(Emma Robins) Can you please start by telling us a little about how and why you started karate?
(Ruben Cernuda) In Spain Karate became very popular at the start of the seventies, but it could only be studied and practiced by people older than sixteen years of age, with the authorization of their parents and they also required a certificate from the Nacional Police of not having a criminal record.
I began to practice Karate in 1977 in the first schools that were authorized in Spain to teach Karate to children, at that time I was seven years old.
I was still very young, but I was very influenced by the TV and the cinema, in those times the mythical Bruce Lee was a real hero for the young boys of my age and in the middle of the seventies, the TV in Spain was showing the series “Kung Fu” by David Carradine. So you can imagine what was going through the heads of the children, we all wanted to be Bruce Lee or “The small grasshopper.”
I remember when in the September of 1977, in school they gave me an information pamphlet saying that in my school they were to open the first Karate classes for children authorized by the government. Automatically that very same day I told my parents that I wanted to do Karate, so my parents signed me up for these classes, I remember well that I was the first of all the children of my school to register for the activity and from that day until today have not been one single day without practicing Karate
(ER) You trained under Sensei Osaka during courses held with him in Spain. Can you please tell us all what it was about Sensei Osaka that inspired you so?
(RC) As I commented before I began at only seven years of age, the instructor that gave the classes in my school was a beginner instructor J. Fernández who began to give his first classes. Well, to begin with that level was enough, but at the start of the eighties, I went to a special seminar in my hometown with Sensei Osamu Aoki (current Chief Instructor of JKA Spain) and Sensei Yoshiharu Osaka (who was World Champion at that time). I attended that event with a lot of illusion; it would be the first time that I could train with Japanese teachers of great reputation.
At that time I had the grade of Black Belt “for children” given by the Spanish Federation of Karate, and I had not seen anything else except the Karate that was practiced in my Dojo and I had never seen other instructors working. When watching Sensei Osaka in his demonstrations my mouth was always open, he was impressive, a speed and a power, an unnatural easiness of hip rotation, his technical quality was perfect, besides being very kind. At the end of the course Sensei Osaka carried out a demonstration of the Kata Sochin, I was truly impressed, from that day until today I have not seen anybody able to carry out a Kata Sochin like this, it was perfect!
Afterwards, in my daily trainings I always tried to imitate Sensei Osaka, he was my idol, I even had his pictures in my room.
At that time I began to compete and as I wanted to improve I had to look for an instructor of quality, and it was then I contacted Sensei Osamu Aoki and I began to practice under his supervision and this way I could correct my technique and follow the correct line of the JKA Karate.
(ER) Osaka Sensei is said to be one of the best karate technicians to have come out of the JKA. Can you please tell us about your training with him?
(RC) That is true, I am sure if you ask any Karate instructor in any part of the world about a technician of quality in Karate, their answer will be Sensei Osaka he is one of the best technicians created by the JKA. Sensei Osaka is a very closed friend of Sensei Aoki and every year he visits Spain. As I trained with Sensei Aoki, I attended many seminars and when I opened my own Dojo I also invited Osaka Sensei to give seminars on many occasions.
The sessions with Sensei Osaka, were following a very Japanese system, that is to say with a lot of emphasis on the Kihon, a lot of Kihon, he explains the perfect technique and he works on different methods so that you reach that quality of execution. That means repeating the techniques many, and I mean many times. And mainly a lot of emphasis on the development of the Kata. His Karate is very pure, very technical, all his movements can be explained scientifically, applying physics to the movement of Karate. He is a living book about movement.
(ER) You mention your long study with Aoki Sensei. How would you describe his karate and in what ways did he inspire you?
(RC) Sensei Aoki, is a good teacher of Karate and he has influenced me a lot in my way of teaching. He is a person with some very special physical qualities, he is very elastic, he has a spectacular flexibility, which allows him to carry out Karate techniques in a special way, and shows high quality. Also, Sensei Aoki speaks almost perfect Spanish, which also allows him to reach Hispanic-speaking students very well, and this is a quality that other Japanese instructors that have taught in my country, haven’t had. He explains things very well and his technique is good, he is very influenced by his great friend Sensei Osaka, with whom he has had a good relationship since they were very young. His system and form of Karate pursues the line and concept that we can see and appreciate in Sensei Osaka. If there is something that stands out for me about his way of explaining and something I sometimes try to imitate, it’s his form with such detailed explanations, very studied, very technical form, applying concepts of the science and the physics to detail the movement of any Karate technique.
