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Kung Fu San Soo Sonora - School Instructor Profiles
Chan Siu Dek Family Banner
Kung Fu San Soo Sonora - Jimmy H. Woo and Kung Fu San Soo
Chan Siu Dek, aka "Jimmy H. Woo"
Family accounts now hold that Chan Siu Dek was born in Sanba Town, Taishan City, Guandong Province, China, in the early 1900's.
began training as a child, but we're unsure exactly how old he
Various assertions range from four years old to seven years old, but he
told one of us his
father started teaching him at six.
As with many of the confusing accounts, the disparity could be something as simple as this: he
may have begun form practice on his
own at four, began to learn technique from his
father at six, and began formal training at seven.
Some recent accounts through Chan Sai Mo also suggest that in addition to Chan Siu Hung's Hero's Victory, Hung Sing Choy Li Fut training, Chan Siu Hung studied Hung Gar and Eagle Claw , suggesting that Chan Siu Dek
may possibly have known at least something of those art families as well.
Chan Siu Dek
was first a fighter by nature.
great uncle not only taught him technique, but constantly urged him to fight with others around him in the streets of China from his
early childhood to test and employ those techniques.
also learned the uncommon skill of almost completely dissassociating himself from consequences.
would rather kill than loose a fight.
would rather die.
So any opponent had to face a tough fighter, trained and practiced at techniques designed to injure, maim, or kill, and was perfectly willing to go to the extreme in an escalation.
And that extreme was not unlike the 100 pound woman who goes mad, requiring five strong men to place her
in a straight jacket, or the teen ager who lifts an automobile off of his
injured brother with his
These traits did not make Chan Siu Dek unbeatable, but they definitely made him formidable.
While Kung Fu San Soo
is a remarkable fighting art — admittedly among many notable fighting arts — perhaps the art did not so much make Chan Siu Dek
a great fighter, as his instructional efforts, real world examples, and training methods made Kung Fu San Soo
a great art for true fighters.
The Guandong province of China, where Chan Siu Dek was born and raised, where his fighting ancestors opposed the inequities imposed on them by the Qing Dynasty, was the principal source for Chinese labor immigrating to America.
About the time the Japanese invaded Southern China in the mid 1930's, or perhaps in anticipation a little earlier, family sources tell us that they arranged a passport for Chan Siu Dek
under the assumed name, "Kun Haw Woo" , so he
could travel to meet his
father, who according to some important sources, had immigrated to America through Mexico 12 years earlier.
We are told he
later changed it to "Jimmy Haw Woo" at the suggestion of an American teacher.
Although some sources insist he
arrived at the Port of Los Angles directly by steamship, given the immigration situation for Chinese in the early 1930's, we find it highly unlikely.
We imagine that like his
father before him, he
most likely came into America illegally from Mexico.
On their respective arrivals, they very likely found food, shelter, and support from the benevolent society in Los Angeles China Town, the Hop Sing Tong
Probably because of the Exclusion Act, his
mother remained behind.
is said to have sent her
money while she
was alive, he
never saw her
Given the mistrust by the Chinese after decades of American persecution, concerns about the Immigration Service, and fear about how his
mother might be treated by the Communists in China, Chan Siu Dek
apparently tried to keep an intelligent profile.
insisted that he
was born in Hawaii until the end of his
life, thereby implying that he
was an American citizen by birth under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, and always went by his
assumed legal name, Jimmy H. Woo.
This is particularly poignant because he
was in fact a member of the very famous Choy Li Fut Chan clan with roots going all the way back to Chan Heung, the founder of Choy Li Fut, and while he
did often assert it, he
really freely couldn't use it to publicly support his
At the peak of Chinese labor, there were more than 500,000 Chinese working in America.
By the time Chan Siu Dek
arrived in the early 1930's, repatriation, discouragement, and death had reduced that number to less than 25,000.
The Great Depression was raging with 25% unemployment.
Similar accounts claim Chan Siu Dek
sometimes visited Lau Bun at his
Tsoi Li Fut school in San Francisco.
