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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 weren't voluntary. 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.
As with Training from Hell, in real life these methods are typically used as a selection process, to determine which candidates possess the exceptional mental and physical fortitude for the job. Training the actual combat skills that will be used in the field usually involves more standard methods. Armies that rely on The Spartan Way as the primary means to actually teach combat skills to their troops tend to be deconstructions, in that for one reason or another they end up not being terribly effective.
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 this kind of training is actually simply a way of living due to living in a tough environment, you get Had To Be Sharp.
The Saiyans in Dragon Ball pretty much exemplify the Spartans to a T, as a warrior race that believed in constant training and one's strength as the ultimate virtue. They even sent their infants to conquer planets whose inhabitants are weak enough for a baby Saiyan to slaughter.
Ninja in Naruto begin their training at their village's ninja academy at a very young age; even during peacetime, ninja generally graduate and become active duty genin by age twelve. Not every genin survives the yearly examination/martial arts tournament needed to become a chunin, and only a small percentage actually passes the test each year.
At least in the Hidden Leaf Village, the academy is shown to be more of a basic skills course that focuses at least as much on academia as it does on combat skills. Though the main cast all decide to take the chunin exams early in their careers, the average genin will usually first spend at least a few more years building up his/her skills by performing low-risk missions and receiving personal instruction from an elite ninja assigned as his/her team's mentor. It's still worth noting, if Sakura is any indication, that even a newly-minted genin with comparatively poor combat ability is still capable of throwing kunai accurately enough to pin a falling person to a tree without drawing blood.
The Hidden Mist plays this straight; you graduate the academy by killing your classmates. It seems to be somewhat counterproductive; Mist's population is fairly small compared with the other great villages, and its ninja seem to have a tendency to be disloyal. The Leaf may be (relatively) soft, but it has the largest population, a highly-regarded shinobi corps, and its washouts survive to diversify the city's economic base....
In fact, it's implied that the Mist's training practices were deliberately meant to harm the village; the former Mizukage largely responsible for them (who is not remembered fondly) was actually under the control of the Big Bad. The current Mizukage, who wishes to distance the village from its reputation as "The Bloody Mist", has likely abolished such practices.
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.
Lyrical Nanoha: It's become a joke among fans that Nanoha Takamachi's method of parenting is all about the Spartan Way. And 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, fear for the lives of Nanoha's new pupils is understandable.
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'.
The military from Attack on Titan. Their 3-year program is completely optional and people are allowed to drop out, or may be kicked out... but it is also noted that serious accidents or deaths are perfectly normal. The general attitude seems to be that anyone killed during training wouldn't have survived battling the Titans anyway. The instructors are shown to force people to run until they collapse unconscious and during the induction ceremony, several recruits are struck for giving a wrong answer or not saluting properly. One trick used by instructors during 3-dimensional Maneuver Gear training is to randomly cut safety lines, killing anyone unable to remain calm and react quickly enough. The minimum age for enlistment is twelve, with society labeling anyone that doesn't enlist a coward. For many children, the military is their only option due to widespread poverty and food shortages.
Tiger's Cave pupils in Tiger Mask are trained to become highly capable and merciless wrestlers with such exercises as fighting lions, panthers (with only their legs, to learn how to fight with them) and gorillas, jumping from a rotating platform where a single error would mean landing on very deadly hazard including molten lead (the exercise is supposed to ensure the pupil learns how to decide fast), doing push-ups on the legs with weights attached to the head and a mat with poles under the butt (to strengthen the legs. There's a Real Life exercise that is exactly the same, only without the poles), being attached to a bridge head down (the series didn't specify the purpose), and being set on fire (more specifically, they are made wear sweaters drenched in fuel that are set on fire, and then they have to put the fire out by rolling on the ground. The exercise is to develop speed when forced to the ground), with the trainers ready to hit them with bullwhips if they slacked off. Many pupils die in the process, but the survivors can easily kill tigers and put in hospital the average wrestler, and out-foul heel wrestlers: Dick The Bruiser, an infamous Real Life wrestler, faced the protagonist twice, and the first time was downed by a single foul that the referee failed to notice before he could even think a decent foul, while the second time his fouls were neutralized and used on him improved (he started by throwing fuel and a lit cigar at Tiger Mask. Tiger Mask took the fuel and the cigar on his cloak, applied his training to put the fire down enough to take the cloak off, and hit Dick with the burning cloak while fanning the flames at the same time. At the end of the match, Dick was half-dead, strangled with the ring's rope).
