Men on a Mission

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.”

FOUR-ONE-ONE

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, james.brown@dotcoming.com, or visit
www.mkp.org

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