant Morlocks were Trapped in Another World by a mad Reality Warper Mikael Rasputin; they fought their way up "The Hill", and those tough enough to survive found favor with Rasputin and became the fanatical Gene Nation.
  • In the DC Universe, Doomsday was raised by Kryptonian scientists by sending an infant into the cruel wilderness of Krypton, getting it killed, harvesting its DNA, cloning it so that it kept the memory of how it was killed, then repeating the cycle over and over and over and et cetera until it became one of the ultimate killing machines in the universe, able to beat Superman to death. (This blurs the line between this trope and just Training from Hell, depending on your view of Cloning Blues.)
  • Also from the DC Universe is Cassandra Cain, the second offical Batgirl. She was trained to read human movement as her only language and become an unparalleled assassin in a classical Spartan way, up to and including being shot in nonvital areas as punishment--with the threat of being shot again for crying out from the pain.
  • Among the G.I. Joe action figures (whose backgrounds and file cards were written by Larry Hama, primary author of the comic series), most Cobra soldier types from the Strato-Viper onward were given intense training. Alley-Vipers (urban troopers) had to take a full burst of automatic fire across their body armour and run down a gas-filled corridor without a gas-mask. Night-Vipers were raised from a young age in unlit, windowless bunkers. Rage-Vipers (jungle troopers) were not given any supplies or rations and had to live off the land and steal ammunition from enemy ammo dumps. Night Vultures (aerial recon troopers) were given no formal training before being dropped over shark infested waters with their hang gliders at least five miles from land. Most Cobra Vipers also received some form of physiological augmentation. When questioned in the letters pages of the G.I. Joe comic, Hama said: "Cobra has no ethical limitations on research and no lack of willing volunteers."
  • 300, of course, being about Spartans and all.
  • GIs in Rogue Trooper.
  • Judges in Judge Dredd, with the severity of the training varying by jurisdiction. In Mega-City One, training begins at the age of 5, and the cadets face live-fire exercises at 14.

Fan Works

  • Divine Assassin training in The Open Door. It starts with a five-kilometre run on hot asphalt immediately followed by a two-kilometre swim across the Aegean sea, with burnt feet still smarting, and the four-year training includes torture and a week-long Mind Rape session at the hands of an Eldritch Abomination Complete Monster. The end result kills 37 excessively gung-ho trainees out of the 120 volunteers, with the rest washed out to less intense courses, which admittedly does not look very severe. Space Marine trained inherited from canon!40k most likely follows the old vein too.


  • Starship Troopers. Sergeant Zim even throws a knife into Ace's hand for griping.
    • But then, in a universe where one can shrug off alien pincers through the shoulder blades, a mere knife to the hand probably counts barely above a slap.
  • The commandos in the film Soldier are raised brutally from birth and treated brutally thereafter, only to be replaced by a new generation of genetically engineered soldiers.
  • The movie Naked Weapon features a wide variety of pubescent girls being kidnapped from around the world and sent to a tropical island. After immediately killing anybody who says 'Yes, I wanna go home!', they spend the next six years in a nonstop boot camp teaching the girls everything there is to know about firearms, human anatomy, unarmed combat, and social interaction, honing them into the world's finest assassins. As a penultimate final exam, they are assembled in their barracks and told that they have two minutes to kill half their number or they will all die. In the actual final exam, they are forced to compete in a gladiator-style tournament until only one remains. However, their "performance" is so great that the Madam allows three to survive instead. They get drugged and raped on their graduation, just to drive home that their bodies are not their own.
  • In The Bourne Series, it's implied that the CIA assassins in the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs are subjected to a brutal training and brainwashing regimen in order to condition them to be the perfect assassins.
  • Exaggerated to parody during the tour of Royalton Industries in the Speed Racer movie: Royalton racers need to be able to eat noodles with chopsticks on a centrifuge, pass an eye exam on a vibrating chair, and take a jet turbine's worth of freezing air to the face.
  • Coast Guard rescue swimmers as taught by Kevin Costner in The Guardian."
  • Mulan has a mild version of this. "Lets get down to business".
  • In Deadly Prey, the Big Bad's Start of Darkness was caused in part by a disagreement with his superiors over whether or not to use these methods to train elite soldiers.
  • The Zulus in Zulu.


  • The Forever War. While the initial training is brutal enough, it is later mentioned to the lead that growing and programming ideal soldiers from birth was tried and didn't work (the aliens do suicidal valor better). The training was justified by the fact that the environments they were fighting in were just as lethal, and that they had to be trained to fight in them. Considering that they were training on an airless rock where one wrong step could kill them, the casualties taken were probably low.
  • In Dune, the incredibly harsh prison planet Salusa Secundus serves as the secret training grounds for the Emperor's elite Sardukar shock troops. And the incredibly lethal deserts of the titular planet Dune serve to make its indigenous people, The Fremen, hardy enough to overcome even the Sardukar.

"The Sardukar was forced to use the jet engines of their troop transporters as flamethrowers. That, my dear Baron, is an act of desperation!"

