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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Dr. Bennington is in the (Virtual) Building

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse--today we celebrate a milestone that has been in the making for about four years now--I finally defended my dissertation! I've been officially pronounced Dr. Spencer Todd Bennington!!

Thank you to everyone in my life who made this accomplishment possible. I'd like to reprint my "dedication" and "acknowledgements" sections from the dissertation here:



Annyeong hashimnikka!

The production of this manuscript would not be possible without many loving friends, wicked smart colleagues, and inspiring mentors.

First, thank you to Dr. Carl Herndl for agreeing to take on the project of supervising that eccentric Kung Fu Kid who wrote about Batman comics and the “cyborg manifesto” in what was clearly his first rhetoric seminar four years ago. Carl, you were the one who opened my eyes to a world of possibility within Rhetoric as a discipline--I can’t thank you enough for that. It's only fitting for you to see me through the end of this scholarly journey since you were the one who welcomed me to the fold.

Next, I have to recognize Dr. Lisa Melonçon, senior member of the “Shrimp Basket” and the best mentor to the field of Professional and Technical Communication a graduate student could ever ask for. Lisa, not only did you humor me during numerous brainstorming and vent sessions, including the one where the concept “embodied topoi” was first named, you kept me fed and sane during the process. I owe you more than I can ever hope to repay, but I’ll still try.

I’m also very lucky to have Dr. Steven Jones and Dr. Cathryn Molloy as readers on my committee. Steve, if it weren’t for your digital humanities capstone course and the encouragement from you and my classmates to “do something fun,” I doubt I would have ever designed and launched Without thinking through my own personal process of critical reflexive pumsae practice, the impetus for the original site, I would not have arrived at this project as my dissertation. Finally, Cathryn, I cannot tell you how delighted I was to meet you in Pittsburg--your warmth, enthusiasm, and thoughtful commentary throughout this process have made this project (and my life) rich. To all of my committee members, thank you for your hard work and sacrifice.

To all other faculty at USF, Radford, and Averett who made similar sacrifices to help get me to this point as a scholar, I thank you as well. Every English teacher I ever had--this is your gold star. Special recognition here goes to Dr. Nate Johnson for introducing me to embodied rhetorics and Debra Hawhee’s Bodily Arts (2004). Additionally, I’m excited by and thankful for the friendships and connections I’m making in the Martial Arts Studies community, particularly people like Paul Bowman and Ben Judkins whose work is continually shaping my research agenda. My scholarly community also includes all my students--you were the ones who made my research ideas and pedagogical skills sharper through constant conversation and practice.

In addition to a scholarly community, I am blessed to be continually taught by a martial arts community, all of whom, in some way, contributed to this project. These include instructors like Grandmaster Jin Young “Dragon” Kim, Dr. Stephen Ausband, Master Kelvin Miller, Master (Coach) Marco Nogueira, Master Woo Namkyu, Master Ling, Master Jung, Master Thai, Jun Kim, Master Rupert Cox, Master Hoon Park, Master Tommy Carpenter, Instructor Young, Coach Phil, and Master Vahid Smith as well as their families. In addition to my past/present teachers, I’d like to recognize members of my Tae Kwon Do Family for their contribution to this project and my holistic development as a martial artist, teacher, and human being: Bill and Adam McMullen, Matt, Katrina, Keegan, Liam, and Rhodey Dohman, Cassie Linkous, Rich Burgess, and Rupert Cox (friend version).

Just as important for my emotional well-being, professional development, and overall sanity (kind of), are the two remaining “shrimps,” Dr. Tanya P. Zarlengo and Dr. Josh Rea. We wrote together, suffered together, learned to pick each other up, and had a LOT of fun. Tanya, thank you for your everwise prophecies about my future self and the best training montage video of all time. Josh, thanks for being a friend, mentor, and for taking me to the JCPenney portrait studio--best birthday ever. Lisa, Tanya, and Josh, grad school would not have been any fun without you.

