Judo's Dream Maker

Written by Derick Mildred

It was a sad day for Australian martial arts when Arthur Moorshead, 8th Dan, passed away on 29 January 2010, at the age of 78. He was a pioneer of judo and aikido here in Australia, and was rewarded for his services to the Japanese fighting arts with an Order of Australia medal in 1999. Here, his stepson Derick Mildred pays tribute to the man considered a ‘dream maker’ in Australian judo.


Arthur Moorshead was born in London in 1931, but his real story starts when he was eight years old and wanted to follow his older brother into catch wrestling. His mother considered this too hard for him and so he began his career in judo, although this was interrupted by the onset of the Second World War.
After the war, Arthur continued his judo training and in due course his mother arranged for an instructor, Mr Kenshiro Abbe, 8th Dan, to come to London from Kyoto, Japan. Abbe lived with Arthur and his family for many years and insisted that Arthur also study aikido, kendo and karate. He achieved Dan grades in all but kendo, in which he was ranked 1st Kyu. Under Abbe’s tuition, Arthur ultimately competed for England in the early 1950s. During this time, Abbe converted to Christianity to become the godfather of Arthur’s eldest daughter.

Arthur had a successful competition career but it was brought to an abrupt end when both his hips were dislocated during a bout in France. He spent many months in plaster and traction, and was told he would never walk again. This was simply not acceptable to him, however, and through sheer determination, he did indeed walk again in due course. However, he could no longer compete. So he applied his efforts towards teaching, coaching and refereeing, distinguishing himself in all areas.

In 1960, Arthur and his first wife Joan immigrated to Melbourne with baby daughter Carolyn. As soon as the family was settled Arthur looked around for land to build a judo club and in 1961 rented land in Glenhuntly from the Railway Department for 10 shillings a week. This is the spot where Caulfield Judo Club stands today. He built the original dojo and, in 1993, he and his second wife Susie purchased the land.

In 2000 they extended the old dojo to cover some vacant land at the rear of the premises and also built a small dojo upstairs, which they named the Maria Pekli Dojo in honour of his student’s bronze medal win at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. (Because of the wonderful life that judo gave to Arthur and Susie, they decided some years later that they wanted to ‘give back’ to judo and thus the premises will be set into a trust so that the dojo will exist indefinitely.)

Arthur arrived in Australia as a 4th Dan in judo, having been graded in France by M Otani and in England by Kenshiro Abbe in 1959. His 5th Dan was awarded 20 years later by the Judo Federation of Australia, followed by 6th Dan in 1982, 7th Dan in 1987 and 8th Dan from the JFA in 1998 (and the International Judo Federation a year later).

During his judo career as a coach, team manager, referee and president, Arthur travelled to all five of the continental unions, including China and Egypt. He always enjoyed attending seminars and training camps, where he liked to become the student again, and would return to his dojo bursting with ideas, not only for teaching but in the administration field as well. He refereed the final matches of Russia vs Japan at the Kano Cup and at the Matsutaro Shoriki Cup, which was a huge honour for him, particularly as he was a B-level referee.

Arthur was highly regarded as a referee at the USA Open Championships, Rendez-Vous Canada Championships, the Kano Cup and Matsutaro Shoriki Cups in Japan and also refereed at the Commonwealth Games, Oceania Championships, Pacific Rim Championships, Fukuoka Championships for women and all National Championships.

He was one of the coaches at the Nakajima Easter Camp from 1978 to 1994, developing a strong relationship with Kokushikan University in Tokyo that still exists today, and he did not mind giving up his Easters for judo. This camp, held over four days, gave him the opportunity to discuss judo techniques with other Japanese senseis. His opinion was always respected because of the influence of Kenshiro Abbe.

Arthur also had a great deal of knowledge about the muscles and bones in the body, as Abbe had insisted that Arthur do an anatomy course before he would grade him to 4th Dan. Consequently, he was often able to diagnose problems for athletes and advise them on their rehabilitation and prevention of further injury.

Over the years, Arthur held many positions and won many awards, including life membership to the Judo Federation of Australia Inc, and an induction into the Blitz Magazine Hall of Fame in 1995 as ‘Judo Instructor of the Year’. He was also manager and coach to the Australian team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

In 1989 Arthur had the first of two total hip replacements and during his recuperation period was influential in the setting up of the Victorian International Open Championships. Known as VIOC, these championships were started to draw international competitors to Australia rather than Australian judoka having to travel to other parts of the globe to compete against world-class judoka. He remained as a Member of Board of Management of the VIOC Trust until his death, assisting in the selection of judoka to receive the VIOC bequests.

