Follow TV Tropes


The Spartan Way

Go To

"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 disciplined, strong soldiers by brutal methods that would drive human rights activists into a rage if the soldiers weren't volunteers. May involve live-fire exercises with real bullets, survival training that consists of getting dumped naked into the wilderness a hundred miles away, then returning to base to be woken in the dark and screamed at during obstacle courses 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. As an aside, studies show that, in real life, brutal training is not automatically good training. Armies that rely on abuse to maintain discipline actually perform worse than armies that maintain discipline via professionalism and respect. Studies of Soviet units during the Second World War showed units led by the harshest officers fought worse and broke earlier than others. Likewise, the eponymous Easy Company featured in Band of Brothers suffered similar casualty rates as other companies during combat, despite having a "Spartan" Captain during training while others did not.

If you hear the term "Super-Soldier", it will usually involve this, often with the addition of medical procedures that have a sizable mortality rate on their own. 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.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • In Achille 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!
  • In Asterix at the Olympic Games, a Spartan athlete says that, back home in Sparta, they only eat the stones from the olives and the gristle from the meat. Notably, however, this comes up because the Spartan in question is admitting to this before shouting about how he's sick of still eating this when the Romans nearby are currently engaging in orgies (since they've Stopped Caring at the knowledge that the Gauls have entered with their magic potion and are neglecting their training) and demands a "proper" meal, to which his companions agree.
  • In Astro City, the Civilized Animal gorillas live under this because they live under a rift in reality.
  • In the Marvel Comics 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. He and Shadowcat also actively go after them during training, to ensure that this is what happens. They only get away with it because 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.
  • The DCU:
  • 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. Range-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.
  • GIs in Rogue Trooper.

    Fan Works 
  • Heavily deconstructed in Sonic X: Dark Chaos. Cosmo's race tried to turn the ten year-old Tsali into the "Ultimate Weapon" by replacing every single body part with robotics (without anesthesia), infusing his mechanical body with Dark Chaos Energy abilities, and putting him through Training from Hell that would make a Space Marine wince. It backfired horribly; by the time it was over, Tsali was nothing more than a bloodthirsty Ax-Crazy berserker — he promptly committed genocide upon the entire Seedrian race in revenge the instant he escaped.
  • Star Wars vs. Warhammer 40K:
    • The Karkosan Untouchables are an Imperial Guard regiment made up of mutated humans who go through a training regimen that is not just absolutely grueling but also cruel—the training program was designed by a bigoted commissar with the express purpose of killing as many of the mutant recruits as possible. This has the side effect of ensuring that those few who do survive the training are some of the best of the best and don't fear death.
    • The Fraylan Faithful are an Imperial Guard regiment whose training is said to resemble life in a death camp and is designed to hollow out the minds and souls of any who enter, and insert in their place a crazed belief in the Imperial Cult. This training has a high casualty rate and produces soldiers who, while barely more competent than a trained militia, are incorruptible and utterly obedient.
  • 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.

    Films — Animation 
  • Mulan has a mild version of this. "Let's get down to business..."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Deserter, Kaleb subjects the squad to some brutal training methods while teaching to think and act like Apaches. He makes them strip off and train under the full heat of the desert sun so they will understand just how hot it gets, and appreciate the luxury of wearing clothes. When Fighting Irishman O'Toole falls to his death during a climbing exercise, Kaleb complains that he screamed while he fell instead of remaining silent.
  • 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.
  • First Order stormtroopers in The Force Awakens are said to be trained that way since childhood, plus of course political indoctrination.
  • The Guardian (2006): Coast Guard rescue swimmers as taught by Kevin Costner.
  • 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.
  • The commandos in Soldier are raised brutally from birth and treated brutally thereafter, only to be replaced by a new generation of genetically engineered soldiers.
  • Exaggerated to parody during the tour of Royalton Industries in Speed Racer: 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.
  • In Starship Troopers, the Drill Instructor takes on the biggest new recruit (casually breaking his arm), the new transfer recruit (rendering her unconscious with a knee to the carotid artery), and pinning a third's hand to a wall (for asking why they need to learn ground maneuvers when you can simply push a button on a nuke). Each time, after using said recruit for the "training demonstration," the DI causally calls, "Medic!"