In the Marvelcomics Alternate ContinuityAge 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. He and Shadowcat also actively go after them during training, to ensure that this is what happens. They only get away with it because Self Demonstrating/Magneto is currently preoccupied with other matters, though.
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 Supermanto death. (This blurs the line between this trope and just Training from Hell, depending on your view of Cloning Blues.)
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."
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.
In Ach!lle Talon there’s a dialogue which goes along these lines:
Lefuneste: I don’t want to swim in that pond: the water looks deadly cold!
Achille: Come on, you wimp! Think of the Spartans! In the midst of the winter they would play water-polo using ice balls in the rivers they were gladly swimming in!
Lefuneste: Exactly: there are no more Spartans!
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 4-year training includes torture and a week-long Mind Rape session at the hands of an Eldritch Abomination. 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 compared to some of the other examples here. Space Marine trained inherited from canon!40k most likely follows the old vein too.
Subverted in Tiberium Wars; the document at the end of Chapter Twenty-Three explains that the reason why the GDI commando program has a "22% fatality rate and 98% washout rate" is because people make the mistake of assuming that commandos are trained in the traditional manner. Commando "training" is simply the fact that you're even in the commando program to begin with. There's only two ways out of the commando program once you join: you leave and go back to the regular military ("washing out") or you die in combat. People criticizing or praising the "brutality" of the "training" are misrepresenting it for their own ends.
From The Universiad, Office of Special Resources training is among and some say the most brutal in the Forum. Though many details are highly classified, known aspects include being made to do mined running and obstacle courses for days without rest, live-fire exercises involving artillery and replacing targets while under fire, reliving past OSR operations and close-quarters combat courses that are rumoured to include a Room 101.
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. In this case the downside is also shown in that Bourne suffered from amnesia due to a misfiring in that brainwashing.
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.
BOPE training in The Elite Squad. And the officers are already told not to burst trainees' eardrums or cut off fingers, although those are claimed to be accidents. The very first thing that happens is the trainees getting slapped and shouted at until at least one person breaks. It also includes beatdowns and being made to eat food that's been dumped onto the ground. Nascimento notes that the brutality is deliberately meant to weed out those who can't take pressure and punish the corrupt; usually only 5 out of every 100 make it all the way through. He claims it's tougher than Israeli training.
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 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.
The impracticality of this is lampshaded many times by the main characters, and given how the military is drafting geniuses and using them as Cannon Fodder, on airless rocks that could be bombarded from orbit and retain the same value, and how it turns out that the aliens had nothing to do with the destroyed ship that started the war, it seems to suggest that the government is just trying to kill off all the smart people.
The Reynard Cycle: The blood-guard, the State Sec of Calvaria, are trained in this fashion. Only ten percent of the children selected to serve in the order survive the process.
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 Series 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 HasselWW2 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.
The Blood Lords, from John Ringo's Council Wars 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.
Trapped on Draconica: The lifestyle of all Leonidans is intense physical training from the age of five. There is enough evidence to call it the original spartan way.
Starship Troopers: In boot camp, less than 10% of all recruits get through boot camp and their officers are always soldiers with previous combat experience (you go through boot and go into battle, and if you excel, you may be snapped up for OCS). Somewhat a deconstruction because they constantly suffer manpower problems during the Bug War. It's worth noting that of the 90% that didn't pass boot, less than 1% died, and the training the first weeks is designed to weed out those who don't want the citizenship completed military service grants badly enough, and the surviving washouts can reapply in a few years.
