We are inquiring into the man who embodies manliness. Manliness is a disposition that is neither Brawny (and hot-headed) nor Sensitive (and frail). If it is hard to come up with living examples of men who are manly and graceful (Cary Grant, perchance, though he is dead?), the reason could be that few seem to exist at the present time. Most men who seek to cultivate themselves make the mistake of trying to become ‘ripped,’ only to become distorted pictures of vanity and pride, or to become ‘artsy,’ only to lose their ‘spirited part’ entirely.
For those of us who can clearly perceive the question of manliness as a pressing matter concerning how men can become excellent, after a fashion, at being men, it is necessary to inquire into with what kind of training in the body and the arts is appropriate in order for one to embody manliness, so understood.
Our ‘spirited part’ is best cultivated, I think, through those activities that stem from once-military sources but which have been transmogrified since into forms of art. I am thinking of the martial arts, of ashtanga yoga, of climbing (born, initially, of a conquering spirit), of archery, of swordplay. These are lifelong practices whose ferocity has been transformed, by means of study, attention, and guidance, into a vigorous practice. (I am not sure about boxing or certain styles of hockey. Parkour may count, however. This list is not meant to be exhaustive.) Tai chi is more appropriate for the old man than it is for the younger man, since the younger man needs to forge his thumos by pressing his shoulder squarely into something. He wants to lean into something hard enough to feel that something press at him, stress him, at least initially.
Meanwhile, our wisdom-loving part is best cultivated through gaining a wider appreciation of the ordinary natural beauties (the wind, birdsong, the cricket, the flee–see the haiku tradition), of the kind of simple music that honors human existence (hence, no songs of misery or wretchedness), of simple poetry written in praise and honor (the Daodejing, for instance), of earnest works of prose (no postmodernism, therefore), and of earnest, humble philosophy. Here, I find that reading Hadot lifts the spirit, though it is also true that his prose could show more lightness, vivacity, and humor. In this kind of education, the young man is perceiving the kind of simplicity and directness in nature as well as in thought that makes ultimately–in Plato’s elegant phrase–for ‘beauty of reason.’
We are proposing that a muscular existence, focused and concentrated, can be directed in such a way that it becomes graceful action. Manliness is neither a voice cutting another to pieces nor a limp article of clothing drying on the line. It is a man’s power strained yet softened to the appropriate degree. A simple, hearty song that takes years to sing aright.