An essential read for anyone interested not only in Calligraphy, but in the Way of learning and the purpose of practice of Chinese and Japanese traditional and martial arts. An excerpt from:
Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society, by Yuehping Yen
"But acquiring the brush techniques of a master's work is not the end of the story. Apart from the outward form, there are other things to be copied. If one can produce only writing which looks like that of a past master, one is scorned as a second-rate copyist, a collector of past masters' writing. This is certainly not enough to make a good calligrapher. According to Yao:
More important than linmo is to study the model work (dutie), so that you can learn how ancient masters organize the rhythm of brushstrokes. You also need to learn how they master the force, because even just a slight difference in force will result in enormous difference in what you write. Apart from brush techniques, force and rhythm, there is also the problems of tools and postures. You can hardly demand all of these factors to be the same as ancient masters, that is why it is easy to achieve similarity in form but hard to achieve the similarity in spirit (xingsi yi; shensi buyi).
He then drew the example of the three famous copies (moben) of Wang Xizhi's Orchid Pavilion Preface to prove his point: all these three copies adopted the method of tracing the outline of the original characters first then filling in with ink (shuanggou). But the differences in individual writing habits and tools, i.e. brushes with different animal hair, hair length and volume, explain the fact that these three copies in fact look very different. Therefore similarity in form does not guarantee the similarity in spirit or shen.
What imbues calligraphy with life is its shen (spirit or aura, Chapter 3). For certain, copying also implies the assimilation of the spirit. But this cannot become the objective of learning before the apprentice has succeeded in reproducing the appearance of the master's characters. What is interesting about the order of acquisition here is that appearance is regarded as a prerequisite to spirit/shen. Nevertheless once spirit/shenis acquired, appearance becomes redundant and is demoted as secondary. The outward form is only a necessary means to the end. But it is important to bear in mind that, while copying the outward appearance, the apprentice also appropriates the bodily techniques of the past master. Besides, the fact that similarity in appearance makes similarity in spirit possible, though not inevitable, means that moulding the body of the apprentice is a prerequisite to the assimilation of the spirit, at least in the case of calligraphy. In this regard, the appropriation of form is ultimately the appropriation of the spirit, even though the former does not guarantee the latter. Ideally, three categories are copied while copying the master's work: calligraphic form, body techniques and shen/spirit. Copying as a learning method is indeed a process of somatic and spiritual or moral assimilation. In other words, to learn Chinese calligraphy satisfactorily is to undergo a somatic and spiritual or moral transformation that brings one closer to past masters, who are often paragons of moral virtue.
It is also worth mentioning that the training of the body as an essential means for the training of the spirit and mind, well exemplified in both folk understanding and orthodox ideology of calligraphy, is indicative of the Chinese conception of the relationship between body and mind (xin). Without an upright spirit, the hand cannot possibly produce upright characters. Body and mind are not conceived to be alien to each other; they are channels that lead to each other. The intangible spirit or mind can be reached only through the tangible body. Therefore, a physical technology of transformation is simultaneously and ultimately a spiritual one."