The Pyrrans in Harry Harrison's Deathworld have to do this just to survive their planet, where Everything Trying to Kill You is the only constant. The weather, tides, and tectonic activity are unpredictable, radiation is high, and the native lifeforms are even worse. The only thing on their minds (literally) is to kill all humans. The plants and animals are constantly mutating thanks to the radiation and the brutal fight for survival. The human settlers have to constantly look for new ways to protect themselves. Children are taught to fight and survive as soon as they can speak, and are expected to be fully independent by the time they are 6. Thanks to double gravity, even a Pyrran child can defeat a non-Pyrran in unarmed combat. All Pyrrans train from childhood to be crack shots. Unlike a typical example of this trope, the Pyrrans themselves don't subject their children to extremely-harsh training. The training is fair for the situation. It's the environment that weeds out those who are unfit. Even adults have to undergo re-training after going off-world for a few days.
Kiril Island in Vorkosigan Saga efficiently serves the purpose of being a place to train infantry and a place to dump people The Emperor is unhappy with. In other words Barrayaran infantry get sent to their counterpart of Siberia just to get trained.
In The Defense of Hill 781 soldiers who get sent to Purgatory find it just like the US Army National Training Center. In other words either the army needed something really nasty and modeled the NTC on Purgatory. Or the afterlife needed something really purgatorial and used the NTC as the closest example on Earth.
In Red Rising, society is rigidly stratified into various genetically engineered castes, and the ruling Gold caste maintains its power by training future leaders according to this method. Youths are sent to the Institute and the first night in are snatched out of bed and beaten up and then placed in a room with another student, only one of which can leave alive. After that, the students participate in a deadly version of Capture the Flag in which capturing other players and enslaving them is par for the course and there's no rule against maiming, raping, and/or killing opponents. One Gold authority actually makes specific reference to the Spartans as a model, commenting to the effect that both Ancient Athens (a democracy) and Ancient Rome (an aristocratic empire) fell to decadence, and that the Spartan system provides a positive counterexample in combining aristocracy with training that prevented the society from becoming "weak".
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, obedientgoons, 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.
Power Rangers Samurai: Most of Lauren Shiba's life after being hidden can be summed up as this: Train, Exercise, Practice the Sealing Symbol.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Garrett's idea of training Ward is to abandon him in the woods for six months with nothing but the clothes on his back and a hunting dog for companionship. It's actually quite similar to the actual Spartan training regimen, in that Ward doesn't just learn to be tough; he learns to be smart and sneaky, stealing what he needs to survive just as much as he hunts and kills it.
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.
The training of Space Marines in Warhammer 40,000 would almost take this to the point of parody, if it did not portray it so chillingly. Aspirants, pre- or barely post-pubescent children, must run a gauntlet of lethal physical and mental challenges, then survive a series of brutal physical, mental and spiritual tests before they're even considered. While they're still undergoing physical augmentation, neophytes take to the field as part of the chapter's Scout Company, infiltrating behind enemy lines or supporting their brothers in battle as light infantry. If they survive years of war, maybe one in a hundred of the original aspirants will don the Power Armor of a full-fledged Space Marine. The training never stops, either; Marines not on campaign spend their days in live-fire exercises, tactical indoctrination and prayer, with a whopping four hours of sleep and fifteen minutes of free time (if the Chapter Master is feeling generous). The only reason they can actually keep their numbers up is the sheer scale of the Imperium- four potential recruits from a single planet is an exceptionally good haul, but multiply that by billions of planets housing trillions of angry, sociopathic fighters and you can see how some Chapters have problems keeping themselves under the prescribed 1000-man limit (and some don't even use it).