    • The Ginaz Academy, which trains the best warriors in the Empire. It's a grueling eight-year program, and roughly one-third of all students do not survive training. Another third simply wash out, and the final third join the ranks of the Ginaz Swordmasters.
  • The Unsullied in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire are trained from birth, not only to be superior warriors, but also to be unswervingly loyal. This training involves raising a puppy from birth as their only friend, and then personally strangling it to prove they can follow orders. They're also said to be able to stand until they collapse of starvation and are fed a mixture that dulls and eventually eliminates their sense of pain. To demonstrate this, a slaver hacks the nipple off one of the Unsullied, who doesn't even flinch.
    • That one is drawn from propaganda about SS officer candidate school in Nazi Germany requiring cadets to do the same thing. Probably propaganda.
    • Unsullied training actually has worse aspects, including having no permanent name and having to kill an infant.
    • Notably, they don't appear to appreciate the training, with orders for the more inhumane methods to cease quickly earning their loyalty.
  • The Republic Commando books of the Star Wars Expanded Universe describe the training of the original Clone trooper army as including live fire exercises at around age 4-5 and a course called the sickener designed to make the troops wash out. There's also the matter of groups of soldiers going missing if their accuracy is as low as 95%. While there was also the whole cloned issue that led to them being effective, there was definitely more than a little of The Spartan Way involved.
  • Micheal Z. Williamson's "The Weapon" has the Freehold's special forces Operatives undergo similar training, to the point that One hundred or so of them with minimal support pretty much destroy the UN ruled Earth, killing billions in the the process.
    • Before anyone's suspension of disbelief entirely implodes, some points: the Operatives required years of preparation, their acts of sabotage included the use of tacnukes, bioweapons, thermobaric attack on city infrastructure, sabotaging arcologies, and nerve gas, and there were very few Operatives who survived the massive Earth-wide manhunt for them after their attack and that being aided by good fortune bordering on divine providence. It also helps the commando tactics were backed up by a conventional attack afterwards.
  • In the Sven Hassel WW 2 novel 'Monte Cassino' the 27th Penal Panzer Regiment is commanded by Major Mike Braun, a German-American and former US Marine.

He turned to Hauptfeldwebel Hoffman. "Two hours special drill in the river. Anyone who kills a comrade gets three weeks leave. Every tenth cartridge and every twentieth grenade will be live. I want to see at least one broken arm. Otherwise, four hours extra drill."
Then began one of Mike's usual exercises. We hated him because of them, but they made us hard and inhuman. If you are to be a good soldier, you have to be able to hate. You have to kill a man as if he were a louse.

  • In the Wolfbreed series, which is an Elfen Lied Expy, The Teutonic Knights do this to a bunch of werewolf children in an attempt to create Super Soldiers. Results were...mixed.
  • The Blood Lords, from John Ringo's Council War series. Somewhat of a necessity given that, just a few months prior to the titular conflict kicking off, the people in it had been members of a post-scarcity survivor. They wouldn't have stood a chance against the numerically superior opposition otherwise.
  • The war camp run by the Bloodletter in Black Dagger Brotherhood qualifies for this trope. And unlike the real Spartans, who started training at age seven, his trainees started at age three. Made worse by the fact that winners of sparring bouts were encouraged to rape the losers. Alumni of this camp include Darius and Vishous.
  • In Brotherhood of the Rose the CIA assassin protagonists are recruited as boys from a government orphanage (whose boys were already being groomed as patriotic cannon fodder for the US military) and then raised to be killing machines, to the point where disguised CIA agents were sent to mug the boys and beat them humiliatingly so as to make them really want to learn martial arts. As one of them puts it: "The way we were raised, I don't think we were ever kids."
  • Falcone's method of raising his Tyke Bomb soldiers in the Warchild Series. Any child unlucky enough to be designated one of his protégés faced tough physical exercises and early instruction in gambling, sex, and weaponry. It's also implied at least a few of those children are raped as preparation for using sex as a weapon against people (the goal here to produce Super Assassin/Pirates rather than Super Soldiers).
  • The Draka self-consciously mirror the training regimen of ancient Sparta, even calling their militaristic boarding school program the Agoge. Unlike in Sparta, both boys and girls are trained this way. While the Spartans had the Helots to keep in line, the Draka have everyone on Earth who is not them.
  • In the Warrior Cats series, ShadowClan's training while Brokenstar is the leader - even kits are forced to train in the brutal battle training, and many end up dying. Dark Forest training also counts.

