Photo by lacabezaenlasnubes

We drove down a long, narrow road deep in the Wisconsin forest. The sun was winding down and fresh snow laid on the trees around us. As we approached the retreat center, a man dressed in black stood in the middle of the road staring blankly at the three of us. Having nowhere to go, we stopped the car.

Slowly, he walked over to us, interrogating who we were, what wanted, why we were there. Unimpressed with our answer, he ordered us to park our car and get in line. Grabbing our bags, we joined the 10 others outside the old, dark house. No one said a word. Just anxious silence as we waited to be let in one by one.

Just a few weeks earlier I didn’t even know what the hell The Mankind Project (MKP) even was. I just knew my Holotropic Breathwork retreat leader said his Warrior Weekend was one of the most transformative events of his life. Seeing how powerful his holotropic retreat was on me, I knew I had to go.

The MKP website was strangely vague. It had accounts of men claiming “the experience second only to seeing and supporting the birth of their children.” Yet it gave zero information what that actually entailed. What was going to happen when I went through that door? What the hell did I sign myself up for?

One by one, we were let in only after being questioned by yet another mysterious man dressed in all black. As I approached him, he stared me in the eyes. “Are you willing to do everything necessary to get what you came for?” Nervously, I said yes. He pointed at the door, I took a deep breath, and walked through.

What happened during the next 48 hours I can’t fully reveal. I will say that it was a reality shattering – akin to a powerful psychedelic experience. All 30 men I shared the weekend with would say the same. In this article I’m going to share what The Mankind Project is all about, and my experiences with their New Warrior Training Adventure retreat.

History of the Mankind Project

In 1985 former US marine, Rich Tosi, therapist Bill Kauth, and university professor & seminar leader Ron Hering took 18 men on what was then called the “Wildman Weekend”, later to renamed “The New Warrior Training Adventure” (NWTA). According to the MKP site, “the premise of the New Warrior Training Adventure was an introductory, experiential, weekend-long men’s gathering and initiation focusing on deep self-examination.”

NWTA fuses many schools of thought into its system – from Jungian psychology, to Lakota tribal rituals, to mythology. Most notably, the weekend was inspired by the famous mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, a narrative pattern found in stories throughout history. This structure has it’s DNA in the most famous narratives in history – from Star Wars to the Buddha’s enlightenment. The basic structure goes as follows:

The hero leaves his home and is called to an adventure. Along the way he gets tested in various ways, eventually facing his greatest fear. In doing so, a part of himself dies along the way, and a new one is reborn. The hero eventually returns to his home, a transformed person.

NWTA is an initiatory event pushing participants to battle inner demons buried deep within themselves. These demons are whatever you believe is holding you back – fear, self-doubt, low self-esteem, anything. You’re taken on a journey to battle these demons and in doing so, the old, weaker version of yourself dies in the process.

Yes, it can seem a bity new-agey, but the proof is in the pudding. During my own weekend, I couldn’t deny the transformations from the men around me. Here are some of the key benefits I came away with from the weekend…

Healing

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all have trauma from our past holding us back. This could be scarring events of our childhood, with our parents, anything. If left unprocessed, this stress gets buried into our subconscious, manifesting in many of the personal struggles we deal with today. As a kid, if you were traumatized with your parents divorcing, if left unprocessed this could lead to self-esteem issues, relationship struggles, and a slew of physical health problems.

James Frazier, my Holotropic Breathwork facilitator had a great analogy why this is true. Imagine sitting at home watching a scary movie on an old VCR tape player. It’s so scary that in the middle of watching the movie, you pop the tape out of the player. Luckily don’t have to watch the movie, but instead now have to carry the tape around with you wherever you go. Whenever you go near a VCR, the tape threatens to play itself which brings up a mountain of negative feelings. The only way to shed free of the tape is to finish it to its completion. By fully experiencing traumatic events of your past, you finally release it from your life.

