Wally Jay and Leon Jay: Father and Son of Small-Circle Jujitsu

Wally and Leon Jay
Ask anyone to compile a list of the martial arts movers and shakers of the 20th century, and you’ll likely see Wally Jay’s name near the top. A three-time Black Belt Hall of Fame inductee — 1969 Jujitsu Instructor of the Year, 1990 Man of the Year and recipient of the 2011 Honorary Award — he founded small-circle jujitsu.

After spending decades teaching and refining his system, Wally Jay passed away in 2011 at age 93, no doubt secure in the knowledge that he’d groomed a successor who was fully capable of continuing his life’s work. That successor is his son Leon Jay.

Since he assumed the mantle of the small circle, Leon Jay has overseen the system’s development. In fact, he’s established an international reputation for being a martial arts technician and, more important, a teacher who can convey the superior mechanics for which the art is renowned.

The essence of small circle’s techniques and mechanics is described by 10 key principles that Wally Jay formulated: balance; mobility and stability; avoiding the head-on collision of forces; mental resistance and distraction; focusing to the smallest point possible; energy transfer; creating a base; sticking, control and sensitivity; rotational momentum; and transitional flow.

At any given moment, more than one of those principles will be applied, Wally Jay always said. During the execution of a combination, it’s likely all of them will be in play.

Naturally, the development of small-circle jujitsu that’s taken place under Leon Jay remains consistent with all 10 principles. One field that’s captivated him is the refinement of techniques through the use of pressure points. Wally Jay discovered the value of a number of points decades ago through trial and error, and Leon has committed himself to conducting a structured study of the discipline. This is precisely how his dad hoped his art would continue to evolve.

“My father always emphasized that you should never be afraid to be open with what you have,” Leon Jay says. “We were at a seminar one time, and Remy Presas was teaching. One of his young students came rushing in and said, ‘Professor Remy is stealing your techniques!’

“My father thought about it for a second, looked the student in the eye and then reassured him. ‘Yes, and I’m stealing all of his,’ he said. ‘We call it sharing.’ That’s the small-circle way: Always be ready to share what you have, and you’ll get back more than you give away.”

Most practitioners of small-circle jujitsu prefer to operate as a counterfighter, Leon Jay says. “[We] allow our opponent to commit and then punish him for it. We train for that by teaching students a referencing system that gives them multiple ways to punish and then capture a limb. More important, it allows them to intelligently select the most likely technique to fit the situation.

“Once we have contact, we concentrate not only on being efficient in our mechanics but also on being able to adapt to resistance. No matter how tight or how painful a locking technique is, the opponent will habituate to the discomfort — and then the resistance is coming! We circumvent this by maintaining each lock for only a few seconds before moving to another, which is why transitional flow was such an important concept to my father.

“Taking an opponent through several locks in sequence with no opportunities to escape is demoralizing. We’ll usually finish with a throw — the ground is another weapon, after all — then we either walk away or pin the opponent.”

It’s clear that Leon Jay is guiding small-circle jujitsu further along the strategic course his father envisioned.

About the author: John Mellon is the co-founder and joint headmaster of Small Circle Concepts and the deputy headmaster of Small Circle Jujitsu under Leon Jay. For more information about the art or the book Mellon and Jay are writing, visit smallcirclejujitsu.com.

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