I’d originally settled on Flying Jackalope (which is technically a wolpertinger), but then Black Dog decided to change his name to Flying Black Dog, and I was like, “Well, shit. We’re not even related.” However, I’d also lost my voice after the mass Ululate Your Feelings assembly, and I’d already had like three or four nervous breakdowns by that point, so Screaming was ultimately the most appropriate prefix for my Jackalopiness.
Long story short, I survived a New Warrior Training Adventure weekend.
New Warrior Training is the experiential arm of the ManKind Project, a men’s mentoring and empowerment organization founded in 1985. It was heavily influenced by the burgeoning mythopoetic men’s movement of the 80s and 90s and has remained (as far as I know) the largest and longest-running men’s groups in the world.
To be frank, what little I’d heard about the New Warriors prior to actually attending one of their events had been fairly negative, and the handful of guys I’d met over the years who identified as Warriors had kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The organization also suffered from some really bad press about 15 years ago (you can read the ManKind Project’s response here), so I’d decided a long time back that it probably wasn’t a good fit for me.
But then a friend of mine went through the process and had a life-changing experience, and he really, really wanted me to go through it, too — he described it as a cross between Paganism and the Misfits, which was honestly not a bad way to sell it to me.
Even with his encouragement, I had reservations. Did I really want to spend a perfectly good weekend in the middle of nowhere with a group of unpredictable, possibly hyper-masculine strangers? Would I get kicked out for not being cisgender? Had it been a mistake to watch Sleepaway Camp the night before I left?
But then he offered to pay my registration fees, and I was forced to admit how defenseless I am against bribery.
Participants signed confidentiality agreements before the weekend began, and even though something happened early on that, as far as I’m concerned, rendered the contract null and void (more on this in a second), I’m going to (mostly) adhere to it, for a couple of reasons:
- The weekend itself was initiatory, and as such, I don’t want to create expectations or provide spoilers for anyone reading this who might be interested in attending a New Warrior event in the future.
- The other guys with whom I went through the process need to be able to tell their own stories. I don’t get to do that for them.
I also want to point out that this was a pre-pandemic experience. I have not been away in the forest rolling about in Delta Variant.
So with all that safely covered, I’m going to break with workshopping tradition and start with the negatives.
My biggest concern was what we were and were not allowed to bring to the retreat, since the introductory material I’d received via email was vague on the issue. I’ve got a few possessions — a watch my boyfriend gave me; my prayer beads; a couple of other doodads — that act as touchstones when my panic disorder flares up, and as irrational as it might be, I didn’t want to be deprived of them.
My Warrior friend was going to be on staff while I was there, so I called him for clarification, and he told me I wouldn’t be forced to turn over anything I wanted to keep with me. Relief washed over and stayed with me, right up until intake, when one of those items was declared contraband and requisitioned. I freaked out so badly that I basically got sent to the principal’s office, where two very nice staff members tried very gently to convince me to leave the item in their care.
Alas, my hands were neither cold nor dead, and panic was quickly being replaced with rage. Once they realized I’d been lied to, and in the interest of preventing me from kicking over a table and jackaloping off into the night, they told me to hang onto it but keep it out of sight, which I was more than happy to do.
Thing is, a big part of New Warrior training is learning to trust other men, and my training started with a betrayal of trust. It took most of the weekend to recover from that, and I missed out on some stuff that could’ve been beneficial, because I kept my walls way the hell up while everyone else was letting theirs down. Additionally, since one staffer had already been dishonest with me, I saw no reason to trust the rest of them, and I stubbornly refused anything I perceived as attempted indoctrination (all of which turned out to be innocuous).
New Warrior Training draws inspiration from the works of Joseph Campbell, the poetry of Robert Bly (particularly Iron John), Jungian archetypes, and what was consistently referred to as “traditional tribal culture,” the last of which was problematic for me. The Warriors themselves put quite a bit of effort into explaining why what they do is not cultural appropriation, but I’d be curious to know if they know where the imagery and practices they incorporate actually come from. The word aho, for example, used among the New Warriors as a general affirmative, means “hello” in Lakota, “thank you” in Kiowa, and “fishing line” in Hawaiian.
The closest to New Warrior usage would come from the Cherokee language, in which aho roughly translates as “amen,” but I kind of wish the Warriors would just make up their own tribal-esque word and run with that, versus romanticizing and repurposing an existing word without documenting where they found it.
Male privilege ran unchecked throughout the weekend as well. The New Warriors are big on “real” men being able to identify and express their emotions, which is awesome. But at the same time, it sometimes felt like women were unilaterally seen as the reason why men are emotionally stunted, and that’s… not okay. We don’t get to make the victims of toxic masculinity responsible for toxic masculinity.
I’m just saying they could’ve thrown in a “Real Men Engage Proactively to Dismantle Institutionalized Sexism” workshop without drifting from their mission statement or taking time away from the guided meditations and group hugs.
I did enjoy the group hugs, though.
Anyway, enough with the bad stuff. Positives and unexpected friendships with ex-cons coming soon.
[Click here for Part Two.]