When I was in 3rd grade I was taught how to use an abacus.
For the uninitiated, an abacus is a calculating tool that was adopted before written numeral systems and used beans or stones in grooved mechanisms to perform basic arithmetic.
Three days were dedicated to this particular subject.
Real abacuses were brought in and we were tested on our ability to solve addition and subtraction problems by sliding the beads back and forth on a wire frame.
It was explained to us that though we had fancy Texas Instrument solar powered calculators it was essential to know how to do math without them.
Conversely, around that same age I was also enrolled in a Tae Kwon Do class.
I grew up in the age of the Karate Kid and anything that involved wearing a gi had my full attention.
Moreover, as a small, oft picked on child with an older brother and a younger sister this was knowledge that was directly applicable to my life.
Finally I was learning something that I could actually use.
At long last, not only would I be able to defend myself but also physically intimidate those who stood in my way.
No longer would I be at the mercy of those who wished to take my seat on the bus or cut in front of me in line.
All who wished to bully me would know my wrath.
So when I was told by my Sensei during the first day of class that I was to learn the martial arts so that I would ‘never have to use them’ the idea seemed patently absurd. Did this man not know the definition of his own subject? This was the art of war for crying out loud! Furthermore, if I did not intend to use it why would I or any other small child be taking this class? Did he understand the amount of ridicule you get as the child who hasn’t hit his growth spurt? Had he not seen the end of the Karate Kid when a beaten and bruised Daniel Laruso busts out a crane kick to defeat the Cobra Kai Dojo and defend his honor (Cue Joe Esposito’s ‘You’re The Best Around’)?
Of course that was Karate and this was Tae Kwon Do.
I dropped out shortly thereafter.
To this day, 21 years later, I have not touched an abacus.
However as a 29 year old who still has yet to hit his growth spurt there is rarely a week that passes that I don’t think some part of me might want to know how to defend himself.
Maybe I should start taking Krav Maga.
With its combination of threat neutralization and aggressive counter attacks it is made for the real world.
Though hopefully I won’t have to use it.