Small Circle Ju-jitsu – A Classic American Art-form

Interview with Leon Jay, 2nd Generation Headmaster. – Part 1

It’s never easy taking over from a legend, so when martial arts giant, Professor Wally Jay handed on control of the Small Circle Jujitsu system to his son Leon, he could have been forgiven for feeling as if this was an impossible act to follow.

After all, Professor Jay Snr – 92 this year – is one of the last surviving greats of 20th century martial arts.

His combination of judo, jujitsu, Western boxing, Filipino arts, hapkido, kung-fu and other arts formed a devastatingly effective style that is revolutionary even now, let alone more than 65 years ago when the seeds were first sown growing up in Hawaii.

Coming from the comparatively cosmopolitan Hawaii, where he studied judo under Ken Kawachi and Kodenkan Jujitsu with Juan Gomez – a disciple of Master Henry Okazaki – moving to mainland America and California was a culture shock, explains Leon.

“Dad had a hard road to travel back then because the Japanese were pretty insular. The difference between Hawaii and California was vast. Hawaii‘s people were all kind of squashed together and mixed up and open with each other.  But in California the Japanese people who had come there straight from Japan weren’t that way at all. They stuck to their own selves and were very traditional in that way.

“And being Chinese in a Japanese art, well it was really tough. That was one of the things Bruce Lee liked about Dad, because here was a Chinese guy like him who was taking a Japanese art and beating them at it,” laughs Leon.

“Bruce was intensely proud of being Chinese and he liked the idea of taking the best of something and developing it,” explained Leon.

Leon would come home from school to find Bruce sitting on the doorstep of the family home in Oakland waiting to train with his father. “That whole anti-Japanese thing was a bit of an obsession for Bruce. Mind you, that didn’t stop him having a Japanese girlfriend before he met Linda though.

“She’d tease him about it. Bruce would look at something – an umbrella, a gun, pretty much anything and point at it and say, ‘That’s a Chinese invention.’  She would smile and say, ‘Yes, but we made it better’,” laughed Leon.

But the two men were as one when it came to breaking down rigid thinking, says Leon.  “Dad really did think outside the box. A lot of his peers in Okazaki style jujitsu put him down for it, too. “They’d say that’s not the way Professor Okazaki did things and he’d say, ‘But Professor Okazaki changed things; why aren’t we?’  So some people got frozen in time,” he shrugs.

While there is no-one more fiercely proud of his father’s legacy than Leon, he will protect Small Circle’s legacy, but run it his way.  “I had a revelation last year that brought it all home to me,’ he explains.

“Professor Dave Castoldi is one of our most trusted friends and professors in Small Circle and he’d come to London from Massachusetts for a seminar. They asked me up to see him and teach there, so I was happy to and did a segment.  I took my son Liam with me; he was three and a half at the time and he was jumping around and playing on the mats and I had this big flashback – that was me all those years ago when I was a kid and my father was teaching in all those gyms.

“It was just a real déjà vu moment. I started when I was two officially, but my folks told me that before I could walk I was like, slapping the mat and copying everybody.  I’m the youngest of the family. My sisters and brother and cousins are all 10 years plus older than me. They were all on their way and pretty much black belts as I was coming through, mostly in judo.

“Dad had a judo team in the 60s and 70s that really dominated everything.
At the same time he was developing his jujitsu so they worked hand in hand. He always said our jujitsu wouldn’t be as good unless we did the judo as well,” he added.

Leon trained with his father from almost before he could walk, but there was no inevitability about his succession. “To a certain extent, none of us kids had a choice back then growing up in California.  Now they’ve all moved on and don’t practice any more, but in those days you’d go to school, come home, clean the gym, do lessons, dinner, homework, bed. Next day the same and then tournaments at the weekends, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday; I don’t want to make it sound hard because we enjoyed it, but that was life.

“All the other kids were playing outside and I’m training. At school they wanted me to join the wrestling team, but dad wanted me to concentrate on the judo. But I was never really that good at judo. Dad had the top team in the country and, my God, it was a nightmare trying to keep up with those guys.

“I was always a little bit rebellious. Actually, when I really found my feet was when I broke away and started studying karate. People expect you to be a certain way because of your father but his image is so big people over there always looked at me and compared us.  But I’m not him, I’m me. Dad has always been quite pure in many ways where I could be, well, kind of a bad boy.

“Karate was something Dad didn’t do so nobody expected anything of me because of my family or who Dad was. And for another it suited my body style because I was lean and flexible – so I could do all that aerial c**p at the time,” he laughs.

Black belts in jujitsu, judo, karate, and tae kwon do followed – along with training in Western boxing, kali, and Remy Presas’s stick fighting.  But it was Leon’s study of pressure points with George Dillman that took Small Circle into new territory again.

“When I was learning jujitsu there were no kicks in it at all.  Dad didn’t do any kicks. He did throws and joint locks and chokes and did them brilliantly. Still does.  He’s getting on now, had his heart bypass a few years ago, but at seminars near home he might come down to the mat, inflict some terrible pain on someone and then disappear again.

“But because my body style is suited to kicking and all that jumping around that I got from karate, some of it found its place in the Small Circle teaching,” said Leon.

“After all the different training, all the styles, after all that, you come back to what really works.  And when you’ve been in a few street fights you work out what to use and what to discard.  What you’re left with, well, it’s pretty basic. The fancy stuff is just for looking good, It makes you feel good in front of the mirror when you’re around your friends and stuff, but in a street fight you want to stick to what’s going to work and making sure you get away unhurt when people won’t be persuaded out of a fight,” he explained.

