Failing in physical ordeal at MDK Project taught life lessons

The MDK Project puts men through a Hell Week-like training that includes Army crawls. (Picture is NOT from the Project).

By Michael Ashcraft –

After training intensely for six months and getting into the best shape of my life, I submitted to the MDK Project, a 75-hour men’s military Hell Week, and failed catastrophically. I didn’t last two hours.

The Modern Day Knight Project, brainchild of gym franchiser Bedros Keuilian,  is a rigorous testing of physical, mental and emotional strength that tantalizes with the promise of breakthrough in your fitness, finance, family and faith.

Though Christianity is a component, the California-based program is a far cry from a Christian men’s retreat. The motivational speeches are given by ex-military guys and entrepreneurs who spike their speech with cuss words.

In the leadup to the Project, the author sweated profusely in training. It was not enough.

I was at a stage in my life where I wanted something very different. I wanted a challenge, not the circle of empaths I had hung out with for my 56 years.

I even went to the extreme of thinking about why the camp appealed to me: I wanted an initiation into manhood. Our modern American society, in my opinion, has substituted the paltry college degree for making a kill hunting or fighting in war, historical rites of passage for men. My dad didn’t let me play football, a chance to learn through toughness and adversity. My last fight was in the eighth grade; I lost.

John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart resonated with me. We have feminized men, made them into Nice Guys who let themselves get walked over, who run away from danger, who cow to the demands of the anti-God Cultural Elites. Because Christianity is compassionate, confusion has crept over (American) Christianity.

Where’s the balance? David was a warrior who downed Goliath. Jesus stood up to the reigning elites of his day.

I’m a strange mix of fear and bravery, a guy who alternatively runs into and runs away from adventure. I was a missionary for almost 16 years in Guatemala. Then I came back and settled into stagnation for 12 years. The stagnation was restful but boring and toxic. The old adage that an unoccupied mind is the devil’s playground proved true for me.

Navy Seals in “surf torture,” a component of the MDK Project also.

So I signed up. It was about as expensive as a Tony Robbins seminar. I wanted to breakthrough in my physique and my business. I thought this outside-of-the-box approach would revolutionize my ministry as well. It has.

The Trainerize-guided workouts combined with MyFitnessPal-nutrition plan whittled my body down 30 pounds. Abs began protruding, a secret longing of mine what remained quixotically beyond possibility.

I ministered in Pakistan. The pastor leading that trip, a former Army Ranger, remarked about me that I was “absolutely fearless.” Don’t most us men fantasize about being courageous?

Humiliated like a boxer knocked out by the second punch in a match, the author beat a hasty retreat to the mountains to assimilate the failure and plot the next stages in life. The stunning views of God’s creation blunted the sharp edge of failure.

Unmistakably, there are health benefits to having an 15% BMI. The fit pastor won’t die early, depriving the world of his usefulness. I feel younger and more zestful in life. I’ve gotten breakthroughs on my bum knee and shoulder injuries.

But when I submitted to the ultimate test, I flunked. In the October iteration, I was among the first to tap out. To quit the Project, you have to ring a brass bell three times just like the Navy Seals. I was loath to quit. But on some bear crawls, my shoulders were burning. I was lagging way behind the 13 other guys.

Shame, fear and fatigue descended on me. I had visualized all sorts of mental strategies to deal with the barking drill sergeants, army crawls, and surf torture. But suddenly I found myself resourceless against coming in dead last. (I had hoped I would be in the middle of the pack).

The guys who graduated from my class. Yes, those were once white T-shirts and those were once black shorts.

With muscles screaming, out of the bear crawl posture, I stood up. Looking at me with eyes of fury, my coach was livid: “Mike, get down and crawl!” Nonplussed, I beckoned for the bell. With cameras filming, I took Esau’s option and clanged the “Bell from Hell.”

I felt shame, but I think I also realized I wasn’t going to make it, and I didn’t want the instructors to descend on me like a pack of frenzied wolves.

Men who complete the Project are given a cool engraved hatchet to hang on the wall. They are inducted into an elite society – numbering about 200 so far – of guys who survived a sleep-deprived, food-deprived 3-day ordeal that’s a taste of Navy Seals Hell Week.

It’s heady stuff.

It’s also entry into a network of entrepreneurs and coaching that offers to 10X or 100X your business.

To deal with the disappointment, I headed immediately to Yosemite. I wanted to hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls, get in nature and gather my thoughts in prayer and communion with God. I didn’t want brood, get depressed and revert to the loser’s mentality at home alone.

Surrounded the glories of God’s creation, I surveyed and consolidated my wins:

  • I hadn’t run away, like I did in college when I turned down the editor’s job. Three-fourths the guys who sign up and paid didn’t even show up. Is it better to try and fail or to not even try?
  • I got breakthrough on my physique. My fitness leveled up beyond my prior do-three-exercises-and-go-home, easy-on-myself gym routine.
  • To my surprise, I found I was inspiring my adult sons. They embarked on their own fitness and nutrition plans. Maybe my daughter and daughters-in-law did too. What greater longing do we older guys have than to witness our children making wise choices — and maybe to inspire them?
  • My outlook on life has changed. I’m not headed toward the bitterness-prone old guy whose usefulness is dwindling as he grouses about the excesses of the new generation.
  • I learned to hate the comfort zone. If all you do is remain in your zone of established competency, you are on the decline. God made us to constantly learn and renew our strength like the eagle’s.

I suppose I was gambling. For me to think I could hang with the big boys was unrealistic. Almost all of the other Project candidates were former military and athletes.

I had seen where God came through for me despite my self-doubting when I went to Guatemala as a missionary. But this time, there was no supernatural gifting of strength in my weakness. Plain and simple, I was softer than 4-ply.

What’s my next challenge?

If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here

Read testimonies of Navy Seals: Remi Adeleke, David Goggins , Jason Redman, Chad Williams. And of Army Rangers: Dave Eubanks, Tim Moynihan.

About this writer: Michael Ashcraft is a financial professional in California.



  1. Great article. Love your transparency and truthfulness without criticism of others. Refreshing journalism. Wish more writers would do the same.
    Thank you for an excellent GodReport.

  2. What an awesome read, Mike!
    As a former Navy hospital corpsman, running with SEAL-like
    men is nothing about which to laugh. I have seen your transformation over the months & think it was the best decision you could have made for yourself!

    I hope more young men take the challenge, physically, spiritually, mentally and/or financially that you did & find some of the breakthroughs that you discovered. I’m still looking for those 30 lb that you lost so that my 30 excess pounds can ‘get lost’ also. Órale!

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