Visitors to Saturday’s 11th annual Natsu Matsui (Summer Festival) at the N.C. Japan Center hung their wishes on colorful paper from the branches of bamboo trees.
It was a sunny day, boding well for the annual meeting of two stars representing the Japanese weaver princess Orihime and her lover, a cow herder named Hikoboshi. Legend says the lovers have met each year during the festival since Orihime’s father, the God of Heaven, separated them with the Milky Way.
If it doesn’t rain, the lovers meet and all wishes come true.
The ritual is celebrated during Japan’s Star Festival, or Tanabata. Saturday’s festival, sponsored by the Nippon Club of the Triangle, also commemorated Obon, a time when Buddhists honor their ancestors.
The festival is part of the club’s mission to create cultural understanding between Japanese and American residents. Roughly a thousand people attend each year, enjoying Japanese food, games, karaoke, taiko drumming and Bon-odori folk dances.
This year’s festival also spotlighted Japanese sports, with demonstrations from Fujinkai Kobudo Renmei, North Raleigh Kendo Dojo and Mo Shotokan Karate in Cary.
Sensei Mohsen Mahmoud, owner of Mo's Shotokan Karate, teaches Japan’s traditional Shotokan karate – a style that uses long, straight punches and kicks, student Ken Boccaccio said.
At least five of Sensei Mo’s students hope their wish to compete in the Olympics comes true after hearing the announcement this week that karate will be one of five new sports in the 2020 Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Kenneth McLymore, a second-degree black belt, said he always wanted to compete in the Olympics. He will travel this month with the USA team to the Junior PKF Championships in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
He enjoys the contact between karate opponents, McLymore said, but also it requires mental fitness.
“It’s more tactical. It’s kind of like chess, but with your body,” he said. “When you get to a certain level, everybody’s fast, everybody’s good; it’s who is going to be the smarter person.”
Karate also challenges you as an individual, said Aerieal Vineyard, a first-degree black belt who qualified as an alternate to this month’s tournament.
“Karate is an individual sport, but you have a team with you,” she said. “I just like how different it is from (other sports), because I never felt an interest in basketball, tennis, softball or anything like that.”
A large Mo Shotokan team attended the USA National Karate Federation Championship and Team Trials in Pittsburgh last month, returning with 19 medals – 11 of them gold.
Others have competed in global tournaments, including Nancy Chase and Braxton Barwick, who traveled in June to the World Union of Karate-do Federations in Dublin, Ireland. Chase, who has garnered 39 national wins since 1994, won an international gold medal in kata (forms).
“I think karate’s a lifestyle. It’s not you doing karate; it’s actually part of you,” said Chase, who has been practicing since 1985. “I think it also empowers you and builds your confidence up.”
She also hopes to compete in the 2020 Olympics, as does Dakota Marquess, who swept his division last year at the AAU Karate Nationals in Raleigh, winning gold in kata, kumite (fighting) and weapons. He also won a gold medal in last year’s Honolulu International Karate Championships.
Sensei Mo, a former member of the Egyptian national team and a 5th Dan black belt, was coached by Sensei Okamoto, who helped others to spread Shotokan Karate around the world.
Every karate move is defensive, Sensei Mo said, but the first move always is to avoid a fight.
“Traditional Japanese karate is a sport just like any other sport,” he said. “The first lesson is how to respect the karate school, respect your friend, your form and your power.”