Whether this is true or not, it's very interesting that this school lineage is one of the few places beyond the world of Kung Fu San Soo
where we find the calligraphic word Chan Siu Dek
used for 'Ho' replacing the traditional 'Mok' in the five family name, Tsoi Li Ho Fut Hung.
For years, Chan Siu Dek
taught through the Los Angeles Sing Kang or "cousin's club".
Unlike most of us today, a person like Chan Siu Dek
did not have the luxury of marching around displaying his
belt ranking or a sport trophy — as much as we respect all those modern institutions and the tough individuals dedicated to them — but had to earn his
'rank' by consistently fighting in mortally serious combat, your life or mine, and survive.
So for those of us who are lucky enough to study his
art, the debt of gratitude we should hold is not possible to further describe in words.
But Chan Siu Dek
allegedly won a large amount of money on a horse race, and somewhere around 1960-1962 he
created a studio in the Midway Shopping Center in El Monte California, opening his
doors to anyone willing to learn.
posted a motto over his
It read, "You can take my life, but not my confidence" . It's probably safe to say that everyone who met him, from the first look in his
eyes, firmly believed it was true.
Those very few that didn't believe uniformly found out the hard way.
The stories are always inspirational.
One moment a "tough guy" would be mouthing off or make a move toward him, and the next instant that person would be lying on the floor, always stunned, sometimes quivering.
One account holds that a very large kick boxer pushed his
way into the El Monte studio one day, only to find himself humbled like this.
This account holds that Chan Siu Dek
stood over him proclaiming, "You come in like a lion...but you go out like a little pussy cat!"
We are told that Chan Siu Dek
did not have a belt ranking system when he
first started, as belt ranking was not common in China.
In 1962, few had heard of Kung Fu, much less Tsoi Li Ho Fut Hung.
first called his
school, Chinese Karate Kung Fu, and later adopted a belt ranking system much like that popularly used at that time in the world of Karate, producing considerable confusion about the nature of the art, its origins, and the ranking.
In in 1961, T. Y. Wong and K. H. Lee, wrote a book titled, "Chinese Karate Kung Fu: Original Sil Lum System for Health and Self Defense" , right at the time Chan Siu Dek
was opening his own school.
Some recent testimony suggest that later in life Chan Siu Dek
regretted taking on the Karate-like belt ranking system and, given the opportunity, would have stayed with a more traditional Chinese ranking.
For most Asian martial arts in America, emulating the Karate belt system was almost universally embraced during this time period, almost out of perceived necessity.
But while many of the other systems emerging at that time really did become hybrids, Chan Siu Dek's teachings remained very close to his
From this and his
fighting prowess, we know he
art were the "real deal" .
method of teaching was quick and tough.
He used to tell prospective students, "You give me 90 days, I make you a better fighter.
But while most view Kung Fu San Soo
as an external art, Chan Siu Dek
always stressed the use of the mind to manage, or 'operate', the body , a notion very much associated with the Chinese concept of Yi in the internal practices.
Most great Chinese masters of the caliber of Chan Siu Dek
knew a great deal about traditional Chinese medicinal practices, and many were "bone setters" . In an age where modern medicine was nonexistent and in an art where serious fighting was highly likely to produce such injuries, masters often knew how to set broken bones, or realign displaced bones.
We don't know for sure how much Chan Siu Dek
knew about traditional medicine.
But we do know of one particular incident for a fact, as it happened in El Monte to one of us from the Sonora School
When the student dislocated his
fibula at the outside of his
knee, Chan Siu Dek
looked it over, and with a quick move, relocated the bone.
When the student let out a howl, Chan Siu Dek
helped him to his
feet, and simply laughed out loud at his
cry of pain and sent him limping back to practice.
It's probably safe to say that most of those that stayed
Kung Fu San Soo Sonora - Kung Fu San Soo History
And while it's highly probable that the family of Chan Siu Dek may have trained at a temple in or near this small village, and that he may possibly well have learned a highly stylized family version, we are willing to state categorically that it's highly improbable that the broader historic art he brought to America originated in this small temple.
