Spotlight Comment by Sifu Paul Wang
Aaron Begg, as a student and teacher of WingChun, embodies a special mix of intellectual comprehension and practical expression that I see in the best representatives of the art. He has always asked me questions that emerge from a lot of thought and experience.
Not only that, but despite a training hiatus due to personal challenges, he has repeatedly shown the inner will to resurrect his passion time and again. This is also a rare trait that will serve him well towards mastery.
Instructor of WingChun Baltimore
What made you join the Academy?
I saw a flyer on the ground with Sifu Paul doing Man-Wu and it looked pretty cool! It was 2006, around New Year’s, and I had plans to try out a bunch of different martial arts with the goals of self-defense and better health, so I decided to start here.
I’d done some boxing and wrestling in my youth so I guess I’d had these goals for some time, but they’d never materialized. I think what first hooked me was the way my instructors, from the very first class, were able to connect meaning and practical application to the movements themselves, which had an addictive quality.
When I found myself unable to resist practicing Zi Ng Ma (Meridian Stance) while riding the bus, or opening a door with a Gam Sau (Pressing Arm), I was having fun in the movements, but I was also developing a very practical felt sense of autonomy in my own body and in relation to other bodies.
Like many at that beginning stage, I still had doubts, and I think I annoyed my Sihings a bit with questions about mixed martial arts and other self-defense styles (which they nonetheless patiently answered). But I never did end up following my plan of trying other martial arts. Early on, I could see that WingChun was something special. This included a new awareness of my body’s own capacities and practical intelligence, and a growing confidence in technique. I think this is part of what Dai Sifu means when he says you don’t need to wear a weapon.
What kept you hooked to WingChun?
Hooked is a good word. My long-term relationship to WingChun is really about the way it’s kept pulling me back in. In 2010 after about four years of training I moved to Germany. The irony was that even though I was closer to the HQ than ever, I couldn’t train where I lived because we still didn’t have a school where I was in Berlin.
So I went a year of training very little; first just forms and drills, and then as things got busier, just forms. Then one day I went to do Tsum Kiu and realized I’d forgotten the second half! I think what drew me back to WingChun again was the feeling of all I was losing by not training. This was of course something I felt in my body–the softening of muscles and bones, the fascia losing its intelligence. When Dai Sifu says, “If you feel weak, you are,” he’s right! And this certainly affected the sense of bodily autonomy I had gained over years of training a powerfully effective mode of self-defense. Also missing was the experience of new movements that comes with working one’s way through the WingChun system. I realized how much my brain had come to thrive on the constant acquisition of new movement, and the mental plasticity and creativity that came along with it–even to the point where I could see a difference in my personal relationships. WingChun had become a (missing) part of me.
Before I moved back to the US I made a trip to Bruchsal to attend classes and the annual summer Seminar as a way to jumpstart my practice again. Besides being a ton of fun, it was also a painful reminder of how much I’d lost in that year of not training. After days of classes and seminar my forearms had swelled so much they looked like sausages! I was surprised though to see how quickly my body recovered, and also how quickly I was able to reclaim my practice and attain Pre-Primary Grade after I returned to the Bay Area, with the help of Sifu Paul.
I faced a second training challenge when I moved to Baltimore in 2013. I was starting graduate school at the same time our child was born and it was a difficult couple years. I’d initially looked to WingChun to keep me grounded and help with countering the stress that comes with little sleep or free time. But it was difficult to continue without the support and training friends I’d had access to in Berkeley. Again I watched as my practice waned, and along with it my motivation and confidence. I think the thing that ultimately brought me back was the same thing that had before: habit.
I felt intensely how much WingChun was not just another activity but a mode of growth for me, one a lot more integrated into other parts of myself than I might have thought. I realized I needed to create ways of moving forward on the path despite not learning new material. I went more deeply into the forms and fundamentals, experimented with movement combinations and combat scenarios, and eventually began to teach a small group of students. The way forward for me is to teach what I know, and continue to learn whenever I can. Over the years I’ve become more and more grateful for the supportive training I’ve received from my instructors. That training has given me a foundation for continuing on the path. Given enough time training, the WingChun habit is hard to break!
How do you apply WingChun in daily life?
I apply WingChun daily toward the goals I originally set out: health and self-defense. To my mind these are not wholly distinct. Using our bodies in varied ways re-patterns the way we move through the world, and this changes how we relate to various situations.
To give an example, it wasn’t until I began training toward Technician Grade that I really began to notice my spine. Of course, we activate our vertebrae intensely even at the first moments of Lat Sao (Casting Arms), but it wasn’t until much later that I began to feel my spine come alive as a key to the rest of the body and as a weapon. This is true from the standpoint of physical health. It seems simple, but if we don’t regularly articulate our spines in various ways, which can easily happen if you sit at a desk all day, they begin to lose mobility and we open ourselves up to chronic pain and other problems. But it’s also true for self-defense. In WingChun we use the spine’s mobility to transmit and amplify energetic power from the ground and lower limb joints to the upper limbs. At the same time, the spinal posture we train in our stances and in each movement transmits another kind of power we might think of as interpersonal, affecting not only the way we are perceived by others but how we perceive ourselves.
I’ve been lucky not to have to use my WingChun yet in a real life-threatening situation. On the other hand, I apply it frequently to help me avoid these situations. When I lived in Berlin I was caught by surprise and shoved from behind by two guys who were much larger than me. It turned out that all it took was a multiple attacker step and a strong Zi Ng Ma (Meridian Stance) to avoid a potentially dangerous encounter. Of course, I like to think it was also the fact that I was firm in the knowledge that the exchange could have been just as dangerous–or even more so–to my would-be attackers, that helped diffuse the situation. In this case, just calmly projecting, through my stance not even my Man Wu (Inquiring and Protecting Arm)!, the knowledge that I would cause them big problems if they continued, helped me, I believe, keep the situation from escalating. It’s that sense of bodily autonomy and freedom from fear determining my relationships to other bodies, that’s been, for me, one of WingChun’s greatest gifts. It’s one I hope to continue to develop, and do my best to pass on to others!