Live Action TV

  • Spoofed on Monty Python's Flying Circus, where a regiment of Scottish kamikazes have a 100% fatality rate in training.
    • Of course, the reason that only one person survived the training regimen of the McKamikaze Highlanders is not due to the harshness of the training, but because they were so eager to die for their country that they couldn't bring themselves to wait until they were ordered to do so (The one person to survive was forcibly restrained so that he would stay alive until he actually received his orders).
  • The Peacekeepers of Farscape are usually raised this way. In most cases, procreation is assigned, parental love is frowned upon if not outright illegal, and children are trained from birth to be stoic, obedient goons, with emotional attachment seen as an unforgivable weakness. Heroine Aeryn Sun's entire character arc is about overcoming the mindset this loveless, violent upbringing has given her. In an interesting subversion, Anti-Villain Crais was drafted as a boy along with his doomed younger brother - he was actually raised on a farming colony, by a clearly loving father.
  • It could be argued Dean and Sam Winchester of Supernatural were raised this way after their mother's death when Dean was four and Sam six months old.
  • Firefly implies that what the Academy was doing to River and the other test subjects is a small-scale, prototype version of this, intended to create psychic killing machines.
  • On Deadliest Warrior, most of the subjects are claimed to have gone through something like this, having fought since childhood and/or been trained harder than anyone else. The accuracy of these claims varies from case to case.