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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. Since this training is to get him ready to become a deep-cover operative (called on to befriend and betray fellow agents), when Garret finally returns he orders him to literally Shoot the Dog to prove that emotional attachment and the bonds of friendship won't deter him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Game of Thrones: The Unsullied undergo hellish training that makes them immune to pain and robotically loyal, but the methods used are even worse than anything in real-life Sparta. Before becoming full-fledged Unsullied, each recruit must go to the slave market and murder a slave child in front of its mother, and then pay a silver coin... to the mother's owner. In the books, the Good Masters also give each of the would-be Unsullied a puppy to take care of after they are castrated at the age of five. At the age of six, the would-be Unsullied must strangle their puppy to demonstrate their willingness to follow orders. Any trainee unable to do so is put to death. More of them fail that test than the later baby test.
  • Spoofed on Monty Python's Flying Circus, where a regiment of Scottish kamikazes have a 99% fatality rate in training.
    • Their instructor, Mr Yashimoto, was so good he didn't even make it through Tokyo airport alive to come train them.
    • 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).
  • Power Rangers Samurai: Most of Lauren Shiba's life after being hidden can be summed up as this: Train, Exercise, Practice the Sealing Symbol.
  • Invoked by Star Trek: The Next Generation when the crew rescues five male teenagers from a Talarian "basic training" ship, one of whom turns out to be a human boy raised by Talarians. The Talarians (at least, the males, as Talarians and their military are highly patriarchal) are depicted as a warrior society where male children are essentially raised by their military. The human boy, Jono AKA Jeremiah, even calls his adoptive father, Endar, his "Captain," and the crew assumes Endar abuses him because Dr. Crusher's medical exam shows a history of broken bones. However, when Endar shows up to get his son back, it's evident that, although Talarian society expects macho warrior behavior from Jono and his peers, Endar clearly loves Jono and is affectionate toward him in ways that are appropriate in their culture. He even threatens to start a war over the kid, despite his squadron of warships being significantly outgunned by the Enterprise. It's not played completely straight because the crew spend a lot of time assuming that Endar must be some kind of monster, even though Jono's medical history is fairly typical for a boy raised by Talarians who encourage males to be physically competitive and participate in high-risk sporting events, in a similar way to high school athletes. But the existence of underage teens in military uniforms aboard a military training vessel being typical of (male) Talarian child-rearing is this trope.
  • 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.
  • In Titans (2018) deconstruction of Kid Sidekicks their training is shown to be Harmful to Minors. Dick Grayson mentions how Bruce Wayne took him to a cabin in the woods, then made him go out into the dark to face his fears. One scene shows the young Grayson being chased through the woods by a wolf. The next scene shows him entering the cabin holding a bloody knife, then dumping the wolf's head on the table.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • 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 them 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 Spartan Warriors from Boss Fight Studio Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. series are trained in agōgē since childhood and they see the art of combat as not just an occupation, but a way of life. These warriors would send their lives in service of Sparta to form a "wall of men, instead of bricks". A true Spartan hero would long for two things: glory upon the battlefield and ultimately, a beautiful death, in which the Gorgon Horde is more than happy to oblige.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: 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.
    • Downplayed in RWBY as this is a course for a specific group of people that is not the norm for everyone in society. Fighting monsters and landing from a great fall are all implied to involve a lot of prior vetted studying and the only reason it staggers Jaune is because he enrolled with forged records.

    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 of Unfathomable Randomness 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.
  • Nilenira, in The Movolreilen Saga combines this with Matriarchy.

Alternative Title(s): Spartan Way