September 23rd 2019 was named “Sensei Viola Day” in Pittsburgh 🥋.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald enacted the day in honor of the dojo’s 50-year anniversary. Congrats.
Read more about Sensei Viola Day.
1969 was a glorious time to be alive; a new home cost a paltry $15,000, 90% of kids walked to school, and Woodstock was in vogue. America was on top of the world as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, Mario Puzo released The Godfather, and a little known dojo named “Allegheny Shotokan” set up shop in the gritty suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Yes, it was the golden era of Karate, and those who donned a crisp white “gi” and tattered black belt had a special swagger about themselves. The martial arts were provocative and mysterious, and if you wanted to learn its vast secrets, Bill Viola was your man. Unbeknownst to him, the Viola name and Pittsburgh karate would become synonymous.
“Sensei” Viola was a no-nonsense disciplinarian who lived the mantra, “The more you sweat in here, the less you bleed out there,” an ode to his simple yet effective philosophy of intensity and self-protection. This sense of unwavering willpower has manifested itself through the tens of thousands who have trained under his hand. Over the past half-century, his powerful brand of punches and kicks has camouflaged life’s most important lessons: respect, discipline, and focus. The Viola’s preach, “Character is a commodity that can’t be bought, only built.” You aren’t rich until you have something money can’t buy, and for Viola his passion is priceless. The confidence he has instilled in his students can be found on and off the mat, from the classroom to the boardroom, or from raising a family to protecting a loved one. Viola smiles, “It’s that indomitable spirit that builds champions in life. Our dojo is a family.”
Allegheny Shotokan Karate (1969-2019) is celebrating its 50-year anniversary as the gold standard for martial arts in Western PA. The family-owned and operated dojo is blessed with 3 generations of Violas who carry on the legacy. All five of Viola’s children have earned black belts and his eldest, Sensei Bill Viola Jr., now heads the school. Viola Jr.’s daughter Gabby and son Will [William Viola IV] are fixtures at the martial arts studio. Sr.’s other children Joce and Jacque are Doctors of Pharmacy in North Huntingdon, Addie, a teacher in Bethel Park and Ali, a Lawyer downtown. He’s proud that their karate foundation has helped them pave the way for fulfilling careers.
Viola Sr., now 71, still teaches his black belt class every Monday evening, a reminder to everyone that karate is a lifelong journey. In fact Ray Adams, 76, joined the club in 1971 and is still actively training today. He is the longest tenured student and says, “I just earned my Master rank and have no plans of slowing down, my next test will be in my 80s.” One of Adam’s favorite training partners and the dojo’s first black belt was Jack Bodell. Known as the “President’s Bodyguard” as a member of the United States Secret Service in charge of protecting President Jimmy Carter, Jack explains, “Sensei gave me the skills to succeed in life.” Jack Bodell, Ray Adams, Ray Walters, Dave Zezza and Viola Jr. round out the “Master” ranks at Allegheny Shotokan. Viola Sr., 9th Degree Black Belt, remains the patriarch.
Viola Karate (as it’s more commonly known today) accolades include induction into the prestigious USA Karate Hall of Fame, who named “Sensei V” the Man of Year (2003). In 2011, Viola was honored with a permanent exhibit installed at the Western PA Sports Museum and Senator John Heinz History Center recognizing him as the co-creator of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (the display is located next to the Franco Harris “Immaculate Reception”).
Jr. and Sr. are both official Sport Karate History Generals and recipients of the Sport Karate Museum’s “Lifetime Achievement” award. The duo was awarded the Champion Associations Willie Stargell M.V.P. Award (2011) for community service, a tribute that includes Michael Jordan and Muhamad Ali as alum. In 2017 the Viola’s were published in the book, Who’s Who in the Martial Arts – Legends of American Karate edition. Viola Sr.’s life was the subject of the Amazon #1 selling book Godfathers of MMA which in turn inspired the SHOWTIME documentary film Tough Guys (2017) produced by an Academy award winning team. Viola Jr., who authored the book, was also a producer on the film, making a cameo playing his father.
Viola Jr. has been a member of Screen Actors Guild since 2000 after a stint in Hollywood which included stunts, commercials and work on the Britney Spears “Stronger” video. He founded his entertainment company [Kumite Classic] after Injuries sustained in a car crash that ended his competitive career (1999). The company produces the Pittsburgh Fitness Expo (regions largest multi-sport convention) and has a publishing division which has included Kumite Magazine and Tough Guys. Viola Jr. is currently adapting his book into a screenplay and is in negotiations for a major motion picture. He was featured in Pittsburgh Magazine “40 under 40” list in 2016.