Myth and Legend

  • In Norse Mythology, the Einherjar are warriors who have died in battle and are brought into Valhalla by the Valkyries. These Einherjar fight each other to the death on a daily basis for thousands of years to prepare them for Ragnarok. As you can guess, being killed numberless times in training tends to make somewhat fearless in battle and pretty much immune to pain, not to mention the experience that only thousands of years of battle can offer.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40K universe, as can be expected from something built around "grimdark", has a lot of this.
    • The training of Space Marines takes this trope to the point of parody. Given that your average space marine chapter contains about 1,000 space marines, one can do the math on those who died along the way to make them rather easily. However, this is overall practical for the Imperium, as manpower is the one resource the Imperium has more of than it needs, and throwing away a couple thousand people to get half a dozen new Space Marines is both economical and practical.
      • A good example would be the recruitment procedures of the Blood Angels Chapter: The barely post-pubescent aspirants must first cross the barren desert of their monster-inhabited world with only primitive tools before ascending a mountain. At the peak, they then take part in a massive gladiatorial tournament to the death. When fifty recruits remain, they are taken to the chapter's Fortress-Monastery and forced to meditate for three days without food or water, and if they fall asleep they are killed. Note that there has been no rest period between the trials. After that, they take a very powerful sedative that places them in a coma for one year, during which they are entombed in a massive golden sarcophagus that sustains them and initiates the physical and genetic changes required to become a Space Marine. A majority of the applicants will have their bodies reject the implants, killing them or mutating them beyond recognition, and still more will awaken and lie imprisoned in the tomb while their bodies painfully change for the rest of the year, often driving them insane. Then, their training begins. Another reason they go crazy is due to them awaking inside a sealed coffin filled with blood (or at least a blood-like substance) and have to endure it for however long he has left in there. Think claustrophobia combined with being submerged in blood. Yikes.
      • Did we mention this all happens on a planet so irradiated that they must wear bulky rad-suits that look like diving suits, and jump canyons with only a pair of crude mechanical wings? Life on Baal has left all these aspirants stunted and unhealthy, not to mention more than likely cancerous.
      • Note, that portion of the training will only yield about 10% of the chapter's members (the 10th Company's Scouts). To be promoted to full fledged Space Marine you have to endure a few more years of actual live combat. Even after that, the daily training is also brutal. Live fire is always used and you are expected to fight in every single possible condition, not to mention your daily lunch will consist of whatever you kill in the morning (which is fatally poisonous to normal humans due to where the Fortress-Monastaries are located).
      • The Space Wolves' homeworld is deliberately kept in a primitive technological state, analogous to real-world viking culture. Inter-tribal warfare is encouraged. Those who demonstrate their bravery by valiantly dying in battle are recovered, healed, and inducted. That's right, death is a prerequisite for joining. Then begins the usual battery of physical tests, psychic examinations, extensive training, exposure to the elements, and combat against vicious monsters. The final exam is having the Space Wolf geneseed implant. As the Marine adapts to his new organs, they are engaged in a psychic struggle against their bestial inner nature. Those who fail transform into a canine abomination. Then they become Blood Claws, assault troops whose sole purpose is to charge the enemy in close combat and seize enough glory to be promoted.
      • Fabius Bile, originally the Apothecary of Emperor's Children legion of Chaos Space Marines, is now responsible for devising training and recruitment "programs" of most Chaos legions, and despises Loyalist Marines for their "sissiness"—that is, that their novice-to-aspirant ratio is about 1%, and not 0.1% like he does.
      • Grey Knights training, on the other hand, would make even him proud. Grey Knights basically have to go through all the things a regular Space Marine must, plus endure a nonstop gauntlet of 666 different physical, mental and spiritual tortures and other trials. The survival rate is rather slim, to put it mildly.
    • The Death Worlds, like Catachan, are tithed primarily or exclusively in recruits for Imperial Guard. Their method of training is quite simple: survive to adulthood on Catachan. After that, they need only to be given basics of being part of a military organization, and they are ready to go fight in another hellhole - it's very unlikely to be any worse.
    • By the same token, Penal units. The Imperium for most part isn't a particularly nice place, and it follows that prisoners from hard labour camps had it worse than most.
      • The Last Chancers has training that could compare to the Space Marines, significant in that it's the only penal legion described to do it such. Colonel Schaeffer takes the best of the best from the worst of the worst (thousands upon thousands of military criminals who he thinks might be useful for whatever mission might be handed him) and this would, in any other setting already give you Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder, but here he takes them through one hellish battlefield after another to separate the "elite" from the "fodder", and the survivors get to join him in undertaking really important suicide missions given by the Inquisition which any sane commander would have sent Death Watch or Grey Knights to do instead.
    • Many orphans are taken to the Schola Progenium run by the Ecclesiarchy, which are not nice places either. The Progena make particularly tough and unflinchingly loyal servants of the Imperium - the Stormtroopers (elite units used in, naturally, particularly nasty fights) and Commissars (who should show an example of courage to the recruits and Cadet-Commissars are given field practice in Stormtrooper units) all come from there, and the rest are recruited into many other Imperial organizations, from Orders of the Adepta Sororitas to Assassin Temples.
