Ask Andrew W.K.: How to be a Man

Photos by Mario Dane
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask:]

Dear Andrew,

A year ago, I got into my first real fist fight. I nearly pissed myself with fear, but I won, and it felt unlike anything I've ever experienced. It was such a high. For the first time in my life, I felt indestructible and had an outlet for all my years of pent up frustration. Now I get into fist fights all the time. Every weekend I go out looking for fights -- mean and hateful. All this violence is starting to worry everyone around me, and it's honestly starting to worry me too. It helped me blow off steam at first, but now ... my biggest fear is that I'll hit my girlfriend during an argument or get stabbed during a bar fight gone wrong. Should I become a professional fighter as a healthy outlet for this compulsion? Should I force myself to stop the fighting altogether? Do you wanna fight me?

I'll Fuck You Up

See also: Ask Andrew W.K.: How to Cope With the Death of a Friend

Dear I'll Fuck You Up,

No, thanks. I don't want to fight you. The only person I'm really interested in fighting is myself, and that's an ongoing war I'm sometimes losing and sometimes winning, one battle at a time. I'm sure you'd beat me in this sort of fist fight, anyway. My strength is in partying, which only involves fist punching the air and head banging for fun -- not fist punching someone's face and banging their head on the concrete.

People who love fighting are very particular. I had a friend who got into fist fights constantly. He claimed he didn't enjoy it, but he seemed unable to resist violent confrontations and went to great lengths to make things come to blows. He got in fist fights with taxi drivers about which route they took. He got into fights with strangers about how they looked at him. He got into fights just because.

He lived by a code that listed the steps you have to go through in order to to become a real man. He said you had to:

1. Punch someone in the face.
2. Get punched in the face.
3. Cheat on your girl.
4. Be cheated on by your girl.
5. Steal something from someone.
6. Have something stolen from you.
7. Know when to be an asshole.
8. Know when to beat an asshole.
9. Blow it alone.
10. Go it alone.

A lot of it didn't make any sense to me. And while I understood what he was trying get at in some ways, I still found it bizarre that all of these were requirements for becoming a man, and not what a real man should strive not to do. Every single thing on that list is pretty much something most people work to avoid as much as possible. So, who is this kind of person that seeks out conflict? What kind of mind builds their sense of self worth purely on the pain they've caused others and brought upon themselves? I could never really figure it out, but guessed that maybe when they were very little kids, they felt very weak and vulnerable -- as any kid does -- and then were somehow taught that feeling weak was bad, so they had to "get tough." Who knows?

I had another friend who loved to fight. He felt that he was defending his honor and the honor of his friends and family when he beat people up -- like he was doing a service to the community by teaching these tough guys a lesson and ridding the town of the trouble makers. But what he failed to see was that he was a tough guy too and giving the other tough guys someone to fight with. One night, he got in a fight with a man about some t-shirt he was wearing. When he punched him, the guy fell back and hit his head on the sidewalk and died right there. My friend went to prison for 15 years and basically ruined his life and, obviously, the life of the man he punched.

I still have a lot of respect for people who are physically strong and who use their power when needed. Whether they are protecting people or meting out some street justice, there are naturally times and places where violence can be necessary and helpful. But we also understand that the concept of fighting for peace is fundamentally flawed.

The best fighter I've ever known was my tour bus driver. He was a Special Forces Vietnam vet and had killed lots of people, most of them in hand to hand combat. He said he preferred killing "up close and personal" with his hands or a knife rather than with a gun. He said it was more respectful to his victim and to the fight itself. But he also was truly tormented by the war and what he had done there. He saw a lot of shit and was a prisoner of war for an extended amount of time before being rescued. Every day he thinks about the faces of the people he killed. He remembers every single face and the look in their eyes when they took their last breath. He told me he prays every day that he will never have to kill someone again. Because he knows he can. He wants smiles and pleasure in his life now, not fighting and violence. He's had enough of that for many lifetimes.

Going back to my other friend's "to be a man" list, I was thinking about it and decided to make a new list here. Not just on how to be "a man," but how to be a real human being. This list isn't perfect and it's nowhere near complete. I'm sure you can improve on it. Just like the process of becoming a full person, it's a work in progress.

To be a real human being, you must try...

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The point is to do the first list and then be able to do the second.

For the exact reason that we give the words of Andrew's bus driving veteran more weight than those of a schoolteacher when talking about violence and killing. One knows what he's talking about, one is guessing.

A man is not a Man, and in today's politically and sexually charged climate I should clarify. A man is just a male, a Man is someone I should respect. A Man can be either sex. And when I say respect, I mean Respect. Not the respect Aretha sang of, the respect all are due. I mean the respect that you give your betters.

Basically, after doing list A you have all the right in the world to be a horrible person. But, instead, you're good and you do list B. That is a Man.

See Kipling's poem If.


PUUUUUUUUUSSSSSSSSSIIIIIIIIEEEEEE! jUST kidding, Andrew WK is awesome and really really wise. Thank you.


"Ask Andrew W.K.: How to be a Man"????  why did you need to place a gender to the piece when one is CLEARLY not noted IN the piece? 

John Ned
John Ned

Thank you. But you always did walk it like you talked it. I remember your first show in Salt Lake City ("I love Salt Lake City,ooohhh yeah, Salt Lake City") and how you just took the time afterwards to meet with all your awestruck fans. No bullshit,just nice as hell and I don't think anyone there ever forgot it. Glad to see you're still fighting the good fight. Cheers.


Here's a FYI. 

The Chinese are some of the most mellow /passive people around. One caveat is that there is bare knuckle full contact fights in Manhattan Chinatown with people fighting for money. Tough guys who want to fight should go to Grand Street Peng On Leong basement bar/restaurant on Saturday night or the far end of Roosevelt Park on Friday nite at the Chinatown YMCA basement. Chinese People fight for money not some foolish notion of macho tough guy. It's full contact bare knuckles and knees. It's real people.


disagree. see, objectivist ethics, for a better guide to living as a humanbeing on earth


Andrew's list of 10 ways to be the best human is so spot on. I really wish society and media would stop pressuring men to be macho and do "manly" things. There's not really any way to prove you're a man. Just be yourself. Be a human.

And hey, if you want to fight, there's plenty of boxing and sparring classes. But with OP's thoughts of fighting turning into something worse it may be more productive to channel that energy into new adventures. And like Andrew said, headbanging and punching the air is a great way to do it!


Being a tough guy is different definition than just being a man.

Biologically most of us know if we are a male or female, however people have many opinions on what A real man or a real woman is. People participate in violence and fighting but that doesn't justify their genders, so I'll just add to AWK's list  a        #11. Party Hard!


Nice response Andrew! love the 10 things to try to be a real man! good stuff right there!  


@teajay Read the whole piece again. Andrew W.K. is referencing his friend's backwards "How to be a man" list in the headline. Later in the piece, he dismisses it and gives his own "How to be a real human being" list. He is effectively casting aside the gender designation that you seem upset about.

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