The dojo is internationally renowned as the most successful sport karate school in Pittsburgh region, garnering the only dual Pan American Gold Medalists in both traditional karate (WKF) and kickboxing (WAKO), as well as countless national, international and world titles.
As karate approaches its first Olympic berth at the 2020 Tokyo Games, Viola was instrumental in the movement as he hosted the USA Karate Jr. Olympics at the University of Pittsburgh’s Fitzgerald Field House in 1992 under the auspices of the United States Olympic Committee. Incidentally, Viola Jr. was a triple Gold Medalist, the only athlete to earn that status. In March 2019, USA Karate honored Viola with the “Pioneer of USA Karate” award for his dedication to the Olympic karate movement. The Viola dojo has always had its finger on the pulse of anything and everything martial arts, and continues as the heartbeat of Pittsburgh karate today.
Over the past fifty years, the school has welcomed and transformed everyone from children struggling with autism to Olympic level competitors. “It doesn’t matter if they are a professional athlete or a teenager who is coping with bullies,” Viola Jr. says, “Each and every student is on their own personal journey of self-enlightenment and courage. Our goal is to help them reach their potential and go beyond.” This formula of empowerment inspired Viola Jr. to package the family secrets into an Award-winning curriculum—Sensei Says. This life skills education course is the cornerstone of Allegheny Shotokan’s sister programs Norwin Ninjas (4-7 year olds) and Nursery Ninjas (2-3 year olds).
Viola got his first taste of combat sports in 1955 studying boxing from family friend, the legendary Marion “Slugger” Klingensmith (later to become the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commissioner, Brownsville Mayor and Police Chief, Fayette County Commissioner, and Congressman). He discovered martial arts in the early 1960s as a teenager in high school. Viola recalls, “My friend Medick Capirano picked up karate at WVU in the ROTC program. I thought I was pretty tough, but he threw me all over the room when we’d work out on the weekends. I was addicted.” He continued training throughout college at California State under The All American Karate Federation, a split-off from the Japanese Karate Association, and then gaining rank under icons Grand Master Robert Trias, the father of American Karate, and Grand Master George Anderson the founder of the Father of Olympic Karate.
Origins of “Allegheny” Shotokan: (1969-2019) 50 Years serving Pittsburgh, PA
The name “Allegheny” represented the school’s first location in Allegheny County (East Allegheny High School) and traditional “Shotokan,” is the base style of Japanese Karate-do taught. Viola began teaching students in the summer of 1969. His first student was former California State football player Denny Costello, and droves of EA students followed. The first teacher to join the ranks was Keith Bertoluzzi. Bertoluzzi was the Master of Ceremonies at the Holiday House, Monroeville, PA. He used his musical influence to invite visiting celebrities to attend karate classes including members of the Beach Boys and other musical acts of the era. As Shihan Viola remembers, “Karate in the 60s and 70s was so popular; we [the Senseis] were the rock stars.” By 1971, East Allegheny had become what is known as a “progressive” school incorporating new curriculum. The district offered Viola the opportunity to teach a regular elective karate course, the first in the nation in a public school. Over the past 50 years the school has held classes in the suburbs of Pittsburgh including North Versailles, Turtle Creek, Paintertown, White Oak, Irwin, North Irwin and currently residing in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
The school is endorsed by Western PA Police Athletic League (PAL) where Viola Jr. served as a goodwill ambassador as a youth. He has been involved in charitable work since his senior year at the University of Pittsburgh, when he established “Kumite International” collegiate scholarships. The partnership program with Western PA Police Athletic League and Eckert Seamans Law Firm allocated $50,000 in scholarship funds for karate athletes. The program made national news when Lynn Swann (The Chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports) presented the scholarships with Viola Jr. at the 2004 Pittsburgh Fitness Expo / Kumite Classic in Pittsburgh (the mecca for martial arts competition).
The dojo has raised tens of thousands of dollars for various causes such as Muscular Dystrophy and Parkinson ’s disease. In 2017 Viola Jr. and former State Senator Sean Logan created “Kick Parkinson’s Disease”– a cause close to both men as Logan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in his mid-forties and Viola Jr. spent years caring for his Grandmother who passed away from neurodegenerative complications. The Viola Karate Dojo has since made it their mission to KICK Parkinson’s disease—literally. Each year they assemble hundreds of students to kick one mile non-stop though the racetrack at Boyce Park in Monroeville in conjunction with the Logan’s PIND (Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases) 5K. The students showcased their skill during record setting heat in 2018 and bumped their 2-year donation to $15,000 to aid PIND. The In all, over the past three years, the event has raised over $1 million dollars through appropriations, grants and sponsors — 100% of the funds are earmarked for experimental testing and research in hopes of finding the cure in Pittsburgh.
