Posted by Shen
Monday, February 13, 2006
|GrandMaster Jimmy Woo and Kung Fu San Soo
This article originally appeared on the first issue of the San Soo Journal and was written by Master Larry E. Wikel. It is reproduced here with permission and thanks to Master Ron Gatewood editor in chief of the San Soo Journal. Master Gatewood is a great friend, and is one of the most senior students of Grandmaster Jimmy Woo and what I would describe as a "curator" for all things San Soo. Thank you Master Gatewood and and to Master Wikel the author. Now on with the article:
The clouds rolled across a starfilled sky as Grandmaster Chin moved across the courtyard to the main training hall - it would be two hours before first light. He stopped momentarily to observe the movement of the clouds, saying to himself that it would be cool today, a good day for training in the courtyard. As he entered the main training hall he noticed a young man in the center of the hall. He was stripped down to the waist and in a full-horse stance, arms outstretched and in-line at shoulder level, palms down holding two buckets full of sand. He could see that he had been there for some time as he was dripping with perspiration as if he had just stepped in from a down pour. Grandmaster Chin could see the young man's strong back with broad shoulders, large hands, and thick solid legs for he stood rooted to the floor of the hall as if he were made of stone. Grandmaster Chin, an extremely large man standing at 6;5" tall and weighing well over 320 pounds, was well known for his teaching as well as his prowess as a fighter in San Soo, with men calling him "Neow Gee" (the Crazy Devil). As Overlord for the entire Guangdong Province he had complete control over nearly every aspect of the lives of the people in the area. No decisions were made without consulting him. As Grandmaster Chin stood in the shadows observing the young man a warm feeling of pride welled up within him, for the young man was his great nephew, Chin Siu Dek, his prize student. Dek, the fifth generation of the Chin family, would carry on the art of Tsoi-Li- Ho-Fut Hung and the fighting techniques of San Soo and one day become the guardian and protector of the Buddhist training texts that have remained within the Chin family for five generations.
It has never been clear why the books were placed into the Chin family's possession by the Kwan-Yin Monastery, but 300 years ago they were already quite old. Within the pages of these texts is contained the original recorded structure and teachings of the art for the last 1,500 years. Grandmaster Chin remembered when Dek began his training at the age of five and how he seemed to learn extremely fast. He loved the contact and grueling workouts, working out twelve to fourteen hours a day, and now at the age of eighteen Dek was a traveling teacher of the Art. When village elders decided it was time for the young men to learn to defend themselves, Dek would be sent to teach them. When anyone in the Province needed someone to come and settle a grievance, Dek was the enforcer. Chin Siu Dek, known to us under the passport name of Jimmy H. Woo, had a very colorful and exciting life as a young man training under his Great Uncle Grandmaster Chin Siu Hung. A life filled with many stories of struggle, disappointment, superior fighting skills and bravery, but those stories are for another day.
For now let us look at when Grandmaster Woo decided to teach San Soo to the American people by opening his school in 1962 in El Monte, California. It was pretty bold on Grandmaster Woo's part to take this knowledge which had been contained for many centuries within his family and teach to the Caucasians. Why Grandmaster Woo broke tradition, or chose to break tradition, is a question that will go unanswered due to his passing in February of 1991 . But, there are many of us who will always be grateful that he did make that break. Grandmaster Woo had a saying that "San Soo was a subject about which he was most knowledgeable and teaching San Soo to others was probably the activity that he loved the most". I, too, am very knowledgeable in the Art, and I, too, love to teach it, and have done so for close to 30 years. I believe he instilled this knowledge of the Art and the passion to teach it into many of the Masters of San Soo.
San Soo is a martial art in the purest sense of the word. It is a fighting Art employed in actual combat situations. It is an Art of breathing techniques, attitude control, of inter-emotional balance through concentration and focus. It is an Art of mind and body, it is a five family system. There is nothing derivative in San Soo if you are learning San Soo you are being taught from the exact knowledge contained in the collection of texts that Grandmaster Woo brought to the United States. I am confident that anyone reading this article knows that being ancient does not automatically imply better, but on the other hand San Soo's effectiveness as a fighting art has lasted due to its original form and structure of movement being taught as laid down in the Buddhist Training Texts. San Soo is built upon a solid foundation that has withstood the test of time. Surely it is better to build upon a solid foundation than to build upon an ever changing one. In contrast to a lot of the other martial arts, the discipline within San Soo is not like that of the military. We draw upon the students to discipline themselves and pull their disciplining from within. Though the atmosphere in San Soo is a relaxed family atmosphere, absolute seriousness and adherence in the learning of the Art is the pursuit of each individual. The school is primarily for the teaching of San Soo and the Art of Tsoi-Li-Ho-Fut-Hung. Classes are very simple and straight forward. We commence with warm-ups and stretching exercises which deal directly with the Art in one way or another, whether it is the movements for blocking, stances, kicking, and punching exercises, etc. This is followed by what we call "two and two" workouts, a time for the students to take turns working techniques on each other after lessons are given. During this workout both students are immersed in a nonstop learning process for the development of an automatic faculty for selecting the most effective techniques to remove oneself from the situation by neutralizing the enemy.
San Soo amazes me, even after being involved in it for so many years, watching the evolution of techniques that come from continuously creating the Art. It amazes me each time I do it, or when I see a student go through a lesson and watch them create with it. Grandmaster Woo would say "I am more than happy to give you all the knowledge I can, for there are no secrets here. The knowledge of San Soo is not a mystical thing that cannot be shared or shared only with a select few, it is there for anyone who expresses an interest beyond questioning".
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