We know it was brought to America from Sanba Town , of Taishan City , in the Pearl River Delta Region of Guangdong Province , China, somewhere in the 1930's by the late Chan Siu Dek
(Cantonese; Chen Shou Jue in Mandarin, Zhen She De in Pinyin, Chin Siu Dek in Hoisanese), otherwise known as Jimmy H. Woo . It's popularly called Kung Fu San Soo, though most practitioners can't tell you what that means or why it was named that.
The Chinese calligraphic characters Chan Siu Dek
used to signify the Choy
, Li, and Fut, in Choy Li Ho Fut Hung, are the same used by the Choy Li Fut community
You can see it at your left, a silhouette of the actual hands of Chan Siu Dek
, given exactly as it has been for at least 350 years.
And while it's probably not correct to place Kung Fu San Soo among the strictly Bei Quan northern arts and it's lineage is definitely Nánquán or southern, to anyone who remembered Chan Siu Dek
in action, or has seen the demonstration videos transferred from 8mm film, or recalls the Al Rubin or Frank Woolsey lineages, early Kung Fu San Soo didn't really look much like Nánquán Wing Chun either.
So in attempting to trace the lineage we find a Song Dynasty reference to Zhao Kuang Yin, an early Qing Dynasty reference to Lin Quan Yuan — where some historians hold that rapid scientific changes occurred by Ming sympathizers in the Hung Sing lineage through the Hung Fa Wui secret society, a lineage through which we can reasonably trace Kung Fu San Soo historic personages — and finally, we have Chan Siu Dek
, in a very thick Hoisanese accent, making source references to Kwan Yin.
Most Kung Fu San Soo practitioners hold that Chan Siu Dek
explained that this particular temple was either identified by, or dedicated to, the goddess Kwan Yin.
So even if Chan Siu Dek
was in fact referring to the popular deity, Kwan Yin, there's still a reasonable possibility, at least from the point of view of a researcher, that there might have been a Kuang Yin > Quan Yuan lineage that had to be disguised as Kwan Yin during the extreme Qing oppression toward the lives of those who made any reference to the Ming era, and the great amount of documentable secrecy practitioners employed.
This is particularly noteworthy as the founder of American Kung Fu San Soo
, Chan Siu Dek
, insisted that he
inherited two training books that appear to be of a later era when an ancestor left one of the temples with these books.
Then it looks as if the art of Chan Siu Dek
family may indeed have evolved in the Fujian temple
, where most "Kung Fu" legends point, but moved on into the Kwangtung Temple
and was refined there.
If indeed the Kwangtung Temple
was destroyed during the Boxer Rebellion, THEN the art may have sought refuge in smaller temples like the one where Chan Siu Dek
In other words, the books attributed to the ancestors of Chan Siu Dek, along with the art, may have come from a surviving temple somewhere near present day Taishan in South China, very likely the Kwangtung Temple near Canton where the techniques brought to American by Chan Siu Dek were refined along with those of traditional Choi Li Fut.
Most sources hold that the books Chan Siu Dek
inherited date to the end of the Ming Dynasty, which would make them no less than 360 years old.
To our knowledge, the truth about the books Chan Siu Dek
used, is that their actual age is unknown.
Chan Sai Mo is the last living person who studied with Chan Siu Dek
in China, and the son of Chan Siu Dek's teacher, Chan Siu Hung.
From the highly respected Choy Li Fut practitioner, Paul Chan , who shares the same Hero's Victory lineage as Chan Siu Dek
's teacher and great uncle, Chan Siu Hung, we find reinforcement to the testimony left behind by Chan Siu Dek about his family claims.
Chan Siu Dek was born into this time period, into one of these great fighting families, right at the epicenter, and not without controversy.
No one seems to know them either by their English names or the Chinese Calligraphy, including Chan Siu Hung's son and cousin of Chan Siu Dek
himself, Chan Sai Mo, when interviewed in 2001.
Complicating things even more for sincere researchers, is that the International Kung Fu San Soo Association
official names use the English word 'siu' in three of the middle names, Chan Siu Don, Chan Siu Hung, and Chan Siu Dek
, but they are represented completely different in the calligraphy.
What we conclude here is that Chan Siu Dek
learned and trained in the Choy Li Fut lineage, with some family ties to the history of that art, but preferred to exemplify his
own closely aligned but separate personal fighting lineage through other family members.
