At CMA News we love anything to do with martial arts or combative sports and are proud to call ourselves martial arts geeks, or, ‘M.A.Gs’ if you will. In fact, if Mr Han still had his Island, I would be there trying to get an interview off him and building up fighter profiles.
While trawling through the internet to pick up the latest MA information one night, I came across something truly magnificent. The Martial Arts Museum! Let this sink in. A museum entirely dedicated to martial arts. My inner MAG was overwhelmed.
Its founder and president is a man called Michael Matsuda. If you don’t know him, you would likely have read his work. Mr Matsuda was the publisher of ‘Martial Arts Magazine’ and has been a contributing editor for Black Belt magazine and Inside Kung Fu for over 20 years, so this man knows his stuff. He founded the not-for-profit Martial Arts History Museum in 1999. It’s now thriving in its settled home of Burbank, California USA.
I couldn’t afford to nip over on a business trip as apparently my children like to be fed on a daily basis, so I contacted Mr Matsuda by email. He kindly took part in this interview across the pond.
CMA: Martial Arts History Museum!? Love it. How did the idea for the museum come about?
MM: After earning a degree in journalism, I wrote as a contributing editor for 20 years for Inside Kung Fu and Black Belt magazine. I mostly wrote about history. In 1983, I started my own magazine: Martial Art Magazine because I didn’t feel the editors appreciated the art; None of them were martial artists. After four years I was offered to sell the magazine which I did and then I was able to do what I felt would keep our history alive. After attaining degrees and many courses in marketing, business, art, design and more, I put it all to work on creating museum. A museum would ensure our history won’t be lost. Magazines come and go, books go out of print, but a museum will be there for generations. So, in 1988, I started planning. Doing research and attaining information. 11 years later the museum was launched by registering it as a museum. In 1999, we became a traveling exhibit across the country to see if people would support such a big endeavor. We started as a 10×10 booth and then expended two a 1,000 square foot display traveling everywhere.
CMA: What difficulties did you face setting it up?
MM: Instead of a martial arts association or group, it had to be set up as a registered museum. A place that is certified and meets all the qualifications of a museum. I needed to get everyone involved. I spoke for 20 minutes in front of the House of Representatives, I met with every politician to open doors for us. Martial arts associations come and go, so I had to plan very carefully to ensure this museum would be recognized by the state and nation. I had to set the museum up for families, young people and non-martial artists to enjoy as well. Therefore, I had planned to include Asian history, culture and tradition and avoid a who’s who of the martial arts. Some people were very upset about this, but if you want to make an impact on a new generation, I had to think about what visitors would not only enjoy, but could relate to. I had to make the museum educational with children having a unique learning experience. This would not only open new doors in cultural understanding, but instill a new found wonder in the martial arts which would increase martial arts school enrollment. Getting people to understand this was very difficult.
CMA: How were Disney and the Simpsons involved in the design?
MM: I have been an artist and graphic designer all my life. I am the one who worked for Disney in the art department. I had spent many years traveling to many museums across the nation and I had to open my mind to see how they were put together, what type of flow was best for learning, the size of type, the color of the displays and more. Putting pictures in frames across the wall and hanging uniforms on the wall with no reason or point makes it a boring place to visit. Disney, DreamWorks, and more put their imagination into each design with positive results. My brother-in-law is the Emmy Award Winner for The Simpsons, all my close friends work for DreamWorks, etc. We are all creative people and are all martial artists. By their friendship, I was able to put my creative thinking into actual displays, which each of them built without cost. The museum is very unique, very Disney-like in color and design, and very pleasing to walk through. We have just as good a team as Disney has, we just don’t have their funds. But with the help of everyone, we can grow and do amazing things. In fact, Paul Wee, of The Simpsons and my close friend, a Halloween designer, is creating an animatronic head to great visitors as they come into the museum. It is these creative people that are able to put my thoughts and dreams for the museum into a reality. This has to be a special place for every visitor to enjoy.
CMA: What was your first purchased/donated item?
