Small Circle Ju-jitsu – A Story of Continuing Evolution

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

Small Circle Jujitsu’s success – says Leon – lies in its simplicity and its effectiveness.  “Small Circle cuts to the chase in many ways. Finger locks for example.

“When you’re being attacked, what’s generally coming at you? If they’re grabbing you, for smaller people, women or kids or anyone really, finger locks are brilliant to take people down with.

“I was talking to some doctor friends at a party, and on that same day they’d been in London at a conference about the active mind and the motion of the body.  This is where they are using Functional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), a form of brain scanning that shows what parts of the brain become active when a subject is asked to perform a physical or mental task.

“They told me that when it came to the fingers, 75% of the active mind was working.  So in other words, if I take a hammer and create pain on the fingers does that make it happen the other way – is 75% of the brain affected?

“They said yes, it’s a continuous feedback loop. And that’s why finger locks are so effective. A lot of the time the pain can take a person by surprise and take them down and get you out of some real bad trouble.

“Through trial and error and study we mapped the pressure points and reintegrated them into Small Circle Jujitsu, so that they release each joint in the body to make the locks even more effective.

“Small Circle has been brought to kung fu, karate, martial arts of all styles and people with no martial arts background.  We’re not just stuck in one place – Judo, or Ju-jitsu. It works across the board; there’s Aikido and Savate and Silat – it transcends stylistic differences.

“One of the key elements is about not having to use massive amounts of power to control people – we control them with as little effort and, therefore damage to them, as possible.

“Students take on board the 10 principles that Dad drew up and apply them to their own systems. There’s balance, avoiding head on collision of forces, mobility and stability, mental resistance to an attack, concentrating the maximum force to the smallest point, energy transfer, the two-way action of the fulcrum and lever and making a base, sticking to your opponent and feeling what he’s doing, rotational movement, and transitional flow – where you can flow from one technique into another effortlessly,” explained Leon.

While Small Circle’s control and it’s openness to other arts are the keys to its effectiveness, Leon is keen to put distance between Small Circle’s inclusiveness and the smash and grab techniques used by some MMA and those who teach them.  “I can understand why the traditional schools feel they need to protect what they do.

“If you look at some of the MMA schools, it’s just let’s beat each other up. There’s no real concept of bushido to it. There’s no real honour there or a loyalty. People come in and just use you for a while and go.  Dad used to take the best of things and incorporate them, but the type of person he is, well he is really something else, something special.

“In his judo team, Dave Quinonez, who still is with us in Small Circle Judo, won the High School Nationals and it was great, but Dad went to the guy David beat in the final and told him what he did wrong.

“And our people were like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, well, it’s not just about us being the best; it’s about us elevating the level of the sport, and the art. That’s where he came from.

“A lot of people just want to hoard it, but Dad’s never been that way and neither have I. People reveal themselves soon enough anyway.  Dad tells the story of how one of our juniors, attending a ‘Big Three’ Seminar, came running up to him all flustered.  He said he should come quick as Prof. Remy was ‘stealing all his material’.  Dad just laughed and told the kid it was okay; he did just the same to Remy, “We call it sharing”, he said.

The key is not just talking about having an open mind, it’s actually practicing what you preach, experimenting with the different approaches, and most of all doing so with some honesty and integrity.  “I’ve seen a lot of people come to our seminars and not even step on the mat. They just take notes and then I’ve heard later from people who left their club that after that seminar they came back and said: ‘Now I can reveal these secrets to you’.

“And I think, ‘Oh, come on’. But you have to pass this stuff on.”

On any given night in one of his Small Circle classes in Leatherhead, Surrey (if this is going to the American market, substitute ‘in the suburbs of London’), the teaching will flow from sparring, to knife defence, pressure points, sticks, grappling, and whatever else pops out of Leon’s extraordinary mental library of nearly 50 years of exposure to martial arts taught at the highest possible level.  Nothing is hidden, but common sense and safety dictate students’ access to the strongest techniques.

