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Burb's Eye View: Marshaling his martial arts collection

July 12, 2011|By Bryan Mahoney
  • Michael Matsuda, president of the Martial Arts History Museum, with images of two influential martial artists: Edmund Parker, left, who created the first large-scale tournament in the U.S., and actor Bruce Lee (right). (Photo courtesy of Bryan Mahoney)
Michael Matsuda, president of the Martial Arts History…

Michael Matsuda has come home. He’s already moved in all his stuff — most of which has pointy edges and can hurt you if you even look at it wrong.

Touring his “house,” you see what fuels his passion for all things martial arts. And while the stars of the show at the new Martial Arts History Museum on Magnolia Boulevard are the weapons from around the world, Matsuda is here to tell a much bigger story.

When I visited the museum on a recent Saturday afternoon, I expected to find homages to Bruce Lee, the Kung Fu television series, and the many other Hollywood influences that helped bring the martial arts to the Western world. While there’s plenty of memorabilia to appease casual fans and movie buffs, I found an unexpected education in the evolution of Asian and South Pacific cultures.

The museum isn’t about fighting — it’s not even mostly about fighting. In the small converted office space that still smells of fresh paint, Matsuda is presenting a history lesson with the panache of an experienced marketer and the thoughtful care of a curator.

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In this space he is both, but he is also a tour guide and martial arts master. As he took me on a journey from the discipline of the samurai to the Korean styles of tae kwon do and hapkido, he said that martial arts were, for him, a defense mechanism at a trying time.

What more trying time than middle school?

“I was a little weensy kid so the bigger kids would throw me around,” he said. “Eventually, I found a (kung fu) school and I did Shaolin for 13 years.”

Eventually, Matsuda learned — then taught — monkey-style kung fu, a rare and difficult discipline because, as he put it, “people don’t like to be low to the ground.” He is the last teacher of this style in the U.S.

Professionally, he has had a long career in marketing, and his design experience helped form the museum’s exhibits, most of which he created himself. Others have been donated by Hollywood friends of the museum — the terra cotta warrior in the entrance, for example, was carved by Paul Wee, an animator for “The Simpsons.”

The museum began as a road show in 1999 — a booth at various conventions around California. As the booth’s popularity grew, so did the booth itself, and eventually Matsuda leased space for the collection in Santa Clarita in 2007.

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