following history on the art of San Soo was written in May 1993 by the Jimmy
H. Woo Association based on information provided by Grand Master Woo.
Although there have been some speculations in connecting this art to another
lineage, there is no documentation to support these claims. The Masters who
studied with Lo Si Fu for many years will continue to support the family
lineage provided by Grand Master Woo
History of Kung Fu San Soo
SAN SOO as taught by Grandmaster Jimmy H. Woo, had its
origins in the very basics of Chinese feudal life two thousands years ago.
For many hundreds of years, China was divided and sub-divided into various
warring factions, and each produced many types of fighting styles. Chinese
systematized warfare predates the arrival of the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma,
thought to be the founder of Shaolin Ch’uan, by several hundred years c.200
Exactly how and when these fighting tactics were begun
in the Kwan-Yin (goddess of mercy) monastery in the village of Pon Hong,
Guangdong Province of Southern China is still unclear, but is in the process
of being researched. The main reason the martial arts were perfected by this
group of monks was to protect themselves from bandits and outlaws as the
monks returned with supplies and donations from the nearby villages.
One of these young monks, named Leoung Kick, an orphan
who lived in the monastery since the age of 10, (Jimmy H. Woo’s Great,
Great, Great Grandfather) decided to leave the monastery when he was
approximately 30 years old. He took with him two of the Buddhist training
texts which probably date back to the 1500’s during the Ming Dynasty. These
books have remained within the Chin family, where the techniques and forms
were taught and passed down from generation to generation. All of the
techniques and forms taught to and by Jimmy came from these two manuals.
Young Chin Siu Dek (Jimmy’s real name) was taught by
his Great Uncle Chin Siu Hung who was nicknamed Chin Neow Gee, which means
“Crazy Devil.” Hung was an extremely large man, 6’5” tall and weighing well
over 320 pounds. Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Hung became a
well-known fighter, teaching in his own SAN SOO school. He was overlord for
the entire province, which at that time, late 1800’s and until 1941 was
about the size of Orange County, CA. He had complete control over nearly
every aspect of the lives of the people in the area. No one started a
business, moved or made any other major decisions without consulting Hung.
From the age of five on Dek was to be his Great
Uncle’s prize student. He learned extremely fast and loved the contact and
grueling workouts on hard floors. In his teens, Dek became a traveling
teacher of Tsoi Li Ho Fut Hung; the official name of the martial art
perfected hundreds of years before in the monastery very near his small
village. When anyone in the province needed someone to come and settle a
grievance, Dek was the enforcer. When village elders decided it was time for
the young men to learn to defend themselves, Dek would be sent to live there
for months at a time to teach them.
In 1935, at the age of 21, Chin Siu Dek left mainland
China under the passport name Jimmy H. Woo and sailed for the United States.
During the early years in this country, Jimmy lived in Chinatown, Los
Chin Siu Hung was 73 years old when the Japanese
invaded mainland China and took over his beloved province. In 1942 he was
forced, against his will, to answer a challenge to fight to the death the
regimental karate champion of the Japanese army. This was to be a public
display of the power of the Japanese conquerors in front of the poor
villagers of the surrounding area. Under the threat of death to his people
if he did not comply, Hung fought and defeated the Japanese champion. In
fact he killed the karate warrior in less than 20 seconds. He and most of
his students were immediately killed by machine gun fire. This basically
ended SAN SOO in mainland China.
It was extremely fortunate that Jimmy had left
mainland China when he did, for the Japanese would have awarded him with the
same fate as his Great Uncle and the other SAN SOO practitioners rather than
allow a possible resistance corps to remain.
Jimmy carried the art to America and kept it alive
while many of the other early Chinese fighting systems were destroyed by the
Japanese. Mao Tse Tung later eradicated many of the martial arts styles,
training books and monasteries when the communist Chinese took over power
from the Japanese at the end of W.W.II.
Jimmy traveled several weeks by steamship to the
United States, landing in the Port of Los Angeles, California. Jimmy worked
many varied odd jobs as he became acclimated to his new home in Los Angeles’
Chinatown District. His love for fresh fruit and vegetables stemmed from his
long hours as a produce manager in a market, but his first love was teaching
SAN SOO. He began teaching privately to close relatives and friends; later
he was the instructor for several years at the Sing Kang “cousins club” a
social/recreational organization. He also acted as security/police for the
residents and business owners in the area and sometimes as a bodyguard, the
only unarmed one in the area.
In December of 1962 Jimmy officially held the grand
opening for his martial arts studio in the Midway Shopping Center in El
Monte, CA. In the early years he called it “Karate-Kung Fu” because no one
knew what kung fu was at that time. In January of 1984, following his
retirement from daily instruction, Jimmy H. Woo became Grand Master (Lau
Sifu) when his Grandson, James P. King, earned his black belt. Jimmy H. Woo
continued teaching his instructors class two Saturdays a month until 1991,
totaling nearly 46 years of kung fu teaching in America.
Destiny brought Chin Siu Dek to America as Jimmy H.
Woo to preserve the ancient art of Choi (Ga Kuhn How) Lee (Ga Ma) Ho (Ga)
Fut hung (Ga), SAN SOO. In his memory and that of thousands of instructors
and monks before him, the art must be preserved.