Leon settled in the UK after meeting his wife Sandra travelling in Europe.  “I grew up in California and Dad took us all over the country.  All over Hawaii, and Mexico, Canada and afterward I travelled on my own and I got tired of California and Europe appealed to me.

“I met my wife while I was sailing in the Greek islands – a nice English girl from Carshalton on holiday with her girlfriends. I really enjoyed Greece and Italy and the proximity of England to the rest of Europe.

“I find London more relaxed and cosmopolitan than California now. The violence and the crime levels in many U.S. cities are pretty bad now. I used to carry a gun in California, man. Not good.”

Leon returns home often and he’s turning his attention to the US again as he aims to reorganise Small Circle’s schools and SSJ-trained instructors across the Atlantic.

“The organisation itself is very small and we’re going through a change right now. There are people who claim to be doing Small Circle and they probably are or have been trained at some time.

“When Dad put me in charge he said there are some people over here and there, and I just want you to let them do what they want to do, and I honoured that.  Now it’s come to the point to where we’ve trademarked Small Circle Jujitsu, but someone else in Boston has also trademarked Small Circle Jujitsu in another way. How can that be right?

“Also we’ve had people forging my father’s signature on grading certificates. So it’s time to reel all that in and tighten up the website to identify who’s really doing Small Circle Jujitsu and who’s not.

“There are a lot of people using some techniques and elements of Small Circle within their own systems, which is the way Dad wanted to do it at the time and that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that.   But is has to connect back to us. People can’t just keep creating their own certificates and forging my father’s name – it’s just got to stop.

“Yes, like my Dad, I’ve let people do what they do, but if you leave some people to their own devices they can behave pretty badly – it’s bad news and we’re putting a stop to it,” explained Leon.

However, he has created a legitimate path for groups to acquire and use aspects of Small Circle.  When he first took over as the Second Generation Head, there were tens of thousands of people world-wide who had some seminar training from his father, but relatively few full-teachers of the art accessible to everyone who wanted the training.  He wanted to expand that access, but didn’t want to drop standards in the process.  He was discussing the problem with John Mellon, the first UK based teacher to host his father more than 20 years ago and a close friend ever since.  They decided that the best way was to offer a second tier of training, the Small Circle Concepts Programme.  They first designed the Programme and began to roll it out in 2002, but found it unsatisfactory for a range of reasons.  They’re about to launch a completely redesigned Programme shortly.

Here’s how Leon describes it, “The Programme has a core group of modules, taught in a seminar format.  Each study module covers particular skill areas, principles and representative techniques, and the idea is to develop Small Circle grappling skills.
“It doesn’t matter what background you’re from; you may already be a grappler, who wants to refine your mechanical efficiency, or you might be a striking or weapons specialist who sees the value in plugging a gap in your skill-set.  You can choose to take all the modules, at which point we have three levels of instructor training available also, or you might want to just pick and choose.  The only restriction is that you must take the Foundation unit  – a sort of ‘Small Circle 101’ – first, because without it, the rest won’t make nearly as much sense.

“The rationale is that you may have attended a seminar in the past, and thought I’d really like to have those skills, but not wanted to abandon what you already know.  This way you don’t have to – you can just augment your own skills.”

If his father’s teaching could be boiled down to one, simple philosophy it would be ‘share and grow’.  Leon explained: “I’ve learned a lot from him – especially his openness with information and tuition.  As he was freely giving this out, you’d think, ‘Dad, hell, you’re giving away all the good stuff’.

“And he’d say, ‘This is what makes me become better.’  So it’s about growth.  I don’t care who you are, you always come to a point where you think oh, my God – like writers’ block or something – where you think you know nothing.

“Then you dig and you dig and you find more to learn. So keep going and going. And you know Dad’s always been so humble with it.”  Leon stops for a second and then laughs out loud.  “Ha. That’s something `I’ve really got to learn,” he says. ”That’s a tough one.”

Written by Clive Goodman