Frank Woolsey

Frank Woolsey was one of Jimmy Woo’s earliest non-Asian students, and one of the best. Woolsey opened his first studio in 1963, in Downey, California. And, then opened his second school in 1968. At the peak of his Kung Fu business career, Woolsey had five studios open in the southern California area, and was looking at Arizona and Nevada markets as well. All five schools closed in 1975 for a number of different reasons, but the most pivotal, was the sudden loss of interest in Kung Fu by the public. Attendance and sales dropped dramatically, and the once thriving corporation collapsed.

Forgotten now are the large number of firsts that Frank Woolsey had achieved. Woolsey was the first to have multiple Kung Fu studios opened under a single ownership. He was also the first to have produced a TV commercial for any Kung Fu school, to air on national television. The first to publish a book on Kung Fu San Soo, under the title of Real Kung Fu by Frank Woolsey. The first to combine both a Kung Fu studio with free weights, weight machines, showers, and saunas, and offer it as a Kung Fu studio and health spa. Frank was also the first to insist that every student was put on a contract basis with the school.

Woolsey had also systemized the teaching method, that was universally followed at all of Frank’s schools. Each instructor was not allowed to teach a student any lessons, until the instructor himself had been taught the proper method of teaching from Frank. Careful attention was given to the way an instructor spoke to students, and the way that the lessons were given. With this uniformity of teaching, a student could be a portion of a lesson at one school, and upon going to another one of the Woolsey studios, he could pick up the balance of the lesson, with complete confidence in the accurately of the remainder of the lesson. This also allow a student to go to any one of the Frank Woolsey studios and work out with any student, because of the uniformity of lessons given throughout the chain of schools, everyone had a capable level of knowledge and skill.

Woolsey also taught his instructors how to sale. It was vital to the survival of the corporation that more students were signed up on an annual contract, and Frank was very aggressive in his manner of training all instructors in how to sale. Bill Hulsey, who ran the Downey school for Woolsey, recalls a very good month back in 1974, when the school had signed fifty new members at a rate of six hundred dollars, for a total of thirty thousand dollars in one month. The Downey studio was one of five fully running Frank Woolsey studios at the time.

There were many benefits that came with being one of Frank Woolsey’s instructors, such as the knowledge and experience that came with the position. Woolsey was very smart, and often shared his business knowledge with those around him. The colors used in the school were chosen to invoke very positive responses in students and visitors, and Frank shared the reasons for these choices, and how they affected people. Instructors became very good at sales, and after the Woolsey studios closed, many instructors were hired in sales positions, simply because they worked for Frank Woolsey, and the level of successful sales were well know to the general public. Others opened their own schools after the collapse of the Woolsey Empire, and several are still active today. A few entered the world of private security and body guarding, and again, the mention of the fact that Frank Woolsey trained them was a guarantee that they were hired. Still others went on to be successful in other chosen careers, much due to the fact that Woolsey had taught them how to succeed, and how to have the attitude for always winning.

Frank Woolsey and Jimmy Woo had sat down to develop a series of lessons that would be taught at Frank’s first school. Following Jimmy’s course layout, Frank began to teach in his first little studio, in a strip center in Downey, just down from a liquor store. At that time Frank was a member of the Jimmy H. Woo Association, it wasn’t until later that frictions between the two split them apart. Woolsey forbade the name of Jimmy Woo in his school, or even the reference to San Soo. Instead, Woolsey insisted that the art be referred to as Kung Fu only, or Real Kung Fu. Then there was the live radio broadcast that Frank participated in, in about 1974, where the radio audience could call in and ask Woolsey questions. One caller asked Frank straight out if he’d ever heard of Jimmy Woo, and Woolsey denied any knowledge of Jimmy whatsoever.

Woo use to say that he regarded Frank Woolsey as a son. Obviously the bond between them was very strong, and the rift that tore them apart was also very powerful. When Woolsey closed his doors in 1975, many of Frank’s instructors and students alike, went to El Monte to continue their education under Jimmy Woo. Although Jimmy welcomed them, many of Frank’s students meet with strong hostility from Woo’s students. It interesting to note, that in 1986 Jimmy Woo and Frank Woolsey met at a restaurant that Frank owned. The two of them sat down, and spent a great deal of time bringing each other up to date on their respective families, and patching up old differences.

It should be noted that we at are not presenting this article as praise or support for Frank Woolsey himself. But instead to show the contribution that Woolsey made to the preservation of an older style of Kung Fu San Soo that Jimmy Woo used to teach. The fact is, that Frank Woolsey made several choices and decisions regarding his treatment of instructors and employees that alienated even his most dedicated supporters. He publicly denied ever knowing Jimmy Woo, the man who taught him the fighting system that not only changed his life, but also gave him the opportunity to make large sums of money. Woolsey’s poor decisions coupled with the changing public interest in Kung Fu, ultimately undermined the Frank Woolsey Kung Fu empire, and left a dark shadow over those that studied under Frank in the eyes of the other San Soo schools. To many, Frank Woolsey, was the Judas of Kung Fu San Soo.

Frank Woolsey still remains a very controversial character in the world of Kung Fu San Soo, even twenty-five years after he closed all of his schools, and stepped out of the spotlight. Remembered for being at once, both brilliant and a bastard, innovative and evil, Woolsey left a mark on the memories of the Kung Fu San Soo world that few others will ever achieve.