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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Teaching as Learning: The Zarlengo Effect

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse! Last week we talked about dirty old books...sort of. I will be writing another installment in the DH and Martial Arts section this week about the wonderful world of e-literature, but, for today, I wanted to provide a brief update on my 10,000 kick journey.

As you might recall, my foot is broken. I actually go back to the doctor for new x-rays in about an hour so, fingers crossed, with any luck I can ditch these horrible horrible crutches today. All that said, it's been incredibly difficult to concentrate on developing my side kick. Yes, in my workout video from a few weeks ago, I do perform kicking techniques while lying down, but this only helps so much.

So what I wanted to talk about today are some of the ways you can train your skills without actually putting strenuous effort on your body. According to Bloom's Taxonomy, the highest level of learning is the ability to synthesize information or create something new.

A representation of Bloom's Taxonomy, the way to think about scaffolding student learning outcomes.

What's interesting is when you compare Bloom's Taxonomy to the actual activities that happen in a classroom and measure which activities lead to higher rates of retention among students. It might not surprise you to find out that the act of teaching other students is the activity which boast the highest percentage rate of knowledge retention at a whopping 90%!

Passive vs. Participatory teaching methods and their correlation to knowledge retention

So, while I can't physically practice my side kicks the way I'd like to right now, I can certainly focus my mind on the discrete technical elements of the kick by teaching a novice.

Enter Tanya P. Zarlengo, the sassiest PhD Candidate the University of South Florida has ever seen.

A rare Zarlengo sighting in Minneapolis, MN, a place she never wanted to be because it wasn't her home bar or couch with the puppers. Note: despite what she may tell you, she did have fun at Mall of America

In the past few months, Tanya has been working hard to finish up her dissertation so she can achieve full time employment doing what she loves and does best: programmatic and curricular planning for the Technical and Professional Communication program at USF. There's just one big thing standing in her way...her complete and total lack of faith in her self.

Tanya suffers from crippling self-doubt despite her expert knowledge and wealth of experience. Like many of us in the academic world, she's absorbed the emotional and mental turmoil of the dissertation process. But, it has not defeated her and I'm confident that she will emerge victorious.

And I'm not the only one. During my time at USF I've become very close with a few people I lovingly refer to as the "shrimp basket." Tanya (Tizzy) is one of the people that, when I'm in my own darkest moments, does everything she can to help me rise to the occasion and fight off my inner demons Supernatural style.

And so it goes that when Tanya is beating herself up for not being "smart enough" or not having enough time to finish, her fellow shrimps rally around her to lift her up and remind her of her own Winchester spirit.

A few months ago I got the opportunity to do this in a way that combined my friendship for Tizzy and my belief in the transformative power of martial arts training. She said to me that she "couldn't do the amazing things I could do" like pass my comprehensive exams without losing my mind or break a board. Tizzy was, well, in a Tizzy about defending her dissertation prospectus, something that we all knew she was more than capable of doing. So I bet her that she could, in fact, break a board, and that it wouldn't even take that much work.

She laughed in my face,

A self-proclaimed "non-athlete," Tizzy reminded me that the only time she ever "sportsballed" was when she played indoor soccer. Her signature move was to pin people against the wall. Her partner, Eric, told me that there is exactly ONE recorded moment in history where Tanya has ever been seen running.

That video has since been locked in a secret vault offshore on an island with loose extradition laws.

But I told her, breaking the board is like defending the prospectus and writing the dissertation, there is a physical and mental element, but success comes from knowledge of self, and from confidence in your abilities.

She brushed me off, but the bet was on.

So for the next few weeks, we trained. It's important to note here though that Tanya is in no way the traditional student of martial arts. With that in mind, I had to remember Bruce Lee's sage advice about making every learning experience unique for the individual student. I had to train Tizzy in a way that would lead to her success.

This meant a lot of kicking in bars. A lot of impromptu sessions with few spectators. A lot of small exercises lasting no more than 10 minutes.

Is this THE way to teach a side kick? No. There is no one way. But this process helped me examine my own beliefs about kicking, training, and individualized learning. And what I took out of it was a deeper sense of questioning my own habits and techniques.

So how did it turn out? I have a training montage for that... (I did try to censor it as best I could to keep the footage PG-13. Note: the only things Tanya loves more than The Dirty Shame and her doggies is middle fingers and F-bombs. You've been warned.)

In the end, Tanya was still in disbelief. But, the lesson held true--confidence is a source of power. After that day, Tizzy was officially a doctoral candidate and an honorary martial shrimp.

The fact is, I couldn't be more proud of my friend. I know its a difficult time for her right now, so I wanted to post this today to remind her of just how incredible she really is.

Tizzy--do the thing. I love you and I believe in you with everything I've got.

To conclude, I have to post this clip. These are words I love to tease Tanya with in the creepiest way possible, but I couldn't say with more sincerity. I hope you hear them and know what I say is true <3


I read this blog post about "fake" vs "real" female empowerement in martial arts this week from Budo Inoichi and wanted to share that here as well. Enjoy!

As always, thanks for reading.


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