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Marital arts: UNC grad students fell in love through Aikido Club

Barbara Zemskova blocks an attack from  Andrew Graczyk during warm-up exercises.
Barbara Zemskova blocks an attack from Andrew Graczyk during warm-up exercises.

UNC graduate students Barbara Zemskova and Andrew Graczyk fell in love through their practice of Aikido and maintain a healthy marriage through its philosophy of working through conflict instead of creating it.

“Aikido helps open communication,” Graczyk said. “It helps you better understand the other person.”

Graczyk said partnership goes beyond the dojo — the philosophy of Aikido plays a large role in their marriage and relationship.

“The whole blending with the attacker thing makes me think about why this person is in conflict with me,” Graczyk said. “Where is this conflict coming from? I need to figure out the root of it. I need to blend with this energy. I need to redirect it. And if I’m doing something wrong I need to recognize that too and reposition myself.”

Zemskova and Graczyk met through UNC’s Aikido Club when Graczyk was a first-year graduate student and Zemskova was in her undergraduate senior year.

Even though Zemskova said she initially avoided Graczyk at club practices because she thought he was cocky, they bonded over their love of the art and married in October 2015.

Zemskova and Graczyk said they both have been practicing Aikido for about 10 years. Zemskova started in Aikido growing up in Japan and Graczyk began in his first year of college at the University of South Carolina.

The couple practices with the UNC club and competes at nationals and internationals in the Tomiki form of Aikido, the only competitive form of the martial art. Zemskova and Graczyk both placed in two categories at the national competition held in Chapel Hill in July 2015.

The couple earned their black belts together in March 2015, a process that can take up to seven years to complete in Aikido, Zemskova said.

“We practiced together for it,” he said. “I was her crash dummy and she was mine.”

Alec Niccum, a 2016 UNC graduate and co-coach of the Aikido club, said he has watched Zemskova and Graczyk work together and better each other at Aikido since he first joined.

Niccum said Zemskova and Gracyzk partner together regardless of their size and strength difference — which has made them forces to be reckoned with in competitions.

Niccum said Graczyk brings the Aikido spirit of harmony wherever he goes, whether to a competition, a presentation in the boardroom or his relationship.

“What I learned through Aikido, both physically and mentally, is that hurting people is really easy,” Graczyk said. “What’s more nuanced and difficult, and I think useful, is figuring out how to move people in a way that’s advantageous to both and puts you both out of harms way.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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