Category Archives: bill viola sr

Olympic Glory

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Olympic Aspirations Hit Home in North Huntingdon 🥇🥋

Karate made its Olympic debut last week in Tokyo, Japan the birthplace of the sport, but for one local dojo it’s been a long time coming.  Students filled the parking lot of Allegheny Shotokan “Viola Karate” in North Huntingdon to watch the games live on a 20 ft. screen like a drive-in movie theater. While Judo and Tae Kwon Do have been part of the Olympic program for years, this the first time in history for karate.    The event was special for Bill Viola Jr. and his father Bill Viola Sr. who have been dreaming of an Olympic berth since the 1980s.  Viola Sr. helped spearhead the grassroots Olympic movement in Pennsylvania decades before.  Viola Jr. said, “It’s taken over 40 years for Karate to make its way to the Games, and we’ve been cheering every step of the way.” 

The Viola’s have been instrumental in the sports development and were part of a big push to get karate included in the Pan-American Games in 1999.  Doug Selchan, a member of Team USA, began his training with Sensei Viola and was able to win a Gold Medal at karate’s PAN-AM debut in Winnipeg, Canada. Sensei George E. Anderson was responsible for getting the Olympic Karate movement started in the United States, and he enlisted Sensei Viola to oversee Pennsylvania and help coordinate national events for USA Karate. The USA Karate Federation (USAKF) was the National Governing Body for Karate from 1985-1995 in the United States and member of the US Olympic Committee.  In 1986 Viola was appointed Regional Administrator for the USA Karate Federation and promoted the Allegheny Mountain Championships, a qualifier for the USA National Championships.  In 1992 Viola hosted the USA Karate Junior Olympics at the University of Pittsburgh Field House.  Viola’s tournament experience lead him to be named to the USA Karate Organizing Committee, responsible for coordination of the USA Karate National Championships.  Today that group has transformed into the USA-National Karate Federation (USANKF) under the banner of the World Karate Federation (WKF) which oversees Olympic karate.  On March 9, 2019 Viola Sr. was inducted into the USA Karate Hall of Fame as a “Pioneer of USA Karate” specifically for his contributions to the Olympic karate movement.

George Anderson (President of USA Karate with Sensei Bill Viola Sr.

Viola Jr. was a multiple time USA Karate National Champion and Team USA Member.  He has since passed the torch to his students, namely his daughter Gabby.  At just 10-years-old, she is highly accomplished already winning Gold at the WKC National Championships and earning a spot on WKC Team USA.  She has been recognized as a 5x State Champion and currently ranked #2 in North America by North American Karate Association (NASKA). This month Black Belt Magazine published her as “Top 5 Female” competitors in the country.  At the 2021 US Open in Florida she was awarded Competitor of the Year” by Point Fighter Live.  The honor, dubbed as a “Power Award” was voted on by coaches, competitors, and promoters from across North America.  After a nationwide poll, Viola not only won her category (edging out a talented competitor from El Paso, Texas) but was the highest vote getter of the show.  However, her biggest inspiration is training with the best athletes in the world, including the first Olympic champion in karate history.  Six-time defending European Champion Sandra Sánchez of Spain became the first-ever Gold Medalist in the sport on August 5th 2021.  Gabby has had the rare opportunity train with Sandra, and that experience has left a lasting impact.  She even named her special edition Olympic Barbie “Sandra,” touting it as she claimed Olympic glory. 

Olympic Gold Medalist Sandra Sanchez with Gabby Viola

As for the United States, they won their first-ever and “only” karate medal of the games when Ariel Torres secured bronze for Team USA in kata.  Torres, from Hialeah Florida, works with 20-year-old Viola Karate student Cameron Klos.  Torres is like a big brother to Cameron, mentoring him in the ways of International Competition.  Klos a student at Saint Vincent University, is a 2020 North American Sport Karate (NASKA) World Champion, WKC Team USA Member, and Kumite Classic Champion.  He travels to train with Ariel and studies remotely via Zoom weekly with him for private lessons. Ariel is preparing Cameron for a bid to make the USA Karate National Team. The same team Ariel represents and competed for in the Olympics.    