MM: Every item in the museum has been donated or on loan. Doing the martial arts for nearly 47 years I already had weapons from some of the greatest icons in the industry. So before I actually started the museum, I already had a collection of my own items. When I started planning the museum in 1988, I started borrowing items such as Chinese Lions, drums and more from Doug and Carrie Wong. Many of the martial arts stores lent me their uniforms, samurai armor and more. People were very generous because they felt a museum was a good idea and if someone had the background and knowledge to do it, which they felt it was me, they gladly supported the idea. If I had to say the first item, it was one of our Samurai armor.
CMA: What display item are you personally most proud of?
MM: I get this question a lot. I feel the thing that I am most proud of is The Journey Along the Way. Since 1988 I have had the honor of meeting so amazing people who have given of themselves to help me and the museum succeed. Without the museum, I would have never have met them. Many of those people have given of their funds, their time, their effort to make this dream come true and make a difference in everyone’s lives. This is something that is bigger than each of us and to be involved in something that is sincere, something that will have a positive effect on this and future generations is something amazing. So it’s The Journey that I am most proud of. Items come and go, but their friendships have had a positive effect on me that I truly appreciate.
CMA: Have you had support from the film industry? If so, how?
MM: We are so thankful that people like Alan Horn from Disney and people from Nickelodeon and more have been very supportive in different ways. Some donate funds on a yearly basis, others give us props, items to use, videos to show, posters to display and more. We have had junkets for many of the movies at the museum, we had countless press here, we have had the History Channel shoot here, A&E, Auction Kings and more shoot here. I would like them to be more involved but I believe in time they will. Independent films show their movies here and make press releases. Martial arts movies always have an effect on the martial arts community, the museum has that effect all year long.
CMA: Are all of the staff trained in a Martial Art?
MM: Yes, everyone who has been part of the museum is a martial artists. Each come from different styles, systems and more. But the goal is to be unified for something that will effect everyone.
CMA: I understand the museum is for all of the family. What can a visitor expect to see?
MM: It’s a walk through history. It’s a place about learning and education. It is a place that bridges the gap of understanding different cultures. Families get to learn about how the arts began, the impact it had on each country and how the martial arts played a role in their culture and tradition and how it came to America and became part of our history. Kids have fun doing scavenger hunts, groups tours and more. We have thousands of kids come in every year and they have a fun time seeing all the “cool” items, the fun displays and more. But its not designed primarily for kids, it’s designed for all to enjoy. From samurai’s to Chinese lions to Thailand Drums to Gongs to Hawaiian Shark teeth weapons to Avatar: The Last Airbender.
CMA: Would the public get a chance to see a martial arts star or a member of the hall of fame at the museum?
MM: We have thousands upon thousands of schools in America alone and even more than that across the globe.The one thing that we don’t have is a home for everyone. A place where we can gather, a place where our history is kept alive, a place that is the center for the entire community. The Martial Arts History Museum is becoming that “home” for the arts. Nearly every well known figure has not only visited here, but has been here many times. From Benny Urquidez, Fumio Demura, Tak Kubota, Don Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Ernie Reyes, Kathy Long, Steve Oedekerk, RZA, Ray Park, Gene LeBell and many more. So many icons have been very generous and very supportive.
CMA: Is the Martial Arts Museum something that our readers could actively get involved with somehow?
MM: I’m going to be very blunt. This is our one and only opportunity to have a museum for the martial arts. Many have made little attempts here and there, but this something that has required a huge financial sacrifice, thousands of hours, days and months putting something together that will change the martial arts community and have a lasting impact for many generations. I have done everything I could possibly do to make this museum work and plan for it to continue long after I am gone. If I am not successful, we will never have a museum and that will be very sad for all of us. All that wonderful history will be lost, that connection to our past will be forgotten, those sacrifices that were made to bring the arts to America and the rest of the world will be lost. I encourage anyone who wants to have a museum, wants to keep history alive, be supportive of the Martial Arts History Museum. This museum is not about me, you don’t see my picture all over the place, it’s about all of us. Invest in the museum, give a donation to the museum, become a member of the museum. It is your financial donation that will help us succeed and be here 100 years from now. Visit www.MAmuseum.com and give back to the arts.
CMA: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions!
The Martial Arts History Museum, also has a hall of fame, Dragonfest and many events. If you would like to learn more or donate to the museum, please click here. Next month, I will post an interview with Mr Matsuda where we talk about his life and martial arts career.
*All photographs were kindly supplied by Mr Matsuda and copywrite remains with him.