August 24, 2019

Martial arts for all

New studio teaches all ages and abilities

By Riley Jenson

Special to the Observer

Kismet Place, a mix of wellness-oriented businesses on Blair Park Road, added a martial arts studio to its roster in July.

The Over Nine Thousand Academy — ONTA — Studio offers a range of martial arts and fitness classes, including private and group classes for kids and adults, and classes for kids with special needs.

Owners Lauren Ballard-Hatch and Zach Stevens are passionate about introducing children to martial arts. They said many parents of kids with special needs struggle to find sports and activities that welcome and support their children.

Martial arts offers a unique outlet for kids with special needs, Stevens said.

“It helps to burn off energy and helps (kids) learn self control,” he said.

The studio has partnered with the Williston non-profit, Kayla’s Directory, to offer a week of classes to kids with special needs. The RehabGym, also located in the Kismet building, has also referred kids to the ONTA studio.

Kids classes are capped at four participants so there can be a one-to-two ratio of teachers to students.

The instructors recommended that the kids begin with private sessions to become “comfortable with us and with the program,” before they enter the group sessions, Ballard-Hatch said.

The studio name is derived from a martial arts saying that means “very strong,” according to Ballard-Hatch.

The couple moved to Vermont a year ago from England, where they went to school and studied martial arts. They also spent time living in Thailand studying meditation, Tai Chi, Chi Kung and Tao Yin; both received their martial arts teaching certifications in Thailand.

Both started doing martial arts at a young age, raised by “black belt” parents.

The two originally met in California before traveling together to study and learn more about martial arts. Stevens lived in Vermont before he began his travels.

“After we got married, my husband and I decided to return to Vermont,” Ballard-Hatch said. “We really want to spend more time helping and teaching people what we’ve learned … We want (ONTA) to be welcoming and fun. We really want to share the energy, fun and excitement of martial arts with new generations.”

For more about ONTA’s class schedule, visit

Riley Jenson is a Champlain Valley Union High School graduate, a student at Endicott College and a Williston Observer intern.

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