By Logan C. Ritchie | lritchie@atljewishtimes.com

Following in their older sister’s footsteps, Davis Academy fifth-graders Matan and Ori Gal started karate classes in kindergarten. The 11-year-old twin brothers tried sports such as baseball and basketball but discovered that karate packed the perfect punch — one that recently carried them all the way to Japan.

“I’m determined to do karate for life,” said Ori, a brown/black belt. “My sister told us to try it, and we just knew it was our favorite.”

While they spend their days apart at school, the fraternal twins share four afternoons a week in karate at the dojo. The boys practice with Mits Uchida, the founder of the U.S. Taido Karate School in Norcross, along with several schoolmates from Davis.

Matan and Ori Gal pose with Mits Uchida of the U.S. Taido Karate School.

Matan and Ori Gal pose with Mits Uchida of the U.S. Taido Karate School.

U.S. Taido focuses on individual achievement rather than competition. Students learn to accomplish goals while working cooperatively with teachers. Colored belts indicate the level a student has mastered; after reaching the black belt, students gain degrees.

Last fall Uchida received an invitation to a sumo tournament in Japan. Six fifth- to ninth-graders were invited to fly to Japan to study with Yokozuna Hakuho, sumo’s grand champion wrestler, and compete in the Hakuho-Hai tournament.

When invited to the all-expenses-paid trip to Japan, Matan and Ori couldn’t say no.

More than 1,000 students from around the world, including Mongolia, China and South Korea, attend Hakuho-Hai each year. The six kids from U.S. Taido were the only Americans.

After training for three months, Matan and Ori embarked with their father, Ziv Gal, for the weeklong trip of a lifetime in late January. They flew on what Matan recalled as one very long flight to Tokyo and quickly discovered that Hakuho and his tournament are famous — they were followed by TV camera crews for days.

Dalit Gal, the mother of the boys, said: “They were treated like they were so important. It was a very big deal. They were greeted at the airport, and Hakuho cooked them lunch. It was truly an honor.”

Matan and Ori trained with the Mongolian-born Hakuho, who holds the Guinness World Records record for most sumo bouts won in a year and has a record 33 championship titles.

“The thing I will always remember is training with a world champ,” Matan said. “I hope I can go back to Japan one day.”

One thing that struck Ori about Tokyo was the cleanliness. “The streets were extremely clean. There wasn’t one speck of trash. We even saw people cleaning out the trash cans.”

Matan focused on the food. “We ate a different kind of sushi there. We drank green tea, which is a green powder that you add to water. There was a dessert made of fish, but I didn’t try it.”

The boys are international travelers who have visited Israel, Italy and Mexico. Now that Matan and Ori have added Japan to their passport stamps, they’re ready for another escapade. This one will be closer to home: Dalit said the next karate adventure is in Florida.