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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Reminding People of their Strength: Between Theory and Practice

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse, your one-stop-shop for exciting Tae Kwon Do related content, scholarship, and updates from the world of martial arts studies. This week I had the exciting opportunity to revisit St. Leo University and train with the lovely young ladies from Tri Sigma. You may remember last time I visited, I wasn't fully myself :)

This time around, my foot was unbroken (hooray!), but I was missing Zeesha, one of my favorite lady warriors, as my co-instructor. Thankfully Liz Ricketts and Ashley Mandracken stepped up to help me show the sisters that they had the power within themselves to outmaneuver a stronger, larger opponent. Just like last time, I think all who participated had a lot of fun and took away some useful knowledge.

Some of the key concepts we focused on included:

1. Generating power, speed, and torque from your hips/waist.

This helped students understand that they don't need a lot of upper-body strength to create power in strikes or to escape basic grabs. Proper technique can outclass brute strength.

2. Focusing on survival and escape is more important than protecting possessions or retaliating.

This message is especially clear when discussing robbery situations. For example, when holding a purse, it's always better to hold the strap loosely so it can be easily stripped form your person instead of clutching it tightly or wearing the strap across your chest. Why? Because if a mugger grabs the purse and runs, you don't want to be dragged down along with it and sustain unnecessary injury.

3. Despite changing circumstances or settings, basic self-defense principles can still be applied.

I hadn't planned this to be a major takeaway but I'm really happy it was. Toward the beginning of the seminar, I asked the attendees to close their eyes and think of a situation where they would feel completely powerless. I asked them to observe every detail and think about what parts made them feel most threatened. Toward the end of the seminar, they shared some of their responses with me and we worked through simulations of their scenarios. What they discovered is that even when they imagined an attacker in their dorm room, trapping them against the wall and an awkwardly high bed, that there is still an opportunity for escape.

I love teaching women's self defense for those kinds of moments. Truly, I love teaching because of those kinds of moments. There's something special about watching someone realize pertinent information for the first time. In this particular classroom, I get to watch young women start to take some power back even if, in no other way, by simply rethinking their own positionality, strength, or potential.

The one thing I wanted to discuss today is something I realized about myself actually. As someone who wears at least two distinctly different teacher hats (the academic teaching writing and the martial artist teaching Tae Kwon Do) it's sometimes difficult to remember the major differences between the two. For example, as someone who has had a professional home in an English department for the last ten years, I understand the importance of discussing gender as a fluid-not-fixed performance, one that is socially constructed. As someone who has also had a professional home in a Tae Kwon Do dojang for the past fourteen years, however, I recognize that their are important biological and physiological differences between various populations of my students. Furthermore, failure on my part to acknowledge these differences could result in bodily harm. In other words, if I don't teach students a variety of techniques designed for people of different heights, weights, centers of gravity, muscle mass, flexibility, dexterity, pain tolerance, etc then I am being unethical in my profession. This Budo Inochi blog about "real" and "fake" female empowerment in martial arts sums up this point pretty well.

Why am I saying this here though? Because the underlying point is an important one for my academic readers to focus on. Remember: what's good in theory is NOT always good in practice. What's good ideally does not always function in reality. Most importantly, we have to always be flexible when considering the places where we enact our scholarship. This means trying to strike a balance between, say, teaching practical, foundational skills that could help a smaller, physically weaker, person escape a larger and stronger attacker while simultaneously avoiding gendered stereotypes or reinforcing socially limiting binaries.

I think I did my best to walk that line this week, but I'll continue to improve as my academic and martial arts careers grow together. I hope this gives you some ways to start thinking about the practice of your own theory/research in other aspects of your life.

Short one today, but I hope you enjoyed the video! Thank you again to the Tri Sigma chapter at St. Leo for having me--I look forward to working with you again in the future if you'll have me :)

And thank you all for reading.


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