The Blood Angels initiation involves the stunted inhabitants of Baal trekking across a radioactive desert and climbing a mountain in a bulky rad-suit, surviving a gladiatoral tournament, and immediately meditating for three days without food or water, with any who fall sleep being executed. Then they're put in a coma and spend a year in a blood-filled coffin while transforming into a Space Marine; a majority of applicants will suffer fatal mutations as their bodies reject these changes, while others will awaken prematurely and go insane from the experience.
Deconstructed after a bloody civil war leaves the Blood Angels near death because they can't replace their losses fast enough, forcing them to beg or order their successor chapters to give them some recruits.
For the Space Wolves, dying is actually a prerequisite for joining. Their homeworld of Fenris is kept in a primitive state, encouraging inter-tribal warfare among its Viking-like societies. Sufficiently valorous young warriors who fall in battle are taken from the field, revived, and subjected to the usual Space Marine testing process. On top of this, the would-be Space Wolf must also learn to master his inner beast, lest he degenerate into a lupine abomination. Unlike other chapters, the Space Wolves group their newest members into fully-armored Blood Claw packs, headstrong young glory hounds seeking to distinguish themselves and earn promotion. Their scout equivalents are actually older, more experienced warriors.
The Ultramarines version includes a Secret Test of Character; an aspirant is taken to world completely unlike the one they were recruited from (a Feral World from a Hive World, for instance) and given an impossible task; the real goal isn't to complete it, but to adapt as a Jack of All Stats Space Marine would. A second test involves a duel with a full-fledged Space Marine, to see how the aspirant handles defeat.
Fabius Bile, premier Apothecary for the Chaos Space Marine legions, has devised training and recruitment programs that put loyalist practices to shame - he's whittled his success rate to 0.1% and is working hard to make the odds longer.
The Last Chancers are a penal legion that undergoes training comparable to that of Space Marines. 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), ending up with what in any other setting would amount to Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder. Then he takes them through one hellish battlefield after another to separate the "elite" from the "fodder." 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.
The Eldar take on this trope is slightly different: they don't have the numbers to take a pool of untried applicants and kill off the incapable, so they use psychic training to produce the same result with just as much pain and suffering, but no casualties.
The Tau Fire Caste is composed entirely of soldiers inducted into the Tau military, given basic training, and sent into combat. After four years of active duty they're eligible for a variable Trial By Fire, which they'll either fail and remain at the current standing, fail and die, or pass and become battlesuit pilots. Another four years and another Trial earns them a spot as unit leader, and after their third Trial they're considered a general-in-training. Only a full Shas'O is allowed to retire from the Tau military and become a teacher or advisor, everyone else serves until death.
Averted with orks, who are genetically engineered to be the ultimate warriors- they don't need training, just more fighting (which their fellow orks are happy to provide).
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'?"
To put numbers to it, Clan Warriors are usually grown in "Sibkos" of 100, on average about 20 make it to adulthood. Though some survive washing out and get assigned to other castes.
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 (not that anyone wears armor, it's just too hot). Temperatures range 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. The Githyanki, a xenophobic, egotistical, psychic Proud Warrior Race that happiily crosses blades with every nasty the multiverse has to offer invaded Athas once. And promptly ran away with their tails tucked between their legs, then sealed up the portal and told everybody else to stay the hell away from this crazy place. "God made Athas to test the faithful" would be a good analogy if Athas had any deities; it's unknown if its inhabitants ever worshiped any, while the closest its priests serve are elemental powers. Or to put it succiently, Dark Sun was the only published D&D setting of its time to start characters at 3rd level, while "encouraging" players to have back-up characters ready.
Surprisingly, GDI's (the good guys') commando program in Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, with a 22% fatality rate among the recruits and a 95% failure rate among the survivors, with the Commandoes starting off as the best the world has to offer.. Sounds back until you realize these commandos are always in training, there is no such thing as graduation, so it's literally the 5% of the troops who are still actively serving as a Commando.
To make matters even more ridiculous, the Brotherhood of Nod's commando program is even worse.
