interview with cj beck
I am pleased to offer you, in this beginning of year 2023, an interview with a man who played an important role in the transmission of traditional karate by helping Nishiyama Sensei to write the traditional karate coach's manual.
Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to know more about this man, his
background and his overall vision of traditional karate,
Sylvain Jouan : CJ Beck, thank you for accepting to answer my questions,
First of all, in a few words, could you introduce yourself, what does the
acronym CJ hide ? How would you define the man you are in a few sentences?
C.J.Beck : I chose to write under the name C.J. Beck so as to eliminate any sense of
gender in readers’ minds. My first novel “Sizzle”, located partially in Provence, has a
female protagonist. I’ve always believed that the work should speak for itself, and
not the reputation of the author. I trained in the Stanislavski Method to learn acting
and character development. For the rest, my life experience informs my work. The
teachings of Buddha inform my life. Buddha said the “I” is a delusion. But also said
one must realize that for oneself. Nishiyama said something similar about technique.
Je suis un citoyen du monde. In advertising they paid me to be an iconoclast. I’ve
always aimed to be objective and report that truth. Free from the fog of politics, ideas
and strategies become salient and clear, and more likely to make a significant
difference. Eventually one must choose between a corporate career, or consulting.
I advised some of South Africa’s future leaders during the apartheid years and
brought them Nelson Mandela’s words, when even mentioning his name was a
crime. I had to make unpopular decisions to turn around several closely-held
companies in the United States and Canada. I shared my IBM repositioning
marketing strategy with Steve Jobs’ team a year before they launched the Apple
Macintosh in 1984. Jobs often saw beyond (except famously with the internet), and
Apple adopted my ideas. “Good artists copy, great artists steal” - Steve Jobs quoting
Picasso. The unique ground breaking insights revealed in my research and
subsequent five year communication plan for HUD (Secretary Henry Cisneros’s
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development) continues to help
move people onto the housing ladder in addition to the hundreds of thousands it
already has. One of my tasks as President of my homeowners' association was to
stop Donald Trump building next door. Read about that in “Sixteen Stories, No Pets”.
SJ : impressive .... already in a few sentences you would make us want to know
more and it would probably deserve a book!! but to get to the subject, can you
tell us how you began your journey as a practitioner in karate ?
CJB : During the early 1970s, as an ad man in my early twenties, I audited JKA’s
Sensei Enoeda Keinosuke dojo classes in London.
Moving to apartheid-era Southern Africa, where traditional karate was already world
class, I regularly trained in a mix of calisthenics and karate with one of my Account
Directors, a JKA black belt, the former Old Mutual President, Gustav Preller and his
Ad Creative Director brother Carl. Carl and his son are still with the JKA and Keith
Geyer in Western Australia.
I was soon training fulltime in shotokan karate at the JKA dojo in Johannesburg 1976
to 1978 led by the legendary Senseis Stan Schmidt and Norman Robinson. I recall
Sensei Nakayama dropping by unannounced to lead a class of seniors. Sensei
Robinson abruptly told us to leave. We stood outside on tiptoes to watch the magic.
Here are a few of the people I trained with. Kill and Kill Again trailer (1981)
SJ ;I have seen the trailer , that’s awesome, for sure not the greatest movie of
all time but not only stuntmens but also real high level karatekas !!
CJB . ‘B’ movie plot yes. But authentic traditional old school JKA karate. You will
notice there was very little editing. The motion is in real time and continuous in one
take during the karate sequences. No movie magic and no stunt men necessary.
Before my years with Hidetaka Nishiyama Shinan, I trained closely with Stan
Schmidt, Norman Robinson, and for several years with my good friend Miguel
Palavecino graduate of Nishiyama direct student, and South American JKA leader
Itaya Sensei. He fully prepared me for my postgraduate phase with Shinan
Nishiyama. I discovered my previous Sensei, Miguel Palavecino, through the
recommendation of Miki Mori, the owner of a sushi bar. and former student of Asai
Sensei in Japan. I kept an office around the corner in Scollard Street, Toronto.
Sensei Miguel introduced me to Zen Buddhism.
Miguel Palavecino Sensei and Michihisa Itaya Sensei -
December 1972 Club Juventus, Montevideo – Uruguay
SJ ;Then, you had already met many great teachers, but how did you come to
meet Nishiyama sensei ?
CJB Moving from Toronto to LA, I needed to continue karate. I looked through the
yellow pages and drove to the International Headquarters of JKA. Met an elderly
man at the door of his international office and recognized him as an older version of
the photos in the Nishiyama karate “bible”.
