Prof. Leon Jay, 2nd Generation Headmaster of Small Circle Ju-jitsu, following in the tradition of innovation begun by his father, Prof. Wally Jay, has announced a further development in the art.
“When my father handed over leadership of the system to me, he was very clear that he wanted me to continue the evolution and expansion of the system. So far, I’ve concentrated on refining the techniques further by integrating the tuite (pressure point grappling) element. The second part of that mandate was to expand our student base.
“We have a historical problem in that my father’s worldwide travels for more than thirty years exposed a lot of martial artists to the system, but we have relatively few qualified instructors. So, there hasn’t been access for students to follow up on a seminar unless they lived in a handful of locations. Now we’re launching the Small Circle Concepts Programme to increase access to the core teachings of the system. We tried to offer something similar years ago, but the structure required too much commitment from hosts and students, so we have completely redesigned the whole programme.”
The Programme is modular with five core units and various supplementary units delivered in a seminar format. Leon says, “When John (John Mellon, a long time associate of the family) and I decided to re-work the whole programme, we came to the conclusion that the programme must do certain things. It had to teach the core mechanical principles that make Small Circle Ju-jitsu so effective; it had to be accessible to a wide range of stylists, whether or not they already had grappling skills and; it had to allow students to ‘pick and choose’ what aspects they wanted to study.”
The new programme fulfils all these criteria; there is a primary course unit, Small Circle Concepts Foundation – a sort of ‘Small Circle 101’ – this teaches the most basic mechanics that make Small Circle such an efficient style. Having completed this unit, participants can attend any other unit in isolation, or in any order they please depending on their perceived needs. Likewise, hosts may opt to hold a seminar that they judge to be most suitable for their own students, or which interests them personally.
“Many martial arts teachers and students now cross-train and study related or contrasting disciplines – we wanted to give them a form of access that doesn’t require giving up their main style. We believe Small Circle mechanics will allow you to adapt your own techniques to become even more efficient than before.”
The modular structure allows seminar attendees to really focus on particular skill areas. As an example, a Wado-Ryu karate group may want to extend their wrist and arm locks and throws as the system includes some of these courtesy of its roots in Hontai Yoshin Ryu Ju-jitsu. Conversely, a Judo group may prefer to just refine their primary skills areas in body-throws or groundwork utilising Small Circle’s ‘two-way wrist action’.
If you know something of Prof. Wally’s history, you will be aware that after he relocated to the mainland U.S. from Hawaii, his Judo team were going through a difficult time. The Professor was humiliated by the regular teasing he had to endure from other top West Coast Judo instructors. He went back to refining the wrist action that he was taught by Ken Kawachi. Kawachi Sensei was the Hawaiian Judo champion who persuaded Prof. Wally to stick with his ju-jitsu training when he intended to refuse his blue-belt rank. Prof. Wally had found some of the ju-jitsu throws less than effective, but Ken Kawachi told him to stay with it and he would teach him to throw efficiently. Kawachi Sensei, a short, slightly built man, was renowned for taking on all-comers, many of them professional wrestlers and between 250-300 pounds; literally twice or more than his size. Prof. Wally credits the wrist-action taught to him by Kawachi as the core of what became Small Circle, and with it, combined with changes to the entry footwork, his team came to dominate West Coast Judo for many years, producing many regional and national champions.
Smaller grappling stylists may well want to study the ‘Counter-Throws’ unit – if you routinely find that a larger exponent is powering through your basic defences, then you have to have a way to ‘turn the tables’ on them. Small Circle stylists are very adept at doing just that – again the altered footwork and sheer efficiency of the ‘kozushi’ (off-balancing or preparatory entry to the throw) inform the counter techniques. This is one of the supplementary units, but no less valuable for that.
Even when it comes to groundwork, Small Circle also displays subtle, but significant differences from standard Judo and Ju-jitsu practice. “Whether you are an experienced Judo-ka or a ground-work virgin, the Concepts unit will up your game,” says Leon. “Groundwork, as in all areas of Judo, was ‘softened’ for safer practice when the art was developed. In Small Circle, we continue with the pain-control theme, so our immobilization techniques differ from the standard techniques. As ever, the idea is to produce a much greater degree of pain often with only a slight change in angle of application and with much less effort. After my father had a triple by-pass operation eight years ago, John came over to San Francisco for a visit. Dad threw him on the floor and proceeded to show him transition after transition from one ground control to the next. Because it’s not part of my regular training due to old injuries from an automobile accident, we haven’t included it in the Concepts Programme, but we might create a supplementary module to focus on it at a later stage.”