At the Warrior Weekend, you’re taken through a series of powerful exercises to do just that. To me, this is what this what the retreat revolved around. I don’t want to spoil how it’s done, that’s for you to find out if you decide the Weekend is for you. But I will say that it’s not going to be a walk in the park. In fact, it could be downright terrifying for some of you. But if you have the courage to lean into the fire, you’ll come out the other end with incredible healing.

Emotional Intelligence

One thing the weekend aims to develop is a higher degrees of Emotional Intelligence in men. Wikipedia defines Emotional Intelligence (EI) as the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.

Why does Emotional Intelligence matter? Studies have shown those with higher degrees of EI are mentally healthier, perform better at the workplace, are more effective leaders, and generally have more rewarding relationships. Unfortunately, most men have terrible EI.

When you think of a strong man, images that come to mind are the Clint Eastwood type. Stoic, unemotional, able to put one’s feelings aside to accomplish the task at hand. If a man shows his feelings he’s labeled as weak, girly, defective . Because of this, most men grow up completely unaware and unable to manage their emotions. Most conflicts we have with those around us (especially our partners), stems from this issue.

I admire The Mankind Project for smashing through this outdated model of a what a real man ought to look like. You’re encouraged to connect with your feelings. They take you through a series to pinpoint what your emotion even is, label it accurately, and express it unapologetically. Your pushed to be real. If you’re angry, be angry. If you’re sad, be sad.

It’s hard to find another environment with this level of authenticity. In a world filled with social masks you rarely see the true sides of those around you. MKP creates a safe space to bring those curtains down, and express the real you. It was a breath of fresh air being in this space.

Community

In my interview with author Daniele Bolleli, he spoke about his experiences with the Lakota people and how the biggest impact they made on his life was their sense of community. He said there was something strangely healing being a part of a tribe.

As humans, we’re tribal creatures by nature. For 99% of human history our ancestors lived in small, tightly-knit communities. You lived not just among your nuclear family, but within a larger community as a whole. The famous anthropologist Robert Dunbar suggested humans are most stable in communities where one has roughly 150 relationships.

This sense of tribe makes up the very fabric of our DNA, yet something missing in most of our lives. We’re more connected than ever through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Yet within this digital cocoon, many of us are increasingly isolated in our day-to-day lives.

A sense of community was something I didn’t realize was missing in my own life until I came into the Mankind Project. At the retreat you’d see respected elders who’d been with Mankind for decades, new Warriors who’d done the weekend just a few months before, and of course new initiates. Throughout the weekend you’d see these web of bonds start to form throughout the group, and as this occurred I strangely felt a sense of wholeness.

Whether we like to believe it or not we need a sense of belonging in our lives, and MKP gives you just that.

Integration

Taking Ayahuasca was one of the most transformative events of my life, but as powerful as the experience was, it had its flaws. The biggest to me was the lack of support you’d receive when it was all said and done. You’d head to Peru, have one of the most powerful experiences of your life, and then get quickly flung back to the real world to make of what the hell just happened. You’d have no one to talk to, no one to relate to, no guidance to integrate back to reality. Because of this, many fall back to old, toxic patterns of behavior when they return.

The weekend could give you similar, reality-shattering insights as an Ayahuasca experience. The key difference is you’re given the necessary support to integrate these insights into your day-to-day life. When you leave the retreat, you’re paired with a mentor who regularly checks on you to see how you’re doing. You have your peers who just went through the same experience, you can call and talk to.

Most importantly, there’s a 16 week personal integration training (PIT) designed to solidify the changes made during the weekend. One of the facilitators made the comparison of the retreat being like an instant defibrillator shock to your system, while PIT being a slow IV drip feed. Each week you meet up with the same group of men who were alongside you during the weekend, along with a handful of facilitators. You dive deeper into the personal breakthroughs and concepts learned at the retreat, and check in with the group on the goals you had the previous week…

Accountability

At the most practical level, MKP gives you necessary accountability to accomplish your goals. A section of the retreat is devoted to the concept of accountability, what it truly means, and how most men have none in their lives.