But he was not in a gi but wearing a smart business suit and tie. “Are you Sensei
Hidetaka Nishiyama?” I asked. I had no idea he lived in Los Angeles. Probably
thought he lived in Japan. He nodded with a smile.
“Do you have a dojo?” Again he nodded and invited me into the offices, which
appeared quite extensive for one person. Final question. “May I train there?” After
telling him about my prior training he agreed.
Wow! I was floating the rest of the day.
SJ :For me and for all those who did not know this time, and who can only
imagine, I would like to ask you how was the life at sensei's dojo?
CJB Back to basics. He assigned your kata, in my case Sochin. I practiced it every
class, every week, every month for years. Training was formal, regimented and
intense. No time for chatter jokes or stories. He identified what had been missed out
in your early formative years. He retrained you in basics and required further
polishing. Passing forward the learning he had gained from his root Master Gichin
Funakoshi. You will never forget the basics once you train every week for years
under an old school master. Once you have that solid foundation, any further
learning becomes more efficient and effective.
CJB When I returned to my old dojo in Toronto for a weekend, my most basic
moves seemed smoother. I was definitely quicker and surpassed all my
contemporaries. Not with new techniques, but with improved old techniques. In
sparring I now had the advantage. Even over some seniors. That is the value a true
Top karateka would turn up, not to sempai, but to train hard. Most days Sensei
James Yabe, who was already a sixth Dan, would turn up at LA Central and work
hard. Sensei Ray Dalke turned up one day and said he had just won a world
championship in Japan. But he knew he still had much to learn. At LA Central he
was back at the source for course correction and became just one among other well
schooled karateka like serial champion Vern Vaden Sensei. Earlier that day, out of
respect, Dalke had introduced himself at the office while Sensei and I were working,
and said he would be joining the class later on.
Hidetake Nishiyama Shinan is an essential part of the lineage “faithfully” carrying
forward the teachings of Master Funakoshi sixty years earlier in his life.
Two Shinans (compasses) who set the course for Traditional Karate.
Sensei was old school. A very formal individual who was more than likely adhering to
the instruction he received, exploring within it, rather than creating outside of it. You
would have to watch his old films from the 1950s and compare with how his top
students like Vern Vaden, Avi Rokah and Toru Shimoj move today. How many new
ways can there be to effectively deliver ikken hissatsu?
Because he came from the source, he knew what was missing when an experienced
senior karateka presented himself for the first time at his dojo. This is why his annual
gasshuku in San Diego would attract well-established leading Shihan and Sensei
from around the world like Malcolm Dorfman Shihan, not to teach, but to train. Top
JKA masters like Masatoshi Nakayama Shinan would attend the camp and assist
SJ :The first time I contacted you was about the book you wrote withNishiyama Sensei,
maybe two years ago, (I was trying to
find this book). Now I have the chance to ask you the question; How did you come to participate in the design of the book of the coaches' manual with sensei?
CJB It was a natural progression from the work I was already doing. He knew my business background and asked me to be his “secretary” as he put it, and write his official ITKF letters to the International Olympic Committee. We were talking to them about introducing karate as a category into the Olympics.
SJ -. I like to connect things and people, my previous interview subject, Daniel
Tobias, reminded me that you were a student of Palavecino Miguel Sensei
himself from Uruguay, who was himself a student of Michihisa Itaya Sensei.
Daniel wanted to ask you what feeling it left you to help translate the book that
later became the guide for all students of Nishiyama Sensei?
CJB ;Are you familiar with the Japanese term恩“On”?
It was a volunteer job where I gave back to the Dojo and the man. This labor of love
led to a quid pro quo I never anticipated. One-on-one coaching and gaining
technical insights. This direct access, breaking through the formality, and the ability
to closely question below the surface, helped unlock more of Sensei’s mind to me. I
appreciated the opportunity it was back then, and the lessons stay with me to this
day. I only wish I could pass on the benefits when I see so much ignorance today. It
was laborious old-school editing à la Maxwell Perkins, where I suggested new words
and extensively revised and rewrote Sensei’s early drafts. Anyone who knows
Sensei understands why this is necessary. Tongue-in-cheek, I refer to it as
Nishiyama & Beck. Two complete sections on health and weight training were written
by specialists who Sensei credits early on.
SJ Do you have any anecdotes about Nishiyama Sensei that you would like to
share with us?
