Kung Fu San Soo, Jimmy H. Woo, and Russell Williams
This history is from the Jimmy H. Woo Association website. The following history on the art of San Soo was written in May of 1993 based on information provided by Master Bernie Woo.
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 B.C.
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 Choi Lee 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 Angeles.
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 acclamated 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 (Ga) Hung (Ga), San Soo. In his memory and that of thousands of instructors and monks before him, the art must be preserved.
Master Russell Williams and Kung Fu San Soo
Master Russell Williams, head instructor at Kung Fu San Soo Street Smarts, was born and raised in Southern California where he began studying San Soo in June of 1965 with Jimmy H. Woo. Russ opened the first San Soo School in Southern Orange County in 1974 and he has taught there continuously ever since. Master Williams also taught San Soo at Saddleback Community College and Irvine Valley Community College for eight years. He has been teaching women's self defense and rape prevention classes through the Saddleback Valley Unified School District for 20 years and taught the same classes for women at Orange Coast Community College. He also was a certified instructor for the State of California in baton training for law enforcement officers and assisted San Soo Master Carl Lorenzen at the Orange County Sheriff's Academy.
Russ became a Master of San Soo in the early 1980's after having completed nearly 10 years of private lessons with Grandmaster Woo. He also assisted Master Lorenzen at that time in editing the five "Black Belt Instructor's Manuals." He later served as vice president of the International Kung Fu San Soo Association and wrote and produced several of the first San Soo newsletters for the Association. He was Master of Ceremonies and one of the four speaker/teachers at the first San Soo "All Schools Seminar" in 1993 and has been a guest speaker at many of the San Soo schools. Master Williams became "Sifu" in 1990 when his eldest son, Damon, who had been studying the art since age 4, became 18. He is now a grandfather of eight.
Sifu Russ Williams has a Bachelor's degree in Communications and English, and a Master's Degree in Christian Apologetics, Comparative Religions and Culture. He taught high school for 32 years and is a credentialed teacher for both high school and college.