One of the things that Brett McKay sometimes does at the end of an Art of Manliness podcast is a five-minute conversation with a host of another podcast. On one particular occasion he interviewed this guy named Jordan who had a show called The Art of Charm. I really enjoyed what he had to say, added the show to my podcasts, started listening, and was irretrievably hooked. So, to return the favor another way, some years later, I’d like to share with AoC readers Brett’s latest project, The Illustrated Art of Manliness: The Essential How-To Guide: Survival, Chivalry, Self-Defense, Style, Car Repair, and More! It’s a beautiful and unique book (and gift) for the men in your life.
The branding, music, and design of The Illustrated Art of Manliness is very purposely old school and it’s no surprise that the illustrations in this book are in the old-timey vein of Boys’ Life and other such publications. They bring a distinctly analog feel to our perhaps too-digital world. The book has six chapters, covering themes we have seen on Brett’s website over the years: The Adventurer, The Gentleman, The Technician, The Warrior, The Family Man, and The Leader. While the tome is beautifully bound and appealing enough to be a “coffee table book,” it has far too much practical information in it to sit idle. As I carried it around in my travels this summer I found friends engrossed after just a few minutes of casual flipping through the pages.
The theme of the adventurer in the wilderness has held appeal from Robinson Crusoe to 127 Hours. There’s something about being able to survive with your wits, like McGyver, by only using the things around you.
While Chapter 1 of the book considers tasks often covered in scouts or in the military, there are challenges that even the serious nature lover might run into, like bears, for example. We’ve seen fights with bears in one of the recent Planet of the Apes films, The Revenant (I’ll admit it, I reflexively reached to protect my head and back during that terrifying scene), and Ryan Michler of Order of Man recently interviewed a man who survived not one, but two bear attacks.
Brett encourages you to bring bear spray (effective at a distance of 25 feet) but to also make noise, like singing or talking to yourself — perhaps even adding bells to your pack. There’s a divergence in strategy between grizzlies and black bears. The former need to see you as a non-threat, so you do that by walking away slowly (not running) — and if you are charged you need to lie on the ground and play dead. The latter can be scared. If charged by them you need to stand your ground and look as big as possible, making lots of noise. You can even fight back by using rocks or sticks to hit their nose or other sensitive areas. While it might sound humorous to contemplate surviving an encounter with a bear from the comfort of wherever you might be reading this book, simply thinking through such a situation will raise important questions about who you are and how you react to fear.
The Return of the Gentleman
“Today, a gentleman cares about how he looks and how he behaves. Put simply, he gives a damn. He strives for polish not out of vanity, but out of a concern for other people. His presence adds to the ambiance and texture of an occasion. When he practices courtesy, he uplifts those with whom he interacts.” (p. 55)
This chapter runs from your clothing (shining shoes, matching shirts and ties) to grooming (safety razor and straight razor shaving) to best practices for a date and even how to cook a steak. The growth of companies to support “the gentleman” in the last decade is staggering. We’ve seen the growth of Harry’s and the billion-dollar acquisition of Dollar Shave Club, as well as franchise concepts like The Gents Place, taking their cue from similar concepts across the water, like Truefitt and Hill. Not to mention shirts, pants (promo code CHARM), and suits.
Here, as elsewhere in the book, there’s an insistence on taking time back from a world that wants us to spend it scrolling through social media. Shining your shoes takes time and patience. Shaving with a safety razor connects you to generations past. Yes, these are details of your external appearance, but the time and thoughtfulness you put into these simple tasks (and the simple joy of a job well done) can not only make you more mindful of their importance, but can help you take pleasure in things that you have to do anyway.
In a world of Amazon robots and Tesla self-driving cars, this chapter may be the most difficult to sell. In fact, well-known futurist Kevin Kelly told Jordan that he doesn’t think our future lies in the old-school manual skills Brett outlines in this chapter: swinging a hammer, using an ax, or fixing (or driving: there’s a section on driving stick) cars. Even interesting things mentioned in this chapter, like the use of a pocket knife, are challenged by the security checks that our increasingly terrorized world necessitates. In fact, it says a lot that of the 40 pages dedicated to this chapter, half of them are dedicated to car-related activities.
It’s fair to say that as autonomous driving gains credibility and momentum these skills could become more rare and valuable, but I do think that Brett might have discussed the basics of website design or coding — not because he should have highlighted any particular language or platform, but because as our technology changes, men have to use new tools; a previous edition of the book in another age may have given tools on how to stop a runaway horse-drawn carriage: a skill not really in need anymore.
That said, I found myself reading and re-reading the section on car skids (and how to deal with them). Much like encountering bears in the wild, I hope that my memory of these tips will not entirely escape me when panic floods my mind!
