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Leon Jay on Small-Circle Jujitsu, Small-Circle Judo & Classical Martial Arts in Modern Age

leon jay

Photo by Cory Sorensen

Few martial artists have not heard of Wally Jay and small-circle jujitsu. A member of the Black Belt Hall of Fame, Jay wrote much about the art he founded, as have numerous others. What many people aren’t aware of is the development of the system that’s taking place under Leon Jay.


 by John Mellon


As you may have guessed, Leon is Wally Jay’s son and successor. He maintains the superior mechanics for which his father was famed while continuing to refine the art in a way his dad would have approved of.


I first got to know Wally in the mid-1980s and Leon a few years later, and over the years, our conversations often centered on the futility of change for change’s sake. Each martial artist made it clear that developing technique is a process of evolution. If there’s no functional gain associated with an alteration, it doesn’t count as real development.

The difficulty for many students in the 21st century involves reconciling the classical martial arts with the practicalities of modern life, including changes in lifestyle, urban population density, and differences in the types of weapons and attacks one might face. Few instructors are able to teach us to walk that tightrope between tradition and innovation. Leon Jay, however, is doing just that. Even better, he’s honest enough to acknowledge that he’s on a long learning curve.

To assess his qualifications, you have to know his background. Leon was born in Alameda, California, in 1955. His father was Chinese-Hawaiian, as is his mother Bernice, who also has English ancestry. Despite his famous father, it was never a foregone conclusion that Leon would inherit small-circle jujitsu. The son had to earn his rank and his inheritance the hard way. In addition to his education in small-circle judo and jujitsu, which started at age 2 courtesy of his father, Leon pursued other arts. He earned a first-degree black belt in Kodokan judo and taekwondo, as well as a third degree in kodenkan jujitsu, the system of Henry Okazaki, his father’s original sensei.


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