The History of Kung-Fu San Soo
Kung-Fu San Soo, as taught by Grandmaster Jimmy H. Woo, had it's origins in the very basics of Chinese feudal life over 2,500 years ago in the temple of Kwan Yin. This is the oldest martial art as we know it. For many hundreds of years, China was divided and sub-divided into various warring factions, and each produced many different types of fighting styles. Chinese systemized warfare pre-dates the arrival of the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, thought to be the founder of Shaolin Ch'uan, who appeared some 2,500 years ago.
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, and 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 nearby villages. One of these monks, named Leoung Kick, an orphan who had lived in the monastery since age ten, (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 late 1500's, during
the Ming Dynasty. These books have remained within the Chin family for five generations and are extremely fragile and rare. All the techniques and forms taught to and by Jimmy came from these two manuals.
Young Chin Siu Dek (Jimmy's Chinese 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, at 6'5" and weighing well over 320 pounds. Following in his father and grandfather's footsteps, Hung became a well-known fighter, teaching in his own San Soo school. He was an overlord for the entire province, which at that time, the 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 that area. No one, started a business, moved, or made any other major decisions without consulting Hung.
The Story of Chin Siu Dek
From the age of four on Chin Siu Dek (Jimmy H. Woo) 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 Lee Ho Fut Hung, the five family names 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 1933, at the age of 19, Chin Siu Dek left mainland China under the passport name Jimmy H. Woo and sailed for the United States. During his early years in this country, Jimmy lived in Chinatown , Los Angeles , CA.
Chin Siu Hung was approximately 74 to 75 old when the Japanese invaded mainland China and took over his beloved province. In 1933 or 1934 he was forced, against his will, to answer a challenge to fight to the death the regimental Karate champion of the Japanese army who was in his 20s. This was to be a public display of 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. Chin Siu Hung with the all the other San Soo fighters in his school were immediately killed by machine gun fire. This basically ended San Soo in mainland China.
Kung-Fu San Soo in America
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 other martial art styles, training books and monasteries when the communist Chinese took over power from the Japanese at the end of WWII.
He left on the steamship Queen Elizabeth II and arrived in Mexico, stayed for a year or two, and finally immigrated to America in 1935. He worked many varied jobs as he became acclimated to his new home in LA's Chinatown District. He originally learned produce from his mother and father and his love for fresh fruit and vegetables stemmed from his long hours as a produce manager in a market. He loved to cook and owned 3 restaurants, one of which was his father's in Glendale , CA.
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 "cousin club" - a social/recreational organization. He also acted as security/police for the residents and business owners in the area and some times as a body guard, 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 J.P. King, earned his black belt in 1993.
Jimmy H. Woo taught his instructors' class two Saturday's a month until his death in 1991. This brought to 46 years, the teaching Kung-Fu San Soo, in America.