One of the trademarks of Small Circle Ju-jitsu is its continuous flow from one technique to another; Leon says that this particularly attracts Aikido and Aiki-ju-jitsu stylists and law enforcement officers. This is what Prof. Wally dubbed ‘transitional flow’ and John Mellon has always maintained it is a big factor in Prof. Wally’s technical mastery. “We used to discuss this aspect of the art a great deal when I was first getting to know the Professor many years ago. It wasn’t just that the Professor was so effective at applying each individual technique; he moved from one technique to the next with so little ‘set-up’, it was pretty much impossible to escape him once he laid hands on you. Certainly I never managed it, and God knows I was trying.” A module on Transitional Flow is one of the supplementary units in the Programme. “It’s not one of the core modules because we decided you can get along without it, even though it is ultimately a defining element of my father’s art. What it comes down to is this is an aspect of the art that is a ‘nice to have’, rather than a necessity. At a more advanced stage of development you really want this as part of your skill set, especially if you know you’ll have to make the techniques work in real life against determined resistance. At that point, you need the ability to abandon one technique for another, or make a transition so that the opponent cannot acclimatize to the pain of any specific control, and all without losing contact.”
Likewise police and prison officers typically tend to prefer the wrist and finger-locking techniques that Small Circle is so famous for, as they allow close control of an opponent with little energy expenditure and need not leave any permanent injury. This fine control element of the art, coupled with the sheer speed with which the techniques can be applied due to their efficient mechanics has made the system very attractive to groups such as the U.S. Airborne Rangers. “Small Circle Jujitsu is a precise and practical system that I often taught to my soldiers. What I like most about Small Circle is speed; soldiers in combat situations need to resolve an encounter quickly and Small Circle Jujitsu training fits that need.” Robert A. Guihan, MAJ USAR (RET).
“My Dad’s openness to learning has always been a big part of his success. Despite all of his accomplishments, he has never been arrogant; he’s always felt that others have techniques and insights of value too. One story that illustrates that nicely concerns one of our younger students who was attending a ‘Big Three’ (Wally Jay, George Dillman, and Remy Presas) seminar some years ago. Prof. Remy was teaching before my Dad and a kid came running up to him all flustered. He said, ‘Come quick, Professor, Prof. Remy’s stealing all our stuff!’ My Dad laughed and said, ‘That’s ok, we’re stealing all his stuff too – we call it sharing!’
“It’s an attitude thing, really,” says Leon, “just because you have something you know is really good and really valuable, doesn’t mean to say others don’t have equally valuable material. Sometimes, in working with martial artists of very different backgrounds we discover something entirely new, or perhaps just get a new perspective on our own technique.”
The Programme includes a supplementary unit on Entry Techniques, which is intended to appeal to a wide range of Concepts students. “My father has an uncanny ability to pluck a striking technique out of the air and then go to work on you. It’s really a result of having cross-trained so widely, particularly in his youth, but it’s not so easy to reproduce! So, we decided we better have a standard set of entry techniques that would be accessible and adaptable to students from a wide range of backgrounds. I’ve trained extensively in Tae Kwon Do and Karate, and John has studied lots of striking styles, so we created a common set of reference techniques,” Leon explained. “If you are a Judo-ka, for instance, you are used to your starting point being the grip, but you may not be so familiar with a powerful punch or kick coming your way. We’ve grouped various striking and parrying methods together, a kind of generic Indo-Chinese/S.E. Asian primer to give everyone – specialist strikers and non-strikers alike – a common set of entry positions from which you can apply your Small Circle.”
And if you work your way through the whole Programme and still want more, there are intensive seminar units to prepare you to teach the Concepts. “I’m really excited about the Instructor training,” says Prof. Leon. “Apart from intensive revision of the Programme and extra material, we’ve worked very hard at the structure. There are three levels: Apprentice; Associate and Full Instructor. You have to undertake the training with a committed teaching partner, and at each level you are expected to take on a few more students, who you co-teach. The idea is to apply the Concepts while revisiting your understanding continually, and the students you take on are both your homework and help to fund your further training.”
“Having studied a wide range of arts over the years and consequently meeting a huge number of artists, I can still count the really good seminar teachers on the fingers of both hands,” says John Mellon. “There are many fine exponents and teachers out there, but seminar teaching is really difficult to do well. It requires a certain amount of charisma, a large amount of skill, and distilling and presenting a lot of knowledge coherently in such a pressured environment is not an easy thing to master. Leon is among the very best in the world – he won’t try to convert you, but you will come away at least with a refined understanding of your own art – if you attend his seminars, you really can’t fail to learn!”