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Never too old for a victory

It’s still full speed ahead for martial artist Richard Matsushita.

At an age when most karate competitors have hung up their belts, the 46-year-old Burbank resident is still going strong, and beating adversaries many years his junior.

“I’m 46 now, [and] I don’t know when I’ll call it quits — maybe this was it?,” said Matsushita, who has spent 15 years in the visual effects industry and earned an Emmy nomination in 1999. “I’m considered an old guy in the bunch, but competing in general is a lot of fun, but always a learning experience. As long as I am in good health, spirit, and in good physical shape, I’ll keep on kicking. Besides, these days people are more active after 40, even in the professional arena.”

Matsushita put his abilities on display Aug. 6 at the Shotokan Karate of America’s 55th annual Karate Exhibition and Tournament, which was held at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.


Along with earning a first-place gold in the men’s Individual Open class, he also took home a silver in the Team competition.

Battling a variety of opponents, Matsushita was able to advance to the finals. In the competition, there are no specific weight classes or age groups, instead, competitors of all ages and sizes do battle. Most of the competitors Matsushita faced were from 21-35, and ranked from first- to fourth-degree black belt.

“It’s quite tricky to win,” Matsushita 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, mental game, heart, spirit … and of course lots of luck.”

In order to earn a spot in the annual tournament, all fighters had to earn spots in regional competitions: West Coast, Midwest, East Coast and Canada. In the Aug. 6 event, fighters came from as far north as Vancouver, and as far east as Manhattan and the Bronx.


The event was part of the annual Nisei Week festivities based in Little Tokyo. Aside from several local tournaments held, the Nisei Week karate competition is our only public annual tournament.

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.

Matsushita has enjoyed a life enhanced by karate. He started his association with the sport in 1977 at age 11 at Maryknoll Karate Club Dojo in Little Tokyo, under the direction of Tsutomu Ohshima.

Ohshima, who is 81, helped popularize karate in the United States beginning in the 1950s. In 1955, Ohshima came to the United States and was the first person to teach karate to the public. By 1959, the Southern California Karate Assn. was formed and it has grown over the years to become a nationwide organization — Shotokan Karate of America.

Ohshima has a direct link to one of karate’s foremost figures. Master Gichin Funakoshi from Okinawa was the first expert to introduce karate to mainland Japan in 1916. Ohshima was one of Master Funakoshi’s last direct pupils, studying under him while attending Waseda University in Tokyo.

“It takes many many, years and a lifetime of training and polishing with thousands of repetitions [to advance in the sport],” said Matsushita, who has been married to his wife, Deborah, for 18 years. “This is a way of life. Karate is a way of life.”