One day, in 1989, Nishiyama Sensei, presented me with a signed copy of the first
edition of the Coachs’ Manual. “Now you know everything,” he said, laughing. Our
relationship was focused on Karate one way or another. He did have several terms
that to this day do not translate well without demonstration. One such term was
“body pressure”. Self-explanatory sentences, complete in themselves, were rare. I
could ask questions that formality might have inhibited on the dojo floor. Sensei
would suddenly jump up out of his office chair and demonstrate. I translated his actions into words. You had to be there. You had to turn up. No dozing.
His Japanese-American students, and those who attended tournaments with him may have other insights to round off the profile you are building. Sensei James Yabe and Toru Shimoji for example. They would talk in Japanese to him in class and may have gone into more depth. Ask the folk who attended competitions with him.
Sensei Penny Roundtree, would have been a good source, had she survived cancer.
Sensei Varn Vaden is still excelling in kumite in his eighties and has been very generous in his time talking on the phone with me. Talk to the old diehards and regulars Ron and Susan Vance, and Shinan’s dentist Thomas Shinmoto Sensei.
I’d turned down the timekeeper’s role because of the long journeys and unpredictability of my venerable Oldsmobile Supreme Brougham.
A most honorable and courteous friend, Tom kindly filled in for me.
World class traditional kata and kumite karate champions in the 1980s and 1990s with our Sensei. Picture was taken at ITKF 7th World Seniors Championships 14-15/10/1994. Treviso, Italy
USA Team members are (R to L) Vern Vaden (Judge), Ron Vance, Susan Vance, Tati Eugenio, Hidetaka
Nishiyama, Amy Sperling, Brad Webb, Penny Ringwood (Coach), Gene Takahashi (judge), Avi Rokah (Kneeling). Not pictured is Steve Gancherov.
Sensei Vern Vaden was asked by Sensei Nishiyama to stop competing to incentivize
the new wave of talented students like Avi Rokah. Now in his 80s, Vern continues to
medal in the over 45 cohort.
One story is apt, because it concerns an old enemy who ended up killing Sensei, and may help save a few lives. It was the only time I took the offensive and insisted he stop smoking in front of me when we were working - “Sensei, please” I would remonstrate, perhaps with a little pantomime of coughing. I do not smoke and am allergic to tobacco smoke. He was fifty-nine at the time.
If he had stopped for good, perhaps he would have enjoyed a few more good years,
as my father did when he stopped in his early forties.
Even great figures can have weak spots.
He wanted me to work for him full time, as an addition to his permanent
staff, but I did not want to confuse our relationship and preferred to volunteer my time
and effort. A senior student, many years later, agreed it was a wise decision. Later
on, Sensei surprised me with a handwritten check equivalent to the monthly class
fee. There had never been a discussion about payment. I tried to refuse but he
wouldn't hear about it and the monthly payments continued until the book was
completed. I retained my volunteer status, and Sensei’s honor was served at the
same time. Sometime after I had left, I bumped into Sensei, with his wife, outside
Boy’s Supermarket in Marina Del Rey. I may have commented they were a long way
from Silver Lake. He asked me to return to the dojo. We were still on good terms. It
was the last time I would see him.
There are many good stories about his travails with the IOC, WUKO and Jacques
Delcourt which others may wish to share.
One man’s San Dan is another man’s Sho Dan.”
- Nishiyama Shinan -
SJ - Do you think with hindsight that Sensei could have thought of making a
more definitive book than "the art of empty hand fighting"?
CJB- I guess you do since you ask the question.
Was Master Gichin Funakoshi’s 1922 book To-te Ryukyu Kenpo final and definitive?
I have reviewed the 1922 Shoto publication in the archives in Japan, and discovered
some familiar kata favorites, one of which I led in South Africa at a Sensei Stan
Schmidt Early Bird class in 1985 - Tekki Sho Dan - at Sensei Stan’s request. What a
honour for a visitor. But then this Shihan, of blessed memory, was a gracious
gentleman, who treated me to a long tête-à-tête at breakfast with unheard stories of
Tanaka Sensei and others. Kanku Dai, another favourite of Shoto, Miguel Palavecini
Sensei and myself is also illustrated.
Nothing can replace continuous and intensive training under the expert eye of a
master. His top students are his body of work. As were Funakoshi’s. The tradition
continues. Like Master Funakoshi before him, much of Sensei’s time was absorbed
in trying to take traditional karate to the next level of acceptance and popularity.
Unlike Japan, America is not a good market for anything that is not commercial. I’m
reminded of the US journalist and commentator Russell Baker who says “In America
nothing dies easier than tradition.”
