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Bob Collins

2nd Dan


I was 30, unfit and a smoker when I came across an article in a Melbourne magazine about Kendo. It intrigued me, so I rang the contact number and found the address of their training venue Little Bourke St. in the city.

At that time, 1978, the training venue was a small 1st floor room that was rented out to ballet schools, a fencing club and the Melbourne Kendo Club. It was, and never failed thereafter, to be quite a shock to the newcomer small, cold in winter, hot in summer and sporting

a floor that had potential splinters that made your eyes water just to look at! Often we had to patch hazardous areas with plastic wood in order to continue training. It did however have a major bonus – mirrors on the wall.  This proved to be perfect for checking posture, footwork etc.

After agreeing to commence training, I was introduced to the regular core group – John Butler, Eric & Barb Jeffrey, Yakov and Paul Macak, Ron Jones and Marg Irwin (apologies to those I have missed).  In a short time, I realised that the shortcomings of the training venue meant little.  Despite the small numbers; the camaraderie and work ethic at training of its members helped me on a journey into Kendo that lasted almost 14 years and gave me a level of fitness that I never would have believed I could achieve.

We trained in rented premises in Bourke St, Collingwood and Hawthorn.  As often as possible, we did demonstrations at schools, Unis, and even on TV.  However, despite trying to maintain a high profile, recruits were hard to come by and even harder to keep – we estimated that if we kept (long term) 1 or 2 out of every ten recruits we were doing well.

John Butler was the patriarch of our fledgling club and really was the glue that kept it together.  Each training night, he would arrive in his old 1974 Ford with all of our training gear in the boot and all over the backseat. After training he would then drive to his home – in Wallan!

Early on, the club had little money, patched up Bogu, taped shinais (for Suburi) and little regular access to Japanese instructors, however we were competitive at the National Championships over Easter in Sydney.

To get to the Championships, our practice was to hire a 16 seater mini-bus and cram some dozen or so kendoka, and their gear, into every nook and cranny in the bus.  An overnight trip to Sydney and straight into training and competition the next day.  (I was in the bus when Stilts took his journey into the gravel on the wrong side of the road!).

Success mainly came in the individual section through Jamie Fennessy – a truly gifted kendo player who could (and probably still does) speak Japanese like a native!  We became good friends on his return from studying in Japan and even paddled together in the Murray Marathon Canoe race in 1984 when he temporarily transferred to Canberra.

The fortunes of our Melbourne club started to pick up when we moved to the YWCA.  Numbers gradually increased, more support came from instructors on transfer from Japan and finances improved.

In 1983, I transferred to Canberra with my job and continued my training with the Canberra club based at the ANU.  I retired from training around 1992 – I was about 44.

I have read the recollections of Eric Jeffrey, Stilts and Marg Irwin and I must concur with their thoughts – the most memorable thing about those early days was the camaraderie and the knowledge that you could not meet a nicer bunch of people anywhere.  (Betty Lawley probably summed it up when she said once – ‘I always knew that Kendo people were special’)

Bob Collins

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