  • This trope applies to the Black Guard of the Dark Elves in Warhammer Fantasy. They are taken from their mothers at birth so they don't form any attachment to their families, then as soon as they are old enough, they are forced to fight each other to the death so that only the strongest survive. Those who live are somewhat prone to murdering one another, this being a recognised way of rising through the ranks. If they make it through two hundred years of service - and it is implied many don't - they can look forward to a high position at the Witch King's court, not that such a position increases one's life expectancy. They're an interesting lot.
  • The Clan Warriors in BattleTech: eugenically selected, 'birthed' in artificial wombs, raised for their specific missions from childhood, then pitted against each other in live-fire conflicts to determine their fitness, and any who don't earn a "Bloodname" before the age of 35 are considered washed up.
    • Of course, the "Common, low-born" MechWarriors of the Inner Sphere still keep winning in all the PC games made around the franchise. The downside to the Clan Warrior training: enemies that don't follow the Clan Warrior rules are a nightmare to deal with. (There's mention at one point of a group of Clan Warriors who challenged their enemies to individual duels... and were gunned down. Last words? "This isn't fair!")
    • This is about the only way to explain the opening cinematic of the first Mech Commander game. Clanner that forgets that Spheroids are back-shooting, dogpiling Combat Pragmatist stravags, so lets himself get shot in the back not once but TWICE, and tunnels on the latest opponent to shoot at him.
    • The first wave of the clan invasion was very strict, but the second and onwards were known to play fast and loose with the honour rules up to the point of using "headhunter stars" - small groups of power armoured infantry dropped on areas believed to contain enemy commanders. Finally do something sufficiently disgraceful and the rules will get thrown out the window...
      • The strictness is also analogous to the Napoleonic era 'rules' of both armies having to fight by standing directly across from one another then firing. ANY other form of combat is going to wreck that army's day, since they're overly specialised in handling a single format.
    • Clan warrior caste also use "trials" of various types ranging from fistfights to fully armed mech combat to determine everything from rights to particular appointments to ones guilt and innocence in treason charges.
    • The resident Deadpan Snarker in Mechwarrior III, after noticing one clan commander's willingness to sacrifice his own to defeat the player, quipped "Whatever happened to that old Clan ideal of 'honorable combat'?"
  • One of the (many) reasons the 3E Ravenloft supplement Champions of Darkness is the object of massive fan derision is that it claimed Strahd von Zarovich trains his spellcasting minions this way, by trapping them in a hellish prison surrounded by toxic vapors, and leaving them there until they either die or gain enough levels to teleport out.
  • The GURPS Black Ops sourcebook has the Academy, the hidden training center where the Company sends it's recruits to make Black Ops out of them. The training program is ridiculously intensive, requires the equivalent of at least two doctorate degrees in book learning, learning at least two additional languages, mastery of martial arts, qualification with virtually every known weapon (the combat specialists are required to learn everything up to and including nuclear weapons engineering) as well as expert social and infiltration skills. The physical drills include the standard "dropped naked in the wilderness" test (nicknamed "Summer Camp"), exercises (simulated torture, and occasionally not-so-simulated torture) to test a cadet's resistance to mental stress, and a team-building exercise in which a squad of cadets are attached to a six-foot log via a steel chain, which they must learn to maneuver around hallway corners, through doorways, and up and down stairwells while being fired at with live ammo. There's also things like spending six days escorting around a poorly-sealed box full of poisonous spiders while dodging robot snipers, or being forced to stage a firefight with live ammo in a warehouse, without being told that all the crates are full of glass bottles full of benzene and rolled-up newspapers. (And you're not allowed to leave the warehouse until you've finished the exercise... even if it is on fire.) Usually, only about half of the recruits make it through all five years of training with their lives and sanity intact. The general effect of this is that most Black Ops can face impossible challenges and unspeakable horrors, and go "I've been through worse."
  • The Get of Fenris in Werewolf the Apocalypse are this trope to a T. They actively terrorize young cubs and deliberately push them past their breaking point to force them to overcome their weaknesses. Very notably it is the tribe that probably has the most washouts who fail and join another tribe. The Blood Talons in Werewolf: The Forsaken aren't quite as bad, but their initiation rites are deliberately designed to leave you badly scarred.
  • Dark Sun, a setting for Dungeons & Dragons, is so ridiculously harsh that simply living there has effectively indoctrinated every living creature on the planet, sentient and otherwise, in The Spartan Way. Drained of life by the native version of magic, something like 90% of the planet is desert- even the seas have been boiled dry and their beds filled with silt, and a given locale is lucky to see a meagre shower of rain once a year. Metal is so rare that bone, rock and chitin are the accepted standard for weapons and armor. The temperature is extreme, going from 110 degrees in the morning to 150 degrees by late afternoon. Just about everything smarter than a rock has some degree of psychic power, and every plant and animal, even the ones that don't eat flesh, is capable of killing you. An army of Githyanki, Proud Warrior Race Guys basically defined as xenophobic, militaristic, egotistical, psychic martial artists who routinely cross blades with demons, elementals, and every other monster that the multiverse has to offer, tried to invade Athas... and promptly ran away with their tails between their legs, sealed up the portal and told their entire race to stay the hell away from this crazy place. It's like Dune, only with More Predators Than Prey.
    • More seriously, starting characters in Dark Sun began at 3rd level, at a time when no other published D&D setting in the universe would even remotely contemplate the idea of starting a new character at anything other than 1st level. And you're encouraged (read: all but ordered) to have back-up characters.

