Orthodoxy vs. Reform

I said in the previous post that I would compare the philosophies of George Xu and Adam Hsu. 

Orthodox thinkers generally regard the received tradition as so vast and rich in its depth that with dedication and perseverance the full range of knowledge from the past can be revealed. 

Reform thinkers tend to view tradition as a source, but as a broken source.  They see inspiration and knowledge from the past as either lost, obscured or inadequate for the current era.

People often make the mistake of thinking that orthodox thinkers are inflexible, but that is not true.  They simply take traditional sources as the guide and measure of change and innovation.  It is clear from Adam Hsu's book that he is an orthodox thinker.  He is a creative innovator who sees orthodoxy (or orthopraxy if you prefer) as the source.  He tells us that because most people do not have time for traditional gongfu we should find ways to accommodate them so that the arts will continue to have broad appeal.  However, the heart of gongfu is in preserving and passing on what our teachers' practiced.  Through our practice of tradition we have a direct link to the past.

Roots from Davestravel.comReform thinkers run the risk of being shallow in their perspective.  They tend to oscillate between lofty goals and pragmatic dogma, so they are easily sidetracked.  Still, if the reform thinker is correct in his assessment that traditional lineages are a broken source of knowledge, then he is also correct in seeking to rediscover the original source of inspiration outside of lineage transmissions. 

While I was studying 3+ hours everyday with George Xu in my twenties, he was constantly seeking to unravel the mysteries of a legendary past while simultaneously looking to improve on the practices of his teachers.  He was convinced that his teachers had not just hidden information out of a misplaced obsession with secrecy, but were actually transmitting errors because they were cut off from the sources of inspiration.

I'm an orthodox thinker by nature, given a choice, I'll usually choose depth and discipline--accepting that the results are somewhere on a distant horizon.  But those years of listening to George Xu took their toll on me.  It occurred to me that there must have existed at one time a milieu which was capable of producing the internal martial arts, and it was pretty clear that neither my teacher nor his teachers had experienced such a milieu.  This insight slowly lead me away from George Xu because the questions he asked tended to keep him focusing on the simple and absurdly pragmatic:  Is it good for fighting?

free horizonOf course George Xu was/is aware of the pitfall of shallowness; given a choice between two methods of training which have the potential to produce comparable results, he would invariably choose the one likely to be better for one's health.

George Xu now claims to have corrected the major errors of his teachers through his own experiments.  His writings are difficult to understand, as literature they are more rant than poetry or prose (you may find yourself trying to translate them back into Chinese).  Yet, I find them brilliant and compelling. 

Still, he has not rediscovered or recreated that mileu of the past which inspired these arts.  He has more or less solved a puzzle, found a mathematical proof.  My interest still lays in that original mileu.  In the end I reject both of these teachers nostalgia for the distant past.  I hold to the notion that the complete source of inspiration is available to us right now, contingent only on us letting go of aggression.  (I know, it sounds weak right?)

While we need not draw battle lines between orthodoxy and reform, ensconced as we are in traditional practices, we must walk a path, consciously or unconsciously, which privileges one of these two views.