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Kung Fu San Soo (功夫散手) is a martial art based on techniques from all over China, both Northern and Southern Chinese martial arts systems. The 5 Family Fist (五家拳) is an important part of San Soo, and is commonly practiced in the Taishan region of the Guangdong province. Kung Fu San Soo as taught in China has many traditional forms and isometric exercises in its training regimen. Chin Siu Dek (Jimmy H. Woo), the man responsible for bringing Kung Fu San Soo to America, did not believe in the animal styles and hence taught only the 5 family styles (蔡李何佛雄). His words were, "We fight like men, not animals." The name "Kung Fu San Soo" itself was chosen by Woo to simplify the pronunciation and meaning for American students, rather than using the complete names of the 5 families. Kung Fu San Soo originated for use in military combat and uses techniques designed to swiftly disable an attacker. Due to the difficulty of executing techniques with enough control to avoid injury, there are no competitions or tournaments for San Soo Kung Fu.
San Soo was not created or taught as a tournament sport, but practitioners commonly incorporate forms of limited sparring. Kung Fu San Soo does not attempt to emulate the motions of animals with elaborate forms. The basic premise of San Soo is there are no rules in a fight, so the style is techniques oriented to remove a threat as quickly as possible through the seizing the initiative and keeping the opponent off balance. Like many martial arts, San Soo can be used by smaller or weaker persons against larger or stronger assailants by utilizing technique and knowledge of reaction to make up for a lack of strength.
Techniques in San Soo are made up of Chin Na leverages, throwing, choking, joint-locking, strangling, strikes, and quick takedowns. Targets include the eyes, nose, throat, base of the skull, neck, liver, spleen, kidneys, groin, and knees, and for this reason, most San Soo practitioners do not engage in full contact competition/sport fighting. Techniques are commonly practiced in unrehearsed 'freestyle workout' sessions with carefully controlled contact. San Soo practitioners claim this method of training builds an automatic and flexible response in much the same way we learn language a few words at a time until we have full and versatile vocabularies. Training methods, historic interpretations, and modifications exist from school to school among the modern descendants of San Soo.
San Soo also incorporates training with the use of many traditional Chinese weapons. These include the staff (5', 7' and 9'), broadsword, hooking or ripping swords, baat cham do (butterfly swords), three-section staff, tai-chi sword, knife, spear, kwon do, chas and chain. The tonfa, although not a traditional Chinese weapon, was a weapon that Jimmy Woo specialized in and incorporated into the art.
San Soo is a distinct fighting style from the similarly named Chinese martial art San Shou. Although they share the same name in Chinese (散手 - meaning 'free hand'), context is used to differentiate between the two.
Kung Fu San Soo was brought to America by a Chin Family practitoner, Chin Siu Dek, Chan Siu Duk, or Chen Shou Jue (陳壽爵, Chen2 Shou4 Jue2), depending on the dialect. Entering the United States under the Chinese Exclusion Act, and leaving China on the eve of the Japanese Occupation, Chin Siu Dek took the name, "Jimmy Haw Woo" as a lifetime pseudonym. Most believe he was born around 1905–10. He died in Southern California on February 14, 1991, and is credited with bringing the Five Family Style (五家拳) of Tsoi Li Ho Fut Hung (蔡李何佛雄), or San Soo Kung Fu to America after learning primarily from his Great-Uncle, Chan Siu Hung, at the Hung Sing Goon school in Taishan, Guangdong Province, China . Kung Fu San Soo tradition holds that Chin Siu Dek lived and grew up just across the river from this school in the village of Sanba. Sadly, this school was later destroyed by the communists in the cultural revolution. Also, one of his classmates was Chan Siu Hung's own son, Chan Sai Mo (Chen Shi Wu [Mand]). As Jimmy H. Woo, Chin Siu Dek opened his own studio in El Monte, California to teach his family art in about 1962.