Kung-Fu San Soo: Effective, Real-Life, Street-Fighting Techniques

In the words of the late great Grand Master Jimmy Woo, San Soo can give you the absolute confidence to “freeze a man’s heart.”





Kung-Fu San Soo

by Bob Ellal

Kung-Fu San Soo—Street-Wise Fighting Art

“Three eighteen-year-old thugs had shaken down my fourteen-year-old son for money—then they’d hurt him. They loitered around my house, looking for more and I confronted them. The leader put his hands up in like a boxer, a challenge -- I stuck a thumb in his throat as his hands raised. He was surprised at this, and he knew he was vulnerable. I told him if he ever touched my son again, I’d kill him. More than hurt, I had intimidated him. They never came back.” This anecdote, told by Master Paul Borisoff, illustrates the true nature of Kung-Fu San Soo (www.sansoostudio.com).

Kung-Fu San Soo is a fighting system that arose in the Quan-Yin monastery in China hundreds of years ago and was brought to this country by Grand Master Jimmy Woo in 1935. It is an art designed for street survival; it teaches no-holds-barred, offensive fighting tactics and the use of psychological techniques to intimidate opponents.

“We don’t believe in the sport aspects of the martial arts in Kung-Fu San Soo,” says Borisoff. “Safety equipment, padded gloves, rules of combat, referees, opponents of the same weight class and skill level—none of these exist on the street, in real life. Remember, when you use gloves in a fight you can take punches—but one punch on the street can knock you out. An attacker on the street could be twice your size—and he won’t follow any rules. You can’t be conditioned to follow rules, and that’s what sport fighting does.

“If someone approaches me like a boxer on the street, Kung-Fu San Soo dictates that I do not square off to fight him. He may have been boxing ten years—that may be his forte. Instead, perhaps, I’ll grab his lead arm or stomp his foot, or both, moving against his weaknesses,” says Borisoff. “Then I’ll sidestep or move inside, but I’ll work close, and in combination—he won’t see what I hit him with. Real combat is close combat—tournament fighting is a long-range affair, often by necessity, very linear.”

Kung-Fu San Soo students are taught the basics of striking and kicking by repetition and through forms (katas, in the karate arts). This sets up conditioned responses to attack. Further, during first four or five months of basics, students participate in designated aggressor workouts, in which they practice lessons with a designated partner in multi-step combination movements. Students take the elements they’ve practiced and learn to block and counter, learning good positioning. Then they learn the next step: How to bring the fight to the opponent, blocking and moving them into a disadvantaged position. A wide variety of punches, kicks, throws and leverages are utilized. Next, they learn to parry and counter at the same time. Eventually they’ll learn how to move out of the way and strike without parrying or blocking.

“Timing is everything in Kung-Fu San Soo,” says Borisoff. “We teach our students to use their bodies in different rhythms in free, non-prearranged workouts, such as having an opponent throw punches at different speeds and rhythms. Then we’ll use simulation drills, such as “Bull in the Ring,” in which we place a student in the center of the other students and have his classmates come at him from different angles to strengthen his use and knowledge of distance and range. The student has to react on the fly and adjust his responses to a variety of attacks. This gives the student a taste of what can happen in the street.”

As he or she advances, the student will learn fighting strategies using tactics based on the Bakwa, (although in Master Borisoff’s School, it is called the “form diamond”), a symbol based on the Taoist symbol of the eight trigrams and the Buddhist eight-spoked wheel. The Bakwa, the basis of the “form”, is used to teach the Kung-Fu San Soo fighter how to react properly to a fight situation on any of these eight directions in an automatic and natural way. At a more advanced stage the Bakwa is subdivided into spheres and triangles and used to accomplish advanced strikes, throws, leverages, footwork and geometry in a fighting situation (Bakwa, Master Jim Benkert, www.geocities.com/san_soowushu/San_Soo.html).

Kung-Fu San Soo is an ancient art that is well suited for the crime-ridden, violent streets of the modern world. It is a complex, many-layered art that requires many years to perfect and is beyond the scope of a single article to explain. But one thing is certain: San Soo’s emphasis on street survival gives students a realistic arsenal of tactics and offensive techniques they can use against any attacker. This knowledge provides students, regardless of size or gender, a psychological edge they can use to defuse situations before they escalate into a conflict. In the words of the late great Grand Master Jimmy Woo, San Soo can give you the absolute confidence to “freeze a man’s heart.”

Bob Ellal 



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