Inside the Mankind Project
by Tyler Blue
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves as men; it’s easy to get caught up in society’s lofty expectations and lose sight of who we really are. We tend to isolate ourselves and process emotions alone, or not at all. But some things in life can’t be explained, they must be experienced. In the case of the Mankind Project (MKP), that means taking one weekend out of our busy lives to try a fresh approach to dealing with the issues we — as men — face. MKP is an international organization dedicated to male empowerment that offers a unique opportunity to reconnect with our core masculinity. Blending practical knowledge and sacred spirituality, the group gives men the tools to shape their lives based on an ideal vision.
The Mankind Project was developed in 1985 by Ron Hering, Bill Kauth, and Rich Tosi. According to its Web site (www.mkp.org), “The New Warrior is a man who has confronted his destructive ‘shadow’ and achieved hard-won ownership of the highly focused, aggressive energy that empowers and shapes the inner masculine self.” (Apparently, we all have a shadow acting as an opposing force to our goals, preventing us from achieving balance.) New Warrior Training Adventures are the focal point of the group’s work, with training weekends held throughout the year at 27 centers across the country, and others around the globe. Each weekend consists of approximately 30 initiates who go through a rite of passage along with 40 staffers. Nothing can be shared regarding the actual content in order not to create expectations for future initiates. Secrecy is so important that men are required to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Interestingly, the content of each training weekend is identical — it’s the energy and camaraderie of the participants that provide a different flavor. Certainly no group-therapy powwow, everything about the New Warrior Training is experiential. In order to apply the knowledge drawn from the training, men are encouraged to participate in weekly “integration groups.” These groups, which meet at different locations around town, provide a supportive forum to confront personal issues head on.
The local MKP community has grown exponentially over the last several years, jumping from roughly 10 to 100 initiated men, and they got a big boost recently with the establishment of an official training site at Lake Cachuma. (Previously, the closest location was in San Bernardino; diehard Warriors often travel thousands of miles just to participate.) Something must be pretty special to keep these guys coming back again and again. The mystery surrounding what the heck goes on during these weekends is enough to make a curious fellow plunk down $650 and see what the fuss is all about.
The Warriors I met with three members of Santa Barbara’s Mankind Project community who reflect the life-altering potential of the New Warrior Training. James Wapotich, 40, is a lone wolf who has staffed the weekend 14 times. Six months after his initiation, he drummed up the courage to leave a stagnant job without another one lined up. In the past he would have worried but this time he knew it would work out. “I’m having a lot more fun stepping into the unknown and really relishing it,” he said.
Every MKP initiate chooses a unique mission stating their purest intention in life. “I create a world of expanding wholeness by letting love flow through me,” said Wapotich of his mission, which reflects his desire to shape reality based on a willingness to share love and other emotions. The New Warrior Training has also instilled in him a strong sense of leadership by forcing him to transcend self-imposed limitations. “A lot of what you learn there can be applied to various forms of business,” Wapotich said. “People seem to have more respect for me now.”
Stefan Hermann has staffed the New Warrior Training 46 times and clearly embodies his leadership role. The 47-year-old German is a former tennis pro who played Wimbledon twice before a career-ending injury. Prior to the weekend, he was unaware that his competitive persona dominated every male relationship in his life. “I always had to be better than the other guy,” he has since realized. MKP helped him establish a spiritual connection with himself and others. (Two of his four sons also participate in MKP.)
These days Hermann is not content to stand back and let things run their course. “I inspire the rewriting of the future by modeling, teaching, and coaching on the sacred path,” he said of his mission. After four years looking within, he reached out and has since made a big impact on local youth, representing programs like Share the Word, which entails speaking in schools about dating-violence prevention, and MASK (Managing Anger with Skill and Knowledge), an outreach program that addresses the devastating effects of repressed anger. “Domestic violence is a male issue because we don’t find healthy ways of expressing our negative emotions,” Hermann said. “Underneath the tough-guy layer is someone with lots of grief and anger. You can take that energy and use it in a healthy, constructive way.”
One of the main things MKP addresses is the lack of initiation rituals in our society. In indigenous cultures, boys in their early teens are guided through an intense, primal experience ushering them into manhood. MKP feels the absence of this in present times is a major cause for male shortcomings. Boys to Men (boystomen.org) is an offshoot of MKP that takes boys through an initiation process and offers them mentorship. Hermann hopes to bring the program to Santa Barbara next year.
Anthony Johnson, 56, has “always been on some spiritual path or another.” A firecracker of a guy, he has staffed 13 trainings over the last decade; he’s quick to clarify that “MKP is not some magic aspirin you’re going to take and presto change-o, become something new.” An African-American, Johnson was inclined to speak up during a training weekend about MKP’s lack of racial and ethnic balance. In typical fashion the group’s response was, “So what are you going to do about it?” Johnson’s answer was the Multi-Cultural Project, a movement he takes around the country offering weekends for warriors and their spouses. Through his mission he aspires to break down the barriers inhibiting deep human connection: “I co-create a world where all people experience profound relatedness.”
To that end, Johnson is currently living and breathing Initiation, the screenplay he co-wrote based on the book Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Some. LeVar Burton (Roots) is expected to star and direct. The story shows what happens in an African initiation from boyhood to manhood. Johnson shares Some’s belief that lack of initiation, avoidance of grief, and disrespect for elders are the greatest troubles facing men in our society. “For thousands of years in all indigenous cultures, boys have been taken on an ordeal and faced their demons,” Johnson said. The fact that most men don’t experience those ordeals “is why men in this society are so screwed up. … They never learned what it means to be a man.”
The Mankind Project
hosts its First Annual Santa Barbara Men’s Work Conference on October 14 at the UCSB Parish Hall, UCSB. Contact James Brown: 895-1828, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.mkp.org