The common interpretation of the phrase according to the New York Times and urban dictionary and dictionary.com is about living up to a stereotypical image of masculinity. There are other meanings for sure but the overwhelming meaning comes as sexists: conform to a sexist image of a man.

When I used the term in the past, it was to mean a mixture of stopping being afraid, of dealing with a (small) amount of pain without breaking down, and pushing oneself beyond what one feels that they are capable of. There was no sexist undertone.

For example, kote gaeshi (see below—image by Oscar Westbrook, taken from this book) is a scary throw especially if done at speed. Many people find it intimidating in randori/kata but can do it perfectly fine in basic practice. All they need is a little push to get their self confidence up ("man up!") to be able to do it in any situation.

kote gaeshi by Oscar Ratti

Note that the term was used in our dojo by female and male instructors to both male and female students. Thus diminishing its sexist nature. Still, a better term would be good.

Newspeak/Political correctness notwithstanding, I do not really mind "man up" as long as it is understood that there is no sexism involved in the term as we use it.

However, if someone is watching a session or just started training and hears the term, I would hate for them to leave the club because they perceive erroneously that we are macho. Too few women train in martial arts because of a perceived (and sometimes accurate) view that all martial artists are macho. If I can use a better term, great. Besides, I like using big words and expending my vocabulary. ☺

There are some equivalents here, here and here. However, to my ears, none of them are a good fit for a dojo setting. Then again, I might be wrong and need convincing.

Is there a better term?

Although a rude or familiar equivalent would be acceptable as an answer, I am really looking for something is which neither sexists, nor rude, nor offensive. The aim is to be inclusive, not discriminating.

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    You can't just wave your hands and declare that there's "no sexism involved" in your speech when your speech makes a direct equivalence between maleness and toughness. You can be okay with saying such a thing, but to say it's devoid of gender connotation is factually wrong. Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 9:39
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    Given that it's an environment with a vast, primarily male based, history and is traditionally a male domain, if someone left because of that single phrase, then you're probably better off without them. That said, if there is a broader sexist culture in the club then that phrase could be "the straw that broke the camel's back" for someone... people are complicated :)
    – Nathan
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 9:42
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    Remembering many women in my generation took up the martial arts precisely because they were "sick up to here" of the macho dominant stuff. The last thing we want is more of it right there in the dojo.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 13:49
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    @Sardathrion if someone said "man up" to me when I was learning how to be a tough woman I would be annoyed. Maybe it's another generation...people used to think it was funny if I didn't want to dance with a guy and he just picked me up. I don't think you can imagine the fury I feel about this. But this is quite a long way off-topic.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 14:00
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    @BarryTheHatchet Independent of intended meaning, the words used to communicate that meaning have their own gender signifiers and cultural connotations. I acknowledge that the OP perhaps didn't intend to be sexist, but to say that their interlocutor cannot interpret sexism into that phrase, or that "there's no sexist undertone" to a phrase that, again, explicitly invokes maleness as a paragon of toughness is ludicrous. I am in fact being quite subtle when I declare that to say this phrase is devoid of gender connotation is factually wrong. Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 6:04

18 Answers 18


Since you are already using Japanese terms, may I suggest:

頑張れ -- ganbare!

Which translates as "Do Your Best!"

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    Trying to describe a phoneme of a different language that our language doesn't have is always a little dicey. I tried to approximate what it sounds like but there's not a good English equivalent. It's somewhere between the first part of "ready" and "ray". Either works fine, if you ask me, especially since we pronounce Karate "karatee" and karaoke "carry okee"
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:33
  • @TonyD Since I agree with both of you, I edited the question to have a link to some audio. Hopefully that will help. Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 8:14

"Harden up", "come on", "toughen up", "get it together", "just do it", and "let's go" can all be slotted into the same purpose. One could even reach for "osu".

I find the gist of the phrase comes more from elements other than word choice, such as volume, sharpness of tone, or accompanying the phrase with a loud clap.



I'm recommending "Step Up" as a replacement phrase. The other phrases I include are contextual, and some do not have the exact intent of "Man up". I kinda got carried away with phrases that might fit in the same slot as "Man up". For clarity, I understand "Man up" to mean that the person needs to recognize that their barriers are mental and do what they need to do i.e., to "Suck it up."

