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How does San Soo compare to today's fighting styles?

Tuesday, January 02, 2024 9:56 AM | André Salvage (Administrator)

I know it may seem like I'm biased, but objectively speaking, I feel San Soo holds up very well against today's fighting styles. However, it all depends on your criteria for assessment. If you're evaluating San Soo as a tournament and competition style, solely practicing San Soo might not be effective or even allowed. But if we're talking about its effectiveness in street fighting, then I believe it excels.

Is Kung Fu San Soo the best overall martial art? This question is complicated. I don’t think the average person, just observing the style, would consider it the best. This is mostly because many, even skilled fighters, fall into the trap of believing that the most popular martial arts seen on television and in organized competitions are the best.

A brief history lesson: Before Asian martial arts became prominent, boxing was the main and most popular self-defense style, perceived as the deadliest due to the power and invincibility of its practitioners. Post World War II, martial arts like Okinawa Tae, Karate, Judo, Aikido, and Jujitsu were introduced in America, becoming popular and perceived as more dangerous due to their incorporation of kicks, throws, and ground techniques, which were new to most Americans.

I remember being one of the few people familiar with judo and jujitsu in my youth. In schoolyard skirmishes, the use of my feet and throws was unfamiliar to the bullies accustomed to boxing. Following the Korean War, Korean martial arts like Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do, Hapkido, and the formidable Hwa Rang Do gained popularity in the U.S. Their high kicks, leverages, and success in tournaments captured attention.

Muay Thai also gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. Its origins are debated; some people believe its origin is a very old Cambodian style of fighting called Bokator, used in the Khmer military, while others contest that its origin began in Taiwan. Regardless, “the art of the 8 limbs” became very popular and was considered to be (and still is) one of the more effective martial arts.

Then Bruce Lee came along and introduced his blending of all styles, which he called Jeet Kune Do. Through his influence and movies, Kung Fu became the deadliest style and the style that people were quoting and saying was the best.

In the '90s, various martial arts claimed to be the most effective, including the Israeli Krav Maga, which is a hybrid style of aikido judo, karate, boxing, and wrestling. Our own military had a hybrid style utilizing all styles, including Kung Fu San Soo. These were known due to their absence from tournaments.

Then came the Brazilian jiu-jitsu style founded by Carlos Gracie, his brothers, and his sons, who challenged all martial arts in the octagon with great success. Then the mixed martial arts craze began its rise to where people feel very strongly that a good standup, ground, and submission technique is the only formula for fighting in and out of the ring. 

Amidst these evolving styles, in the '60s, a man named Chin Siu Dek (Jimmy H Woo) was teaching Kung Fu San Soo in El Monte, California. When he first arrived in America and opened a martial arts studio, he named it "karate kung fu," since kung fu was relatively unheard of before Bruce Lee's emergence.

Eager to showcase San Soo, Jimmy participated in a martial arts tournament. However, due to his limited understanding of English and a misconception that "full contact" meant literal full contact, he responded to his opponent's approach with a standard San Soo block, punch, and groin kick, resulting in a knockout. This action led to his immediate removal from the ring with boos and insults from the audience.  

Jimmy attempted to explain his language barrier and misunderstanding of the rules, requesting to address the audience for clarification, but his request was denied. Following this incident, he chose not to participate in any further tournaments and forbade his students against it as well. Unlike many ancient martial arts that are blends of various techniques involving the practitioner's limbs, body, and mind, San Soo's distinctiveness stems from its integration of all movements right from its inception.

So, how does San Soo compare to all these styles? Objectively, it fares very well. While I don’t believe in a "best" style, as it's the practitioner that makes a style effective, San Soo, with its comprehensive techniques, excels in practical self-defense. Its ability to disrupt an opponent’s rhythm and adapt to any situation makes it formidable.

I have seen San Soo, taekwondo, karate, jujitsu, boxers, wrestlers, and every style of martial art get beat on the street. I have seen all of them win and lose in tournaments as well.

It is always the fighter, not the style, that makes the art effective.

That being said… if you are looking for a style that has at its heart all combinations and techniques that one will need for practical self-defense, then San Soo is by far the best.

I also believe that if those who participate in competition were to spend one year at any San Soo school, their tournament fighting would also improve exponentially.

One reason is the family of Fut Ga. One of the best and deadliest things about San Soo is its ability to break the rhythm of a fight, disrupting the opponents’ subconscious habitual combinations and doing the unexpected. This quality of disruption, the ability to change and adapt to any situation, is one of the qualities that make San Soo so formidable.

The best illustration of this quality is a story told by my good friend and fellow San Soo teacher, the late Dean Murray:

“San Soo is like playing chess—your opponent moves, you counter when your opponent is about to make their move, you move first when your opponent is confused by you not waiting your turn, you pick up the chair you are sitting on and hit them with it.”

That is San Soo…

So, if you were to ask me, how does San Soo stack up into today’s martial arts in fighting, I would say it stands up damn well—after I hit you with my chair. 

©André Salvage 1979-2024. All rights reserved.


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