Video Games

  • System Shock 2, which is Cyberpunk and therefore quite justified, has one option in the player's character creation being a survival course with a "21.2% mortality rate". This actually seems quite low, considering it takes place on Io, the moon with 400 volcanoes.
  • Surprisingly, GDI's (the good guys') commando program in Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars, with a 22% fatality rate among the recruits and a 95% failure rate among the survivors.
    • To make matters even more ridiculous, the Brotherhood of Nod's commando program is even worse.
    • And then the AI sends them, one by one, to attack your base defenses. Seems like a bit of a waste, really.
  • The Deep Ground Soldiers in Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus. To the point that, when they're set free, they start a war because that's literally all they know how to do.
  • In Final Fantasy VIII, the final exam for SeeD candidates consists of inserting the teenage cadets into a real military engagement and sending them in small units to engage numerically superior hordes of professional soldiers. One wonders how SeeDs are tested when there aren't any wars going on. (Or, perhaps, would if there were EVER not a war going on.)
    • Of course, considering that every SeeD is a self-healing, fully-armed, supercharged walking artillery platform, one has to wonder if there is any less dangerous way of testing them in combat.
    • Might I note the fact that BEFORE said final exam, they need to travel to a local cave, and subdue a GOD. This is after having subdued two others in previous school years.
  • The literally-named SPARTAN-IIs from the Halo franchise were all kidnapped by the military at the age of six to be put through incredibly harsh training, complemented by high-level education. By the time the trainees turned 14, they all had the physiques of 18-year old Olympic athletes and, with nothing but dart guns and stun grenades, were fully capable of outfighting adult Marines armed with live ammunition. And that's all before they received their armor and augmentations.
    • The training of the young orphans who were to become the SPARTAN-IIIs was arguably even harsher, considering that most of them were expected to see action by the time they turned 10-12 years old.
  • The Silencer Corps of the Crusader series of games likely have something like this; the alternative is that they are vat-born and come preprogrammed with the requisite skills. This is implied to be true for the latest generation of Silencers; the older ones are indicated to be "old-fashioned".
  • Field Commander does this with both sides, while A.T.L.A.S is a more humane "You need a Medal of Honor and some sort of task that makes you a damn badass" to become a grunt, Shadow Nation's training of their appropriately named fodder is rather inhumane, cooped up in tiny cells being fed food devoid of nutrients, it turns their men to insane bloodthirsty beasts as a result, and their division commanders do not treat their men well even after they are sent out to the field.
  • The Spartan faction in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Not only are they named after the Spartans, their leader's big quote is "Superior training and superior weaponry have, when taken together, a geometric effect on overall military strength. Well-trained, well-equipped troops can stand up to many more times their lesser brethren than linear arithmetic would seem to indicate." Naturally, their training methods are revealed to be quite brutal, as yet another quote tells about a Spartan training officer breaking a recruit's arm to make him relearn his sloppy combat techniques.
    • It is shown to be even more brutal than that in Michael Ely's Centauri Dawn novel, where children that were weaker than their peers were taken outside and had their throats cut by their teachers. The only exception ever made was for Victor Santiago, Colonel Corazon Santiago's son. By all rights he should've been killed as a boy, but his mother protected him (even though it went against their rules). Later, though, he manages to rally the Spartan troops in their hour of need to fight off the mind worms.
  • Dwarf Fortress plans for spartan training in a pit
    • Training pretty much WAS The Spartan Way prior to 31.01; casualty rates for sparring were brutally high, and the only way to safely train was to already be a legendary soldier. Now soldiers can train individually and have access to wooden training weapons, but you can always give them steel ones...
    • then there is Dwarven "Child Care",It's like regular childcare, except with more dogs, and less care. Just dump the children in a pit and add dogs and food from time to time.
  • In the Half Life expansion Opposing Force, during part of the training, there's a line of three people on the opposite side of a field firing full-powered maching guns. It's not only possible to die during this part, it's kind of hard NOT to die on the first try. All this just to learn cover.
  • Arguably, X-COM soldiers get all of their combat experience from live combat exercises, often against aliens with roughly twice their number and better weapons. Training soldiers will be a pain until you at least get Laser Weapons, Medikits and Personal Armor.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Open Blue has several Spartan way regimens. Sirene puts volunteers from its already hardcore marines under additional training to make them Stormtroopers (no, not that kind). Additionally, the top 1% of these are given even more training to become the Royal Family's Praetorian Guard. Proud Merchant Race Remillia is no slouch either. Its most elite forces are known as Angels and are brutally trained from the age of three. They are then deployed into action at the age of thirteen.
  • The eponymous family/ethnic group/master race of Ynglinga Saga.
  • Quite possibly the most abused trope on NationStates, sometimes taken Up to Eleven by turning an entire state into this.
  • Parodied in The Insane Quest when Sir Rustynuts recounts his days training to be a knight:

