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Self-defense meets fitness

Instructor Violet Zaki demonstrates the focused intensity and quiet beauty of combat.

By Liz Miersch for

After one unforgettable night ten years ago, New York City-based group fitness instructor Violet Zaki started studying martial arts and never looked back. She trained in a traditional dojo (where she continues to study), then set out to combine her two passions, fitness and self-defense, so she created Zen Combat, a class that’s both authentic to her art form and dynamic enough for the Equinox classroom. The result? Her faithful students build bodies that not only look killer, but could also do some serious damage if ever challenged in a dark alley—or subway station. This is her story:

How did you get into martial arts? Ten years ago when I had just come to this country I was moving my things from one apartment to another late at night, and I was waiting for the subway at the Canal Street station when I was attacked. The guy ended up just taking my stuff, but it changed something in me. There was this fear that was never there before. I signed up for a martial arts program the day after. I wasn’t going to let this take over my life. Looking back, I feel like there’s an element of strength that that person gave me.

How exactly did that experience change you? My dojo became my community. I learned so much, and I wanted to pass that on to my students, so I decided I needed to bridge the gap between traditional martial arts practice and group fitness—especially for women. There’s a sense of empowerment that comes with martial arts—and beauty. It’s this really cool mix of strength, softness, grace and, you know, kick-ass.

Keep reading for more Q&A and a video of Violet performing…

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