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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

When You're Here, You're Family.

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse, your one-stop shop for rhetoric, Tae Kwon Do, and everything in between. Last week I shared another set of flexibility exercises in the stretch series. Be sure to check out the full playlist as well as other cool videos on Youtube--don't forget to like share and subscribe!

This week, I want to make fun of Olive Garden for just a little bit. When I was about 20, I got my first serving job at the OG just after they opened a brand new store in my hometown of Danville. Because it was a new store, the Darden corporation brought in trainers from other large stores in the region to help the new crew get up to snuff in time for our grand opening. This training period was about two weeks of trainers and managers laying it on thick, telling us new recruits that we were part of the Darden family now. For a while, I got suckered in and waited my tables like a good little employee. But eventually, the charm wore off, and I became aware of just how much I hated that dead-end job, how I kept getting shin splints from running around all day without any kind of break, and how the only thing I could honestly recommend at my restaurant was the soup and salad...and bread sticks, of course. The point is, my Olive Garden family was an illusion, something created for me by more corporate overlords to feel less alone, a rhetorical strategy of identification creating a sort of imagined community.

The realization I had about Olive Garden is similar to one many children have about their own biological family. Just because a child is born into a family, just because they share some kind of genetic similarities (or maybe they don't!), does this mean that they automatically MUST feel a deep sense of kinship with their relatives? As a kid, I used to enjoy going to our annual Todd family reunions--mostly because it meant staying in a hotel that had a pool or going to the beach. But, as I grew older, I realized that these family reunions were a special kind of strange--every year I'd find myself asking Mom the same question: "how is this person related to me?" Being the wonderful southern woman she is, mom always told me, in copious detail, how this person was my Grandmother's sister's daughter's husband's nephew...and I'd forget immediately. This pattern continued until I stopped going altogether.

As I've gotten older, I've started to appreciate the ritual much more, though, when Mom told me it was my time to start organizing such an event, I swiftly declined. Why? Because it's not the ritual that's important, it's the people involved. Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against all my loveable Todds--I just never really learned who any of them are! That's the price you pay for only seeing such a large family once a year. But, recently, I decided there is a group of people who I do find enriching enough to deserve a ritual gathering. Not a group foisted upon me by some outside force like my Olive Garden family, and not some group I was born into like my Todd family, instead, this is a group of amazing people I've chosen and who have chosen me--my Tae Kwon Do family.

From left to right: Adam, Spencer (me!), Cassie, Ben W (dressed as "evil Ben"), Ben G, Rich, Master Rupert. Special front row guests include Liam and Keegan Dohman! Not pictured: Jonny and Chris who showed up later and Bill who couldn't make it this time.

So last week, before the semester kicked off, I flew up to Blacksburg, VA for the first annual Tae Kwon Do family reunion at Pil Seung Tae Kwon Do. The idea fairly simple--train hard together for 3-4 hours, then party hard together for the rest of the night! Spoiler alert: we succeeded at both :) This is, of course, due to the ever-generous Master Rupert Cox for not only allowing us to train with him on a Saturday afternoon, but then for hosting us at his place for a after dinner campfire. Master Rupert is always giving more of himself than any one man should and that's what makes him a true Tae Kwon Do Sabunim, a true master. Though, having said that, his back kick is pretty good too... So kamsahamnida to Master Rupert for having us, but thank you to all who participated and took time out of their weekend to get a little sentimental and a lot physical.


We kicked off the training session with a round-robin style stretch circle where each person led the group in a couple stretches each. This was a fun way for us to share some of our flexibility exercises while warming up. We followed this up with about an hour of pumsae training that turned into a pretty in-depth clinic thanks to the insight of Master Rupert as well as the competition knowledge Johnny, Ben, and Cassie bring to the table.

Not the least rag-tag group of ruffians I've ever seen...

From start to finish a well-oiled machine

Then we turned the heat up a bit and worked some basic kicks in small groups. This is about when some folks really started to sweat! Finally, it was time for the main event--my proudest invention: stipulation sparring!

In this stipulation Ben had to pretend he inchworm of some sort?

This is a pretty simple exercise that works well with a smaller group of sparring students--or black belts looking to have fun on a Saturday. What we did was, throughout the day, if you had an idea for an interesting restriction to apply to a sparring match, you'd write it down and put it in the hat to draw from later. These stipulations could range from tactical restrictions like "must only use front-leg kicks" or "can only use linear kicks" to sillier more comedic ones like "must taunt your opponent after every kick with bonus points for Monty Python references."

Always bow to show respect before engaging in silly behavior. Cassie sparred and FORCED me to not make contact because of some kind of injury. Real bully she is

Mr. Chris attacking Master Rupert. Typically a recipe for disaster

Unless you fight smart like me and kick him right in the finger. Oh. did I mention he had just recently DRILLED a hole through that same finger while working on his roof?

I await my punishment. Most likely beheading by axe kick.

Lucky for you, I was kind enough to also get a few choice videos of these epic battles. Thanks Rich and Matt for manning the camera! I hope you enjoy the highlight reel with a VERY special finale I think everyone will get a **kick** out of!

As always, thank you for watching and reading. Next week I'll likely be shifting gears back toward my research and the impending job search so stay tuned!


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