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Marg Irwin

1st Dan


I was learning Karate and between Uni degrees when I saw an inconspicuous notice (it was before Paul designed and printed his “red sun” Kendo poster) on an inconspicuous door in Little Bourke Street which said “Kendo – the Way of the Sword”. From those words, I knew Kendo was for me. Sunday 8am was the training time so I turned up on January 8, 1978.

I loved many things about the club. The people were committed and we had great fun together, - John Butler, Eric Jeffrey, Valmai Rogers, Ron Jones, Jamie Fennessey and Paul Macak warmly welcomed me and became great friends. Later Yakov, Sofie and Phoebe Macak, Mark Wild and

Bob Collins also became dear friends. I enjoyed long conversations in cars when various members dropped me home after training. At any one time there were never more than one or two women training in the club and the relationships between the women were special and supportive. Val Rogers, Vicki Pittard, Sofie (10) and Phoebe (8), Kerrie Hollaway Trish De Brinker and Barb Jeffrey were my training comrades at different times. Warm friendships also formed nationally through the trips to Sydney and Canberra and visits from those clubs and Queensland for the various Australian gatherings. I particularly remember Ron Bennett and Di & Warren Hughes from Sydney. There was always warmth & laughter at the Club and it was very welcoming to newcomers. Friendships were fostered by the numerous social events, and the nights at Kuni’s having miso soup or at the pub with jugs of beer after training.

At the end of 1978 I had the (life changing) opportunity to travel with Valmai to South Korea to train in Kendo. She was taking up the invitation of a Korean Kendo player she had met in Japan the previous year when she had gone with Eric and John and Rod Prince (QL) to the Kendo Summer School. After Korea, I also trained in Japan, travelling alone with my bogu and being invited to stay at someone’s house every night with the promise, “Tomorrow we train”.

The passion for Kendo of John Butler and all the members in the early days was inspiring. The club was non profit. Teachers did not get paid and we paid a minimum to cover rent. Kendo was a Way, not a money making opportunity, which enhanced the commitment we felt to the club and our teachers and mentors. John, Jamie and others would track down visiting Japanese Senseis and we seemed to have constant stream of them at trainings. Eventually Sensei Nagae became involved with us and was an excellent teacher.

Much of the time there was opportunity to train three times a week (Friday, Sunday and Monday) at Collingwood and Hawthorn in addition to the central city venue. We were constantly doing demonstrations at all sorts of events – Asia shows, Sports Expos, Hey, Hey it’s Saturday, in films on Japanese culture, etc

I appreciated that in Kendo (unlike other martial arts in Melbourne) there were no formal differences between women’s and men’s training or grading and we all practised together. I valued the containing formality we observed. At Little Bourke Street, the altar was set up so that we all quite naturally bowed to it as we entered. We sat in meditation before and after training.

When we moved to the YWCA, it was hard to adjust to the air conditioning and heating there, when we had been used to windows opening. However we appreciated not getting enormous splinters in the soles of our feet from the Little Bourke St floor. In late 1981 I moved to Gippsland to work and stopped training in 1982.

Marg Irwin

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