At the last Geekquinox a conversation about martial arts erupted, with the embarrassing result that my ignorance of the various styles was profound. Ask me the difference between Kung Fu, Karate, Judo, Tae Kwan Do or any other martial art and I would only be able to tell you "Uh, I guess they use different moves and...uh...have different styles and...stuff?"
My friends were baffled when I confessed that I didn't know, for example, Karate was Chinese and Kung Fu Japanese (or perhaps it's the other way around). They also claimed that one could tell which martial art was being used simply by observing the fighters, a skill that, frankly, seems like magic to me. I can tell the difference between a punch and a kick and a Karate chop, but only because my Big Jim action figure (doll) could perform those moves. The artists in martial arts movies are generally so skilled that to me the fights are a blur of flying arms and legs, impossible to deconstruct and analyze - at least to my untrained eye.
Given my well-known love of genre film, including martial arts films, my friends were astonished at my inability to discern between martial arts. My only excuse is that I'm focused more on how the arts serve the story; a kick or a punch, however delivered, is to me a means of advancing plot, theme or character. Of course I understand that nuance is important, and that it's quite possible to deliver a powerful filmic message by having a character choose one martial arts style over another. But it's one of those distinctions I don't have the knowledge or background to appreciate. I have the same problem with weapons in action movies. I understand the difference between a pistol and a rifle and a grenade, but each serves the same essential function in narrative.
My feeble excuse served only to cause further mirth: "Well, it's like a sport...and I know nothing about sports, so..."
Yes, ignorance as an excuse for further ignorance. Maybe this is why I left politics - my debate tactics are surely flawed.
On a positive note, I've learned once again that my ignorance is vast in both breadth and depth, a fact from which I draw great solace, for as the wise man said, the path to wisdom is paved with the stones of foolishness. I think I heard that in a Kung Fu movie once.