The year was 1967. Michael was only about 8 years old. He and his mom would visit their cousin Emily who lived in North Hollywood. The house had many rooms, it was designed like a four-plex apartment. It was there that Michael met Juan. Juan was a student of Ark Y. Wong. And it was there that Juan used to teach Michael kung fu. His mom would visit Emily about two to three times a week so Michael got a lot of training. All informal of course.
A year later, in 1968, Michael’s father starting showing him some judo he had learned in the 1920s. At first, he enrolled my older brother in judo at the Japanese Community Center in Sun Valley, CA. And in 1968, Michael was around nine and he started judo. His father said he had to learn for at least one year. Now, they usually don’t accept small kids into the class but they made and exception since we were members of the center. There was Michael and his friend Donald Isa.
They threw them around like rag dolls. It was the worst year ever. It never let up. Michael quit on the one year anniversary of his starting. However, just after he finished judo, a bully jumped Michael on the back and without hesitation, Michael flipped him to the ground. He was sold on martial arts after that.
From there he dabbled in Japanese karate and jumped into jiu jitsu at the Sun Valley Parks & Recreation department. It was there a young Al Dacascos came in to visit and do a little sparring with the instructor who was a friend of his. He was wearing an all-black uniform and was doing a circular style of martial art called Chinese kung fu. It was at that moment Michael decided he would learn and master the art of kung fu.
In 1973, before Bruce Lee’s passing, Michael’s mother found an article in the Daily News about the YMCA in Van Nuys, Ca that was starting a kung fu program on Saturdays. He enrolled and was being taught Hung Gar kung fu from Sifu Warren. Six months had passed and a new instructor showed up and two months later, another Hung Gar instructor was teaching. His name was Sifu Brian. One year later another instructor led the class named Sifu Lyle Fujioka. He was a senior student at Buck Sam Kong’s Siu Lum P’ai school in Hollywood.
Lyle would continue to be Matsuda’s instructor for the next several years. After three years of training at the YMCA, Lyle wanted a group of his student to join him at the main school in Hollywood, CA on Kenmore and Hollywood Blvd. Although he was now being taught at Buck Sam Kong’s school, Lyle Fujioka took Matsuda under his wing and continued to personally help him for another five plus years. Altogether Matsuda trained for 10 years in Hung Gar kung fu.
At this time, Michael Matsuda was an advanced student at the Siu Lum P’ai school with sifu Vernon Rieta in Hollywood. Above right is Michael Matsuda, and bottom right is Paulie Zink.
It was during his training at the Hollywood school, around 1977, he befriended a new student named Paulie Zink who just enrolled. They became the best of friends. Matsuda was training five days a week at the school and wanted his new friend, who was in the beginners class, to catch up and join him in the advanced class. So, at every practice, he would either teach him in the back area or go to his home and teach him.
After about a year of training together, his friend said he bumped into this Chinese kung fu instructor from Hong Kong named Cho Chat Ling and he was teaching him a new form of kung fu. They both loved kung fu, so his friend Zink started teaching Matsuda everything he was learning. So each week, his friend learned and then taught Matsuda.
The art they were both learning was called Tai Shing Pek Kwar. Neither of them had any clue it was Monkey kung fu. Although it had ground rolling and other low movements, the actual monkey movements were not taught till they had several years into the art.
Matsuda’s friend had eventually mastered the entire artform and passed on everything he learned to him, his best friend. He was his first student. After 33 years of studying the art of Monkey kung fu, Matsuda was named the 6th generation master of the art; the only student, to this day, to master the complete artform. Matsuda now has over 45 years of learning and teaching the art.
Succeeding the art, Grandmaster Matsuda now takes the reigns of passing the art to the next generation. Since his friend had now retired from teaching, Matsuda is the only Grandmaster of the art in America. He is certified by the U.S. Tai Shing Pek Kwar Association and the only person entrusted with learning all five forms.
Prior to his death, the 3rd Generation Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung wrote a very supportive note thanking him for continuing to keep the art of Tai Shing Pek Kwar alive. Matsuda had met Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung when he was only 17 years old and accompanied him to Buck Sam Kong’s expo in Los Angeles. There is a picture of him and GM Chan Sau Chung in his book.
Just before his passing, Grandmaster Chan Sau Chung, the “Monkey King” and 3rd generation of the art of Tai Shing Pek Kwar, wrote this letter to Michael Matsuda thanking him for carrying on the art.
Matsuda, now 45 years in Monkey Kung Fu, is the only one who learned the entire and complete Monkey art system. No one else can say that.
He has written 50 published articles on Monkey kung fu and has authored MONKEY KUNG FU: HISTORY & TRADITION. He has co-authored several small books on Monkey kung fu as well.
He is considered the leading authority on Monkey kung fu in America and was inducted into the Martial Arts History Museum’s Hall of Fame in 2004.