(ER) You travelled to Japan many times. Can you tell us about your trips?
(RC) OK! Yes I have been in Japan but always on “lightning” trips that is to say only tourism because to be in Japan for many days and be able to train for long periods of time you need a lot of money and what is more, I opened my first Dojo in 1989 at only eighteen years of age and I could not miss a lot of classes. I visited the Honbu of the JKA when it was a single group. Then in May of 1999, returned again but this time to speak about Karate, I was head of an association that wanted to continue working on JKA Karate but for bureaucratic problems we wanted to be outside of the group that the JKA was developing in Spain. I met with the Sensei Naito, the old secretary of the JKA “Faction Asai” and he gave me all information about the situation between the different lines or groups of JKA. Taking advantage of my stay I wanted to visit a Sensei with whom I had trained with previously in Europe. Every year, he attended to give seminars in Portugal and I had always had a good relationship with him. This Sensei was Sensei Keigo ABE. His greeting, his kindness and his chivalry left me quiet impressed, because I was very accustomed to a lot of Japanese Senseis but always very distant, very serious showing their superiority at all times. At this time he invited me to his trainings sessions and to this day I am always by at his side, he is a great Karate teacher.
(ER) Can you please tell us a little about the types of training you did in the JKA Honbu?
(RC) As I have commented before, I have made visits to the old JKA Honbu but I have not trained there. I have trained with many instructors that give and gave classes in the Honbu but outside of this, in other places.
(ER) You also studied karate on several occasions with Sensei Kawadawa. Can you please tell us about training with him and what he stressed whilst teaching you?
(RC) Yes it is correct I have trained with Sensei Kawadawa. He is a very close friend to Sensei Osaka and he was in Spain giving seminars and also I trained with him in Portugal and France. Sensei Kawadawa is another very good technician. He has Karate and a very similar form of teaching to Sensei Osaka, he is a good educator. I remember a class in Porto - (Portugal) where an entire session of training was focused on improving the Kokutsu Dachi and the Shuto uke. My legs were totally exhausted from being in the Kokutsu Dachi for such a long time, however yes I can tell you that I now understood 100% how to perform a Shuto Uke or a Kokutsu Dachi. Sensei Kawadawa has a very different physique to Sensei Osaka but his technique is truly very good, very pure.
(ER) Are you still inspired by these instructors from the earlier chapters of your training, and do you still keep in contact with these people?
(RC) Evidently, I still, many times, have in my mind their forms, explanations, details and the ways of these instructors. When you train for many years with somebody, they become a part of your Karate which you cannot forget or deny. They are your origins and this is very similar in life, “You preserve part of their Karate genes”. At the moment I don't have contact with Sensei Aoki because our Karate lives have taken parallel roads. If you want I can explain to you the reason of my distancing, but this is a long story. Anyway, I keep in my interior a special affection for him.
(ER) You were also a very active competitor, who tutored you for competition?
(RC) Yes, it is true I have been competing for many years and the person that was guiding me for the longest time for competition was Sensei Osamu Aoki, later after I became more experienced, I looked independent, I was looking for other ways, and I was also guided for some years by Sensei Enoeda and later and since then with the Sensei Abe.
(ER) What are you most memorable successes?
(RC) Each event is different, but possibly the one I liked best was my third position in the JKA World Championship (Shoto World Cup 1998 in Paris), in teams Kata. The reason is that the components of the team are my students, I form them and the success is double, as instructor and as competitor. It was also very gratifying to do Kata in front of referees like Sensei Tanaka, Sensei Oishi and Sensei Ueki, big instructors all them of the JKA. Also, I have several National and European titles and participated in the first WTKO World Championship where I got to be champion of Kata.
(ER) How often did you train with Sensei Enoeda and what were your experiences over here in Great Britain?
(RC) When I left the group of Sensei Aoki, I contacted Sensei Enoeda during one of the famous courses that he organized in Crystal Palace, London. He accepted to advise me technically, as much to me as to my Association, then I began to attend periodically from 1996 to 2000 the seminars organized by him in London. I also invited him together with Sensei Ohta, twice a year, to my country to give seminars at my Dojo and also participate annually in his courses in Portugal. I have great memory of him. He had a special personality. For several years I followed his advice and I was able to learn many topics and sensations, such as giving 100% in your form of training, to live each movement as if it is inside a real combat, his spirit, his form of pressing you during training towards that which develops the maximum of your possibilities. I trained a short time under him but it was really very fruitful for my Karate, I will always remember it.
