Wally Jay – the Celebration of a Life

Dateline: Marriott Rancho Cordova Hotel, Sacramento Cordova June 15th – 17th

Having only just arrived back in the UK, still buzzing from attending the most amazing event in Sacramento, California to celebrate the life and work of the late great, Prof. Wally Jay, I just wanted to record some immediate impressions, before I give way to jet lag and unconsciousness.  For each and every martial artist there this was Christmas, New Year and all their birthdays come at once and no-one wanted to sleep lest they miss something.

Prof. Wally’s son and successor, Prof. Leon Jay pulled off an amazing coup to field an extravaganza of teaching talents, almost all of whom were able to claim a direct lineage from the late Professor.  To run an event of this size, organizing it remotely from the UK is quite an accomplishment, even with much wonderful help from family and friends on the ground.  It couldn’t have been achieved without his siblings, Alberta, Antoinette and Alan being their naturally hospitable selves and making sure that everyone was appropriately greeted and looked after, and ensuring that the lovely matriarch of the Small Circle family, Bernice Jay wasn’t completely overwhelmed by all the people wanting to pay their respects and spend time with her.

I know that Bernice greatly enjoyed renewing old friendships and reminiscing with the many people she and Prof. Wally shared a good proportion of their lives with, and she is a testament to how much energy a mature person is able to marshal.  The Professor loved, respected and completely embraced the Hawaiian Polynesian culture that came with the woman who was the unquestionable love of his life, and the Jays as a family are the living embodiment of the concept of Kokua.

Once underway, the small management team of Leon Jay, his old friend, Norman Johnson, Leon’s student Stewart Aldridge, my long-time student and friend, Master Tony Jupp and myself ran ourselves ragged, though Leon as ever managed to project an unruffled calm that can only be an expression of his Hawaiian heritage and his Californian upbringing.  I’d like to publicly thank Alan Jay and his lovely wife, Pam for their unstinting hospitality to Tony Jupp and I and their unfailing good nature – Alan, in particular, operated an unofficial taxi service for about half the delegates, though where he found the time and energy I can’t imagine.

A good proportion of the cream of American martial arts masters taught at the event, and seminar attendees’ only complaint was that they couldn’t participate in every teaching clinic, as we were forced to run 2 and 3 training areas simultaneously for most of the weekend.

Three Core Impressions

Strength in Depth

Though many systems were represented, particularly those that acknowledge the influence of Small Circle upon them, I was left marveling once again at the sheer breadth and depth of the Small Circle system.  Its range of technique and the applicability of the principles underlying the system were skillfully demonstrated again and again throughout the three days by a wide range of teachers each of whom presented different skill specialities.  It is the principle-based nature of the art that allows it be so adaptable both for individuals and skill areas, and that has ensured that it goes on evolving.

The Spirit of Sharing

Prof. Wally loved to learn and never held himself to be above learning from the least of us – my relationship with him is proof of that – and he believed that openness was the key to continual improvement.  When he encountered any martial artist he believed had something to offer, then he was quick to work with them, rather than compete against them.  There is a story that Prof. Leon often tells that encapsulates this perfectly and that I often find myself passing on.

One of the martial artists that Prof. Wally did a great deal of co-teaching with was the late, great Remy Presas.  They readily exchanged techniques and ideas and became great friends.  On one occasion when they were teaching a seminar together, Prof. Remy was first on the seminar floor, and while Prof. Wally was getting changed prior to his own session, one of his young students came rushing into the changing room.  “Professor, come quick!” the youngster said, “Professor Remy’s stealing all our stuff!”  Prof. Wally smiled, and told him, “We call it sharing.”  You see, the Professor believed that if he showed you how to do something better, the chances were that one day you might come back and show him something else – though he’d have shown you anyway, as he just believed in raising everyone’s game and that to do so was in everyone’s interest.  This attitude was anchored by his confidence in the quality of his own art and the sense of self and security that conferred on him; Prof. Wally had no need to knock the work of others in order to assert the worth of his own.

You Get What You Give

It was impossible to attend this event and fail to register just how loved Prof. Wally was.  Not just respected, but loved.  Perhaps this is partly due to the point I have just made – he shared constantly, and what he shared, apart from his knowledge, was perhaps the single most valuable commodity any human being can share with another – his time.  He treated everyone with respect; he took you seriously, though not in a po-faced kind of way – he was certainly not above teasing you, either just for the fun of it, or to make a point – but in a manner that told you he valued you as a person, and in that sense as well as in his teaching, he may have been one of the most generous men to have ever lived.  Teachers in their presentations and in private conversations repeatedly spoke of him with awe, admiration and the deepest affection – and this last may have been the man’s greatest accomplishment and legacy.