Dave Lorenson has concluded that some of the lineage names left behind by Chan Siu Dek
were actually the same as the famous Choy Li Fut lineage holders.
Choy Li Fut
practitioners usually refer to formal training through officially recognized family lineages as "Family Style", and will tell you this if you visit one descended from the Chan family clan, while at least some references suggest that informal free fight training style of Choy Li Fut that Chan Siu Dek
tried to describe to westerners as Kung Fu San Soo, the practice associated with his personal family lineage, was unofficially called a "Village Style."
Formal Choy Li Fut practitioners fight almost sideways, ninety degrees away from their Full Horse, while Chan Siu Dek
fought straight in, or around, or to the side, but not sideways.
Chan Siu Dek
also tended toward strong Shuai Jiao throws and severe Chi Na takedowns.
But when we showed him Chan Yiu Chi's reference to Chan Siu Hung, and and told him about Chan Siu Dek's
Hung Sing Heroic Victory background and his American fighting legacy in Los Angles Chinatown, his eyes widened, and through his interpreter said, "Oh, must have had to deal with gangsta!
Although some of the reports are only supported by oral tradition, we accept those from Chan Siu Dek
as true, even if possibly misunderstood.
It's not unreasonable then to 'pencil' at least the lineage in side-by-side the documented Choy Li Fut history.
While Chan Siu Dek
taught Chinese in Los Angeles China Town for decades, his
family art somehow did not take hold.
So somewhere about 1960, Chan Siu Dek's
decided to teach those outside family and beyond the secret fraternal societies.
Some of us remember rumors and assertions from the time that the Chinese fraternal societies vigorously opposed his
decision, and that he
sometimes expressed great concern over this.
taught a number of westerners one of the most comprehensive and devastating martial arts known, an extremely practical system closely associated with the legendary Choy Li Fut
, personally specialized around San Soo , which at least in this context has come to mean free form fight training through mock sparring, with an extra emphasis on severe Chi Na and Shuai Jiou applications.
Depending on who makes the count, Chan Siu Dek
produced about 40 first generation masters.
Chan Siu Dek's
family tradition continues with his grandson, J. P. King, who is the seventh generation of fighters in the tradition of Kung Fu San Soo.
There is also a 'traditional' movement in Kung Fu San Soo, where adherents pay respect to Chan Siu Dek
by the traditional Chinese way of describing a martial disciple's master, or Laosifu, and place a special emphasis on formal Chinese training practices.
While many find it controversial, the traditionalists deserve considerable praise for their relentless effort to pursue the history of the art, and the memory of Chan Siu Dek
In the Sonora lineage, we're much less concerned about what individuals call him today, than how he
Still, no matter how one addresses or remembers the founder of American Kung Fu San Soo
, whether it's as Jimmy H. Woo, as Laosifu, or by his family name, Chan Siu Dek
, it's our opinion that all Kung Fu San Soo practitioners own him a monumental debt of gratitude.
Chan Siu Dek Family Banner
Kung Fu San Soo Sonora - Questions and Answers
It was Americanized by the late Grandmaster, known as Chan Siu Dek in Cantonese, or Chen Shou Jue in Mandarin, and also known as Jimmy H. Woo . Jimmy Haw Woo was considered by many of his contemporaries as one of the greatest practical fighters of his time.
More about Chan Siu Dek
Because it's a training system with a long Chinese history, and is the broad personal interpretation of many fighting 'styles' Americanized through a single Chinese wushu fighter, Chan Siu Dek, it is in fact unique.
Chan Siu Dek was an extremely broad skilled and accomplished fighter.
students that most Chinese 'styles' consisted of limited focus and specialization, and that the more 'styles' that one mastered, the more accomplished the fighter.
One former student of Chan Siu Dek is Tim Cartmel . After becoming a Kung Fu San Soo master, Tim spent eleven years in China studying a number of Chinese fighting arts.
Chan Siu Dek
discouraged competiton, at least in the limited fighting venues available when he
Even sparring can be dangerous, and Chan Siu Dek
suffered under serious lawsuits from injured students.
