The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight has re-ignited that perennial debate
about the “problem” of male aggression. It’s easy to find people on
the Internet with strong feelings about aggression and masculinity.
Nuanced points of view, though, can get lost in the middle of all the
Yes, civilization has evolved, and skills such as fighting and hunting
are less necessary for community survival. The warrior instinct is now
channeled into other areas — some functional, others not so much. The
sport of boxing is one of these areas. One could argue about whether
boxing is functional or not. What is true is that the prospect of
seeing two men at their edge is still such a draw, for both men and
women, that three million households last night gladly spent $99 to
watch the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight on pay-per-view.
What’s at issue is not so much boxing as the warrior instinct — which
I believe our society still very much needs and which is probably not
going out of our genetics anytime soon. As a species, humanity may
well have need of this instinct on a large scale again, and we’re stuck
with it in any case. I believe that the qualities of the Warrior —
physical discipline, the ability to think quickly and with precision, a
sense of justice and fairness, and courage — are what really
fascinated those three million people, though the fight is what
everyone was talking about.
But turning the warrior instinct into a specialized activity in which
only some participate, then selling access to it, does two things, in
addition to making a ton of money for the promoters and cable channels: it outrages some people, who call our civilization barbaric and
who compare boxing with the Coliseum in ancient Rome; and it disconnects ordinary men from their own capacity to embody the Warrior. The two effects feed off each other: if we listen to the naysayers who condemn male aggression as barbaric, men feel shame over that instinct in ourselves; which leads us to remove ourselves from many arenas where we could display our edge; which then leads us to lose our capacity to embody the Warrior. We then pay to see others do it, leading to more ambivalence: we may say boxing is wrong, but we’re fascinated.
Watching two men fight in a ring then becomes a guilty pleasure, like
porn or masturbation, or chocolates or romance novels for women. But
the more a man watches the specialists — the more he sees other men
living at their edge — then, to the extent that he is not, he may feel
a sense of loss over unfulfilled potential.
Of course not all men can or should go into boxing. But all men have
the ability to find their masculine edge, and to play that edge with
discipline, forethought, courage, and fairness.
And by the way, I speak about “men” just to make this easier to read.
The instinct exists in women too, but that’s the subject of another
How can men safely reconnect with their own warrior instinct?
1. Develop a physical discipline. You don’t have to be Floyd
Mayweather Jr. or Manny Pacquiao to get yourself in top shape. There
are so many benefits to staying in good shape that most of them go
beyond the scope of this article. Physical strength helps us develop
confidence and courage; physical flexibility (attained through yoga or
pilates) can lead to mental and emotional flexibility, improved
reflexes, and greater ability to balance priorities. Exercise also becomes
more important to men as we age: research shows that we begin to lose
an average of one pound per year in muscle mass after around age 40.
2. Develop a mental discipline. Meditation is the obvious choice
here. I don’t care whether it’s Tibetan Buddhist meditation,
Mindfulness Meditation, Transcendental Meditation, or the exercises of
St. Ignatius. It can be any style, any school. What’s important is
that it be done on a regular basis and that it be something that brings
you face-to-face with your internal chatter, so you can see how that
chatter holds you back. Recent research shows that meditation has
physical benefits also, including lower blood pressure and a decreased
rate of heart and lung problems.
3. Do an “edge inventory”. In what areas of your life are you playing
small? Be honest with yourself. What are you afraid of? Where does your fear keep you from playing full out — making more money or being more loving, more trustworthy, more flexible? If you don’t believe you’re
afraid of anything, you are almost certainly so afraid that you can’t
even feel your fear. Make an inventory of every area of your life:
professional, financial, physical, spiritual, etc. There are ten areas
which can be looked at this way. You can find a worksheet for
addressing all ten here. Doing the worksheet for the Pillars of a
Balanced Life in the context of your masculine edge will help you see
where fear is holding you back. You can continue your edge inventory
as you move through your day, feeling into situations that make you
even slightly afraid. As you develop greater sensitivity in your
physical and meditation practices, you’ll become more aware of these
4. Don’t do it alone. Find a group of like-minded men who will hold
you accountable and provide support. If you can’t find one, start one.
The benefits of a support group are so great, they almost can’t be
exaggerated. A real-time group is best, but you can also look online,
if transportation is a problem or you live in a remote area.
5. Look for opportunities to serve. One characteristic that
distinguishes the Warrior is his capacity for service. Take your
greatest strengths and lay them at the feet of those who most need
them. You don’t have to do anything monumental like starting an
orphanage or creating a foundation — you can practice it in all kinds
of little ways. Increased awareness of your physical surroundings
through mental and physical discipline means you’re more likely to
notice that pregnant woman without a subway seat, or the co-worker
having a bad day.
6. Learn to dance. It’s not only another great way to stay in shape,
it helps you connect with your body and its abilities as well as its
limitations. Partner-dancing has the added benefit of helping you
connect in a visceral way with another person as well. All warriors
dance in some way. It’s considered vaguely effeminate in our uptight
American society, but dancing well is truly one of the best gifts a man
can bring to the woman (or women) in his life. If you have any doubt,
check out this video of Brazilian singer Marisa Monte dancing with MMA fighter Anderson Silva. It’s one of the most beautiful examples of the eternal dance between masculine and feminine that I’ve ever seen.