In 2002, Arthur was elected President of the Judo Federation of Australia, Inc. At the conclusion of his four-year term, at 75 years of age, he retired from all national positions but still continued to coach four times a week at his judo club until 10 days before his death. “I will not stop while I can draw breath,” Arthur told The Age in a 2004 interview.

Children were very important to Arthur and he worked with each individual child to ensure that they had a sense of wellbeing by giving each of them specific responsibilities, such as letting them instruct other students.

“If you get kids to teach other kids, they get that feeling that you trust them,” he told The Age. “It teaches them responsibility for someone else.”

Arthur was also a pioneer of aikido in Australia and his students have gone on to hold the senior aikido teaching positions here. Two of the first three internationally qualified Australian shihans had their first lessons with him, as his were the first formal aikido classes held in Australia. Arthur’s Caulfield dojo remains one of the most important in the country, where aikido has been taught for nearly 50 years. Arthur also started the first Australian aikido association, which he later handed over to Japan’s Sugano Shihan, who now heads Aiki Kai Australia. Arthur continued to teach aikido at Caulfield and RMIT University until the mid-1970s when he felt that Aiki Kai was well enough established for him to concentrate on his first love, judo.

Arthur had students from Caulfield Judo Club participate in four Olympic Games and others have gone on to lead diverse lives and careers bridging Japan and the West, due to their sensei’s influence. 

Arthur was a very private man, but consequently was full of surprises. He loved the ballet and considered the dancers’ movements quite beautiful. He would often compare their agility to that of judo. His favourite ballet was Swan Lake and, in particular, the Pas de Deux. As his health deteriorated it became increasingly difficult for him to attend the shows, but he only missed it once.

Another of his loves was cats; he could spend hours watching them play and admiring their agility and suppleness. He would relate some of their movements to judo, just as he did with the ballet technique.

Arthur’s family and friends were also very important to him. Over the period of his life with judo and travelling the world he met so many people who, each in their individual way, contributed to his wonderful life. He never forgot any of them and spent many hours reminiscing during the last few years, when he was no longer permitted to travel by his doctors.

He loved having students living at his home and believed that these young people in turn kept him young. Some were judo kids and others were not, but each one played an important part in the lives of Arthur and wife Susie.

Arthur was a proud yet humble man; to him, whether his students were 8 years old or over 50, whether they were Olympians, champions, beginners or casual judoka who trained just for the love of it, he was immensely proud of them all. He got his greatest satisfaction from nurturing his students to become all that they could be. 

Andrew Collett, for example, started training with Arthur at the age of six and went on to become a national champion and dual Olympian, all the while attending school and then university. Now a lawyer for a leading Melbourne firm, Andrew still trains in judo.
Many people can remember Arthur speaking of Abbe Sensei and other great teachers of budo. Now, through his own life, he has surely earned the right to be thought of as standing alongside them. This quote encapsulates his approach to living and teaching: “Giving and sharing, and gentility and graciousness, are not signs of weakness, but signs of strength.” 

The impact that his philosophy had on people was obvious at Arthur’s funeral, which was attended by more than 400 people, including many who flew in from interstate and overseas to pay their respects. A select few placed their Black-belts across the 8th Dan’s coffin as a mark of respect and gratitude. 

Arthur Moorshead will be remembered as a great teacher — no small feat, given that for many years he could no longer perform the techniques he taught due to his hips. While his incredible knowledge reflected a full lifetime of study, he also had the capacity to inspire and communicate this knowledge to others. When one looks at the judo champions he created, the lives to which he contributed, the growth that soon followed his work in judo within Australia, it’s easy to see why some referred to him as a ‘dream maker’. Because that’s exactly what he did: he made martial artist’s dreams, no matter how big or small, come true.

The achievements of Arthur Moorshead

1985 – The award of his International Judo Federation B-level Referee Licence
1987 – Acquiring his Australian Citizenship
1988 – Appointment as Section Manager for judo to the Seoul Olympics, where as coach he saw Sue Williams ascend the dais to receive the gold medal for judo as a demonstration sport
1999 – Receiving his 8th Dan rank from the International Judo Federation
1999 – Being awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to judo as an administrator, coach and examiner
2001 –  Receiving the Australian Sports Medal
2002 –  Election as the president of the Judo Federation of Australia, Inc.