The History of Aikido in Newcastle

Aikido began in Newcastle in 1977. My first experience of this then obscure martial art was in March 1977 when somebody had a poster at the University of Newcastle inviting people to attend Aikido classes at the Teachers College gymnasium. Myself and a friend Dave, walked into the gymnasium one afternoon where we saw two people engaged in a fluid exercise which appeared to have no purpose except to cause a lot of heavy breathing. I later realised (about ten years later), that this was a form of ikkyo. After a few minutes, one of them came over and said " Hi, I'm Bob. Would you like to join in?" So for the next two full sessions my friend Dave and I rocked back and forth doing something called backwards ukemi.

The rest of the seventies was spent attending weekend training sessions with Brian and Roger from Aiki-kai in Sydney by squeezing five people into Bob's beetle and driving down to Sydney at the breakneak speed of about 45mph. The Sydney dojo also visited us on a few occasions. Also, we had a visit from a stout bearded man known as Sugano Sensei- I don't remember much about that visit. We did other things in the seventies as well, like wearing body shirts and flares.

In about 1980, Bob Gibbon, our teacher from Newcastle sat for his First Dan grading, and I sat for my fifth kyu grading. It was at this time that Yasuyuki Suzuki Sensei, was in Australia for study and began teaching Aikido in Canberra. Stewart Letford, who was training in Canberra with Aikikai, was so impressed with Yasu Sensei, that he invited his Master, Yoshinobu Takeda to Australia. In 1981 Yoshinobu Takeda, and his wife visited Australia for the first time, conducting a summer camp at Canberra, followed by recreation at Batemans Bay. Stewart, Bob and their few students took the decision to train under Takeda Sensei.

Each year after that, Takeda Sensei would visit often to help us train. His training was so unique and admirable that his visits shortly became very popular. These early visits were well organised and supported with the devotion of Ralph, Bob, Steve, Mike, Bruce, Barry and others. Alcohol was consumed only in moderation of course. Many of Takeda Sensei's top students also came out with him. There were such notable characters, such as Seino Sensei, Yamamoto Sensei, Shiraki Sensei, Numada Sensei, Yasu Sensei, Hirano Sensei, Kadoya Sensei and Satoshi Sensei.

It was at about this time that Bob moved to Canberra for work. This left the Newcastle dojo with only three students, myself, John Foster, and Paul Kalore, (who really did think that he was Musashi.). Fortunately I outranked them all at being 5th Kyu. We started classes at the Toronto YMCA and struggled on for a number of years this way, attending summer camps and winter camps trying to improve ourselves and looking for the path. It was very hard to find new students at this stage. It was around this time that Neil Kelson joined us.

Without the regular visits from Bob on weekends, who would drive from Canberra, we would have folded. He would come up and train with us, anytime, anywhere. In long grass, in dust, on the beach, and sometimes in the dojo. At the end it was always a relief to finish training, but it left you with an unfulfilled need to do more, and the enthusiasm to keep practicing, passed on from Bob.

John had become so keen on Aikido, that he was taking most of the classes. It was at about this time that I left training for 6 months to try other things such as Judo, Tae Kwon-do and Kung Fu. Well, I couldn't get into them. When I rejoined, the group had expanded and they were training at the Mayfield Police Boys Club. There were some new key students. These were Bob Jones, Meryl Harding, and Ken Lee.

We then moved into the Tighes Hill YMCA venue in Elizabeth St. There we were joined by such famous names as Gabrielle den Hollander, Peter Allsop, Roger Wakefield and Mark Malmberg, and were treated to six months training with Noriko Tanaka from Kumamoto in 1984.

Peter had been training in Sydney with Ken Maclean who had his own unique, admirable style. We then developed a long relationship with Ken's Dojo, visiting and training with each other, as well as the regular visits from Stewart Letford and Steve Seymour.

Around 1987 we moved our Dojo to the Windale branch of the Police & Citizens Youth Club where we all tried our hand at taking classes and were joined by Rica with her teaching input. This was in addition to regular visits from senior students such as Mike Macgregor and those involved in training camps.

In about 1988 Yamamoto Sensei, came to stay with myself and Mark Malmberg. During this time we were treated to many training sessions from Yamamoto, with a big influence on our style. This was in addition to the regular visits from Japan by Takeda Sensei.

In 1991 I started a class at Maitland Police Club with great support from Gabrielle, Fiona and the other students such as our visitor from France, Philippe. Again Bob would travel up from Canberra to train with us. Such was the enthusiasm that Neil continued training after tearing a toe -nail out on the mat.

After this Dojo flooded several times I stopped classes there. Peter and Gabrielle have continued on ever since at various venues and that is their story to tell.

Chris Rodgers