(ER) You and I met during your travels over here to train with Sensei Abe. Can you tell us a little about what drew you to him and his karate?
(RC) As you know I have trained with many instructors of the JKA, but the concept of the (Maai) distance and the timing of Sensei Abe is special. The techniques of the “Sen no Sen” applied to the authentic Karate, is without a doubt the most excellent Karate of Sensei Abe.
(ER) You say ‘the concept of distance and timing of Sensei Abe is special’, can you please elaborate on Sensei Abe’s approach to these concepts, and how does his approach differ to what you have experienced elsewhere?
(RC) Yes, his concept is special, when I refer to special it means that he carries out and gives a lot of emphasis in his trainings to this topic. When he demonstrates, even with the age that he has at the moment, he is very quick, like an arrow, he stops your intentions “Sen no Sen” when you attack before finishing your technique he has carried out his counterattack. I remember a class in my Dojo in the year 2002, where he required me to attack him freely without stopping, for almost two minutes, Uf…. Uf! For every attack, Tsuki, or Uchi or Keri, before finishing my technique he was already stopping my attack with his anticipation, with Uraken Uchi, with Shuto Uchi, Kizami Geri, until finally I found myself on the floor, without me realising he had thrown me and that, with the big age difference and it is supposed to be that when you are older you lose speed and reflexes… I cannot imagine how quick he was when he was younger!
His spirit is like that of a samurai, showing apparent calm but prepared to unleash his Katana and to cut the opponent in the blink of a eye. He is always in “Zanshin”, it can seem that his attitude is relaxed but his spirit is alert 100% very difficult to surprise.
(ER) It’s been said that Sensei Abe teaches extremely close to the teachings of Nakayama Sensei. How does Abe Sensei’s approach differ to other JKA Instructors that you encountered?
(RC) Yes it is correct, many people in the Karate World say that Sensei Abe teaches extremely close to the teaching of Sensei Nakayama and I think that this is for a reason. Unfortunately I did not know the great Sensei Nakayama; I know many things about Nakayama through Sensei Abe. I know that Sensei Abe remained at his side until the final day of his life and he was also his student and he worked as his assistant for many years in the Honbu. Sensei Nakayama gave him technical knowledge but he also contributed with his method and education system and he has influenced many in his form of teaching, Sensei Abe today still continues towards perfection and without modifying the methods and explanations used by Nakayama. If you look at the books “The Best Karate” by Sensei Nakayama, you will be able to see the explanations of Sensei Abe they are exact. Abe Sensei is a living book of Sensei Nakayama.
But the great difference that I have found in him in comparison with other Japanese instructors, it is that he is a real gentleman as much in the Dojo as outside of the Dojo. His human quality is impressive, the more the years pass the more humbleness he has and he is nearer to all the practitioners, his Karate is true Budo, the famous Japanese motto "Minoru Hodo Koobe Non Taderu Inaho Kana" (The spike of rice, when this mature one already inclines its head) is an image of his personality.
I could speak about Sensei Abe for hours and hours, he never stops surprising me. I have seen and proven that when one begins in Karate and ones level is still not high and one lacks experience, one likes to see an instructor that is a “Show-man” that is constantly demonstrating that he has good technical qualities etc… but when you arrive to a superior level inside Karate you begin to feel the necessity to have a Guide, a Teacher that transmits to you knowledge and experiences, outside and inside the Dojo, experiences and wisdom of life, the true Do, and that becomes more important than the quality of the techniques or of the execution, when you arrive at this level it is when you begin to value the humanity and delivery of the Senseis. Abe Sensei is one of the few Senseis of Budo that I have found, I have been able to discovered the true meaning of the “I shin Den Din” living it in first person.
(ER) What has Sensei Abe taught you about Budo?