The ITKF Traditional Karate Coach’s Manual formed part of a coordinated campaign
to proselytize using his most important international seniors. His heart was set on
getting Funakoshi’s traditional karate into the Olympics. No dilution. No
compromise. Sports Karate is a disaster. It is a clear and present danger for all its
exponents. It exposes its user on the street. Talent and speed will not outlive
technique and timing. It was a French President, perhaps Jacques Chirac, who said
something like “Nothing in America is complete until it is rendered absurd.” But then I
believe Sensei Nishiyama would claim that much of the absurdity karate has become
should be laid at the feet of another Jacques, his old political sparring partner
Jacques Delcourt (left) with Hidetaka Nishiyama and Masatoshi Nakayama.
Sensei only ever said “karate” when I knew him, except when we were working on
the manual. He did refer to “Budo”. At the JKA in the ‘70s and ‘80s we never used
the term “traditional”. No doubt, he would have had his reasons, one of whom was
Jacques Delcourt - I can visualize his wry smile and chuckle when mentioning the
name - and the emergence of, or should it be divergence into, "sport karate". The
generic term and prefix “traditional” implies a distinct point of difference, which Sensei
felt deeply. Read the preface of the Coachs’ Manual which discusses the use of the
term shinan, which means “compass” in Japanese. Without a compass, karate can
lose its way, as it has in sports karate. It requires a firm hold on the tiller.
SJ ; I'm glad to hear that! I spend so much time explaining around me that
karate is not only the sport version, you give me a clear explanation of the
origin of the word "traditional" (but I'm still going to take a lot of time because I
discovered that nowadays sport karate clubs (to attract people who turn to jjb
or mma) choose to put on their advertisements "Traditional Karate Do" ...
SJ we have talked about the life of sensei's dojo, and I feel that you could talk
about it for hours, I would like to ask you how do you integrate karate into your
life and how you practice today?
CJB Set the compass at True North. Train the mind and body to deal with life’s
emergencies. Learn the locations of the fire exits. By the time Nishiyama Sensei
entered the clear light on March 10, 2008, I’d already moved on with my
professional career. I meditate every day for inner peace and clarity, and train
alternate days in calisthenics and plyometrics to prepare for life’s emergencies. I
check kihon mobility with Niju Sichi Waza - the 27-movements kata. Motion is lotion.
Movement is medicine. I train for the unexpected when least prepared and at a
disadvantage. But I mostly train the awareness so I am far away before the trouble
starts. I consider the possible and probable consequences of my actions. Life is
SJ and , please, what advice would you give today to someone who wants to
start traditional karate-do? not necessarily a young athlete, but an average
person, who is interested in karate?
CJB Discover the insightful good-hearted coach who understands how the human
body works and can keep it working effectively. Does he have an inner spirit that
reflects virtuous intent? Look at how most of his or her students train. Can he break
down movements and explain what that movement accomplishes? He may have his
favorites - an inner core of people who assist with teaching, but does he spend time
with other students too? Not all accomplished karateka have the skills required to be
a coach, because they do not understand their innate skill when movements come
easy. Be less impressed with the big name, and look for the big person.
Sport Karate is no country for old men. But Traditional Karate can be.
We have to be hard and ask ruthless questions of ourselves. Avoid overconfidence.
At this stage, we have to learn all over again. We must ask ourselves searching
Ask ourselves how to overcome an opponent who is younger, well trained and even
more skilful? Ever watch a fight in the street? Many of them never listened to the
Clint Eastwood character who said “A man’s got to learn his limitations.”
The wood floor at LA Central was harder than a tatami, and the street is harder still.
It can be a deadly enemy, or worse case, an ally, that we know may kill. The street is
not the dojo.
We should prepare for combat like a well tempered army. But like Sun Tsu says,
always try to win the battle without a blow. Like the Duke of Wellngton on the eve of
the Battle of Waterloo. - Oh oh! Apologies Sylvain -. But I use this quote quite a bit.
Asked what his plan was to fight Napoleon he answered “My plan is to have no plan.
That way I’ll be prepared for every eventuality.” Don’t be locked into one technique.
The opportunity to use it may never present itself. Time is often the enemy and you
become slower. The preparation is in the drills and training that moves kinesthetics
from the left side to the right side of the brain. The moves and responses have
become intuitive, and mechanical efficiency improves. That way like the Duke of
Wellington, you will be prepared for every eventuality. Of course if the numbers are
against you, and it’s a viable option, retreat is a sensible way to go.
What are our strengths? There may be only a few. And we need to constantly fine
hone them. What are our weaknesses that an opponent might exploit? What
opportunities does our opponent offer? What threats does this opponent bring?
The first step is to understand our body’s limitations so we may select and make the
most of the truly effective tools we have. Our strengths. Honest awareness is key.
