There are times when Richard Matsushita feels like an old man among young kids.
In the martial art of karate, it’s often a young-man’s game, and older competitors aren’t the norm.
However, at the age of 45, Matsushita, a Burbank resident, is discovering that he is able to hold his own against much younger athletes.
He proved that point earlier this month when he captured gold and silver medals in Shotokan Karate of America’s 54th annual exhibition and tournament at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
The event was part of the annual Nisei Week festivities based in Little Tokyo. The open tournament is not only the longest-running karate competition in the United States, but it continues to be the only one in which women compete directly against men. Nisei Week started in 1934 and is an annual seven-day celebration of Japanese arts and culture.
In the competition, the majority of competitors were from 21-35.
“As I get older, I’m able to gain more experience,” Matsushita said. “I think that is something that helps me against younger [competitors], who might not have as much experience. I have been lucky that is some respects, I’m getting better as I get older.”
Along with a second-place finish in the men’s individual, he was able to be among a squad that placed first in the team competition.
Taking part in the Open Class, competitors from first- to fourth-degree black belt of all ages and sizes do battle from. In Shotokan, a fifth-degree black belt is the highest level.
The Nisei Week karate tournament is the only public annual tournament, and all fighters had to earn spots in regional tournaments, which were divided in four regions: West Coast, Midwest, East Coast and Canada.
“It’s quite tricky to win consistently,” he said. “It’s a whole combination or a myriad of things like, technique, rhythm, timing, tempo, experience, confidence, psyche, ability to read your opponent, body language, expression, patience, instinct, mental focus, spirit…and of course lots of luck.”
When not practicing his martial arts, Matsushita has enjoyed a 15-year career in the visual effects industry, even earning an Emmy nomination in 1999.
“I usually work out five days a week on my lunch break,” said Matsushita, who first took up the sport at age 11. “I’m 45 now, and I’m considered an old guy in the bunch, competing with the young kids. It’s a lot of fun [and it’s] always a learning experience. But as long as I am in good health, spirit, and in good physical shape, I’ll keep on [competing].