(RC) Budo, is many things and not only combat techniques, there are many different attitudes, a form of living under the ideals of the Budo, to apply these to life etc. He has a tough spirit and he sometimes explains to me by applying the concepts of Karate to real life, to your business, works etc.… no other instructor had spoken to me before about these things. For example before I spoke to you about the “Sen no Sen”, the form of being on alert to the opponent's attack, with this combat feeling he often reminds me and he has advised me with messages like: you always have to be in Zanshin in your life, so that seemingly you are relaxed, but prepared or on alert for any problem that arises, you can stop it before it begins, it is easier to solve conflicts, before they take place and to stop them, it is necessary to be in “Zanshin” constantly. Today we don't carry swords, and seemingly we live in peace, but the world of business and of daily work is a very hard fight… It develops your “Zanshin.” For me it is a masterful class of Budo, and I have many messages like this and advice that I always remember.
(ER) Have you personally watched Sensei Abe’s Hangetsu in person, or any other kata? How would you describe the experience?
(RC) Yes I have seen Sensei Abe execute Kata several times, it is necessary to be aware of his age, you cannot ask for or demand a high technical quality, neither conditions extreme physics, because it is natural that it will get lost little by little with the age, but as you can see, feel and appreciate in his eyes as in each moment he moves carrying out movements thinking of the application of these, that is to say his Kata is already at a very superior level, living each moment applying the Bunkai in his mind, doing a very real Kata. It could be that it is not spectacular, it is not a “Show” of speed, but it is a combat of Budo.
(ER) As Chief Instructor of JSKA Spain, that must be a huge responsibility to carry on the teachings of Abe Sensei. Do you feel the pressure of this responsibility?
(RC) Not at all I don't have pressure. I know that it is a great responsibility but I carry out this work in a pleasure way.
(ER) You are of course also Chief Instructor of WTKO Spain. To what extent have you studied with Richard Amos, and has he inspired your karate in any way?
(RC) Yes that’s correct I have also trained with Sensei Richard Amos and what is more practically every year I invite him to my country to give technical seminars to my association, Sensei Richard is a formidable Karate instructor, without any doubt, his fame and his prestige is deserved because he has won it with his perspiration and dedication to Karate. I am very impressed with the ease with which he prepares a class, he removes the content so that at the end you can work and understand, that is to say, his methodology and his pedagogy is prefect, he also demonstrates very well his technique and his qualities are specials. He is an encyclopaedia of Karate, any doubt that you have he can explain in a thousand ways so that you can understand. He is a formidable educator of Karate and above all he is a very good person, that as with Sensei Abe this I value above all things.
In my classes when many times I have to answer questions I try to remember Sensei Richard and try to imitate his form. I can tell you that if Sensei Richard Amos had “the Asian look”, we would be speaking of one of the most famous and best instructors in Shotokan, but regrettably the Japanese seem to still be considered as superior beings in the world of Karate. I hope that in time Westerners change old and radical thoughts and wake up knowing that also there are big and very good instructors of traditional Karate that are not Japanese as is the case of Sensei Richard Amos.
(ER) Have you experienced many other Western Shotokan karateka that have deeply inspired you?
(RC) Yes, I have trained with many very good Westerners, but in very short courses, you learn details and different concepts, because from people from all over the world you can learn, but I don't really have in short a person that I can say that has given me great inspiration.
Only Sensei Richard Amos has left me with a very good impression… and I hope to be able to continue training for many more years to continue learning from him.
(ER) You are also National Coach for Spain, am I correct? Can you please tell us how you teach differently on squad sessions to how you teach in your normal dojo classes?
(RC) Yes correct, I work with the ISKA & JSKA Spanish Competition team and for them the work is specific, the whole time is dedicated to the Kata or to the Kumite of Competition. However in my Dojo in the normal classes I have people of different ages, with different objectives, in my classes the Karate that I work on is 100% Traditional Karate, Kihon, Kata and Kumite but above all I work a lot in the envelope of the Kihon and with a lot of dedication to the technical evolution for different levels, also with my closest students and those of high level I work on the Traditional Kobudo of Okinawa and many work on Chi Kung, because I am also a teacher and I give, in my Gym, classes of Bio-Balance (a system that is a synthesis of Yoga, Chi Kung, Pilates and Tai Chi) and I consider it very important to conserve and to improve health.
(ER) And what specific methods do you use to get your competitors ready for competition?
