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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

The Sword Always Cuts Both Ways: Taking Care of Yourself over the Summer

Hello and welcome back to the Rhetorical Roundhouse blog! Last week my schedule was a little fast and loose since I was busy ringing in the brand new Dr. Tanya P. Zarlengo! Woohoo! It was a great day for the Shrimp Basket and, therefore, the world.

But, as much as I love a good party, it's time (past time actually) to get back to work. And that's exactly what I wanted to write about this week.

As you may recall, in the past few weeks I visited California to present at the 5th annual Martial Arts Studies Conference . The following week, I worked eight hours a day for seven days in a row grading AP Language's exactly as fun as it sounds. That all being said, when I was finally back on my regular summer schedule, whatever that is, I expected to get right back into the swing of things. You know, writing dissertation chapters, preparing research articles for publication, crafting job market documents so I can impress potential university employers in the coming year...but, instead, I binge watched Lucifer on Netflix.

Why? How!?

The answer is fairly simple--being semi-self-employed is HARD! What I mean is, there's a common misconception about academic labor. Most people think teachers get summers off, for example. In actuality, summer can be a non-stop stress vortex. Am I making enough to pay my bills for these next three months? Am I prepared to teach these new classes in the Fall? Am I checking off every item i put on my to-do list at the end of last summer, a list that's longer than Santa's?? I have a PILE of books sitting in my living room that I actually want to read, many of them purely for pleasure, and even these luxuries can be a source of stress.

Not pictured: the empty fifth on the desk

Ok, ok, you get it. Having to manage yourself over summer can be taxing and stressful and create feelings of inadequacy. So what do you do about it and why am I moaning about this issue here? Well, when I felt at my lowest, my most apathetic about life and all my professional pursuits, when my writing slowed to a crawl and my exercise routine became nearly non-existent, I decided that I needed to go straight to the source of the problem.


I've probably written about this before, but, for as long as I can remember, I've gone through cycles (usually lasting weeks at a time) of high-energy-productivity-social-butterfly-giddy-boy-happiness, followed by a total absence of motivation. Usually, if I force myself outside, to follow a routine, or just exercise regularly, I can get out of these depressed slumps fairly quickly. But this one was different. I was different. So I knew I had to do some more serious reflection.

If my normal routines usually helped me get over my slump but they suddenly weren't helping, did I subconsciously reject those routines? Was my body telling me to reconsider some of these habits and, therefore, the kinds of life paths they push me towards? In order to know, I decided to take a hard look at my own motivations, my long-term goals, and the steps I was taking to get there. If I was doing things routinely (like academic writing for example) that didn't match up with these long term goals, how could I expect to maintain motivation for the tasks?

This is where the palgwe came in handy. Just as these eight principles were once used for divination purposes as part of the I-Ching, I used them recently as a sort of heuristic. For example, the keon principle represents creative energy. To connect this to my concern about motivations (or lack there of), I simply asked myself the question, what is it that you like to create/build/make etc. In other words, by what creative acts do I feel fulfilled? I found my answers to reaffirm many activities, professional as well as personal, in my life that drive me. I also found these questions led me to set new intentions related to each principle, ones that gave me hope that I could pull myself up out of this muck once again.

Follow the Bagua/Palgwe back to a state of oneness.

If you find this interesting or helpful, I've listed the principles and corresponding questions I asked below along with some of my answers.


1. Keon: What do you want to make?

Students happy, informative/entertaining content that people enjoy, a difference

To do this I will make new routines that incorporate these focuses.

2. Tae: What makes you happy?

Helping people, exploring new places, being outside.

To do this I will celebrate Florida and all it's beauty before I have to leave it

3. Ri: What makes you feel spontaneous?

Meeting new people, trying new cuisine, learning new things

To do this I will accomplish a Florida bucket list in the next year.

4. Jin: What makes you feel confident?

When I feel smart, funny, attractive, physically fit.

To do this I will improve my physical and scholarly reputation/stature.

5. Seon: When do you feel the least resistant?

When I trust the people I'm with, when I know I'm working towards well-scaffolded goals.

To do this I will allow myself to wander a path of my choosing

6. Gam: When do you feel the most adaptable?

When I have faith, when I feel confident in who I am/want to be.

To do this I will listen closely to what it is I want so I know when my goals change.

7. Gan: When do you feel the most decisive?

When I'm not so concerned about protecting others' interests, when I'm confident in myself

To do this I will affirm my specific strengths every week.

8. Gon: When do you feel the most receptive?

When I remember my humility, when I let my guard down, when I stop being so selfish.

To do this I will ask myself weekly if I'm still on the path to my desires.


Maybe it's not groundbreaking or even something that would make sense to other martial artists out there, but it helped me. Especially when I found myself on the roof of a parking garage practicing my pumsae yesterday morning and meditating on these questions. It was in a similar way that Rhetorical Roundhouse was born so, it can't be all that silly.

In Kendo, the Japanese art of sword fighting, there's a common saying regarding how the katana is always pointed at your opponent as well as yourself. This means that every strike you land, every time you cut your adversary, you are simultaneously wounding yourself on a spiritual level. Without knowing this or ever reflecting on it, even the most talented samurai could find themselves lost, cut to pieces by their own unmediated violence.

In our own lives, we might use different instruments to accomplish our own goals, ones much less dangerous than a sword, but these too can harm us if used constantly without critical attention. In short, taking care of yourself sometimes means temporarily looking away from your adversary, shifting your focus from tasks and goals, and looking inward at your own motives instead.

That's probably enough for today. Check back soon for the next Tiny Tiger Lecture video as well as more exciting content.

As always, thanks for reading.


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