Zach Stevens has been practicing martial arts since his mom, a Karate blackbelt, first brought him to the dojo at age five. Growing up on a farm in southern Vermont Zach studied and earned blackbelts in Goju-Ryu Karate and Nihon Jujutsu, competed in folkstyle wrestling in highschool, and then proceeded to attend the University of Chicago, where he earned a BA in Anthropology while also training Judo at the Tohkon Judo Academy. He then moved to California where he sought out Brent Hamby a former student of Kwan Saihung and Wong Jack Man, to train Sanda Kickboxing, Tai Chi, and Chi Gung. He then moved to Argentina, where he studied Pekiti Tirsia and Dogbrothers Kali with Guro Nicolás Wachsmann, before moving back to the California Bay Area.
There he worked with a kids and adults with special needs and developmental disabilities, both as a behavioral interventionist doing ABA interventions in homes and classrooms, and as an instructor at a nonprofit school in Berkeley for high risk special needs students.
It is in California where Zach met Lauren, a graduate from UC Berkeley who drove an old muscle car and had previously lived in Thailand, teaching English at a Buddhist non-profit school.
Lauren Ballard grew up first in the dojo and then later in temples and monasteries, learning Theravada meditation from the Thai and Laos communities in northern California. When Zach and Lauren met, they were both working as teachers and loved interacting with kids and helping them grow, but they both felt that their future lay outside of California. Zach had always wanted to delve further into the Taoist Arts by studying with Master Mantak Chia. Master Chia's school was located in the mountains in northern Thailand, so when Lauren found them a place to stay just outside of Chiang Mai, they packed their bags and moved East.
The Instructor training program under Master Chia was rigorous, demanding, and infinitely rewarding. Both Zach and Lauren found themselves feeling lighter, stronger, more energized, and free of pain and tension in their bodies. Both came away with the feeling that these were practices which everyone deserved to learn. But before they could consider how to share what they knew with others, different adventures awaited. Lauren received a full scholarship to study English and American studies at Oxford University, while Zach was accepted to the London School of Economics. While in England, Lauren returned her attention to education, studying the history of Native American children and their relationship to European educators. Zach studied community currencies and trained Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. When the time came, many encouraged them to continue on the academic path to professorship, but something didn't feel quite right.
Returning to Vermont, both Zach and Lauren felt that the work that they were meant to do was with people at a younger, more critical stage than in the academy. They both wanted to work with children while they were developing, teaching them physical and meditative skills that would imbue them with confidence, bolster their sense of self, and help set them on a path of physical health that would last a lifetime. They chose to open ONTA Studio as a place where both kids and adults could come to learn rare Taoist practices as well as integrated martial arts, fitness, and self-defense in a fun, playful, and supportive environment.