For your consideration / enjoyment:

  • "If it was easy, everyone would do it."
  • "Free your mind and your ass will follow."
  • "Pain is weakness leaving the body."

Each of the above is useful in a different context, and I think the context of each is fairly evident. All of them are meant to encourage someone who is having a hard time, and they each have a connotation of their problem only being in their mind. In other words, it is their own mental barriers that are the primary problem. Importantly, none of them reference the gender of the person to whom you are speaking.

Less direct phrases, encouraging students to push harder in training

  • "Train like you fight, because you will fight like you train."
  • "It's not enough to do it until you get it right. You have to do it until you can't get it wrong"

The above phrases cannot be directly compared to "Suck it up, buttercup", but depending on context might mean the same thing. For example, "Train like you fight..." might indicate that a student is being lackadaisical in the execution of their technique, and that you want them to show Focus. Come to think of it, simply saying "Focus!" has a lot of impact on students who are distracted, say, after their third attempt at hitting a board.

Non-Martial Arts Equivalents

These are direct alternatives to "Man up", but they might not fit, as they are not specifically sports-related. "Face the music" for example might make someone think they were facing disciplinary action. "Bite the Bullet" is probably closest to "Suck it up".

"Step up" is closest to "Man up" and has the added benefit of being sonically similar (two, single syllable words, one of which is already included in the original phrase "Man up"). Connotations are "Step up to the plate" or "Step up your game."

Jokes AKA Yogi-Berra-isms

  • "It's 90% Mental and 50% Physical"

Used to ease tension for persons becoming frustrated with their lack of performance. Use wisely.


How about "Fight it" or "Fight Through" something like that?

It's positive and active, non gendered, and implies an opponent (their own fear etc) that can be beaten.

Push Through would work too, often already used in medical settings re pain.

Also an honest talk with the women in the group, they may have suggestions.


I'm not aware of a suitable term that has wide acceptance yet, but there seems to be a lot of discussion on this issue at present (in a wider context than Martial Arts).

Recently, on Twitter, the term "Fortify!" has been suggested for this situation.


Gut up. I heard Alex Jones use it once.


My football (American) coach used to say "Get after it." It's a bit of a Texas kind of thing (pretty sure he was from Texas), but I found it motivating.

For example, he'd sometimes talk about how he was 5th string his first year in college, but he "went after it" and was starting by the end of the season. Or while out on the field, he'd get in your face, tell you what you need to do, capping it with "you gotta get after it."

The motivation was always "You want this? You have to go out and get it. It's only you standing in your way. You gotta get after it. Get after it!"


Personally I like "bring it!"

I think this phrase covers the intended nuance of the OPs question, because the "it" can encompass all of the qualities he's seeking to stimulate: courage, skill, strength, effort, fortitude, etc.

It's also not particularly macho. I find a lot of the suggestions offered so far still focus on "being tough", which whether it happens to be perceivably sexist or not, has a more macho connotation.


I'd suggest encouraging perseverance/effort with a phrase like "push yourself", "keep going", "nearly there", "dig in", "last N seconds", "let's up the pace, folks", "you know what to expect now, throw yourself into it", or - with caution - "imagine you're doing this to defend yourself"....

In Japanese arts, "gumbate [ne]" is an option... it means something like "keep going [won't you]", "keep trying", "hang in there", "stick with it", "toughen up".

Widening this to the psychological issue of getting students to push themselves - as for your kote gaeshi example - there's a lot more to it than a good phrase. You could do exercises where you gradually increase the intensity too - at my dojo we do quite a lot of exercises with a clock counting out certain training intervals and rest periods: a structure like 20 seconds relaxed, then 15 seconds for changing partners / a breather, then upping the pace for the next 20 seconds, then switch/rest, then 20 second fast, then switch/rest, then a final 20 seconds at the kind of intensity you want the students to reach (we normally do 90+ seconds kumite, but for getting students used to higher intensity specifically, you need shorter periods).

The variation in partners and rest periods lets the student mentally prepare for each increase in intensity. Switching partners keeps resetting the subtle "hey I'm giving you feedback that I'm tired / want you to go at a pace/intensity I'm comfortable with" nuances that build up when two partners keep training with each other. People ask themselves "is the standard I'm setting comparable to what this person was doing with their last training partner?", encouraging them to hold themselves to a higher standard.

