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The Beginnings

Pre 1970

The Japanese martial art of Kendo found its way into Victoria, Australia at a number of locations and at different times. Further, it goes without saying that a number of persons contributed to its development and progression in their varying capacities at a time when little was known of this martial art, with the skill level of its proponents being understandably very basic. Nevertheless introductions were made and contributions, whether for personal gain or thirst for knowledge, established Kendo in its infancy in this country.

While it is beyond the scope and intent of this writing to detail Kendo’s development Australian wide, the introduction of Kendo into other parts of the country will need mention, particularly as the persons involved had much to do in developing and sharing Kendo’s rise in Victoria.

The first mention of Kendo or Kenjutsu in Victoria appeared in an edition of “The Evening Post”, a newspaper published in Ballarat on April 28th, 1881. This article was passed on to the author by Sensei Sumitaka Nagae who is introduced later in this writing. While “Kendo” was not formalised at the time of that historic writing, the description of the demonstration that took place that year is undoubtedly that of Japanese Swordsmanship as it was evolving in the early Meiji Restoration period (1868 - 1912). It is reproduced here in part so that its historical context can be gleaned and a feeling for what took place appreciated;

  "Visit to the Ruijio"

Accepting the cordial invitation of Captain Fukushima, a number of Ballarat residents yesterday paid a visit to the Japanese war ship Ruijio, now lying in Hobson’s Bay. The company comprised the Mayor of Ballarat City and town, several councillors, the town clerks of both municipalities, representatives of the Ballarat Yacht Club, private citizens, and a number of ladies, the majority of whom proceeded to Melbourne by the first train.

The invitation was given as an acknowledgement of thee manner in which the officers were treated on their recent visit to Ballarat, and the reception and entertainment given by Captain Fukushima and his officers was genuine and kindly as could be wished…… Arrived at Sandridge the party was met by a number of officers of the ship, and conducted to the railway pier, where well-manned boats were waiting to take the visitors on board.

The Ruijio is an Aberdeen wooden-built frigate of 1500 tons, and is most completely fitted out with all the European appliances of war of recent manufacture. The crew and officers number 365, among whom are a lage number of cadets – the vessel being used as a training ship…..

…A number of very nice presents were given to the lady visitor, and the party were afterwards treated to a display of fireworks….This was followed by a series of grand passages of arms in the form of two handed long sword exercises, the weapon being represented by bamboos. The combatants were fitted with masks, head coverings, breastplates, and pads, and the skill and agility displayed was remarkably good. Judging by the manner in which the several combatants used the weapons, and inexperienced man would speedily be placed hors de combat in such an encounter – the blows and thrusts being given with a skill and force that more than once brought one or other of those engaged to their knees……”

(The Evening Post - April 28th 1881)(1)


Clearly the above description is of a Kendo or Kenjutsu encounter although neither disciplines were named in the article. The fact that it was through friendly contact with a Japanese Naval visit that Kendo first reached our shores is of note, for subsequent visits by Japanese Naval Forces and seafarers were to bring further contacts and training opportunities with skilled Kendo Ka up to the present day. (2)

Continued >

(1.) The full transcript of the “Visit to the Ruijo” article which appeared in the Evening Post on Thursday, April 28th 1881 is included in its entirety in appendix 1.

(2.) In Sydney, Rex Lawley, who was studying at the Kano Judo Jujitsu Club chanced to attend a training with a visiting team from the Japanese Navy. A squadron of three small Japanese war ships were visiting Sydney in 1958 to promote goodwill between Japan and Australia. While the Sydney Judo Club engaged in competition with the Navy team, they also witnessed a demonstration of Karate and Kendo. This demonstration sparked his interest in Kendo.

Rex contacted the Japanese Consul General for help in finding a Kendo teacher. A Mr Hori from the Consul General’s office said that if a teacher were to be found he would arrange a meeting with Rex and the teacher. Rex acknowledges Mr Hori as “a great supporter of Kendo in the early days and was instrumental in assisting Kendo to get a start in Australia”. In 1960 while he waited for word from Mr Hori, Rex found a book on Kendo written by Englishman R.A. Lidston and began teaching himself from this early work.

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