Ruthless elimination of some techniques - our weaknesses - will be demanded.
Youth and agility can compensate for a lot, but can also create a mental
smokescreen that clouds understanding the process and prevents learning good
technique. This is where Sports Karate falls on its face. Without wisdom, youth is
wasted on the young.
The less agile we are the greater the need to cut through the smoke, especially in life
and death split second self defense situations, evaluating opportunities and threats.
We need to maintain the machine and mind constantly. The twenty guiding principles
of Shōtōkan nijū kun contain sound advice on living, practicing and teaching karate
Strangers should have no foreknowledge and therefore no defense for your best
technique, but never presume they do not.
Our training with great teachers will prepare us for getting on in years. We should be
aware enough to rein in our repertoire to things that work in the here and now. I am
not the C.J. Beck you see in the 1986 picture. Most important is range of motion. It
can be your enemy or your ally. Motion is lotion. Movement is medicine.
SJ I would like to engrave many of your sentences in gold letters! In any case
I think I will tire my students by repeating some of them!
At last , how do you see the future of traditional karate?
CJB A small niche for cognoscenti.
SJ ….Short but lucid answer …
SJ …Let's imagine that you find Aladdin's lamp, what wishes would you
formulate for the future of karate-Do in the decades to come?
CJB Joined up. Back to its origins before the venerable masters Kano, Funakoshi,
Ueshiba and others. The forms they developed all have limitations in self-defense.
Their martial arts are like separate sections ripped from one great book, with lines
redacted and pages missing. Serial contact in any form enhances our appreciation
of physical frailty.
Apply the twenty precepts of Shōtōkan nijū kun everyday. Discretion is always the
better part of valor, by which I mean, anticipate trouble before it happens and take
the fire exit. If there is no way out, and you are threatened, use verbal de-escalation.
Funakoshi knew real fights can involve multiple opponents who spring from nowhere.
A century later, cell phones record only when it favors opponents, and their attorneys.
I know both Nishiyama Shinan and Miguel Palavecino Sensei avoided places where
bad behavior was likely to occur. First strikes are for the judicious, wise and
compassionate and were not favored by the venerable Master Funakoshi.
More spiritual and inclusive like Miguel Palavecino Sensei taught, incorporating Tai
Chi, Judo, Bo, weapons found at random, de-escalation techniques and Dharma
meditation to calm the lethal weapon within. Back to its roots. At home in any
context. On the ground, on the rocks, or in the water.
A formal course for older advanced belts might find an enthusiastic following.
When youthful athleticism is gone, wisdom must serve. Inside the Hidetaka
Nishiyama Traditional Karate Coaches' Manual is the key to techniques that may
save lives at any age.
C.J. Beck (far left) Sensei Vern Vaden (2nd from left) Hidetaka Nishiyama Shinan (centre front)
(1986 ITKF film)
SJ ; I leave you the final words ,
“Train with the best to develop a good BS detector for yourself and your
Here’s a true story that illustrates what I am talking about.
The film director Sidney Lumet in his book “Making Movies”, and in his 1986 interview
with Dick Cavett, said that Marlon Brando would give his film directors two seemingly
identical takes to check them out. The first take would involve him really working to
produce authenticity. The second take would use all the external creations and
appearances of the first, but without the hard work. Acting can be hard on the
emotions and the body. Trained actors will understand this completely. (By the way,
Laurence Olivier, who was not a Method actor, told me he worked hard on himself
externally in order to develop the character internally. )
If the Director detected the difference, Brando would continue to work hard. If not
then he just faked it.
After Nishiyama, many became ronin. The last words should be his.
"The only "secrets" are within your body. It is up to you to unveil these and
make them work for you. Make every technique perfect."
- Hidetaka Nishiyama.
SJ First of all, I would like to say a huge thank you for having accepted the
opportunity to take time to answer my questions. For me it was a real pleasure,
I hope that the people who will read this interview will have taken as much
pleasure in reading you as I did!
You’re most welcome Sylvain. I am certain your readers will thank you for helping to
pass the tradition forward.
For the people who would like to know more about C.J. Beck I could already
advise the reading of his novels, of which "Sizzle" which takes place in
My novels can be ordered in digital form from Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook,
and from most bookstores in Trade Paperback.
In my work, I aim to share insights on subjects I’m well informed about. There are YouTube book trailers that provide the ideas behind these stories, without giving the game away.
Link to Facebook karate learning group - Honoring Sensei Miguel Palavecino
interview réalisée par sylvain Jouan ,
Budo karaté France
club Ichi Gan Karaté Traditionnel
Auribeau sur Siagne