A variation on this is to have one senior tori throw uke for 20 seconds each, swapping without a pause, starting with a more senior uke. Each uke sees the tori's pace and intensity and has time to steel themselves for the experience. (This is a variation on what we do at karate: we do something similar with the large pads - 20 seconds high intensity strikes and an instant change.)

If you think it safer, you might want seniors on one side of the line-up, doing the throwing carefully but intensely, reducing junior-on-junior pairings.


Given the context, "Mean it!" might serve the purpose, but I quite like "Gut up!" suggested above. Pretty sure all peoples, genders, ages, etc. are presumed to have guts.


"Fortify" is something I really like. It captures the essence of "man up", is short and inclusive.


I have the phrase in pretty much everything I do:

"Always winning - never won!"

To that end whenever I motivating someone to try hard I shout "Win!" and when they complete a task I would exclaim "Winning!"... They have not won, they are simply on to the next task.


Here are some calls for renewed motivation from my army days:

Warrior up,

Pain is just weakness leaving the body,

Everyone must choose one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret,

It's not how much more you can take, it's how much more you can give,

and my favorite - Half-right face! Front leaning-rest postion, move! Now...beat your faces until I get tired.

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    Well, your "Warrior Up" is okay, but the others are just to long to say. Especially your favorite. Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 8:53
  • Too long for what context? I can assure you, when I went through army basic training I heard all of these things on a daily basis - in the midst of training, and at an elevated volume. Also, the one I suggested was my favorite is meant to be taken as tongue in cheek. That was more-or-less the last thing any of us wanted to hear (and we heard it more than all the others combined).
    – Zen_Hydra
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 13:26
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    ^^ Don't you see a difference of how much effort it is being taken between "man up" and "Everyone must choose one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret,". "man up" is a phrase which I'm able to say in a second, the second one is taking me 5 seconds; it is not useful for saying it every minute or so. Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 14:16

Ante up. I've heard this used interchangeably with "Step up." The phrase comes from poker, "to up the ante" i.e. raise the stakes. "Go big or go home" might also work.


"Suck it up" or "Suck it up, princess" (the latter usually being male-male) is one I've heard used. Whether it could be seen as having a derogatory implication will likely depend on the locale and the social interactions of the group.

Or to go back to the kinds of phrases used before "man up" became a thing...

"Pick it up, soft lad", "Stop being soft", "Just get on with it" etc would all work.

If used directly to a woman, "Woman up" is certainly becoming more common. As is "Put your big girl panties on" - although I find the latter tends to be used between women who are fairly close socially

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    Both "suck it up, Princess" and "Put your big girl panties on" still have sexist connotations. Thus me not liking them in the first place. Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 11:50
  • This was almost a perfect answer to the question, except that the OP specifically asked for terms that didn't have any gender-specific verbiage...
    – Taegost
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 12:46
  • Which is why I added them with caveats as a 'you may still want to consider...'
    – Jon Story
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 14:41
  • What about Nancy? You forgot her.
    – user6930
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 20:07

"Brace up" is my favorite translation from a samurai movie.


It should be questioned whether "men" really implies the exclusion of women, in every context.

It's a sexist assumption, unwarranted by etymology and set theory. "All men" includes all women, as women are also men. But "men" aren't necessarily also women. "All men and women" is a pleonasm of sorts, only needed when the context suggests "just men" for some reason. In this context, it really is a synonym of ideal characterological qualities of adulthood -- not with male genitalia, more body hair and somewhat more musculature.

That is a more inclusive, and less disruptive, more natural, take on gender-neutral language. But there are those who may profit from women not seeing themselves included when the word used is only "men", so they will try to sell this idea of a strictly sexually-restrictive meaning for "men". As if we couldn't speak of just "mankind", but we needed "womankind", "childkind", "girlkind", "boykind", "queerkind", "colorkind", "babykind", "elderkind", in order to include all kinds of peoplekind.


Stomach In, Chest Out and Flow with it! comes to mind

  • Please note that this is very different in meaning from the original "Man up" request. Your answer includes physical instructions, not a general encouragement.
    – mattm
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:36

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