Way back a couple of editions ago I read Ansel's books, the complete set, I didn't get it very much, he was using foot candles and an SEI meter, it stumped me for years. Then the next edition came out and it was then I understood what he was saying, perhaps I had advanced in technique and visualization. After that the New Zone System manual came out and it confirmed in a more succinct way what I had understood from the Ansel Adams series. Finally the Zone IV manual by Fred Picker was out and it was a dream come true for a procedure that could be done by roll film users, although the others are great for that too. I had a series of Ah-ha moments, mostly while sleeping, and many OK moments.
The idea I'm getting at is that it isn't always apparent the first time around. I could describe how to row a boat but until someone actually goes out and does it they only have an idea of what it's about. After they row a bit they soon get the Ah-ha moment, maybe not the first time but soon after.
Photography, analog, is a very complicated process with the equipment, film, and darkroom, as Brett Weston said, "One should keep it as simple as possible", I agree. The tendency to change more than one variable derails the process. You are right to keep what you know and go from there.
What have I learned from Ansel Adams? Work hard and work 'em over really good' as John Sexton said about what Ansel did on his prints. I learned a system for how to approach a subject using the materials at hand.
What have I learned from Edward Weston? Simplify and concentrate on the subject.
What have I learned from Brett Weston? Simplify and follow your own voice.
What have I learned from Paul Strand? Any subject can be beautiful if properly composed, seen, and executed.
What have I learned from Ralph Gibson? There are three degrees of separation from what we see to a black and white photographic print.
What have I learned from Eugene Smith? There is a story of Life in every photograph.
What Have I learned from .......? There is no beginning, middle, or ending.