San Soo » Five Families
As explained here,
the expression Kung Fu San Soo, is more of a moniker describing
the training and fighting method of the art rather than the ‘style’
of the art. This is why it’s so difficult to categorize the
art to others familiar with Chinese martial art ‘styles’.
They’re expecting a traditional name that represents a family, a
style, or lineage like Taiji
Hung Gar, Fut
Chun, or Choy
Li Fut. As explained in the History
section, legend and some historians hold that the dynamic response fighting
method and the “mapping of spatial, temporal, and energetic characteristics
of the battlefield to human physiological structure” were developed
in the Southern Shaolin Temple of Lin Quan Yuan in Fujian.
But the historic name of the art of Kung Fu San Soo is Choy Li Ho
Fut Hung Ga in Cantonese,
or Five Families, said to be traceable to Jee
Sin (Yale Cantonese,
Zhi Shan in Mandarin),
a member of the so called Kung Fu Five Elders. In Hoisanese
it’s pronounced Tsoi Li Ho Fut Hung, and in Pinyin
it’s Cai Li He Fo Xiong. From Cai Jia, Li
Jia, He Jia, Fo Jia, Xiong Jia, we
end up with the abbreviated Pinyin Gong Fu San Shou Cailihefoxiongjia,
or Kung Fu San Soo, Five Family Martial Art, based on the Five
Family Elders. That's how the typical person fluent in modern
Pinyin Chinese would understand it. The Five Family Elders
are not to be confused with the five animals, or the Kung
Fu Five Founders, or the Tian
Di Hui Triad Five Elders. And although these heritages
are based on legend, they very likely containing significant truths,
and almost certainly overlap.
Given the names handed down by Chan Siu Dek, for better or worse, the Americanized art known as Kung Fu San Soo, as Tsoi Li Ho Fut Hung, is almost certainly descended from and associated with the tough, infamous Triad Lineage. It is possible, that Chan Siu Dek may have been a "Red Pole" enforcer, a "426" (a fighter), at least at some point in his life. If not, then possibly the Hop Sing Tong equvalent. You can learn something more about the Five Family Names here.
Strictly speaking, in modern Kung Fu San Soo, as Choy Li Ho Fut Hung
only Choy, Li, and Ho refer to actual surname
family lineages. Fo roughly means Buddhist psychology,
but more broadly applies to a practice sometimes called Buddha Palm,
employing open hand and soft techniques, and is associated with the style
known as Fut
Fo Jia in Mandarin).
Hung can be a family surname, and in this instance is the same
name as Chan Siu Dek's great uncle, Chan Siu Hung. it can also mean heroic,
or it strong, and it's our opinion that all these definitions historically
relate to Kung Fu San soo. But in practice it applies to dynamic strength
training along with some of the methods of the style known as Hung
Now this may be an oversimplification, but serves as a basic way
of understanding the terms as we presently understand them. Each of
the five names in Choy Li Ho Fut Hung in Cantonese,
or Cailihefoxiong in Mandarin,
describe five methods of fighting specialization. But according
to some historians, legend holds that the specializations emerged
as associations with five actual historic families.
Between the third century and the thirteenth century, most of the Chinese
martial arts as we know them today probably underwent some developed in
Temples, both in the North and the South, and in Taoist Wudang
Temples in the North. Briefly explained, legend holds that the Shaolin
arts enjoyed the support of five important families. By some accounts,
for possibly as long as 1000 years, five historic families actually patronized
the Sholin with donations of money and property.
How the family names are spelled or pronounced in English depends on
the Chinese dialect one employs to Romanize them. They were Choy (Tsoi,
Choi, Cai); Li (Lay, Lee); Mo (Mok); Lau (Lui) ; and Hung (Xiong).
Each name was followed by the word ‘family', Ga
or Jia in Mandarin.