The rubber starts hitting the road during the PIT meetings. During the session you’re pushed to create a stretch goal for the week ahead. At the following meeting, you announce whether or not you hit this goal, which is surprisingly effective in making sure you actually do.

Losing those 10 extra pounds, writing that book you’ve been meaning to start, volunteering at that organization you’ve wanted to – oftentimes these things fall to the wayside simply there’s zero accountability in place to make sure you do what you said you’d do.

You’d be surprised how much more you’re able to accomplish by simply having a group of men to report to. The simple reason is you don’t want to be the dimwit in the group that didn’t hit their goal. During the meetings I’d hear certain men say they accomplished more in a day, than they had in many months prior. Sometimes we need that carrot on the stick to get us to move forward and MKP provides you with that necessary carrot.

Closing

If you search throughout the web, you’ll find your fair share of criticism about MKP and the Warrior Weekend. Some call it culty. Other tout it as new-agey and mock its practices. I think a lot of this criticism comes from misinformed sources. Every man I came across who went on the weekend only has positive things to say about their experience.

In my own weekend, the majority of men said it was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. On the last day, I’d see the look on the faces of my peers and it was a night and day different than when I first met them. We all seemed lighter, happier, connected, feeling a little bit more whole.

The Warrior Weekend is something I’d recommend every man experience. You’ll gain a higher emotional intelligence, begin healing from past trauma limiting your life, join a tribe of over 40,000 supportive men, and gain powerful insight that could change your life.

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Have you been on the Warrior weekend or any other personal development retreats?  Share your experience in the comments below.

Founder of warrior.do. Creator. Digital Nomad.
tonyb.com
  • Jolyon

    Many thanks Tony, I enjoyed reading your account.

    Jol

  • Tony,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. As a New Warrior graduate (July 2002) your sharing definitely resonated with me and brought back memories of my weekend. The biggest lesson I learned during my weekend was the fact that I truly didn’t trust men. Although I had been involved with personal development work for many years, I really didn’t connect the dots to what was really missing in my life until I came to this recognition. During the weekend I allowed myself to experience a deep level of intimacy and connection with men that I had never experienced. The training helped me open my heart and mind to men in a way that I had always longed for but didn’t have the awareness to experience. As a result, I now experience deep, intimate and authentic connections with men (and women) that are rewarding and fulfilling.

    • Thanks for sharing Michael. I had a similar background as you in terms of relating to other men. Our culture doesn’t encourage guys to let their guard down and share what’s going on under the exterior with other guys. The weekend was a definitely an eye opener in this regard, and helped to break through some of the outdated habits I was operating under.

  • Peter Van Keuren

    Having taken the EST training in 1977, I was left with the experience that I had just opened myself in a way that I had not previously allowed in my life, and yet, I knew there was more, much more. I just didn’t know where to go with my inner search, my longing to know myself truly. In late 2011, I had heard about the Mankind Project from a friend. I signed up for an NWTA weekend, and in April of 2012, I gave myself the gift of the most intense personal inward journey I had ever taken. There are no words to express the level of love and gratitude I now feel for the men who shared my weekend, and the men in my I-group, who are all, literally, the brothers I never had. We meet every week, and for me, it is my 2 1/2 hours of sanity in an insane world. For the most part, humanity has forgotten who we really are, and every week, my brothers gently remind me, and bring me back to who I am, to my work and my mission. I love them all, and will be forever grateful for them being in my life.

    • Thanks for sharing Peter. Having that level of support is something many men are missing these days, so it’s great to hear your experience with your I-Group.

  • Carmil Surritt

    Thanks for this article, great job. I totally concur with Peter and Michael, there is a magic that happens for every man that answers his call to his “Hero’s Journey.” I would like you to share this article with The ManKind Projects, Mastering the Mature Masculine Coaching Page, I am one of the Master Coaches and you are speaking to the Tribe.

