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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Goals Old and New

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Hello everyone and welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse 2020!!! It's a brand new year and as you know from last week's post, it's going to be a big one! This week marks Rhetorical Roundhouse's official one year anniversary (woohoo!) so I figured I would give a bit of a history lesson on how I got here as well as a more detailed outline of the RR mission as we transition toward obtaining status as a tax-exempt, charitable organization.

In the far distant past, way back in the year 2017, I decided to combine my love of Tae Kwon Do with my passion for creative writing. To do this, I started producing what I now affectionately refer to as a the Pumsae Poetry Series, a collection of eight videos that feature me performing the Taegeuk Pumsae while reciting verse about my interpretation of the form's meaning. This process took me a long time to complete because each form required deeper and more thoughtful meditation. Somewhere in the middle of the process, however, I happened to be enrolled in a Digital Humanities graduate course at USF. When my colleagues all found out about the work I was doing on these videos, they urged me to abandon a more boring project for that class (it truly would have been a mistake to pursue it) in favor of a project I clearly was passionate about. So, my personal videos became part of something larger, something I wanted to call "Rhetorical Roundhouse."

It was around this time that I knew that what I was experiencing, a sort of deep reflection and meditation brought on by the intense focus on the Taegeuk Pumsae, was worth sharing with the larger Tae Kwon Do community. In fact, the original concept for the first Rhetorical Roundhouse website, the one that was born in the Digital Humanities class in the fall of 2017, was one solely dedicated to the hosting of "Pumsae Poetry" from Tae Kwon Do practitioners across the world. As time went on, I found out that encouraging that kind of content from others is a difficult task for a number of reasons (but not one that I've given up on!) In fact, I do have content for a full set of new videos, but I haven't seemed to find the editing time yet.

When I thought about why I wanted practitioners to submit their own videos (and why I still do!) the answer was very simple: we all practice the same art, and even some of the exact same forms, but we all have very different experiences. It's the individual embodied narratives that I wanted to learn more about. Why? Because ultimately I wanted to know if my hunch was correct, if sustained practice of the Taegeuk Pumsae with a well-defined reflective component could have real impact on people's mental health and well-being.

Questions like these developed as I was thinking more about Rhetorical Roundhouse as an object of study instead of an artistic expression or a DH project. In fact, it was my dissertation research into embodied rhetorics, non-Western rhetorical theory, and martial arts studies that provided me with much of the content that came to populate this blog space last year after the website's official launch. In this way, RR became a space to share knowledge, a bridge between practitioners and researchers. And for most of last year, I was fully content to maintain that ethos for the time being.

But one day, I had a frank conversation with my best friend, a very pragmatic guy, someone who makes his living outside of martial arts or higher education. He asked me bluntly, what do I get out of Rhetorical Roundhouse?

It's a fair question, one that anyone should ask of all their projects, hobbies, work, relationships, etc. And, as I thought about it, I realized that what I wanted was to help people--help them learn more about the martial arts and other academic subject areas, help inspire them, help guide them. What I really wanted, especially at that time, was for my research, for the work I've been doing at USF for over three years now, to mean something. To have impact.

So I changed the questions I was asking. I decided to stop thinking in the parameters my field of study would approve and asked questions that really matter to me. Questions like, if taught correctly, can martial arts promote non-violence? Questions like, can critically reflective martial arts training help heal those who have suffered violence, abuse, neglect, or trauma?

So here we are, the point where I've decided that I want to take this "thing" that I've started to build and position it to do charitable good. But what exactly might that look like? Today I want to share a few ideas I've been tossing around for what I'm imagining for the future Rhetorical Roundhouse Network.

1. Scholarship programs for students who can't afford martial arts lessons

This idea is a fairly simple one. Rhetorical Roundhouse would first curate a list of respectable martial arts studios, ones that take the mental, emotional, and philosophical education of their students just as serious as the physical. These approved locations would then be able to offer a scholarship application to potential students under a certain income threshold or existing students who may have fallen on hard times.

The scholarships would be awarded based on need and would require students to write a certain amount of guided reflective work per belt promotion. This is designed to help reinforce the positive lessons the students are already learning in class as well as to give them an outlet for other personal issues. Furthermore it helps in assessing the effectiveness of the student's training as it connects to their life.

Funding for these scholarships will likely come from donations in the beginning. Approved schools could ask parents or adult students to consider donating a small amount to the Rhetorical Roundhouse Network each time they pay their student tuition. In this way, as the network grows, the number of potential scholarships can also increase.

2. Training programs to develop critically reflexive martial arts instructors

While scholarships are a nice start, many potential students who might benefit from martial arts instruction are unlikely to even get to the studio to apply. Parents and guardians of such students may be absent in one way or another. Many children like this depend on school systems and community organizations to supply them with quality extracurricular activities that keep them off the street and out of trouble. You may recall that my first Tae Kwon Do instructor, Master Kelvin Miller, provided such a service by teaching Tae Kwon Do for free in a local church basement. To help ensure that local communities are getting such quality martial arts training, the Rhetorical Roundhouse Network would facilitate a training program, complete with critically reflexive martial arts curriculum material, to offer to community members interested in volunteering some of their time to teach at local after school programs. It's important to offer disenfranchised kids as many opportunities as possible for them to see themselves in a different position. I think this training program helps do that by working to develop martial arts instructors in the community, ones that look like the kids they would help teach, ones that maybe grew up in that neighborhood.

Buy in for this one might be tricky. It's nice to think that martial artists would just line up to volunteer part of their time to train students for free, but it's not realistic. Hopefully this is the kind of initiative that the Rhetorical Roundhouse Network could secure some grant funding for. Otherwise, this might have to be spearheaded by groups of talented young martial artists, ones who are looking to fulfill community service hours for graduation or college applications.

3. Building more permanent relationships between martial arts gyms and local charities

The last idea made me remember one trend I really want to get started--connecting more martial arts studios with local nonprofits for mutual benefit. What might this look like? Well, as I mentioned above, high school aged martial arts practitioners are often in need of community service hours. Imagine if their martial arts studio had some kind of ongoing relationship with a local Boys and Girls Club? Suddenly these students could fulfill volunteer hours by teaching at the after school program. And what does the martial arts studio get out of it? A great place to perform demonstrations and market their business for starters.

Of course, these relationships wouldn't have to take this shape. I would love to see more martial arts schools require community service as part of achieving a black belt. If the Rhetorical Roundhouse Network can help forge those kinds of community relations, I'm happy.

Ok, I've spent enough time brainstorming today and not enough time kicking--it's time to change that. A new semester is starting up and the stress is palpable. That's why it's so terribly important that I get out of this chair and into the dojang.

Thank you as always for reading. If you have other ideas for how the future Rhetorical Roundhouse Network might be of service, please let me know in an email ( or a comment wherever you saw this blog posted :)


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