Sensei Cameron Klos with Olympic Bronze Medalist Ariel Torres

Sensei Bill Viola Sr. says, “I’ve trained thousands of students, many who have had Olympic aspirations and skill.  It was satisfying to see the Olympics on television, knowing my students have personal connections to these champions.  I know all the hard work has finally paid off.”  Viola Karate has been serving Western Pennsylvania since 1969 and is a member of the USA-NKF under the auspices of the United States Olympic Committee.  Their sister program is the award-winning Norwin Ninjas.  

Bill Viola Sr. and Jr. Honored in Chuck Norris Book

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bill viola sr bill viola jr chuck norris book

Father and son will be honored together for their contributions to karate in a virtual awards ceremony Saturday.

Bill Viola Sr. and Bill Viola Jr. are inductees into the 2020 American Martial Arts Alliance’s Who’s Who Legends Hall of Honors with martial arts legend Chuck Norris.

They also are featured in the 2020 edition of the Chuck Norris Who’s Who in the Martial Arts Masters & Pioneers biography book that celebrates the history and tradition of many of the arts’ top names.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for an individual, but having us both recognized as pioneers is something special,” Viola Sr. said. “Karate is our way of life.”

Viola Sr., one of the most recognizable names in the karate industry, was honored by Allegheny County on Sept. 23 with “Sensei Viola Day” to mark the 50-year anniversary of him founding Allegheny Shotokan Karate in North Huntingdon.

Recognized as a founding father of modern mixed martial arts, the USA Karate Hall of Fame member’s life is the subject of the books “Godfathers of MMA” and “Tough Guys,” which inspired the Showtime “Tough Guys” film in 2017.

The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh opened an exhibit in 2011 on the roots of mixed martial arts that included memorabilia from Viola Sr., fellow area promoter Frank Caliguri, a Lower Burrell resident, and others in the sport.

Caliguri was recognized by the AMAA Foundation in June as a Hall of Honor award recipient and also is included in the Who’s Who book.

Sensei Bill Viola Jr. wears many hats in the martial arts world: author, instructor, international competition champion and fitness promoter.

A producer on the “Tough Guys” film, Viola Jr. is set to release a book series, “Common Sensei,” in 2021 that shares his perspective on how one can do various things to have a rich and meaningful life experience.

A USA Karate national champion, he was recognized by Arnold Schwarzenegger as a world champion in 1998.

“This is the first time we’ve been honored and featured together in the same book as father-son pioneers,” said Viola Jr., the founder of the Norwin Ninjas martial arts program and the annual Kumite Classic and Pittsburgh Fitness Expo, the region’s largest multisport event.

“We both have our individual accomplishments. I have always been inspired to follow in my dad’s footsteps and do some of the great things he has done. This just came to pass where we were able to be honored collectively, and that’s what makes this so special.”

The coronavirus pandemic changed the Who’s Who ceremony and conference to an online virtual presentation. It will be the official public release of the book.

The conference will feature online seminars and martial arts demonstrations in addition to honoring Norris and the Violas.

“The pandemic has changed the structure of everything in life,” Viola Jr. said.

“So instead of being able to travel down to Texas for the physical presentation, we’re going to do a virtual book launch and roundtable-type discussions with pioneers and other people in the industry. That’s the best solution we can come up with given the current state of affairs.”

The event also will be an opportunity to raise money for The Kickstart Kids, Norris’ in-school character development program that uses karate to teach life lessons and values to students in middle school and high school.

Norris started the program in 1990 with the help of then-President George H.W. Bush.

“It is such a great nonprofit that is helping a lot of kids throughout the country,” Viola Jr. said.

The virtual conference is an all-day event, and the Hall of Honors ceremony will be at 6 p.m. All of the day’s festivities can be viewed at whoswhointhemartialarts.com.

“It still will be a great chance to get the book out to the public and have fans and martial artists alike be able to tune in and be a part of the celebration,” Viola Jr. said.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. 

Tribune Review

For more information on the Chuck Norris Hall of Honors visit Kumite Classic