Born in Chicago in 1974, Erik Matsunaga (WMKA 4th dan) began his martial journey as many Midwestern American pre-teens of his generation did, through folkstyle wrestling as a compulsory facet of public school physical education from grades 6 through 12.

In 1989, at the age of fifteen and inspired by a karate demonstration at the Midwest Buddhist Temple’s annual Ginza Festival, Matsunaga initiated training in eastern martial arts. Over the course of the ensuing nine years, this path would lead him to the tutelage of instructors Song, Sugiyama, and Nemoto.


L-R:  Erik Matsunaga, Art Ishii, Yuichi Danjo, Scott Schnell. 2017.

Through a mutual acquaintance, in 1998 Matsunaga was introduced to Okinawan karate instructor Arthur Takashi Ishii while working in Los Angeles. Despite extensive prior training in other systems and given that his previous instructors had either relocated or retired from teaching, Matsunaga started anew under Ishii sensei at Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu of Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, a community-based dojo operated out of the social hall of a hundred year old Japanese church.

A fourth generation (Yonsei) Japanese American, while Matsunaga practices budo as an expression of his Nikkei heritage — his Nisei grandfather and great-uncles had also been budoka, having studied kendo and judo in pre-WWII Fresno and Los Angeles, CA — he espouses that humanity, not heritage, is the only prerequisite for training.

A husband and father, Matsunaga makes his home on Chicago’s North Side and works in the manufacturing industry. In his spare time he also investigates the history of Chicago’s Japanese American community through authoring articles on Discover Nikkei, an online project of the Japanese American National Museum, and Windy City Nikkei on Instagram.