Rustynuts: "Well, let me tell you, whippersnappers, when I was your age, and I was in Ye Olde Armie, we woke up at 2:00 every morning and had to climb a mountain to get to our breakfast. And it was always cold by the time we got there! Then we had to swim up waterfalls for two hours, and chop down trees with our noses after that. After our afternoon breadstick, we had to dig holes using each other as shovels. When we had dug a satisfactory hole, we switched places and filled it back up. Then we ran around Boulder Canyon and smashed rocks and beat up grizzly bears. Then, for dinner, we had broccoli. After that, since it was too cold to go outside, we stayed inside and practiced our Shoryukens and Tatsumaki Senpukyakus. Then we had our AP Calculus tests at the same time as our Astrophysics tests. Finally, we went to sleep at 2:30 in the morning,"
Rose: "According to that logic you went to sleep thirty minutes AFTER you woke up and did all that stuff."
Rustynuts: "That's why we fell half an hour behind schedule every day. Cheeky little brat."

Real Life

  • Sparta was kind enough to donate their name for the trope.
    • It also did them in, the Spartiate Class was never more than 8,000 and even the loss of a few hundred could be devastating for the Spartans as getting replacements would take two decades to do.
  • One ancient Roman commander was known for the harsh (and often deadly) training he put his soldiers through. The casualty rate during his practice sessions was actually higher than during combat against a real enemy, leading to the motto "Bloody training and bloodless battles."
  • Marcus Licinius Crassus, when forced to fight Spartacus with a terribly disorganized bunch of sub-par cowards, turned his legions into a super-disciplined Badass Army by force of decimatio, a punishment in which every tenth soldier is beaten to death by the rest, and then the remaining ones have their wheat replaced with barley and forced to sleep outside of their encampment. It is believed that Crassus killed about 4,000 legionaries just to teach some discipline.
  • U.S. Marine boot camp makes all trainees pass through ordeals that would compare to special operations training in some other countries. It culminates in a three-day ordeal called "The Crucible," which tests all the basic skills they were supposed to have learned up to that point.
    • The Marines also lay claim to Force Recon (phasing out) and MARSOC as their elite level badasses.
  • The US Navy SEALs have a period of intense, brutal training called "Hell Week" that trainees must endure before becoming full fledged SEALs they are allowed to begin the second third of SEAL training.
    • One exercise in SEAL training involves being thrown into a swimming pool with your hands tied behind your back and without your breathing gear. You are expected to make it back to the surface anyway.
  • SERE School, for survival, evasion, resistance, and escape, is given to military members who might be taken prisoner by enemy forces. Most people who go through it regard it as the worst part of training they experience. There are three levels of SERE training conducted depending on an individual's military occupation, rank, and probability of capture. Most of the training that takes place in at the highest levels of training is classified, and those who go through it aren't always fond of discussing it. It is commonly told that graduates are given a rabbit to kill and eat during exercises. Other exotic foods are on the menu as well. If you can catch 'em.
    • Some of the exercises done to trainees during SERE school would be considered violations of the Geneva Conventions if done to enemy prisoners. Specifically, the torture resistance exercises. They operate on the basis that its not really practical to simulate torture without diluting the training value... so they use non-simulated, genuine torture. While they obviously avoid methods that cause permanent physical or mental damage (after all, you need the student still in fighting shape and reasonably sane at the end), or the ones involving sexual assault (because there's just no way anyone will ever sign a permission slip for that one), that still leaves a tremendous amount of wiggle room in which to be really really horrible.
      • Which is somewhat understandable, since not everyone who might take them prisoner is going to respect the Geneva Convention. Especially since many of the missions rely on the ability to plausibly claim that the people involved are not combatants from your country.
      • Parenthetically, this is also why many special-operations military personnel displayed a profound lack of concern re: the 'waterboarding' accusations about activities at Camp X-Ray. After all, they had to go through it (no, seriously -- 'waterboarding' in its modern form was originally invented for use on SERE students because you can't actually use the old WWII Japanese version without risking killing the subject), so why should they care if some terrorist jackass has to go through it?
  • Army Rangers. Trainees often die during training.
    • Army Rangers may go on to complete Special Operations training and join Delta Force. Beyond that, it's all secret hush hush type stuff.
    • The main difference between ordinary soldiers and the so-called elites, the Marines and Rangers in this case, is a one-time training course that is mostly psychological in hardship, and only varies in more intense and frequent exercise and the use of special skills. Deaths in training are usually preventable and the result of ignorance or carelessness by the chain of command either to prevent a marine's/soldier's risk or to help a marine/soldier at risk; this includes deaths by suicide. The Marine Corps and Ranger school also have more restrictions on who may enter, and it is mainly for this reason that they are viewed as elite, even though any military unit may have equally hard conditions and training in its regular activity.
  • One of the Delta Force entrance exams consists of having to march through 40 kilometers of rugged country terrain in less than 10 hours, all the while carrying 40 pounds of gear. Sounds bad? Did we forget to mention that they give you the absolute bare minimum of navigational information to find the endpoint of the route? Hope you didn't miss a turn.
  • The USAF's Combat Controllers. They have to maintain qualification as Air Traffic Controllers (which is probably the second most stressful job in the world, the first being soldier).
    • USAF Pararescue Training. They are the US military's Combat Search and Rescue specialists, and their pipeline is known as "Superman School".
    • Should also mention the USAF's Special Operations Weather Technicians. All three Air Force Special Tactics operators are well-respected in the military community as badasses. Before they even begin their job training, ALL Special Tactics hopefuls complete BMT, then a six week Indoctrination course. Called "Indoc" it is the most grueling ordeal most trainees have ever been through—including such novel practices as performing calisthenics whie wearing diving masks. Filled with water. Indoc washes out a great deal of candidates due to the harsh training. And then it gets worse.
  • The British SAS are generally considered extremely tough also. The final stage of their 4-week Selection training is known as "Endurance", a forty mile march across the Brecon Beacons, completed in less than twenty hours carrying more than fifty-five pounds of weight, plus water, food and rifle. They then get to proceed to the six weeks in the Malaysian jungle. Then the survival training, then the interrogation training...and after all that, they are effectively on probation for a year, with many being returned to their parent unit in that time as unsuitable.
    • The sister unit of the SAS, The SASR, better known as the Australian SAS, has similar methods. To date, more people have died in training for the SASR than they have for combat. Admittedly this includes 15 people dying in a helicoptor crash, but it still stands.
    • The British army has a nasty reputation for killing more people off via "disciplinary" measures ("beasting", where you're made to do the exercises again.. and again.. and again, this time in NBC gear) than in the actual functional part of the training, though. Last year one recruit died this way over dropping a chocolate wrapper; another for shouting in the officers' mess. Apparently they have yet to get rid of the Drill Sergeant Nasty.