Each of the five benefactor families became synonymous with a fighting
- Choy Ga (Cai Jia) concentrated on hand blows
- Li Ga (Li Jia) concentrated on footwork, balance
and leg attacks
- Mo Ga (Mok Jia) concentrated on short hand strikes,
low kicks and staff techniques
- Lau Ga (Lui Jia) concentrated on short to middle
arm strikes stressing flowery open hand techniques
- Hung Ga (Xiong Jia) concentrated on dynamic tension exercise.
low and wide open forms.
With the fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644, the fighting families,
the Shaolin Monks, and the trained fighters, formed secret allegiances
to oppose the new Qing Dynasty, or the Manchurians. The rebellion
against the Qing Dynasty continued until its fall in 1911. But in
1760 the Qing burned the larger temples and scattered the occupants.
During the mid eighteenth century, the legendary Hongmen
(Hung Men) of the Tian Di Hui
began to assert that their society, the Hung Fa Wui or Red
Flower Society, was born of an alliance between Ming loyalists and five
survivors of the destruction of the southern Shaolin Temple at Fujian,
the Triad Five Elders. They claimed this compact was formed at
the Hung Fa Ting, or Vast or Red Flower Pavilion, where
they swore themselves to "overthrow the Qing and restore the
Ming". This is the symbolic meaning of the hand salute used
by most southern Chinese martial arts, including Kung Fu San Soo, the
one you see just at your left.
From the lineage of Kung Fu San Soo, Hung
Sing Legend has it that only a few monks survived the southern temple.
Some accounts hold six, and some five, and although historians often acknowledge
several of the individuals having really existed, they also usually hold
the details of these accounts to be largely undocumentable, and although
probably containing a great deal of truth, somewhat romanticized stories.
But the widely popular legend of five monks is the most broadly notable
among the greater Nánquán Chinese arts. They are sometimes called the
Family Elders, and legend holds that each one of these monks represented
one of the original five fighting family specialties. As we've noted,
there are at least three versions: the Triad Five Elders; the
Kung Fu Five Elders, and the Five Family Elders. It's
easy for anyone to find this all confusing, and various groups and lineages
seem to cling to their respective favorites. It's our opinion that they
all spring from a common source and contain a great deal of truth.
The reality is that there were probably several individuals who did survive
the burning of the temples, individuals whose skills may have in fact
been modified in the temples during the 15th and 16th
centuries, before their destruction, as a method to fight the Qing, and
forming the fighting and training method we find in many of the southern
arts, including the one we know today as Kung Fu San Soo. One of the legendary
five in the Kung Fu San Soo background is held to have specialized in
a Northern Style (Chángquán), and four specialized
in Southern Styles (Nánquán). It was in response
to these extremely efficient fighting methods, the same that are employed
today in Kung Fu San Soo training, that the Qing decided to simply raze
A number of modern systems emerged during this underground period, systems
like Hung Gar, Mok Gar, Fut Gar, Choi Gar, Li Gar, White
Crane, Wing Chun, and Choy Li Fut. The latter forms
at least a parallel and overlaping
lineage of Kung Fu San Soo. Choy Li Fut was founded by Chan
Heung, a person we hold to be the adoptive great
grandfather of the founder of American Kung Fu San Soo, Chan Siu
Dek, the person the world knew best as Jimmy
H. Woo. Kung Fu San Soo oral tradition holds that one of his
ancestors emerged from the inner sanctum of the Shaolin temple system,
into the secular world, with two traditional training
books preserved from one of the destroyed temples.
From the oral tradition left behind by Chan Siu Dek, Kung Fu San
Soo holds the five families to be those in the list below. The very best explanations we know of can be found here. Go to the link. It almost perfectly explains the five family interpretation of Kung Fu San Soo as five branches of specific martial study, along with the evolution and association of the family names of the South Chinese Martial Arts where Kung Fu San Soo clearly fits.
- Tsai Ga Kuen Tao (Cai Jia): Short range
- Li Ga Mah (Li Jia): Leg techniques and
- Hoc, Haw, Ho Ga Pai (He Jia): Pressure,
nerve and acupuncture points, Chin Na seizing and leverage
- Fut Ga Jerung (Fo jia): Buddha Palm;
open hand and soft techniques, fight psychology
- Hung Ga (Xiong Jia): Dynamic tension exercise.