The Way of the Peaceful Warrior
“If you want peace, prepare for war.” — anonymous
“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” — Archilochus
We’ve had lots of great guests on AoC discussing situational awareness and mindset, with a bit of Jason Bourne thrown in. Perhaps Clint Emerson summed up the ideas discussed in this chapter best when he was chatting with Jordan: “It’s not so much about a camping trip gone bad as it is every idiot we see in the news who takes a right-hand turn because their phone told them to and they end up stuck in the snow and there’s a blizzard coming that night. And they always decide to leave their car for some reason and then die three-hundred meters to three miles away from it. So it’s more to give people their survival instincts back because we’ve been sticking our noses in our phones and technology for so long we’ve kind of lost our natural ability to just survive.”
Brett acknowledges this in his gloss for this chapter: “Men are hardwired to fight and defend. The ancient world was a rough and dangerous place. Men who were able to protect themselves lived to pass on their genes to the next generation. The blood of this lineage of warriors runs through the veins of men today. But thanks to the advances of modernity, most of us no longer need to be full-time fighters. We have the luxury of outsourcing our protection to a small class of professional warriors that serve in military and police forces…we live in a relatively safe and peaceful time, but attacks and assaults still occur. And when danger strikes, it often strikes suddenly, with no time to call the police.”
In this chapter we start with basic fitness: squats, lifts, kettlebells, pushups, and pullups. We then progress to punching, firing a gun, escaping from restraints, and even walking like a ninja (the illustration of a fully dressed ninja walking up to take cookies from an unsuspecting coworker is one of the many chuckle moments you’ll experience reading this book).
Once you’re physically prepared, you have to mentally prepare, and Brett discusses “Condition Yellow” as optimum for situational awareness, and his advice is very similar to what we’ve heard from guests on The Art of Charm: “Relaxed alert…no specific threat, but you’re taking in your surroundings with all your senses. Even though your sense are heightened, stay relaxed. Adopting a calm demeanor won’t attract unnecessary attention. Don’t zone out: look up from your smartphone, open your eyes, ears, and nose, and calmly scan your environment to take it in.” (p. 169)
Unfortunately, recent news both in North America and abroad have shown the timeliness and importance of the “active shooter” and “defend yourself from a knife attack” sections of this chapter. Just as with the “bear attack” section earlier in the book, the hope is not that you will remember every single tip and strategy when you are in these situations (adrenaline and other factors may cause you to forget things) but the simple fact that you may recall one or two things could literally be the difference between life and death, and in that sense, these few pages might be some of the most valuable browsings of this book.
After the seriousness of Chapter 4, Chapter 5 reminds us about family, and how situational awareness helps us protect some of the people most important to us: our families. Whether it’s “entertain a toddler without a smartphone” or “be an awesome uncle” (some of the tips are showcased here), the chapter reminds us that children very often spell “love” as T-I-M-E.
For the uncles without children of their own, there are also basics on holding and burping a baby, as well changing a diaper and calming a crying baby (as uncle to 11 I’ve sometimes used the simple “there’s no crying!” statement to the new arrivals, but it only works the first few times as a novel — though assertive — command they haven’t yet heard — and resisted).
You can also see the thoughtfulness of design here — whereas the previous and more serious chapter had a red color bleed on the page leaves and throughout the illustrations, this chapter has a muted yellow gold color: a brightness and joy to balance the situational awareness.
Every chapter of this book has had crossover with what we discuss here at AoC, but perhaps nowhere as much as Chapter 6, which is focused on leadership. Sections here correspond to articles and topics we have specifically covered.
Brett has a section on entering and exiting a room with purpose and intention: Johnny recently penned a piece on doing precisely that. Brett discusses ending a conversation (and has a really funny companion video for it) and there’s a great toolbox episode featuring AJ, Jordan, and Johnny that discusses how to move conversations forward.
This chapter is thoughtfully at the end of the book, because it assumes you’ve made progress in all the other sections. Tips on how to dress for a job interview make sense if you’re already well-groomed and wear clothing that matches and fits, as discussed before. The discussion of good posture is more obvious to those already engaging in exercise, which encourages good posture. The discussion of John Boyd’s OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) fits in perfectly with the discussions of situational awareness.
In his gloss for this chapter, Brett notes that “Leaders aren’t born. They’re made — often in the furnace of setbacks.” Leaders don’t always know the answers nor do they always make the right decisions, but they are forging forward “in the arena,” and the best ones learn from their mistakes and get even better.
Indeed, The Art of Charm was born out of a desire of the founders to improve themselves and their fellow men. As their message and audience grew, the female audience informed the content (just as Kate McKay assists Brett in writing and ideation) and both The Art of Charm and Art of Manliness preach a message of uplifting those around you by your actions. While ours is “leave everything better than you found it,” that could easily be applied to this little book as well: beautifully printed and designed, and full of messages, advice, and strategies to live your best and lift up those around you as well.