After following the ManKind Project for a long time from the outside, I attended a New Warrior Training in Sweden in October 2018. This is the world’s most successful and widespread men’s work initiation program, with over 65 000 initiated men and 1000 regular men’s groups. Given the lack of independent testimonials about the event, I have written a short review based on my own experiences. I will do my best to describe my experience without any “spoilers” of the event. My hope is that an honest participant testimonial can help other men to decide if it is appropriate for them to participate.
In summary, on the plus side, the MKP puts together perhaps the worlds most well organised Rites of Passage program and also has a very solid organisation of men’s groups for integration. On the minus side, the movement still shows signs of the lack of maturity in the global men’s movement – particularly in it’s reliance on new-age earth religion and an excessive focus on “the wild man”.
Firstly, as for the smooth execution of a Rites of Passage ritual for men, they do an amazing job – MKP is an well oiled machine with a highly dedicated and involved team of volunteers from different ages and backgrounds. The arrival and first hour or so is perhaps one of the most thoroughly done and impressive pieces of ritual theater I have ever seen – which sets an amazing scene for the rest of the weekend. The staff are clearly passionate about what they are doing and many of them have many hours of training under their belts in facilitating these events.
The thing I personally missed the most was more time to get to know the other men in the event. There was VERY little time to have any kind of meaningful personal interaction outside of the exercises – almost all of the time we were fully engaged in doing different exercises, in silence, or sleeping.
Another personal preference which I lacked was a strong culture of feedback. I believe that men’s work is at its strongest when disagreement is seen as an opportunity to learn more, rather than avoided as dangerous and explosive. At MKP, men are instructed to only talk about their own experiences, to take projections back to themselves and to view any problem they have as their own issues. Newer men’s work movements are encouraging a more open form of feedback and space for debate and disagreement – with the opportunities for ruffled feathers that entails. This is not so much the case here and I missed the “iron sharpening iron” approach to men’s work which I believe to be essential to creating strong men.
The biggest surprise for me was how American Indian Earth religion is ingrained in the event. Rites of Passage rituals is, in its nature, spiritual work. Attending MKP helped me to see how having a explicit spiritual foundation for your event can help to make it even more powerful and effective. But I prefer to know beforehand which religion I am being asked to buy into when I come to an event. This is not clear at all from the web site or when you sign up, but comes through more strongly as the course progresses. At times it gets new-agey, especially on the morning of the last day of the weekend.
The American Indian spiritual roots influences the MKP archetype work – while all four of the Jungian archetypes (King, Warrior, Magician, Lover) are mentioned during the weekend, the one archetype which absolutely dominates and is generally seen as the solution to pretty much any problem a man is facing is “the Wildman”. The story of the Wildman is told multiple times and participants are encouraged to draw on wildman energy as they go into the various challenges of the weekend in preparation for going back to their lives.
One unfortunate area where I saw this having what I perceived to be a negative effect was through the therapy being done. On the event, many men were very strongly encouraged to deal very harshly with their parents and particularly their fathers. In the worst case I saw, a man was applauded for the aggressive shouting at his pretend-father: “You fucking asshole, I hate you for not letting me do exactly what I wanted to do, when I was 6 years old and instead forcing me to do what you wanted me to do”.
To me this is simple childish rebelliousness and not at all something to be encouraged or applauded. This was a single incident of course, but to me unfortunately also seemed in my (please note: limited) experience be a part of what I saw as a culture of “father-bashing” at MKP.
From my experience and conversations with other men who have attended MKP events, it seems clear that the central emphasis and point which all of their work aims towards is to create catharsis in group processes. Releasing repressed emotions can often be a powerfully bonding experience, but there is unfortunately little to no evidence or theoretical validity to support the idea that it results in positive long term results. Instead it seems to me that it adds to a culty new-age vibe of a group of boys still in rebellion against all father figures.
The men’s movement has its roots in the new age hippiedom of the 60’s and 70’s. Perhaps this is a sign of the relative adolescence of the men’s movement and it’s reliance on primitive earth religions. A story which illustrated this was repeated twice during the weekend – about the evolution of the warrior from being “honourable and brave” in “times past” to today where they are now corrupted and manipulative. For anyone with a basic grasp of history, this is a ridiculous idea, and played into what I perceived as a theme running through the event of teenager rebellion / hippie utopianism / anti-capitalist / anti-establishment philosophy.
Of course these issues should not blot out the amazing work that MKP is doing and the amazing foundation they have created. The invading new age philosophy is not an issue which MKP is facing alone. Any organization working in the field of self improvement and spirituality needs to consider carefully their spiritual foundation, the role of new age and how it is influencing the way they are working with their clients.
Lastly, the strongest aspect of what MKP is doing is the amazing work around the organisation and execution of follow up and integration, where this area of men’s work is otherwise severely lacking. Each participant is paired up with a buddy on the last day and the importance of follow-up is emphasised greatly. MKP is incredible at helping men to land and follow up with you after the experience. Several specific reunion events are organised for participants on your training and it is made easy to find regular men’s group meetings in a strong community and opportunities to engage in future events.
I haven’t partaken in any of these events or offers myself, so cannot comment on the actual content or its quality, but surely MKP has done an amazing piece of pioneer work here in establishing a global organisation of “initiated” men in a close and supportive network who are engaged and active in spreading the value of men’s work to a bigger audience.
If the rest of us could just take a little of the dedication, passion and solid organisation of MKP, then I am sure that men’s work will change the face of society.
With respect, Paul Lloyd Robson
PS. If you are looking for an alternative to MKP, grounded in real world action and without the new age fluff, then check out Maniphesto Core.