Professor, you made your students proud and in their turn, they did you proud.  I won’t say ‘Rest in Peace’ because while one of us who had the undoubted privilege of associating with you is still teaching, your influence and your presence will continue to be felt through the generations.  The kind of memories you left behind with so many may be the only kind of immortality any of us could achieve and we will treasure them.

God Bless

Your friend and student,


About themartialartsuniversity

In daily training in the martial arts for the last 53 years; teaching almost daily for 43 years. Hold teaching ranks in 27 martial arts, Master ranked in 4 arts, Headmaster of 3 systems, the Founder of 2 arts, and the co-Founder of 2 others. Has been the official Technical Advisor to Profs. Wally and Leon Jay of Small Circle Ju-jitsu since the 1990's. Assistant Headmaster of Small Circle Ju-jitsu and the co-founder and joint Headmaster of Small Circle Concepts with Prof. Leon Jay. Has three Bachelor degrees and a Masters Degree in History. Experienced writer - published or featured in all of the UK martial arts magazines and in Inside Kung Fu in US, as well as: Esquire; She; Elle; Woman's Journal; Health and Fitness; Zest; Marie Claire and The Independent (UK national daily newspaper). Has been featured on BBC and ITV news programmes as expert on weapons defence and usage in relation to law enforcement issues. Former CPO (Bodyguard), and still active as a Bodyguard trainer.
This entry was posted in Concepts, Events, Grappling, Ju-jutsu, Jujitsu, Learning, Martial arts, Martial Arts Training, Prof. Wally Jay, Small Circle, Teaching, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Wally Jay – the Celebration of a Life

  1. John my brother.
    As always eloquent and sincere. I only had the briefest of encounters with Prof Jay but he left a lasting impression upon me. I am retired now from the Police and after over 30yrs of service to my country, counting Military service, I find myself for once with time to pause and look back.
    There have been many influences on my martial journey, including this great man, Guru Inosanto, my friend and mentor Larry Hartsell, Tommy Baldwin Soke, and many others and that includes you my brother. A great many people reading your articles will have no idea of how passionate, innovative and committed you are to the furtherance of the study of the combat arts. You are truly a worthy ambassador for this great man and one whom I am proud to call more than my friend. I was recently teaching in Germany where I was very honoured to receive the rank of 9th Dan and the title of Soke from a representative of the World Martial Arts Association R.O.C. and my thoughts at that time were immediately drawn to Prof Jay and I wondered as I still do whether I am a worthy recipient of such a high honour. One thing I do know and that I will do my utmost to follow in the example set by this great man. The term ‘legend’ is overused these days but there can be no other word to describe Prof Jay. I think tis was his greatest legacy as he inspired so many others, including myself, to not only aspire to be better but to actually be better people and martial artists. With Leon to carry his legacy forward and with the supoport of yourself and many others like you then his legend and name will never grow old. God bless my brother.
    Gary Stringer

    • Gary – thankyou; I was very moved by your comments. As friends and colleagues for nearly 30 years now, you should know that there are very few martial artists I’ve known who I rate as highly as you, either as a human being with a genuine heart, or as the great technician you genuinely are. As a man who has ‘served’ and who has known real combat, you are one of the few we civilian martial artists can use as a realistic yardstick of our progress. You are certainly a worthy recipient of any awards the fickle, overly political martial arts world has to offer. At the convention, I was struck by how natural an environment it would have been for you – and I hope you will be at the next one; we always had a lot of laughs when we ‘played together’, and I know Leon would be delighted to welcome you into the ‘family’ too. Talking with Profs. Dave Castoldi and Tony Maynard kept reminding me of you – they have a similarly sophisticated way of thinking, partly masked by an entirely no-nonsense delivery – and Prof. Tony described you to a tee, before asking me how you were getting on, and the last time either of us saw him was the 1986 World Championships in Docklands!

      You’re entirely right to acknowledge the influences we’ve both been privileged to have in our martial arts lives – not least that we’ve exercised on one another – these I credit to others regularly and would be ashamed were I to forget them. But it’s like the time I overheard two guys discussing Cass Magda at the JKD summer camp at Guildford we taught at; the two students began by recognising Cass’ technical accomplishments then dismissed them by saying that, of course, as Dan Inosanto’s teaching assistant he spent around 18 hours a day with the great man year in, year out. I couldn’t resist pointing out to them that, ‘You could have spent twenty years of your life at the side of Michaelangelo, it doesn’t mean you’d be able to paint the Sistine Chapel at the end of it!’ What you know, what you can do, and what you are able to teach are yours, a product of your intelligence and effort and your ability to absorb the lessons of those great teachers, friends and mentors, internalise them then apply them.

      It’s true brother we are each ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, but we had to climb up all by ourselves.

      God Bless and I look forward to the very first opportunity to work together again!

  2. Anna jones says:

    What a lovely tribute to a Man who was truly held in the greatest esteem by those who had the good fortune to meet him.

Comments are closed.