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CHAPTER 3

The Little Bourke Street Years

1976 - 1979



The new dojo in Little Bourke Street Melbourne opened in February 1976. John Butler recalled pasting many advertisements in and around the city under the cloak of darkness to advertise the new premises. Bill Freeman concentrated on Iaido and Kenjutsu as a medical condition inhibited any vigorous training in Kendo on his part, consequently, most Sunday morning trainings consisted of Takeuchi Sensei and John Butler.

Mr Takeuchi recalls a Sensei Tsuneo Yanai 5th Dan who sometimes trained with him and John the previous year. The Sensei worked at NHK (Japan Broadcast Association) Melbourne Office but left in 1975 after a very short time.

Few prospective pupils started or stayed, the first notable being Eric Jeffrey. Eric’s background was in Aikido and he was to become a major competitor for both Victoria and Australia. John relates that on one of his long trips home to Wallan he picked up a young hitchhiker who became interested in Kendo following their traveling discussion. This man was Paul Macak, who eventually interested his brother, Yakov and sister, Halinka. The Macak Kendo Dynasty thus began.

Eric Jeffrey described the Little Bourke Street Dojo of that time;



 

“In those days there were not many students, so we were fortunate to receive good training in the basics of Kendo. Training was usually on two nights during the week and on Sunday mornings. I remember that the floor of the dojo required regular maintenance with a hammer to stop the nails from damaging our feet and that there was a shortage of Bogu and Shinai. Training was often followed by a meal at Kuni’s Japanese restaurant.”

 


Earliest photos of the Little Bourke Street Dojo circa 1976 (courtesy Eric Jeffrey)


The Melbourne Club remained rather small, but would later include early members such as Bob Collins, Ron Jones, Mark Wild, Margaret Irwin and Michael Lind. A visit to Sydney saw Rex Lawley invite John and Paul Guerillot to join the AKR. Takeuchi agreed although Paul was reluctant at the time. Back in Melbourne John registered the names, “Melbourne Kendo Club” and the “Victorian Kendo Renmei” as a defence should a future group do so.(1) In hindsight, a wise move.

Devastating news came with the recall of Takeuchi San to Tokyo in December 1976. For a time another Mitsubishi employee by the name of Mr Osamu Hirano (4th Dan) was coerced into occasional training, but this was not regular and the club members were again left to their own devices. John Butler relates how they made a valuable contact from a most unexpected source;

 

“We started watching the “shipping news” in the papers and spent many visits to the Port of Melbourne Docks seeking Japanese ships. One day we were successful. The NYK Line’s First Officer, Mr Okamoto, admitted he was a fifth Dan and agreed to be taken to the Club.”

 

Okamoto returned every six weeks and brought much needed Kendo gear purchased in Yokohama. John relates how bogu bags filled with paper would be replaced with the new Kendo equipment to ease past the Customs officers. Remarkably training sometimes took place on the deck of the ship, in parks and once even in the Commonwealth Car Pool garage, as Okamoto Sensei’s visits didn’t always coincide with Sunday training.

Mr Okamoto was eventually transferred to a different run and once again the Melbourne Club was without a Sensei.


The Arrival of Nagae Sensei

In 1975 Sensei Sumitaka Nagae (5th Dan) and his Wife Reiko arrived in Australia. Snow Brand, the largest Japanese dairy produce company had begun a joint venture project with the Murray Goulburn Co-op. Nagae Sensei had been appointed as Vice chairman of The Murray Goulburn Snow Company based at Cobram in central north Victoria. Apart from the requirement to oversee and develop this co-operative venture, (Nagae Sensei was highly regarded as a cheese maker and manager), he was also asked to introduce and further develop Kendo by Mitsugi Saito, not only the Company President but also Vice President of the All Japan Kendo Federation.

Consequently in 1976 Nagae Sensei introduced Kendo to classes in Cobram and Shepparton. Here his first students were Max Gardner and Jeff Yorgensen.




Jeff Yorgensen circa 1976

 

Max Gardner

Through the grapevine John Butler heard of Nagae Sensei’s arrival and eventually made contact by driving to Cobram. On this first occasion John was shattered to find that Nagae Sensei had gone to Melbourne for a Lions Club meeting. Nagae was the true professional with work his first priority. However he undertook to visit the Little Bourke Street Dojo whenever he was in Melbourne, which he consequently did.

In addition he also accepted the invitation of Paul Guerillot to teach at his dojo. In a letter dated 8th October 1976 Paul thanked Nagae Sensei for conducting a recent seminar and grading for his students and asked if he would become their Sensei. Interestingly in the letter Paul mentioned a visit by three Japanese Sensei the previous year. A demonstration was held at the Camberwell Civic Centre followed by a seminar and gradings the next day. At that grading Paul states that “six of my Kendoka were reluctantly appointed first DAN and three, 1st Kyu”.(2)

In October 1976 Melbourne hosted the first Oktoberfest. According to John Butler:


 

 “we had agreed with Sydney that Sydney should host the Australian Team  and Individual Championships each Easter and Melbourne would host the  Kyu Grades Team and Individual Championships, plus the Women’s  Championships, Children’s Championships and Shimpan training every  October.”

(Butler page 26)

 

When this agreement actually took place is uncertain but the annual Octoberfest weekend with the Kyu grade competitions were held regularly until 1985 when the Kyu Grade events became part of the Australian National Taikai.

News of a new Club in Brisbane organized by Howard Lister and Rod Prince under a Japanese Sensei caused much excitement and all looked forward to meeting them in Canberra the following Easter for the 2nd Australian Kendo Championships.

Continued >




(1) Technically this should denote the beginning of the Melbourne Kendo Club and the VKR although the MKC was already extant. The documentation for this has not been found at the time of this writing.

(2) In the letter the Kendo Ka are not named. Paul also expressed his gratitude to Nagae Sensei earlier in his letter for the “marvellous seminar and gradings that have been given to Brian NOONAN, Jeff CAMPBELL, David SUTTON, Rodney MORAN, Heather GARRATT, Jeff FREEMAN and Greg STONE. Nothing is known of these students at the time of this writing.


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