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 sending the teenage cadets into a cave to beat up a god, then inserting them into a real military engagement and sending them in small units to engage numerically superior hordes of professional soldiers. Makes you wonder how SeeDs are tested when there aren't any wars going on. (Or, perhaps, would if there were EVER not a war going on.)
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. By the end their instructor had them going up against squads who were actually trying to kill them. And that's all before they received their armor and augmentations. The incredibly stringent selection criteria to become a trainee in the first place is probably the only reason why none of them were killed before they qualified for augmentation.
The training of the young war 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.
Averted with the SPARTAN-IVs, who are adult volunteers transferring from other branches who receive more standard (though still rigorous) training. The fact that they weren't trained this way may partly explain why they are notably inferior to the IIs.
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.
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 Half-Life: 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.
The trope really comes into play when in order to refill your ranks of veterans, you throw a squad of rookies against the aliens, knowing that some of them will die, in the hopes that the survivors will be tougher.
"Training scouts in the art of hand-to-hand combat is a bit unique in the Marching Flame, though. Rather than spending months on the training grounds, they throw them directly into the first wave of the battle. If they survive, maybe they'll be promoted to something more. If not, there will always be another to step up in its place."
The Rakkor tribe in League of Legends, being expies of the Spartan had this way as a ritual as they worship the arts of war. However, they have another reason why they revel in it: Their food supplies were constantly strained so they only have foods for the strong ones. Those who completed the training will turn out to be utter Badasses who lent their services to anyone who wants war, but they'll only accept when the side they fight for is outnumbered by one to ten. This is very much exemplified in the champion named Pantheon, considered a paragon to this tribe.
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.
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."
Welcome to Beacon Academy! Since it's your second day, it's time to catapult you over a cliff into a forest infested with giant monsters. Figure out how to land yourself, then grab a "Relic" and try not to die! Made it? Time for some studying, such as the Professor bringing a monster into the classroom and telling you to fight it to the death. Of course the cast takes it in stride,,,,,except Jaune.
Sparta was kind enough to donate their name for the trope... and hilariously serves as a deconstruction of it at the same time. Spartan training had so many washouts that, regardless of how badass individual soldiers were, an army of a few thousand elites couldn't cover much territory, suffered huge blows if even a few hundred warriors were killed, and took far too long to replace losses. Sparta actually didn't fight that many wars, and mostly spent its time putting down slave revolts or raiding weaker neighbors for slaves. On top of that, all the Spartans fielded were hoplite phalanxes, leaving them at the mercy of psiloi, peltasts or cavalry, which could harass the Spartans into exhaustion or outflank them; the Spartan inflexibility and refusal to innovate cost them the Battle of Sphacteria (425 BCE) without a single enemy casualty. Military training was more an ideal in Sparta than a practical application - they almost didn't want to go to war, for fear of ruining their "perfect" system.
It should be kept in mind that the despite the Spartan's historic reputation was warriors, their system evolved primarily as a defensive mechanism. Sparta was essentially a society of Master Race and Slave Race. The problem being that their subject peoples greatly outnumbered actual full citizens. Thus a militaristic Proud Warrior Race was necessary to keep the rest of the population subservient. This meant that, for all their fierce reputation, the Spartans were better trained at beating down local civilians than engaging in extended military campaigns far from home. In many ways, their warriors were far too over-specialized, and also could not stray far from Sparta, since their main role was to keep the helots in line. This was sharply contrasted by others, especially the Athenians and later the Macedonians, who fielded larger, less specialized forces that could strike far from their home turf, allowing for conquest and colonization.
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."
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.
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 - understandable, since not everyone who might take them prisoner is going to respect the Geneva Convention, and since many of the missions rely on the ability to plausibly claim that the people involved are not combatants from your country, a technicality that the Convention recognizes.
SERE training operates on the theory that the only realistic way to prepare people to endure torture is to torture them for real. For obvious reasons they avoid using methods that inflict permanent physical or psychological damage, but that still leaves a tremendous amount of room in which to be really really awful. Key word: "permanent".
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 helicopter 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 Foreign 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.