Many other friends and loved ones have offered various other kinds of support (critical feedback, a sounding board, rest and relaxation, etc.) and I’d like to thank them all here for their help as well, especially Peyton Keesee. Not only did you listen to me ramble on about academics or put up with me when I lost my funny bone, you even watched my Youtube videos. Thanks for being my best friend, BOOODY. Also, Jeremy, you’ll never read this, but thanks for the ice cream--sincerely.

Finally, I have to thank Mom and Dad in very material ways. Mom--you drove me to Tae Kwon Do even when you really didn’t want to. I learned commitment from you, the little mountain. Dad, you gave me the book that ended up starting this whole dissertation. I learned openness and how to be a receptive man from you. Without the both of you, together, I’d be nothing. This project, this whole degree, I did it for you just as much as I did it for me. Thank you for giving me that chance.

With love and sincerity--thank you all.



To Mike and Susie Bennington and the memory of Betty J. Todd.

Mom, Dad, Mama--if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today; I wouldn’t be writing a dissertation at all. And, if by some miracle I did make it to this point all by myself, I would have quit a long time ago without your support.

I love you.

Thank you.



To Learn More

If you want to learn more about the dissertation, I've included the abstract and a link to the full project below (bonus points if you read the whole thing!).

This study examines Tae Kwon Do practitioner manuals as sites for better understanding the way diverse rhetorics can become embodied through technique. This dissertation understands martial arts in a Foucauldian sense as rhetorical institutions which discipline practitioners both physically and ideologically. A theory of “embodied topoi,” a term coined here to describe the process by which cultural commonplaces are incorporated into a material, carnal, or performed identity is presented alongside a review of how athletic or martial bodies have been previously studied. Seven popular Tae Kwon Do technical manuals are analyzed for moments when 1. Commonplaces are described, 2. “Daoist topoi” are linked to specific techniques, 3. These “embodied topoi” are connected to inter/intrapersonal skill development. Results demonstrate that Tae Kwon Do pumsae were rhetorically invented to respond to various audience expectations about martial arts more broadly as well as political or social exigencies. Nearly all manuals featured explicit descriptions of underlying philosophical concepts to be embodied and a majority attempt to pinpoint these ideas manifesting in specific martial techniques. There are strong connections between the kinds of inter/intrapersonal skills reportedly cultivated through Tae Kwon Do pumsae practice and the kinds of mindfulness habits recognized as integral to success in postsecondary writing and college success. Pedagogical tools for helping first-year students (as well as writing instructors and administrators) develop those habits are presented in the conclusion alongside future research projects surrounding rhetorics of violence and the ethics of cultivating martial bodies.

Another Good Black Friday

Obviously defending my dissertation made Friday, June 19th, pretty special--but there are lots of other cool reasons it was a good day. Check out a few on the latest episode of Good Black Friday featuring Calvin from Mr. B's Southern Cuisine in Tampa, FL.

Check back for a new episode Friday June 26th!

More News, Old News

Unfortunately I didn't get a recording of the dissertation defense like I wanted to. Don't worry, in the next couple of weeks I plan to release a video series that breaks up the dissertation into small chunks--maybe I'll revive the Tiny Tiger Lecture Series!

In addition, I'll be releasing a video for the Martial Arts Studies conference--happening now on Youtube and Zoom. While it won't be the same as the European vacation I had hoped for, it should still be a lively conversation between fighting scholars. I'm looking forward to it and will be sure to share anything I make.

In the meantime, you should really check out the Martial Arts Studies Podcast/video series if you haven't already. Very good conversations about loads of different topics from scholars of all sorts--even me!


Just as a reminder, the Handbook for Justice in your Community is still freely available. Use it, share it, build on it. We are currently working on templates for communicating with law makers and local government. If you have resources to share please email them to

Sorry for the brevity but it's another busy week--I'll have something new for you to check out next week. Thanks to all of you who have liked the Rhetorical Roundhouse Facebook page. Please help me grow the Youtube Channel as well so I can start raising money for charity with my video content. All you have to do is hit "subscribe" and maybe watch a video or two--who knows, maybe you'll even like it!

Thanks as always for stopping by...


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