They all sat around the table as spaghetti with meatballs was served.
The master took his fork and tried to spear a juicy meatball that was on his plate. He missed.
The master kept trying to spear the meatball and it kept slipping away from the fork, so he chased it around the plate, stabbing and missing.
After a moment, he looked up at his young students seated around the table. Each student was chasing a meatball around the plate just like the master was doing.
That is how the master does it, so that is how it must be done. The master is showing us the way!
I am paraphrasing this story. In Chen Xiaowang's version, the master may have been using chopsticks - it has been a while, but the gist of the story is the same, and he laughs when he tells it, but as you look around at the students who are listening, you see them smile and shake their heads because they see the truth in the story.
Yes, we are all guilty. We see a master do a movement one way and we think, "That is the way it is done. There is no variation!"
Later, we see the master doing a movement differently, and we wonder why he changed it. And if the master makes a mistake, students who follow blindly continue to make the mistake.
Then we get confused when we see a different master doing the same movement differently. But THAT is not the way it is done! Some masters of Xingyi don't bend, or "seat" the wrist when the lead hand is forward in San Ti. Some hold it another way. Some bagua masters used the ox tongue palm, others used the willow leaf. Once a master does it one way THAT IS THE WAY YOU MUST DO IT, or at least that is what students often think.
Some of my students will ask questions about small, subtle placements of hands, or one particular way of doing one tiny part of a movement. Sometimes, I tell them to follow the way that I learned it, but I sometimes tell them that it doesn't matter. You can do it this way, or you can do it that way. As long as you are maintaining the proper structure and mechanics, some of the little things don't matter. Also, as long as it still works in application, that is a good guide to follow.
Gongfu masters are human beings. Honor them, learn from them, get corrected by them, and follow them as well as you can. But don't check your brains at the door. Think, study, and apply your knowledge and carry the art forward. But don't be frozen in time like a snapshot just because "that's the way the master did it." And don't forget -- other masters might have a better way. Don't become too attached to one way of doing something.
Don't be a meatball.