(RC) I have competitors that train regularly with me because they are in my Dojo, but others work in different places in Spain. So in ISKA & JSKA Spain we organize different meetings, approximately every three months, and I can join with the competitors, to work with them for a competition and go to check their development. For the competitors of Kumite I work with them and I emphasise a lot reaction speeds, many combinations with simulations of Kumite, and specific trainings for physical preparation so that they work the whole year in the Gym. With the competitor of Kata I follow the old system Kihon, with emphasis in the technical perfection and also work with them a physical preparation in the Gym.
(ER) How do you emphasise and enhance reaction speeds?
(RC) Yes, this can be developed in different ways, for example, exercises that I call, “Sun and shadow” trained in pairs, one in the part of the work “Sun” opens a hand or carries out a certain movement and the opponent like his shadow responds before he finishes the execution, this can be carried out with a lot of techniques. The person that is doing the part of “shadow” needs to be in a state of alertness “Zanshin” to be able to respond. Also explosive physical exercises, exercises like the training of Handball goalkeeper, if you observe the specific trainings of a handball goalkeeper, reaction speed and the development of the reflexes are of primary importance. These physical trainings are very good for Karate. With a competitor it is necessary to work specific parts of Karate but also specific exercises of physical preparation to develop the speed. A Karateka is not a long distance athlete, he is an athlete of speed and he needs the maximum concentration to react before a quick attack and for surprise, like as it is for a strike of a ball to a goalkeeper in Handball. This is a very difficult thing to explaining in words for me; it is necessary to work in the Gym or in the Dojo, so that I can explain a little better.
(ER) Do you have any suggested drills for kumite to help kumite competitors?
(RC) As I have said, I work with them and I show them programs in the Gym, to get a good explosive power/speed, same times to work exercises with elastic bands and exercises aerobic for physical resistance. As for techniques nothing is new, all is explained in Karate you only have to select what is specific to improve in Kumite.
(ER) You mention you practice other methods, such as yoga and Tai Chi (Famously practiced by Kanazawa Sensei). In what ways has yoga and tai Chi affected your karate?
(RC) This has affected me a lot. I never believed that I would have this form of thinking. When I was 25 years old, for me Karate was the only thing, the most important thing. My joints or my bones never hurt me and if I injured myself in a few days I was healed, without any problem. Then after that I began to have some physical pain and it made me think. When I was 30 years old and had already stopped competing, I requested advice and I was very observant of the system of Sensei Kanazawa, if you observe his physical condition, you will see even at seventy years old, he continues to have a spectacular Karate, So what is happening here? Many Instructors that were very good at his age are physically destroyed, full of injuries. Think about it and as I have a Gym where classes in Tai Chi are given, I decided to begin to calmly study Tai Chi with thoroughness, it was the opposite of Karate, at the beginning it was very difficult for me, because I was very rigid, I can learn how to relax myself and to be more flexible. I was combining Karate and Tai Chi, some thing that Sensei Kanazawa describe as “yin” and the “yang”, they are opposed but they can go in harmony. Then I also began classes of Yoga and this was very good for me physical and above all for my general wellness. I am a manager of a Gym in Spain and I have different instructors of different activities and I began to study seriously to get to a level to be able to be an instructor of Bio-balance (A mixture of these diverse techniques opposed to the concept of Karate). Today I could not live without practicing these stretching or breathing exercises; they have helped me a lot in my Karate. Now I am much more relaxed and a little more elastic, also thanks to this I am very hopeful of being able to be physically healthy to train Karate regularly and without injuring my joints and to continue Karate when I am older.
(ER) What is your favourite kata and why?
(RC) The truth is that I don't have any particular favourite Kata, I like all of them a lot, I love to do Kata, what is more, I train Katas that are not of Shotokan and I also have included in my diverse system Katas that were developed by Sensei Asai. Now if I had to choose a Kata in short it would be Gojushiho Dai, because with this Kata I had very good results with it in competition and another would be Empi, I love its rhythm, its changing form, it is like a storm, quick, up and down, jumps etc. Very interesting it is like my form of living, full with contrasts.
(ER) Where did you learn the Asai Kata?
(RC) I have learned diverse Katas from Sensei Richard Amos.
(ER) Many thanks for your willingness to provide us with an interview, we wish you every success for the future and we look forward to training alongside you in the future!
(RC) Thank you to you. It has been a pleasure to answer your questions and I also wish you all the best, OSS!!