  • The British Royal Marines have the longest and arguably most difficult training of any non-special forces unit. The Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre trains inside the Arctic Circle, including areas used for the location shots of the planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.
  • The Parachute Regiment is also somewhat notorious; according to the memoirs of Major Peter 'Billy' Radcliffe, bare-knuckle fights between squads of aspiring Paras were actively encouraged by their drill instructors at least as late as the 1960s, thought 'Bloody Sunday' may have resulted in a change of philosophy. The very nature of parachute training accounts for a fair number of additional casualties.
  • The French Foreign Legion - in case none of the above is tough enough for you. With its methods based on sheer cruelty, and its diverse training grounds, ranging from the snow-laden slopes of the French Pyrenees through the rainforests of Guyane (aka "The Green Hell") to the dunes of the Sahara, it stands a pretty good chance of killing you. Motto: "March or die!" Women are not allowed to join. (Hear it from Bear Grylls himself: "I hadn't expected it to be so tough, having spent several years in the SAS.")
    • The Foriegn Legion is notorious for its high rate of suicide in training. Today it's only about .5% that can be proved, but historically suicides in training from those who simply can't take it anymore but won't wash out has run higher.
  • For an interesting historical subversion you can't go past the Sacred Band of Thebes. A company of elites composed entirely of paired homosexual lovers, one older and one younger, who being thus bonded would theoretically have a lot more invested in keeping the soldier standing next to them alive and thus fight harder in their defense (and be more prone to berserking at the enemy's expense if their lover fell). And it worked. Not only were they one of the most feared companies in ancient Greece, but Thebes triumphed in the Battle of Leuctra over a larger force (5-7,000 vs 10-11,000) by use of a hitherto-unforeseen battle tactic, in which the Sacred Band were instrumental. The enemy crushed and humiliated by the Sacred Band in this battle? The Spartans. Yes. They defeated The Spartan Way with The Power of Love.
    • After the Sacred Band were destroyed at the Battle of Chaeronea, with the remnants either fighting to the death or committing suicide, Philip II of Macedon reportedly said, "Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly." According to Plutarch, who was not a contemporary and who had an absolute hardon for the Sacred Band. Pinch of salt, please...
  • Japanese military training during WWII and the "China incident" took this to an extreme. Not only was the training extremely brutal a Japanese soldier was not considered fully trained until he killed a prisoner of war with a sword or bayonet. Some units even went so far as to eat their victims. I wish I was making this up.
    • Subversion: Japanese training might have been brutal, but that doesn't mean it was particularly good. The Japanese Army took casualties at the same rate (averaged for the entire war) as the Red Army in 1941. The Kwangtung Army in Manchuria was no match for the experienced and highly mechanized Red Army—the Soviet offensive sliced through the Japanese and achieved military victory in just over a week.
    • Speaking of the "notoriously poorly trained" Red Army, this only held true for the vast number of troops mass-conscripted for the war. Many established Red Army divisions were decently trained, if badly organized. In line with this trope, however, were the Siberian divisions, who were practically "trained" to be effective in winter combat by the brutal Russian winters in the notoriously cold Siberian regions. Many of these Siberian units, once diverted to the Eastern Theater against the Germans, were instrumental in the counter-push that booted the Germans out of the USSR.
    • Soviet stereotypes aside, Soviet forces in Manchuria were actually surprised and shocked to see the Japanese use human-wave attacks and men strapping explosives to themselves as suicide anti-tank weapons.
    • The Japanese Air Force in WWII also had really demanding training. The pilots who passed it were excellent, but way, way too few. The Americans on the other hand not only produced more pilots, but could also afford to send combat-experienced pilots back to train new ones—while the Japanese couldn't spare any of theirs.
    • In fact, for put it in a simple way, this was the reason why the U.S. used nukes against Japan instead of facing the Japanese army face-to-face in their own turf.
  • Russian special forces (the Spetsnaz) are notorious for this, going through training that wouldn't be tolerated by human rights groups in any western country.
    • Example, possibly apocryphal: during military training, adherence to NBC drill is tested in a room filled with CS gas, a non-lethal incapacitant. Rumour had it that Spetznaz NBC training is "live" - i.e. uses real, lethal nerve gas.
    • One non-fiction book written about Spetsnaz training claims that they routinely held river-crossing and small-boat drills in full field gear—without any provision for lifeguards or search-and-rescue. If you couldn't avoid drowning, then you didn't pass.
  • The Mongols sort of subvert this. The most dangerous group of warriors in the pre-gunpowder era (arguably) didn't gain all of their prowess from much of special training, just life in the Steppe and their own wars. While excellent light cavalry, the Mongols were deadly because they could keep their distance from European heavy cavalry and cut them to ribbons with their recurved bows; the only weapon in medieval times that had more pull-strength than the English yew longbow. To give an idea of how much pull they had, there are records of Mongol arrows being shot clean through a suit of plate armor (and the person inside) and embedding itself in the horse beneath.
    • The Mongols didn't fight that many Europeans, however—they only got to Hungary, and left relatively quickly over problems with the succession of the throne back home. Even though going all the way from China to eastern Europe and conquering everything in the way may be impressive. Including Russia, a feat no one managed to replicate since... mainly by reputation, since after they beaten three princedoms who offended them, others figured out that they stuck between Mongols and Crusaders anyway and being backed up by someone this fearsome may be worth it. Their empire eventually fell because it overstretched themselves.
  • NORFORCE, the force responsible for defending the north of Australia includes in their training, dumping potential recruits into the rainforests in small groups equipped with knives and not much else to survive of what they can find. After a little while of this, and without giving them food or rest, they have whatever they've scavenged taken away, are lectured on important things they need to know, put into new groups, and they are dumped somewhere else. This happens two or there times. Apparently, the course is so popular, there's a several year waiting list.
    • Not unknown for this kind of unit and not just for the sake of pride but also because of Genre Savvy. Few armies consider those kind of units as reserves
    • Also, given the terrain NORFORCE operates in they need these skills in order to have a reasonable chance of surviving their job. Northern Australia is so awful that the rest of Australia noticed.
  • Brazilian's BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) is well known for their rigorous training, acting mostly on urban warfare. There is a movie focused on the group, "The Elite Squad", famous for its shock value. Their logo is a skull pierced by a knife and two guns on the background; their main vehicle is called "big skull".
    • One Brazilian group, the Satere-Mawe, train to be warriors by intentionally stinging themselves by Bullet Ants. Bullet ants have the highest ranking on the Schmidt pain index, which he described as "Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel." It lasts almost 24 hours. They do it 20 times.
      • Bullet ants are an inch long, the size of a bullet. This is not why they're called bullet ants. They're called bullet ants because being stung feels like being shot. The Satere-Mawe sew entire swarms of bullet ants into sleeves (stinger-end pointed inside) and stick their arms into the mess, wearing these sleeves for something around 10 minutes. After spending several days recovering, they do it again. And again. 20 times.