Chan Dek

Chan Siu Dek

Instructor at The Sonora San Soo school

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289 S. Washington St., Sonora, California, United States
HQ Phone:
(209) 770-1849
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last updated 1/26/2017

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Founder - American Kung Fu San Soo

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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 and his 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 and his family trained. 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. But he 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 is remembered. 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

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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. He began training as a child, but we're unsure exactly how old he was. 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. His 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. He also learned the uncommon skill of almost completely dissassociating himself from consequences. He would rather kill than loose a fight. He 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 bare hands. 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. Although he is said to have sent her money while she was alive, he never saw her again. 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. He 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 art. 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. He posted a motto over his desk. 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. So he 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 admitted he 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 core lineage. From this and his fighting prowess, we know he and his art were the "real deal" . His 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 with him for years often became pretty good fighters, and were truly capable of awesome demonstrations. One account holds that when the Beijing Wushu School Team did their first tour of the United States in 1974, a tour that included the famous Jet Li, Chan Siu Dek took some of his best students to do a demonstration of his art for them when they were in Southern California. Chan Siu Dek used to tell stories about his great uncle, Chan Siu Hung , how they went from village to village selling Traditional Chinese Medicines and Dit Da Jow , and how they put on demonstrations not unlike those employed by Kung Fu San Schools today, although sometimes with very serious challenges and even mortal confrontations. Some accounts suggest that Chan Siu Dek may have had several 'uncles', being a term typically used to describe an older Kung Fu teacher, although we have no detailed information about any besides Chan Siu Hung. But better sources suggest today that this was the person Chan Siu Dek called his "little uncle", and not his great uncle, Chan Siu Hung. Chan Siu Dek often used to show students the scar that ran down his left forearm, from his wrist to his elbow, where he was attacked by a criminal in a Chinese kitchen with a meat cleaver. It was like a rite of passage for young new students. "Show us the scar, Jimmy!", they'd say. And he would. Not one to be demoralized by the effective loss of use in his left hand in a fight, he'd say, "Blocked the cleaver, knocked him into a vat of burning grease...scarred him for life. He'd tell them how he spent hours on an operating table while doctors repaired the damage. Chan Siu Dek taught until the early 1980's, when he turned the El Monte school over to long time student, master Jack Sera, and went into semi-retirement. He continued to teach part time in private classes until his death in 1991. The only person left alive in China at the time of this writing who actually remembers him is his cousin, Chan Sai Mo, now in his mid nineties. Reports tell us that there are other younger cousins in China surviving Chan Siu Dek, and several cousins living in the United States. He is also survived by a daughter, Evelyn, a son, Warren Woo, two other children, and a grandson, J. P. King. Depending on the source, he produced about 40 first generation masters and possibly hundreds of black belts. Everyone who knew Chan Siu Dek remembers a man so confident that he honestly appeared invincible, but a man so concerned with those around him he sometimes carried students who couldn't pay. He was remembered both for this powerful American fight challenges, challenges he learned fighting the Lei Tai with his great uncle, Chan Siu Hung , as well as the times he would pause to encourage a child. About his students, he said, "Good boys, bad boys, you all my boys". Laying a hand on a shoulder, he told one of us personally, " Remember, you one of my studen'. You ALWAY one of my studen'! It was a comment taken to heart. He was a great fighter from a historic lineage of legendary fighters, who produced his own modern lineage of many excellent fighters. In a rare 1974 interview televised on early cable, when asked what his art could do for a person, he replied it would make one a "Man among men, a fighter among fighters" . For most of his life he lived by a creed best described in his own word: So to say that Chan Siu Dek, aka Jimmy H. Woo, was one in a million, is not at all an exaggeration. But when we contacted the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California , and the Chinese American Historical Society in Los Angeles trying to hunt down more information about him, neither organization knew who he was or that he ever existed. But they undoubtedly should. For all he gave them, it would seem many of his students have not taken the time to fully appreciate his memory. Chan Siu Dek Family Banner

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Kung Fu San Soo Sonora - Chan Siu Hung

From the family records of Choy Li Fut practitioner Chan Yong Fa , great, great, grandson of the founder of Choy Li Fut, Chan Heung, adoptive great grandfather of Chan Siu Dek , we have one of several pieces of documentation placing Chan Siu Dek's great uncle, Chan Siu Hung, in the Choy Li Fut lineage.

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