“So I introduced kicking and the pressure points. Dad used some of the pressure points but he didn’t study them in any depth. He knew that when you hit in certain areas it made the body do this or do that.  Say, like a hit to the triceps tendon would weaken the elbow, loosen the body; stuff like that, but he hadn’t studied it in depth or detail.

“In the 1980s, when he and Remy and George Dillman got together ,and started doing The Big Three tours all over the world, Dad told me learn the pressure points and said, ‘If you don’t you’ll be left behind.’

“So I did, I got into it and I was fortunate because back then when George and Dad and Remy were really huge all over the world I toured with them and after the seminars while they would be in the front room talking with an organiser or promoter, I’d be in the kitchen with George’s top students talking until three or four in the morning sharing Small Circle, pressure points and stick fighting techniques.

“It was a great time and was very exciting because hardly anybody back then was doing pressure points that way, and the finger locking and Dad’s joint locking was really happening and Remy’s stick fighting was devastating. They brought it all to the forefront.

“I were just very fortunate to be around at that time when the pressure point techniques were so wide open and meet these guys. I mean, Remy’s gone now, and Dad’s stepped back.

“But you have to recognise and ride those opportunities.  I took a lot of our Small Circle techniques and because I knew which pressure points to hit I just modified them.

“So with study and trial and error over the years, I found that if you touch this point, it’ll release this joint. So when I do wrist locks I’m touching on small intestine then large intestine then crashing from fire to metal, stuff like that.

“It’s enhanced it and it’s also fed back the other way. A lot of the karate guys, the pressure point people, have had Dad and me in for seminars so they could study our movements and look at the applications that might be possible for their katas,” said Leon.  John Mellon, an old friend of ours, has been telling people for 25 years that traditional karate is about 60 – 70% grappling.

There’s no doubt that Small Circle’s accurate mapping and scientific use of pressure points has made Leon a star – albeit a pretty reluctant star – of YouTube.  There are upwards of 100 Small Circle clips uploaded on YouTube, many showing Kyusho knockouts and some, controversially, no- touch knockdowns.

“We took a lot of our one-arm chokes and jujitsu techniques and applied pressure points and before we knew what was happening, people were passing out. They were dropping all over the place, man and if they didn’t go straight out, then the follow-up was the grapple.

“I would add grabs and strikes into it and sometimes the people would just collapse and go and if not, I’d be moving into the choke or the arm bar or the leg bar. Flow – keep going until something works. This ‘one punch, one kill’ crap; I don’t think so,” said Leon.

“There are some tough guys out there, man; some just don’t feel pressure points. There are guys you can put the arm bar on so strong the arm breaks and they just look at you and laugh.  OK. So what do you do now?  Now you’re taking out legs just so they can’t chase you,” he adds.

“I once got into a situation with a guy on PCP at an Earth Wind and Fire concert in the States.  He was about 6ft 4ins or something and he just wanted to kill me. No matter what I said or did he wouldn’t listen.  So I picked him up and threw him on his head and there’s blood gushing everywhere. He got up so I picked him up again, cracked him on the ground again, kicked him in the head and you’d see his eyes roll around in his head and then just come back again.

“So Holy s**t – finally I got down and I’m choking him out and I see his eyes roll back and he’s finally out.  I walk out onto the concourse with blood all over me and I just want to get away. Then I hear behind me, ‘Hey – where’s that Chinaman?’

“Amazingly he’s up again – short of just busting his legs, what was I going to do? The next thing I knew he’s run into a group of Chinese people who were nothing to do with me, but in almost no time he had eight of them on him and I was gone,” says Leon.

“One of our friends is in the New York Narcotics squad and he did the pressure points and Small Circle, and he said when you suspect someone is on PCP or cocaine you go for the inside of the thigh because they make the gallbladder very active and Liver Nine becomes susceptible. Pop that – it just takes the guy out for a while,” he laughs again. “This stuff is street tested.”

But it’s his use of no touch techniques at seminars that has become easily the most discussed aspect of Small Circle online, even though in his classes it forms no part of his teaching.  “The ‘no-touch’ stuff? I’ve done 88 people so far. I don’t exactly know why it works. I have theories about it and I’ve heard other people’s theories about it but, I don’t think anyone knows for certain.

“I think that we can raise our energy levels and influence other people’s energies around us, the organic matter. I’ve heard of people affecting inorganic matter, but I haven’t seen it. It’s not that I don’t believe it; it’s just that I haven’t experienced it for myself.

“I can understand why people find this hard to believe. I used to see this stuff in movies and think, oh yeah, yeah, yeah! Then someone I knew actually did it and I thought, well, he wouldn’t lie to me.

“So finally Jack Hogan in Florida showed me how to do it and it was just weird.  But it leaves a lot of questions. Why doesn’t it work on everyone, for one? Clearly some people are more susceptible than others.

“And like I’ve said  many times, if someone is attacking me I’m not going to be looking at them going ‘weooooh’,” says Leon waving his fingers in the air.

“But ‘no-touch’ makes it more interesting for me; I’ve always known that there’s more to martial arts than the purely physical.  And being able to affect someone from a distance is fantastically interesting. Some people want to pooh pooh it; that’s fine but it’s probably because they can’t do it themselves, man. And if they ever did do it, they’d probably terrify themselves.

“A lot of people who have been around martial arts for a long time just flat out don’t believe it. They’re just into blasting people. No problem with that, it gets results. But there’s more to it,” explained Leon.  And anyone doubting Small Circle’s effectiveness is welcome to try stepping onto the mat at one of the seven packed classes a week in Surrey.  Or try one of the dozens of Small Circle seminars, camps and conferences Leon travels to around the world from New Zealand, to Europe and throughout America.

Written by Clive Goodman