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The Tao of Design

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In: Columns > Pro Dot Con

By Peter Fielding

Published on March 7, 2001

"Your pages must flow like water, but impact like stone."

Today we look in on a temple garden, and listen to the story unfold.

The light is iridescent, flickering blue and green, casting shadows over the freshly raked rock garden. Sitting among the stones and sand in front of The Great Monitor, are many xue sheng of varying age and skill. All are probing their thoughts, hands fixed in split-board position typing into the air. All seek enlightenment in the silence... until it is broken by an eager question.

"Brother Peter, is it true that you have observed the ways of Brother Jeffreysan?"

A rather burly figure with an odd metallic glint, and a blinding bald bean steps forward, head bowed and says, "Yes, little brother. Brother Jeffreysan's Kung Fu is very solid. Their style is stocky and classic, with moves that will draw you in before they strike. They are hard to shake, and often seem to appear as more than one person. Brother Jeffreysan is not afraid of the hordes that come for them, but tends to taunt them with logic, and third person narrative."

Then one of the other brothers speaks out. "And is it true that you have studied the moves of Brother Joshua?"

"It is also true. Brother Joshua's Kung Fu is very fast. He moves like fluid, and once he has momentarily entranced you, you will never see the next blow coming. It is said that Brother Joshua's Kung Fu is so complex that he can execute ten killing moves, and the onlooker would only see it as a yawn."

"We have even heard tale that you have seen the practicing of Sister Carole."

"Indeed brothers. Sister Carole's Kung Fu is very beautiful, her motions are arrayed and her outfits colorful. She will cover you in a blanket as you are beaten. You will barely feel the hits. Legend says that Sister Carole came to the monastery from a wild and dangerous land...Quebec...and that all her moves are echoed at the same time, in French."

The first brother to have started the questions contemplates for a moment, and then asks:

"Is their Kung Fu so different from each other?"

"That is what makes their Kung Fu so great little brother. Each one has created a style all their own. Through years of practice and honing, they come to this moment, having their own path.

"You must know, though, that in their differences they are very much the same. Each travels from the same base, with many shared moves, but their own interpretations of them. They are often influenced by watching each other practice, and are free with their own practicing for review. Though the building blocks may, at times, be the same, the result is an art that is truly unique."

The inquisitive brother seems to ponder again, before rebuffing, "But if one of our brothers or sisters mastered their style first, why would the rest not just watch them, and reproduce their moves."

Brother Peter looks pensive and heavy-hearted.

"Many brothers and sisters have, indeed, come along to copy the styles of the aforementioned, to great dismay. There have been entire temples full of xue sheng who have brandished their cowardly Dreamweaver blades before they could work with their hands, and copied the moves of each one in succession."

"What has happened to these wayward students, Brother Peter?"

"Some of them learn the error of these ways, and move on to become true students. A fair many end up beaten, by the roadsides, failing to ever truly learn their craft instead of just going through the motions. Some advance, but are sentenced to obscurity when they realize that they can only create impressive moves when someone else does it for them first. The rest merely fade away with the tides as a new trend sweeps them off...or they recycle each other in moebius strips of interlocked, uninspired, cut and paste motions."

The curious little brother grows silent then, rolling these thoughts around, but a young sister speaks up to fill the void.

"Brother Peter, you are a new arrival here, fresh from your journeys. I have studied under the ways of Sister Heather for many cycles, and I feel that her Kung Fu is superior."

"Yes, Sister Heather's Kung Fu is very impressive. Much like Brother Derek, she has the ability to coax an opponent in very close, calming and enchanting them, and then strike with a completely sturdy base. Sister Heather knows well the ways of content, and contentment. Often times she seems to appear as a mirror of herself from surrounding, reflective objects, and strikes from the opposite direction that you see.

"I cannot say that her Kung Fu is superior though, sister. It is different, yes, but she is an artist of the same caliber as any mentioned. She is remarkably skilled at her craft, she even taught me of humility once, though I will someday challenge her to a game of connect four."

The young sister, seemingly slightly perturbed, then asks in a smarmy tone, "And you, who has come to us so recently, who has watched the ways of these artists, who do you think you are to teach?"

"I am merely xue sheng, little sister, like all else. My Kung Fu has aspects of many of those mentioned, and some that come from none of the above. I practice my movements every day and rake these stones and this sand into the shapes that I see in my mind. I have purpose in how I arrange them, learning at each step how to cast the light how I wish, and why to do so. Each one of these people ends up affecting how I see the art, they, and hundreds of others who influence the motions of my Kung Fu."

As a calm of introspection falls over the group, the original little questioner speaks out. "Why is it then that we call all these artists 'xue sheng', student, and not 'Sensei', Master?"

At that the lumbering bald one smiles and says succinctly, "Because they are still learning."

To whit the young brother asks, "But who then is the teacher?"

"Why, you are, of course."

The little monk stumbles on that thought a moment, and utters, "But I am only a student."

Brother Peter concludes, "Exactly."

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Peter Fielding makes the pretty things for Pixelflo.com, while he hunkers down in the frozen tundra of western Canada. Receiving his email by data dog sled, he is most often found lighting miniature garbage can fires for the homeless baby seals that power his cpu, and lobbying for the inclusion of Full Contact Page Design in the next Winter Olympics.

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