The image at the left is a silhouette of the actual hands of Chan Siu Dek
More about the hand salute
Why Did Grandmaster Chan Siu Dek Use Karate Style Uniforms and Belt Rankings?
Since Chan Siu Dek
is no longer with us to query, even with the testimony of first generation students, we probably have to speculate.
But the evidence is reasonably clear.
At the time Chan Siu Dek
first school, few if any had ever heard of Kung Fu, much less Choy Li Ho Fut Hung.
But many had heard of Karate and tended to lump all the Asian martial arts into that category.
We explain more about that here.
Chan Siu Dek Family Banner
Kung Fu San Soo Sonora - Kung Fu San Soo Defined
It cuts to the chase, instructing even new students not only in a foundation of martial basics, free and weapons forms, and practical techniques, but semi-contact free fight training called San Shou or San Soo, anglicized to the simple term "working out" for Americans by Chan Siu Dek.
Chan Siu Dek
explains that Tsoi Li Ho is the name of the art in this YouTube Video.
At the 0:45 second point, he
clearly says, "If people ask you what 'style' of Kung Fu San Soo you practice, [tell them] Tsoi Li Ho.
Tsoi, Li, and Ho are three family surnames from the complete combat system, as Chan Siu Dek
describes at the 4:20 second point toward the end of the above linked YouTube video, calling it Tsoi Li Ho Fut HUNG Ga. So the art is actually Tsoi Li Ho Fut Ga, but as it's most often known by the free fight training characteristics the Chinese call Kung Fu San Soo (Cantonese).
This training method of Kung Fu San Soo, as inherited from Chan Siu Dek
, largely revolves around an ancient two man, semi-contact, free sparring system originally called San Sao or San Soo ( Cantonese, San Shao in Mandarin).
Most Kung Fu San Soo schools call this mixed semi-contact and full contact cooperative sparring "working out" , a convention passed down from Chan Siu Dek
But the original philosophy of Kung Fu San Soo set down by American founder Chan Siu Dek was to either win a confrontation at any cost, even at the expense of death if necessary, or avoid fighting altogether.
simply didn't want any of his
fighters to cripple themselves psychologically or technically by training for limitations of any kind at all.
students, if a fight was unavoidable, not to test the opponent with a limited response, not to give even a millisecond of advantage.
And we also know that Chan Siu Dek
said, "don't make fun of or degrade another man's art...someday he
might kill you with it," a very important point to keep in mind.
The basics of the art probably developed over a much longer period of time, and only a part — even though a significant part — of the American lineage broke free from the politically protected institutions into the secular world through the family of Chan Siu Dek
Some of the uncertainty about both descriptive terminology and history involves misunderstandings about how Kung Fu San Soo was popularly described by the founder of its American lineage, Chan Siu Dek . Descriptive understanding is further complicated by the fact that older Western Wade Giles translations have given way to modern Pinyin, the many dialects of Chinese, and the fact that Chan Siu Dek was Hoisanese and spoke English with a very thick accent.
Chan Siu Dek
used to say it meant "working man" which created a great deal of confusion among students at El Monte, who in the early years of the school, usually knew very little about the Chinese language or Chinese martial history.
It may have been used to describe the fighting techniques utilized by modern Kung Fu San Soo for millennia, although legend holds that the core art as passed by Chan Siu Dek was most likely created, or at least refined, during the early part of the Qing Dynasty in the Southern Shaolin Temple at Fujian . Historically the Chinese martial arts that evolved through the Shaolin temple system are known as Shaolin Fighting . As applied to Kung Fu San Soo, the phrase has come to describe a free form, unrehearsed fight training methodology some historians hold to be descended from the Taoist Wudang background.
The calligraphy in the upper left corner of the official San Shou web page is exactly the same as that Chan Siu Dek
used for "San Soo" on his degree certificates.
But Chan Siu Dek
learned his craft well before these modern changes, while Lei Tai "death match" challenges were still being publicly issued.
As Chan Siu Dek
was from Taishan, an area with its own distinct almost whistling dialect, Hoisanese, he
pronounced it Tsoi Li Ho Fut Hung.
Some say that's basically how Chan Siu Dek
original school, and if that is so, then the tradition continues.
Chan Siu Dek Family Banner