NewMediaWire | Painting the Pillars

michael matsuda paint

The Martial Arts History Museum in Burbank, CA.

(NewMediaWire) – July 27, 2023 – Burbank, Calif. – I believe the year was 1976 and I was training in Southern-style Shaolin Kung Fu called Hung Gar. The official name was Buck Sam Kong’s Siu Lum P’ai. My teachers were Sifu Lyle Fujioka and Sifu Vernon Rieta.

The school was a tall, 2-story style building on the corner of Kenmore and Hollywood Blvd. Not the best location, but in the 1970s, we didn’t care. I started my training in Hung Gar around 1972 and I have to honestly say, it was the best time of my life.

I was still a teenager but I loved it. My fellow students were the best and they continually helped me to improve my skills. I couldn’t have asked for such wonderful fellow students. I enjoyed it so much I went five days a week. I truly devoted myself to learning the art and I had so much fun doing it. Kung Fu gave me the confidence I didn’t have, it gave me a sense of family, a sense of being able to defend myself, a sense of culture and tradition.

The martial arts brought me such joy. I did Kung Fu before school, did it at lunch, and did it after school. I trained before class and after class, it was such much fun and it made me feel really special.

We had all-black, satin pants with a black sash to wrap around the waist to keep up the pants. There were no belts but you just trained and moved from beginner, intermediate to advanced.

After a while, the school was starting to look a little run down. We didn’t have any mats, all training was done on smooth concrete. The walls didn’t have mirrors, just weapons. The paint was chipping off the walls, the dressing area was getting run down and especially, the outside of the building was looking pretty bad. There were these tall, decorated pillars that surrounded the building. There were about eight of them and they made the school look a little special, a little regal. But again, it was looking a little yucky and it was in much need of repair.

Sifu Vernon Rieta held a workday for the students. Any student was welcome. No one was getting paid, not even a lunch, but the Sifu was asking for volunteers to come and paint the school and help clean up the place.

Kung Fu meant a lot to me. Oh, granted I paid my monthly dues like everyone else. I paid for my shirt, my patch, and my uniform like everyone else. But here was an opportunity to “give back,” a way for me to say “thank you” to the Kung Fu school I loved so much. People always talk about giving back but it is rare that anyone ever does.

I trained at this school nearly every day and I believed if I truly love this place, I need to make an effort to keep it going. I was a teenager and didn’t have any real funds, but I could paint, I could take out the trash, I could clean the floor.

Workday came and about ten of my fellow students showed up. Nine of them were the older advanced students and I was the youngest of the bunch. It really made an impression on me, those who showed up. To this day, I still remember all their faces.

We had about three workdays in the seven years I attended Siu Lum P’ai.

My assignment for that, the first workday, was to paint the pillars on the outside of the building. They were tall and wide and for the life of me, I can’t remember the color I painted them. But, it took all day to paint all the pillars around the building.


Lyle Fujioka and Vernon Rieta (Center).

Now, some four decades later, I look back at that day. Sometimes I even drive by the building which is now a bakery, and admire those pillars I painted. Oh, I’m not admiring them for the hard work I put into it, but I look at it as my way of showing my appreciation for something that I still love even today. It wasn’t enough to just attend the classes, I felt the place was special and I needed to do something to show my support. Why? Because it really meant that much to me.

I mention this story as it relates to the Martial Arts History Museum. The museum is a representation of all of us. It’s our journey, our commitment to something we love, it is a place that serves as our home.

I ask you to take a moment and if the martial arts is important to you. If the martial arts has brought you joy and even a career, then, let’s do a little something back. Maybe not a “workday,” but instead of just attending, do a little extra because you feel the museum is something we need.

Perhaps buy a cap or shirt to help out the museum. Host a seminar to raise funds. Connect them with a sponsor. Introduce them to a celebrity that can help out. Host a school fundraiser or make an extra donation because you feel the martial arts has had an effect on you. Support isn’t just attending an event, it’s taking that extra step.

I remember the “pillars” fondly because even though it wasn’t a lot, it meant a lot to me. The school was something bigger than me and I had a rare opportunity to give a little back.

As the museum takes this huge step into a possible new location, they will need your help, especially in the first few months. This is a huge risk but I believe there are enough people who want to “paint the pillars” with me so that history won’t be lost.

Let’s donate today at The Martial Arts History Museum is a non-profit 501c3 organization located at 2319 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91506. (818) 355-1109. Written by Michael Matsuda.

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