There is a Zen proverb -- When a master points at the moon, many people neversee the moon, they only look at the master.
Bruce Lee said it in a slightly different way, when he told the student, "It is like a finger pointing a way to the moon." When the student gazes at his hand, Bruce slaps his head and says, "Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory."
I've been very busy since the Chen Xiaoxing workshop on Xinjia Yilu two weeks ago and haven't written much about it since that time. Instead of writing, I've been practicing the movements we went through in Chicago. It has been on my mind a lot.
The workshop was a great experience, and it was organized in a way that promoted learning. In workshops past, I would scribble as many notes as possible during breaks or at the end of the day, trying to remember the little details. In this workshop, remembering wasn't a problem.
Chen Xiaoxing would demonstrate a sequence of movements several times -- slowly -- and then he would include fajing where appropriate. Then he led the students through the sequence several times. Occasionally he would pause and go through one part slowly to show the correct way. Then we would work on the sequence individually and he would go around, watch people and make corrections where necessary. There were moments when I thought, "Okay, we've practiced this long enough, let's move to the next sequence," but I told myself to stop thinking that way and use the opportunity to really drill it into the mind. In the end, it was one of the better workshops I've attended as far as learning a form.
If you watch Chen Xiaoxing do a movement from Xinjia Yilu, it may look different than the same movement performed by his older brother and the Chen Family Standard-Bearer for the 19th Generation, Chen Xiaowang. I took a private lesson on Xinjia Yilu from Chen Xiaoxing's son, Chen Ziqiang, and he taught the opening sequences a little differently than Chen Xiaoxing does. Chen Bing's version of Xinjia Yilu will look different from Chen Ziqiang's.
So when I was in the workshop, watching the Grandmaster as he went through each movement, I thought about the differences in the way different Chen masters do the movements and I remembered the Zen proverb. I reminded myself not to focus on the teacher, but rather, I tried to see through the particular movement and gaze on the moon. In this case, the moon would be the body mechanics and internal principles at work in this particular sequence.
When I first began studying Chen Taiji back in 1998, I remember thinking it strange that the masters often varied from one to the other in the way they performed. Later, I realized that they were each artists. They learned the basic strokes and then added their own personality, strengths and their own artistic flair to the movements. Now, I think it's fun to look at the differences. Sometimes, I uncover new ways of doing things and I can see concepts in action that I didn't see in a different master.
I've been remaining faithful to the way Chen Xiaoxing taught the movements two weeks ago. But I don't necessarily expect that to last forever.
At a workshop that I conducted last year, a couple of my karate black belt friends attended. They would occasionally want specifics. Exactly where is the hand supposed to be on this movement? Exactly what is the stance supposed to be here? They are accustomed to everything being exactly the same, and all black belts expected to perform exactly the same way, and they weren't prepared for a situation where I wasn't moving their hand a millimeter this way or that way to "correct" them. Instead, I tried to talk about the internal body mechanics they were trying to achieve. Whether your foot is pointed at 45 degrees or 40 degrees doesn't really matter if you have the body mechanics and structure that you need.
Obsessing on little details like that is like focusing on the finger and missing the moon. You can hold your hand in one particular spot, but if you don't have the ground or peng, and if you don't have the mechanics you need when you begin to move, it doesn't matter where your hand is.
And so, I tried to see deeper as I watched Chen Xiaoxing perform the movements repeatedly. How is he shifting the weight, how is he using the kua, how is he rotating dan tien, and can I see the relaxed strength unfolding through the body?
That's the moon, and as I practice the movements over and over, I may add my own little artistic flair here and there. When my own students learn it, and they do it in a slightly different way than I do, I won't care as long as they see the moon.