Low and wide open forms.
One Kung Fu San Soo source suggests that Chan Heung changed the names of the
five families to honor his teachers and the Buddhist faith to these
names, but we've found little evidence supporting the addition of
the Ho and Hung names to traditional Choy Li fut. The spelling variations
are all just efforts to pronounce the same Chinese calligraphic word
in English. We are told by some that Chan Siu Dek held that the longer five family
name was shortened to Choy
Li Fut (Tsoi Li Fut, Choy Lee Fat, Cai Li
Fo). And Chan Siu Dek told most that his family art, Village Style Choy Li Fut, or combat Choy Li Fut as Kung Fu San Soo, was only a cousin to classical Choy Li Fut, telling us that Kung Fu San Soo is best described as "Choy Li Ho". Chan Siu Dek used different combinations himself to represent
his interpretation of his art, at different stages of his career as
or master teacher. At various times he used Choy Li Ho, Choy
Li Ho Fut, Choi Li Fut Hung, and Choy Li Ho Fut
Hung, on ranking certificates. For example, the founder of the
Sonora School is Rusty
Wallace. He's a second generation master and his certificate is
signed by Bill
Lasiter, but the calligraphy was hand inked by Chan Siu Dek and
only includes Choy, Li, Ho, and Fut. On it we find
the calligraphic character for 'Ho' replacing the more popular
"Mok", and the Hung character is omitted completely.
And on the official International Kung Fu San Soo website homepage
around his photograph, we see in Chan Siu Dek's own hand, the variation
Choy Li Fut Hung.
Chan Siu Dek used the Chinese calligraphic character to represent the
family of Ho
(Haw), replacing the Mok character more often used by other schools
and lineages tracing their origins to the Five Families. As we noted above,
at least one Kung Fu San Soo source attributes the change to Choy Li Fut
founder, Chan Heung. But the only place this character and lineage shows
up very well in our research in the Nánquán arts is through
the recently deceased Segung
Haw (Ho), Churng of the Fujian Hung Sing Choy Li Fut school, and through
the lineage of one of it’s descendant schools in San
It is our understanding that When Kung Fu San Soo reseachers recently
contacted Haw(Ho), Cherk-Wah, son of Haw (Ho), Churng, in Fujian, even
using a knowledgeable Chinese interpreter, he was disinclined to speak
on the historic connection between American Tsoi Li Ho Fut Hung, and the
Hung Sing lineage, in keeping with the traditional secrecy of this lineage
and the disinclination to fraternize closely with ousiders, especially
westerners. So we know very little about this characterization or why
Chan Siu Dek utilized it, except that we do find legitimate assertions
that he used to visit
the San Francisco Hung Sing school. Chan Siu Dek also used the
Heroic Victory character for Hung, which was the same character
used in his great uncle’s name and Hung
lineage. It is not the same Hung character used to describe the Hung
Fa Wui, although we're reasonably conviced that the former is integrally
connected with the latter.
Kung Fu San Soo is an extremely efficient fighting and training methodology
developed over many centuries, probably refined in the Southern
Shaolin Temple of Fujian, and employed the medieval Five Family specialties.
After the burning of the major temples, the practice went deeply underground,
became surrounded by mystery, folklore, and secret societies, and migrated
into smaller temples. From one or more of these temples (some accounts
hold as many as five), on the Pearl River Delta in Taishan, in a village
oral accounts hold as Pong Hong, the Kung Fu San Soo training
and fighting method of the art of Choy Li Ho Fut Hung in Cantonese,
or Cailihefoxiong in Mandarin,
survived. The American lienage of this fighting system, with its
characteristic body coiling 'accent' and bold 'style' followed through
the personal and family training of Chan
Siu Dek. While it has many other branches in nearby Chinese arts,
this is the family lineage Chan Siu Dek established in America.