The Melbourne Budokai (formerly the Melbourne Kendo Club) has a long and proud history which spans over three decades. Established in early 1976 by John Butler, Bill Freeman, and Jun Takeuchi sensei, the Melbourne Kendo Club was one of only two clubs that existed in Victoria at this time.
Our first dojo was located at a warehouse on Little Bourke Street (now the Mecure Hotel). Starting with only a handful of eager members, the club’s numbers and skills steadily grew under the guidance and efforts of Takeuchi Sensei and John Butler. Unfortunately after only 10 months at our club, Takeuchi sensei (an employee of Mitsubishi Corporation and later to become the General Secretary of International Kendo Federation) was stationed back to Japan leaving us without a permanent sensei for several years. However the club received occasional instruction from Japanese expatriates and regular visitors from Japan (including Hirano sensei and Okamoto sensei).
Later in 1977, our club began to receive regular visits from Sumitaka Nagae sensei who was living in Cobram at this time. Fortunately for our club, Nagae sensei moved closer to Melbourne in 1980 and on August 17th he officially became the Head Sensei of the Melbourne Kendo Club – a position he held for 31 years until his passing on 14th November 2011.. During these formative years, Nagae sensei laid the foundations for the growth and development of Kendo not only at our club but for the whole of Australia. His influence and legacy is still greatly felt today.
On 30th September 1980 our club relocated to the YWCA on Elizabeth Street with classes held twice per week. The YWCA’s size and prominent location allowed our club to grow into the largest Kendo club in Australia. In the early 80’s as a result of visiting Japanese sensei, we were encouraged to broaden our budo art skills by introducing Iaido classes and later Jodo. The YWCA was our home for 10 years and it was here that many Australian kendoka started or developed their Kendo and Iaido careers. Many of the core members of our club went on to become prominent figures in the Australian Kendo community, taking on leadership positions in state and national kendo associations, starting and instructing other clubs, and representing Australia at regional and world championships.
With the establishment of the Kenshikan Dojo in June 1990, our club entered a new and exciting phase in its history. The Kenshikan was built to be the center for Kendo development in Australia, and our club became its caretaker. We became the first club in Australia to train at a purpose built Kendo dojo – something that was and still is unique for kendo clubs outside of Japan.The Kenshikan provided the space for our club to expand its membership base, extend training sessions, introduce new arts, store our equipment, and to hold various competitive, educational, and social events. The Kenshikan allowed our club to become a true Japanese budo club with regular and separate classes in Kendo, Iaido, Jodo, and Naginata – as such in the mid-90’s we decided to change our name from the Melbourne Kendo Club to the Melbourne Budokai.
Photos courtesy of “The History of the Victorian Kendo Renmei” by Gary Oliver