Wally Jay was one of the most respected masters in the martial arts community — in part because he maintained an open mind while studying a variety of arts but also because he was willing to modify his techniques to keep them effective and up to date.
When I hear the title “master,” I often ask myself what it really means. Does it refer to a person who’s experienced everything and reached nirvana? Does growing older halt the need for learning and bestow enlightenment on the person? I’m not convinced this question can be answered, but I will share with you my perspective. Although he himself never expressed it while he was alive, I consider Wally Jay, the jujitsu teacher from Alameda, California, a true master. He was a man who spent most of his life developing his art. Anyone who’s experienced the concepts of small-circle jujitsu, which he founded, will attest to Wally Jay’s skills and mastery of not only jujitsu but also martial arts in general. Behind the Man For those who never had the pleasure of meeting Wally Jay, here’s some background information: He began his training in the 1940s in Hawaii under the late jujitsu authority Henry Okazaki. Wally Jay relocated to the San Francisco area and attained success as a judo coach, guiding many students to championship status. Wally Jay also befriended Bruce Lee during the 1960s. In fact, it was Bruce Lee’s custom to wait on Wally Jay’s porch until Wally Jay returned from work so he could spend time talking with the jujitsu expert. Apparently, Bruce Lee was taken with Wally Jay’s attitude and approach to the martial arts. It’s believed that many of Bruce Lee’s subsequent eclectic adaptations developed as a result of his association with Wally Jay. But neither influence over the “Little Dragon” nor vast knowledge and skill automatically qualified Wally Jay as a master. Rather, his ability to continue researching his knowledge of jujitsu did. Open Mind Wally Jay’s martial arts background also included judo, boxing, kung fu and weightlifting. It was this diversity that helped him see the need to alter his style of jujitsu. In doing so, he discovered that his judo also needed strengthening. Wally Jay then called on his experience and training to improve his approach to coaching his judo students. They stopped being average jujitsu and judo players and started becoming champions. Believing he was onto something, Wally Jay continued to experiment and develop his small-circle theories. Wally Jay began traveling around the United States, Canada and Europe to introduce his art, now officially called small-circle jujitsu, to practitioners of other styles. I had the opportunity to meet him in 1982. He stayed at my home when he came to town to conduct a seminar, and I felt fortunate to get to know him and his family. I also came to respect his attitude toward the martial arts. Later, a friend gave me a video of Wally Jay and his classmates demonstrating jujitsu in the 1940s. It allowed me to observe the changes he’d instituted over the years. The modifications were actually quite profound. Change was a tradition Wally Jay grew up with, as his teacher had combined the best of jujitsu, kung fu and the Hawaiian martial arts to form his own syllabus. Constant Improvement Over the years I knew Wally Jay, I was continually amazed at how he kept improving his art. He often said that people who’d attended one of his seminars one year and then another seminar the next year remarked on how much the tactics he was teaching had improved — even to the point at which certain people would become upset that they now had to change their own execution of the techniques. Some people, Wally Jay discovered, didn’t like to be taken out of their comfort zone. After all, change is scary for many — and quite often the reason a traditional art becomes stagnant. I’ve seen and heard of many people touting themselves as masters. Many even use impressive titles such as grandmaster and great-grandmaster. I’ve found that those who choose to call themselves “master” usually aren’t and those who are called “master” by others usually are. Wally Jay definitely belonged in the second category. Like his peers, his humble attitude belied his huge contribution to the martial arts. Resources Download your FREE GUIDE to Wally Jay’s small-circle jujitsu and its use of pressure points here. Buy DVDs of Wally Jay’s small-circle jujitsu here. Visit the official website of small-circle jujitsu here.