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Greg Mapstone Sensei RIP

By David Kolb

On 15 September 2022 I received the sad news that my original iaido teacher, Greg Mapstone had passed away at the age of 67.

Back in the mid 1980s I bought a pretty battered Japanese sword from a local collector who was selling it on behalf of a mate who needed money to fund a trip to go and live in live in Japan. I’ve still got the sword although it wouldn’t have gone up in value in all this time, it turned out to be a good investment in another way.

A few years later I developed an interest in iaido and started training with a group that was part of the Queensland Kendo Renmei. The group was led by Greg Mapstone, a 2 Dan going on 3 Dan who had recently returned from several years living and training in Osaka. And yes, as I came to realise a little while later, the same guy whose sword I had bought.

The class in Brisbane was held on Monday nights at the old City YMCA in Ann Street. I’ve forgotten the names of most of the regulars but they included Mal Cox, a lecturer at QUT and Japanese sword nut, John Isaacs, and Greg’s best mate Noel Young. There was also a fairly close connection with the Japanese community in Brisbane too through the Kendo Renmei. Notably Dr Fujiko Chamberlain, head of the Japanese Department at UQ and a prominent figure in the Australia Japan Society. Her sons Satoru and Ted were talented martial artists practising kendo, iaido and kyudo in Ted’s case.

A few guys also cross trained in kyudo with Mishima Sensei. He was a Buddhist priest and really cool dude who had this amazing full on Japanese style kyudojo set up at his place out at Pullenvale. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe.

After training, we would all invariably head down to the Enjoy Inn the Valley. Where, over some deep fried quail and noodle soup, Greg would share stories of his time in Japan and various aspects of training.

Greg was an incredibly good martial artist. He had a background in Chinese martial arts and would regularly perform with a Lion Dance Group for New Year and special events. He also trained for a while with well known karate teacher and sword collector, Matsumoto Sensei in Cairns where I imagine he was introduced to iai. He and his cousin Jeff were to also create their own style which they called Jito Seki Ryu.

In terms of iaido, he was really sharp. When living in Osaka he trained with the Osaka Kendo Renmei doing Setei iai and also Eishin Ryu. He was actually part of a group under Hata Sensei, who from what I can gather was something of an outsider practising Hasegawa Eishin Ryu as opposed to the more mainstream Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu. As a consequence Greg’s koryu was slightly different from what I came to learn later. He also had a close friendship with Obayashi Sensei, which was to lead me becoming introduced to him.

Greg was fairly slightly built, but flexible. When doing iaido he really had the ability to bring the techniques alive and I can recall a couple of memorable demonstrations he did. This included one at the Australian Kendo Championships being held in Brisbane at UQ.

He also learnt another style in Osaka called Tengen Ryu, which I have never heard of apart from Greg. He would occasionally show some it’s techniques which included a set of cool tanto (knife) disarms.

He was a real Ipswich boy. Back in those days he had the lease on the kiosk at Queens Park, living with his wife and two little boys in the attached flat. He had access to the Croquet Club Hall where he could train and also teach privately. On occasion we’d head up there and practise cutting bamboo. I can vividly remember my first attempt, bending my sword (also ex Greg) virtually at right angles. Greg took it, and almost by magic, straightened it out.

Greg Mapstone Bamboo

Greg about to cut some bamboo in Queens Park wearing his trademark white keiki gi.

He had his fair share of quirks. In those less enlightened times he had an ongoing battle with chaps that would loiter around the public toilets at the park. Convinced they were up to no good, he made it his business to have them moved on. Much to his ongoing frustration the Council and other authorities showed little interest.

He was also convinced that there was good money to be made in selling stingray skin in Japan to be used on sword hilts. This led to him trying to find suppliers and various ways to prepare the skins. If that seems like a lot of stuffing around, you’d be right, and the venture never seemed to get going.

And then there was the saga of a sword that he was getting polished and restored in Japan. This dragged on for years and was a source of endless angst in trying to get the polisher on to the job. On top of that there was all sorts of mucking around organising fittings etc. He eventually got the sword sent over but never seemed entirely satisfied with it.

Greg could also speak Japanese reasonably well and loved a chat. My favourite Greg Mapstone anecdote relates to Nakakura Sensei, or rather Nakakura Sensei’s wife. Nakakura Sensei was an absolute legend, 9 Dan in kendo and iaido, student of Nakayama Hakudo and one of the most famous swordsmen of the 20th century. Quite remarkably, he was also the adopted son and designated successor of aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba for a time during the 1930s. By tradition this involved him marrying Ueshiba’s daughter and assuming the Ueshiba family name.

He visited Brisbane with a group of senior kendo teachers on at least two occasions in the 1990’s. On one of those visits, Greg was seated near Nakakura Sensei and his wife at dinner. Knowing about the adopted son thing, he proceeded to make small talk and remarked to Mrs Nakakura that her father was a great man, meaning Morihei Ueshiba . He was a bit perplexed at her reaction which was to seem confused and not understand what he was saying. He was mortified to later realise that the fact that Nakakura Sensei stopped being the aikido heir apparent meant that he had quit the Ueshiba family and divorced his first wife and then subsequently remarried. Whether Mrs Nakakura twigged at who Greg was talking about or just put it down to a language thing, we’ll never know. I’d like to say that it was a faux pas that anyone could make, but that wouldn’t be right, this one was a Greg special.


Nakakura Sensei pictured with Greg Mapstone, John Isaacs, and Naoko Kai on a subsequent visit to Brisbane. He was waiting outside the Lone Pine Sanctuary while the rest of the group checked out the koalas. Greg took the opportunity to show him that sword of his and he then kindly spoke to us a bit about iaido.

Sadly, Greg came to have more than his fair share of personal issues which led to his gradually stopping his practice. I’m also sorry to say that I lost contact with him too over recent years.

With his passing I’d like to express my gratitude for everything he taught me and his contribution to the development of iaido in Australia. I’d also like to express our sincere condolences to his family and friends.