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Martial Arts History Museum kicks its way to 20th year

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Michael Matsuda of the Burbank Martial Arts History Museum handles one of the many swords he has on display.
(Ross A. Benson)

It has been Michael Matsuda’s lifelong passion to keep the history of martial arts alive for the public, and after 20 years of doing so, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Matsuda’s Martial Arts History Museum celebrated its 20th anniversary recently. Its goal is to educate the public about the various types of martial arts found around the world.

The museum has been at its location at 2319 W. Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank since 2010. Started by Matsuda in 1999, the museum is dedicated to highlight how each major martial arts form around the world came to be and their influence on Western culture.

Matsuda said on Friday morning that he initially started gathering all of the memorabilia he had amassed and created a museum on wheels, stopping at different cities around Southern California to educate the public about martial arts.

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After being on the road for several years, Matsuda decided to give his museum a fixed location and opened a marital arts museum in Santa Clarita in 2006. He later moved the museum to its current location in Burbank.

The museum, though small, packs in a lot of information about the different styles of martial arts and their cultural significance.

There are sections dedicated to the martial arts found in China, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Hawaii.

The exhibits aren’t just about the various fighting styles and the weaponry. Matsuda said he wanted the public to also learn about how each martial art form originated.

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There are also wings dedicated to the role martial arts played in Western culture, including its impact on media and sports.

Matsuda said he has more than 50 years of experience in martial arts, whether it’s studying kung fu or working for martial arts magazines when they still existed.

He grew up during an era when the popularity of martial arts was at its height. Matsuda said he remembers when different martial arts studios were being built across the country and when competitive martial arts produced notable icons, including Chuck Norris.

“Those magazines were the lifeblood of the martial-arts industry,” he said. “You knew who was popular if they were featured on the cover, but now there are no covers, and nobody knows who the tournament champions are.”

Matsuda said the popularity of martial arts waxes and wanes, adding that the industry is in a bit of a lull.

While animated shows like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and movies like “Kill Bill” and “Kung Fu Panda” have sparked some interest in martial arts, Matsuda said the appeal has not been the same since its heyday.

However, Matsuda said he hopes to break that lull over the next 20 years with the new phase of his efforts.

He is currently in the works to expand his museum and evolve his concept into a “Disneyland for martial arts,” he said.

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“I want to create a martial arts village, like a cultural City Walk,” he said. “Our whole goal is to make a huge facility for a place where martial arts fans can gather. That’s been the plan since day one.”

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