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."note According to Plutarch, who was not a contemporary and who held a very positive view of them.
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. We wish we were making this up.
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.
These are more accurately called Far East divisions - from the border with Japan, where the one Soviet peacetime front existed, and the so called peace had a good portion of battles of all scales thrown in - for about two decades.
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 addition to not being able to spare some, the Japanese outright did not have a system for the veterans to train the newbies. The Americans did it on a systematic level while the Japanese Aces did it on a personal level if at all. The famous Zero fighter being a Fragile Speedsternote And in the longer term, not even a speedster. From the Hellcat on, American planes could outrun the Zero, outturn it at high speed when its controls virtually locked up, and in general fight only when they felt like it and bug out when they didn't. The Chance-Vought Corsair had a kill:loss ratio of 11:1 against Japan that is prone to burst in flames after being hit once doesn't help either.
The German Wehrmacht during WWII fits the trope as well. During basic training 1% fatal casualties were expected and even encouraged, and that's just for the casual soldiers.
Forces from both the Soviet Union, and its successor, the Russian Federation, are notorious for harshness. The rank and file training for conscripted men not put into anything special such as Naval Infantry, VDV, or Border Guards, was considered tough. The training was tough, long, and continuous. Constant exercises, drills, and repetition characterized it. Russian elite troops such as the aforementioned marines, paratroopers, and guards, have even tougher standards. Of these, the Naval Infantry is considered the toughest. The VDV is open to women. However, no woman has managed to meet the physical requirements necesssary to pass for a long time; in 2013 the Ryazan VDV Officer School finally released its first 14 female VDV lieutenants.
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 (i.e. tear gas). 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.
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.
To be entirely fair, NORFORCE's training isn't an unreasonable thing for an Australian to learn given local weather conditions and teaches vital teamwork skills (again, mostly useful beccause of wethher conditions).
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.
The Swedish army is probably somewhat less Bad Ass than most of these examples. Still, they deserve an honorary mention, since part of the basic training of every Swedish soldier involves being set on fire. True, the soldiers are wearing protective clothing and their battle buddies are expected to put the fire out within seconds (the whole point of the exercise is to get used to putting out fires in case your unit is attacked with incendiaries). But still... set on fire.
Same in the Finnish army. Plus also the Gas Chamber for gas mask training.
Must be noted though that gas used isn't same concentration as the real thing.
The gas mask training was and is standard for Eastern Bloc armies: lead the soldiers into a nearly-airtight plastic tent, gas masks on, and drop a tear gas grenade inside. The catch is: each trooper has to tend his field gear and assure the mask is in perfect order, so anyone who gets gassed is punished for his own neglect.
China's People's Liberation Army & People's Armed Police, with more young men wishing to join than they have room for, selects only the most physically fit without any physical "defects". Things like nearsightedness, tattoos, being over the age of 21, and inadequate education are amongst many disqualfiers. Once they do get accepted, the average infantry undergoes brutal training where they are expected to "hold bricks on their heads while others smash it to bits with a sledge hammer", or play "hot potato with explosives." This is only the regular forces, but there is a reason why their special forces won 8 1st places in the 2009 international military competitions in Slovakia, first place in the 2011 Sniper World Cup, and best overall performance at the Fifth Warrior Competition organised by the Jordan Armed Forces at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre. In other words, they competed against US, UK, and Russian special forces and won.
Although it should be noted that NATO takes a Ned Stark-esque view of these events, and generally does not send its best, whilst China does.
British Royal Flying Corps in World War 1 refused to issue parachutes to its pilots on the rationale that the possibility of surviving being shot down would make them go soft. This did not prove such a good idea, so in World War 2 British aircrew were issued with parachutes.
Russian conscripts today have to endure a tradition known as Dedovshchina, which stands for a practice allowing the senior conscripts to severely haze the new recruits. It is reportedly so severe that its usefulness as a training method and consequent effects on troop morale are... somewhat in question.