    • Thanks for sharing the article with your tribe Carmil! Answering the call isn’t easy, but if you can find the courage to move forward it can be a life changer.

  • John Sykes

    Great article, well done.

    I loved my initiation and am an active member in Sydney. MKP changes lives. I agree with most of what’s written in this article and the comments.

    • Thanks John. Awesome to see how vast the MKP network is throughout the world.

  • Ianto Doyle

    A good article which matches my own experience. Highly recommended training. My local support group has been a bedrock for my life for many years too.

    • Thanks Ianto, great to hear how positive the I-Group has been to you.

  • Andy Gimblett

    Hey Tony, nice article, thanks for sharing your experience. I did my weekend in 2013 and like you, I’ve found it – and the support I’ve received since then – to be utterly transformational. I just want to share one thing where my understanding differs from what you’ve expressed… You said: “By fully experiencing traumatic events of your past, you finally release it from your life.” My understanding is that that’s not the case, and it’s not really what’s happening in these processes at the weekend and beyond. One of the best books around on trauma is “The Body Keeps The Score” by Bessel van der Kolk – I highly recommend it – and he makes it clear early on that simply re-experiencing trauma is not sufficient for healing, and often in fact leads to retraumatisation. What’s important is to transform the held trauma somehow – and in my judgement that’s something the MKP processes (and the processes of Shadow Work, which is closely related) do fantastically: when I do such a process I’m getting to the root of some trauma or some trauma-induced pattern, but then I have a chance to reframe it or transform it somehow. I hope this makes sense. Thanks again for a nice article. Much love, Andy.

    • Awesome insight Andy. Agree with with what you mentioned, and may have to re-word what I wrote in the original article. These practices allow new neural connections to be made around certain past events so it isn’t solely tied to those gut level feelings of trauma. But yeah man, that book has been on my list to read for years. Need to finally dive into it. 🙂

  • Love Relations

    Great article and matches my own experience. I did my own NWTA in late 2014. I had done a lot of self development work prior to that including training as a psychotherapist. This weekend and my subsequent involvement with MKP has really helped me get in touch with my own masculinity. No through giving back by helping with staffing the PIT’s and NWTA’s gives me more than the original weekend. I suggest it to all my male clients. Those that have attended have been transformed and I reckon the weekend saves them a couples of years of talk therapy. It reaches parts that no other processes I know of can emulate.

    • Yep the processes at the weekend can quickly get down to the root of our inner demons ruling our lives. Great to hear your experience with it.

    • Joseph A. Losi

      My work in MKP led me to my work as an certified Emotion Focused Couples therapist and like yourself I extend the invitation to do the NWTA to many of my clients, both individuals and male members of couples. The work has certainly been transformative for many of those clients.

  • Gregory Tapler

    Thank you Tony. I honor your enthusiastic and informative piece. I thought to offer clarity on the intention of the weekend and it comes from your reference of ‘… fully experiencing traumatic events of your past, you finally release it from your life’. I know it’s been mentioned in other comments to this piece and I’m stating it again because, for me, it’s important for men considering the weekend to know that trauma experiences as a child will NOT be relived. I’ve lead men through process and there are countless ways to guide a man to healing w/o reliving the past. Experiencing the grief, anger, shame or fear is hard enough; there’s no need to throw in the trauma of the actual event. Blessings on your journey brother. – Greg: Initiated in Philadelphia, August 1995

    • Thanks for the kind words and for the clarification Greg.

    • Joseph A. Losi

      Aho! Gregory!

  • Paul D Robertson

    this is fascinating to me. I think that men’s psychology is neglected or even acknowledged as existing unto itself. I’m an artist and writer and song-writing person and many of my works deal with the unique stories and wounds, scars and promises, terrors and tragedies that are men’s and men’s alone. oh this is a painting not a photo https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/164abc0b1d956d7376c57d8e45d15f9133a5b4fa78b3591097488600c98ec50c.jpg

    • Thanks for sharing your work Paul. This is a badass piece.

