I find it fascinating to get things out of people that they didn’t suspect they had in them. With Karate you put the whole body in position, you have to use every muscle. Some people discover their body for the first time here in the dojo, and what it can do. I no longer hammer on results. I don’t care how high someone to talk can throw their leg. The essence is that that person is making progress and that they feel good about the things they do.Segio Gneo
Considered one of the best European instructors, Sergio Gneo is one of the highest-ranked non-Japanese instructors in the JKA.
Sergio Gneo was born in 1952 in the Zwartberg district of Genk, Belgium, a melting pot of many different nationalities. He was the youngest of three children. His older brother and sister had been born in Italy. His family were immigrants from Italy.
Gneo’s father had gone to Belgium shortly after World War II, seeing no future in Italy for him and his family. He had served with the Italian army in North Africa. He had also spent time as a prisoner of war in England. Not having much education, he found work as a miner.
Gneo’s mother supported the family by raising poultry. She would trade these for things that the family needed.
Growing up Gneo suffered from what many children from immigrant families suffer. Being from a poor immigrant family, he never felt he truly belonged in Belgium.
When Gneo was aged 15 he began learning Karate in secret with a small group of friends. They practised in a church basement. The group gave the young Gneo a sense of belonging and made him feel less like an immigrant. The group would eventually become the Asahi Genk Karate Club.
On occasions, the training sessions would result in fights between the boys. Some of them would return home with black eyes and swollen lips. They would tell their mothers that they had sustained injuries playing rugby.
In 1967 Belgium applied to the JKA for a Japanese instructor, to permanently teach Karate in the country. Taiji Kase had been teaching in Belgium for six months. The Chief Instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama asked Satoshi Miyazaki to replace Kase.
On 1 December 1967 Miyazaki arrived in Belgium. He joined Kase, Keinosuke Enoeda, and Hiroshi Shirai as JKA instructors teaching in Europe. Miyazaki eventually became the Technical Director of the Belgian Karate Federation (BAKF).
In 1969 Asahi Genk Karate Club officially joined the BAKF. Gneo would travel to Brussels every Saturday from Genk by train. In Brussels, he would train at Miyazaki’s dojo. Under Miyazaki’s instruction, Gneo saw his Karate improve.
In 1971 Gneo was graded to 1st Dan by Miyazaki.
Gneo competed in the Belgian National Championships for the first time in 1973. In the Men’s Individual Kata event he finished in third place. He would eventually become a 10-time Belgium National Kata Champion. He also competed in the Men’s Individual Kumite event. However, he struggled. For the next few years, he competed mainly in kata events.
In 1975 the 1st IAKF World Championships were held in Los Angeles, California. The tournament was the JKA’s version of the WUKO World Championships that had been established in 1970.
Gneo was selected to represent Belgium at the World Championships. He was part of a kata team consisting of Dirk Heene and Bruno Lorefice. They were coached by Kazuhiro Sawada, an assistant to Satoshi Miyazaki. In the Men’s Team Kata, Belgium finished in second place behind Japan. Masahiko Tanaka became the first World Kumite Champion, and Yoshiharu Osaka became the first World Kata Champion.
Belgium continued to be a successful team. In 1982 Gneo was part of a team that won the Team Kata event at the Japanese Open Championships. Four years later he was part of a team that won the Team Kumite event at the Japanese Open Championships.
During his time as a Chief Instructor in Belgium, Satoshi Miyazaki helped to establish JKA Belgium as one of the major Karate organisations in Belgium. In 1985 he appointed Gneo as Assistant Chief Instructor. By this time Gneo had achieved the rank of 5th Dan.
In early 1992 Miyazaki was diagnosed with a serious stomach condition. He underwent an operation in May of that year. Four weeks later he was back at his dojo teaching.
Gneo was promoted to 6th Dan in July 1992.
February 1993 saw the establishment of JKA-Europe. This had been a dream of Miyazaki. He had always wanted a unifying organisation for European JKA Karate, as a means of keeping JKA Karate practise pure.
On 31 May 1993, Satoshi Miyazaki died from stomach cancer aged only 55. In keeping with his wishes, Gneo succeeded him as Chief Instructor. He had also received the support of Miyazaki’s senior students, Jacques Van Lerberghe, Raymond Honoré, Philippe Wattieaux, Dirk De Mitts, and also the support of JKA-Europe Chief Instructor, Keinosuke Enoeda. Enoeda asked Gneo to continue Miyazaki’s work with JKA Europe.
In succeeding Miyazaki, Gneo became the 1st non-Japanese Technical Director and Chief Instructor of the BAKF. He was eventually assisted by Miyazaki’s former assistant, Kazuhiro Sawada.
The most senior JKA instructor in Belgium, Gneo continued his former teacher, Miyazaki’s, work. He frequently travelled across Belgium giving training courses and seminars at the various dojos located around the country, in both the French and Flemish regions of the country.
As a top JKA instructor Gneo was invited to conduct courses outside of Belgium. In May 2019 he was invited by JKA England to conduct a course alongside Yasunori Ogura, Kazuhiro Sawada, and Yutaro Ogane.
On 6 November 2021, it was announced that Gneo had been promoted to 8th Dan by the JKA Shihankai, led by JKA Chief Instructor, Masaaki Ueki. He was one of the other few non-Japanese karateka to be promoted to the rank by the JKA. He was officially notified by a letter dated 17 November.
Sergio Gneo, the child from poor immigrant roots, who struggled with belonging, has found a sense of belonging through his practice of Karate. Karate has given him a sense of purpose, and he continues to impart his knowledge to a new generation of students.