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Yakov Macak

6th Dan


I was 33 when I took up Kendo.

I had played baseball since I was 16, and I was still looking forward to playing for a few years yet.  I had no prior interest in the ‘martial arts’ and had never heard of Kendo, although I did have some small knowledge of Japanese culture via an interest in pottery and in the cultivation of bonsai.

My brother Paul had taken up Kendo a few months earlier in early 1978, and a Japanese Self Defence force ship visited Melbourne. This was the occasion for a demonstration of various Japanese martial arts involving the sailors and local practitioners. It was here that I first saw Kendo, and my interest was aroused.

When the 1977/78 Summer Baseball season finished, I decided to try Kendo for the 6 months between the baseball seasons. In March 1978 I went to the Melbourne Kendo Club Dojo in Little Bourke St on a Sunday morning. There were about 10 people training, and Mr Hirano (4th Dan at the time) was in charge.

He showed me how to do single men suburi to the count of three – my first Japanese lesson was “Ichi, ni!; san”. He then went to look after the rest of the class.

I continued the “Ichi, ni!; san”, wondering how long this would go on. Eventually I stopped to watch what the rest of the class was doing. Mr Hirano noticed and gently motioned me to keep going. Looking back I’m not sure I remember this correctly, but it seemed that this is all I did in my first class, and each time I stopped Mr Hirano encouraged me to continue.

The Melbourne Kendo Club had a floating membership of 12 –15 at that time with about 8-10 at each training session.

John Butler was the founder of the Club, Eric Jeffrey was quite experienced, and most of the others had only been training for a year or so. Paul Macak, Marg Irwin, Bob Collins and Mark Wild were some of the regulars, and I think Gary Oliver started around this time as well. Of course there were many other who came and went.

The Little Bourke St Dojo was on the first floor and our training times of Sunday mornings and Monday evenings were sub-let from Tino Ceberano, who conducted Karate classes there. He and John were good friends. The room was also used for ballet classes, and judging by the pattern of cigarette burns on the floor it had once been used as a bar of some sort.

There were no change rooms, showers or storage space, and we trained all the year around as long as people were available.

Mr Takeuchi had previously instructed in Melbourne but he had left Australia by the time I started, and Mr Hirano was in the senior instructor. He also enjoyed a game of golf on Sunday mornings, so most of the instruction was done by John and Eric. Mr Nagae (5 Dan at that time) was living in northern Victoria and he would come down to Melbourne every month or so. Later a young James Fennessey returned to Melbourne to study at Monash University providing some exciting new blood to the Club, and was a strong early influence on my Kendo.

Kendo equipment was hard to come by and there was no regular local supply. I think we relied on donations and ‘loans’ for all the armour we used, and only the few who had been to Japan had been able to purchase their own. John was tireless in maintaining contact with various Japanese visitors to Melbourne, and we relied on many of these people to bring shinais, hakama & kekogi, and even 2nd hand bogu with them when they visited Melbourne.

Mr Okamoto was a ships engineer on the car transport between Australia and Japan and he would train with us whenever his schedule permitted and bring in Kendo material when he could. I trained in football shorts and a windcheater for close to a year before I was able to acquire my first hakama and keikogi. I’m sure it was a strange sight!

Six months after I started, I had my first taste of interstate Kendo when Kendoka from NSW (and possibly Qld and ACT), came to Melbourne for October(Kendo)fest – A weekend of training, competition and grading examinations. These interstate gatherings were the only grading opportunities available at that time.

Saturday’s training and competiton was held at Preston Institute of technology at Bundoora and it was here that I must have met for the first time such Kendo luminaries as Ron Bennet, Rex, Betty and Steve Lawley, Paul and Ted Rixon, Warren and Diann Hughes (nee Rixon). . . . . .

Here I entered my first competition, which I believe I won, although my only clear memory is of scoring a nuki-do in response to an attempted men by my opponent – the only time I really remember performing this technique effectively in competition!

On the Sunday it was out to Tino Cerebrano’s Dojo in Balwyn where we trained, and then had the grading examination – all on tatami matting! I was graded to 3rd Kyu (that was the way it was done back then) and that was the end of my first 6 months of Kendo. The new baseball season had begun!

Next autumn I returned to Kendo training and after another year or so I retired from baseball and continued with year round Kendo training. I was hooked!

In late 1980 Tino decided to leave the Bourke St Dojo. We could not afford to take on the full lease and so needed to find somewhere else to train. John Butler discovered the YWCA building in Elizabeth St, which had a basketball court which was available for training. It had change rooms, toilets and showers, we had access to some storage space and there was even a swimming pool in the basement!

This was a pivotal time for the Melbourne Kendo Club. As well as the vastly improved facilities, the exposure of the site could not be bettered. The management of the ‘Y’ advertised the activities available within on the street frontage in one of the busiest streets in Melbourne.

The number of new starters rocketed and we introduced the structured beginners course to cope with the numbers. We were averaging 60 new starters per year, and the training numbers steadily increased until in 1988 we averaged 30+ per training session over the full year.

Mr Nagae was the Senior Instructor (6th Dan by this time) and now living in Melbourne, and his regular attenDance every Sunday morning provided a constant input into our training and development. The increasing experience and confidence of Paul Macak provided firm direction on Wednesday evenings, which Mr Nagae could not attend due to a clash with other commitments.

The senior group at that time, generally 3rd or 4th Dan, included John Butler, Paul Macak, myself, Mark Wild, Peter Szwarcbord, Tadashi Harada who had arrived from Japan in the early eighties, and Brent Gazzaniga who had emigrated from England also in the early eighties. The next group was building up including Peter Day, Ivan Robotham, Julian Richardson, Peter RiorDan and Laurie Scott.

Training was vigorous and exciting, and we all seemed to push each other to higher achievement.

Yakov Macak

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