  • john henry

    I concur with many observations and enjoyed your article; and share the life changing experience of an NWTA weekend; 09/2010 as a new initiate, and since then, staffing the same. I do though, respectfully disagree with wording in your title of this article. ManKind Project is NOT “a secret society”, and alluding to it as such, projects a negative connotation and sends the wrong message, about ManKind Project. There are experiences and learning practices that happen on an NWTA where confidentiality is requested of all attending. And so hence these are “kept secret”. But by no means does this extend to the philosophy, protocols for membership or public awareness opportunity of ManKind Project, that is brought to mind at the use of the term “Secret Society”. Respectfully,
    JohnHenry Bootzin Portland, Oregon

    • Thanks John, yep the content of the weekend is kept confidential, but MKP is actually one of the more inclusive, open groups I’ve came across.

      • john henry

        Not sure if you had/have choice in wording for the title, but I would suggest a retraction. It’s the first thing someone sees, and the possibility of whether someone reads, or doesn’t read, an article, is generally determined by the first impression. A man looking for inclusivity and a safe place to do his work, I would imagine, just move past your article and possibly forego a life changing experience, simply because of the “exclusive” timbre of this title.
        It seems there are a few noted glaring missteps in your piece. I do not want to be critical or discouraging, but I would suggest more diligent “vetting” of content, prior to publication.

  • Peter Van Keuren

    Hi Tony. I need to say that I think John Henry has it right regarding the title of your article, referencing MKP as a “secret society”. If we are going to have any chance at all for transforming humanity, we need to be making as much noise about MKP and it’s sister organization, Woman Within, as possible.

  • Joseph A. Losi

    Thank you Tony! I deeply appreciate your ability to capture the core of the MKP’s work and the felt commitment your bring toward awakening yourself and in the process shifting the culture of the male paradigm and patriarchy. This toxic patriarchy has created a disallowance for males to use the innate emotional intelligence with which they were born. Not only are we tribal creatures, we are social bonders at the core of our human nature. Doing the work of MKP and my work in Emotionally Focused Therapy brings me to the full throated celebration of what you write of her – awakening to the bonds we share with our brothers, sisters and our tribal communities. It is my vast hope that with men of your aliveness, and openness to our individual and collective emotional intelligence that we together have a fundamental opportunity to turn away from the toxic masculinity that we see rampant in our leaders currently. Blessings to you and our brothers on this crucial journey of saving ourselves and in the process reconnecting with our tribes both locally and globally!

  • Dare

    Thanks, Tony, your article offers an excellent integration of several key offerings of the MKP experience. Another one I’ve experienced personally is the support of other men in initiating my two adolescent sons into manhood! We just returned from our third annual Father-Son camp with MKP men and their sons, and my sons keep wanting (and even choosing!) to go back. They are learning about expressing their authentic emotions, managing conflict in a clean way, tapping into their fear and anger in a healthy way, and stepping into authentic masculine leadership. And I could say a lot more about how MKP has been a positive force in my life.

    • I’m curious, how old are your sons?

      • Dare

        My sons are 14 and 16—but there were sons as young as six and fathers as old as 97 in attendance.

  • Perry Sims

    This is a valuable piece. The writer missed an important part of the lessons however. In this narrative the writer speaks for many men when the slightest reminder, the presentation of a raised pinkie finger, would have assisted him to remember to make “I” statements. I can only speak for myself as an initiated Brother. I was distracted by my wish to put a pinkie in the air. Bless you all. Story Bear

  • Corey Lee

    I did the New Warrior Training Adventure in 2005. I have continued my involvement by assisting in trainings and attending regular meetings. Suffice to say my involvement with MKP has been rewarding. I know I would have had a very difficult time going through divorce if it were not for MKP. I’m so grateful for the organization.

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