I arrived at the ONTA Studio in the Kismet building in Williston to take a video of the owners. Zach and Lauren are two young entrepreneurs with a lot of passion. Zach had a massive smile on his face, and he stuck his hand out immediately for a handshake. He shook my hand, smiled, and thanked me and my assistant Liz for coming to cover their story. Lauren greets us as well slightly labored from the baby that was due within the next few days.
Before arriving, what I pictured in my mind, and what I came to discover were two totally different things. Being somewhat of a Karate Kid fan, I expected the typical Hollywood style dojo with rigged rules and a stern-faced instructor. I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth, fun, depth of knowledge, and appreciation for martial arts that the couple espoused.
For starters, both Zach and Lauren have extensive educational backgrounds, rigorous training, and world-traveling experience. To say the least, I was fascinated by their colorful history. Zach, with a BA in Anthropology, grew up in southern Vermont with a mother that has a blackbelt in Karate. He reminisced with me about growing up in the dojo as a kid gave him his unique appreciation for the Martial Arts. “I started training when I was five and did that all the way through my childhood and continued through college.” After college, Zach sought out one of Chinese Taoist teacher Kwan Sai Hung’s master students and studied under him in San Fransico. “I think one powerful thing about the martial arts is a unique alchemy of finding a solution to how do you keep from being a victim without being a bully. It teaches a grounding of self-control and self-discipline. “
Lauren also grew up in a dojo as well as temples and monasteries. Her wit and bubbly personality masked her physical strength and discipline. In short, I knew she could easily kick my butt, even 9 months pregnant. “My dad was an American kickboxer. I had early memories of going to fights. So, I always had a strong interest in martial arts.” The yin and yang balance was coming into focus, a perfect balance between the two. “I like [martial art’s] because you can access meditation through physical movement. And, that [meditation] was more interesting to me.”
Throughout my visit, Zach and Lauren made each other laugh. I’m not much of a mushy guy, but when you see something beautiful, you have to call it out. A romance story wasn’t what I came to find, but it was what I found. It was refreshing to witness their bond and excitement for starting their growing business and new family. A blend of family, business, education, and culture. The ONTA story is only a single fiber of the working tapestry that Opportunities Credit Union helps sow in our community.
So, what is it all about? ONTA (Over Nine Thousand Academy… [a Dragon Ball reference?]) Offers both kids classes and adult classes. Zach, “Anyone from four to ninety years old can benefit from our workshops at ONTA.” The website says that everyone should have access to knowledge and practices needed to keep themselves healthy. Zach went on the explain that for kids, wrestling is usually frowned upon, especially when it gets out of control. “Play and wrestling are crucial to children’s development, emotionally, and physically,” Zach continued. “And, that’s what we do with our kid’s classes. We help them find boundaries and introduce discipline.”
As for the older students Zach said, “Your body degrades over time, and in our culture, we put ourselves in positions that damage our bodies far quicker. So, everyone should be doing maintenance on their bodies. You can get a new car, but you can’t get a new body.” They went on to talk about living abroad to study in Taoist temples, and study martial arts in different parts of the world. Not, only were they both interested in the physical side of martial arts, but also they had a deep understanding of meditation, Thai Chi and Taoism.
The young couple, with their wealth of martial art’s knowledge, had developed a dream of opening a dojo in Williston. Being fresh out of grad school, they had no collateral to get traditional banking to get their business off the ground. Lauren, “We had lots of experience, but no physical capital which didn’t look good on paper.” Gwen at the center for women in enterprise directed them to Opportunities Credit Union.
Zach, “They took a chance on us, and it turned out!” Zach mentioned working with the small business development center and Laz at Opportunities.
“Whenever we had something we wanted to accomplish, Opportunities … would have an action plan for us,” said Lauren with a smile.
Patience and discipline got Zach and Lauren’s dream started, and now their dojo is in full swing. You or your kids can sign up for martial arts training at https://www.ontastudio.com/.
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