In 2019 Viola Jr. and his Daughter Gabby will begin advocacy efforts at the Capital to lobby for improvements to our healthcare system as she battles inflammatory bowel disease (Crohns Disease).
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Sammy and Remmi are holding a fundraiser at the UPS Store in White Oak this Saturday starting at 10AM to support Andrews Avengers. They will have chocolate covered goodies, baked goods, drinks and more. Help them KICK Cancer!
We gave Parkinson’s a swift KICK this weekend! Very proud to announce that Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” karate and its sister program Norwin Ninjas in conjunction with Team Kumite to have combined to raise over $10,000 for The Pittsburgh Institute of Neurological Diseases #PIND Read more.
The “KICK” concept was developed Irwin native Bill Viola Jr., founder of Kumite Classic Entertainment, and former Mayor and State Senator Sean Logan. Logan was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease in his mid-forties and Viola spent years caring for his Grandmother who passed away from neurodegenerative complications.
Logan developed a 5K to promote his “Do Something” campaign as means to encourage exercise. Physical activity has been proven to be an effective method to combat Parkinson’s disease. Viola parented with Logan in 2017 to add a “Kick-a-thon” element to the 5k, and its growth has been exponential. Viola explains, “Last year the KICK raised just over $5000 with 50 participants. This year we doubled both brining us up to over $15,000 with just two kicks-a-thons.
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MARY PICKELS | Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, 1:33 a.m.
Her blonde ponytails and bare feet flying, the purple belt she’s earned in karate cinched at her waist (the same belt dad Bill Viola Jr. earned many years ago), Gabby Viola appears happiest when in motion.
She kicks, jabs, spins, all with a look of determination surprising for a 7-year-old.
Gabby has been learning karate since the age of 2, and began competing at age 3.
North Huntingdon Township’s Allegheny Shotokan Viola Karate Dojo is, after all, the family business.
Viola puts his daughter through her paces as her mother, Jenn Viola, and brother, Will, 10 months, watch. Gabby is a member of Team “Kumite,” an all-star travel team composed of martial artists from Allegheny Shotokan.
In July, Gabby placed first in sparring in the 7-year-old advanced category at the U.S. Open ISKA World Championships at Disney World.
Just a few months ago, it was unclear if Gabby, who will start second grade at Stewartsville Elementary School this fall, would be able to continue competing.
Having already worked her way up to her purple belt in karate, Gabby has her eye on acquiring her brown belt next.
“She competes at the highest level of her age. … She goes up against kids with black belts and she beats them all the time,” her proud dad says.
“If my (students) are at that caliber I put them in that division all the time,” Viola adds.
Gabby’s goal is to earn her junior black belt by age 10.
“Then at age 14, she would go after her black belt,” Viola says.
In May, after taking first place at a tournament in Albion, Pa., Gabby suddenly began bleeding after using the restroom.
Her parents immediately took her to the hospital, where she underwent a battery of tests.
“They (doctors) thought she had a bacterial infection,” Viola says.
After a colonoscopy and biopsy, she was diagnosed with indeterminate bowel disease .
The illness, Viola says, has elements of both Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.
“It was very scary at that point,” he says.
A treatment of oral steroids for inflammation has not helped.
The family recently visited Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for a second opinion and to get more information. Gabby is trying a different round of treatment, her father says, and the family is hoping she will go into remission.
A new normal
Gabby’s diet has had to change since her diagnosis.
“I can’t have gluten, dairy or grain. And limited sugar. I love chocolate,” she says.
“So we’re working hard on that right now,” her father says sympathetically.
“We’re a very proactive family. We are trying everything, looking into holistic approaches. We want to touch on every possible solution,” Viola says.
Another student at the karate school has the same diagnosis, and his parents are able to share some advice with the Violas.
“She has a buddy here who can help her,” Viola adds.
“There is no cure. You can only fight to get it into remission. That’s what she’s fighting to do,” he says.
No stopping her
Gabby’s participation in the U.S. Open ISKA World Championships, Viola says, “was a game-time decision.”
“We were worried at first she wasn’t going to be able to do it because of the diagnosis,” he says.
Gabby, however, never saw her health issue as an impediment.
She says she was confident she would do well, and believed she would take first place.
“It didn’t matter if she won or lost. We were just proud of her that she did it,” Viola says.
‘Kicking’ for others
On Sept. 3, Gabby will once again participate in the Kick-A-Thon to raise funds for the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegnerative Diseases event at Pittsburgh’s Boyce Park.
The goal is to “kick” Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s Disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease, according to the event’swebsite .
Viola, who lost his grandmother to neurodegnerative complications, developed the kick-a-thon , along with former state Sen. Sean Logan, who developed the 5K after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
Her family believes she can be an inspiration to the other students in the dojo.
“She’s so little and she’s so strong. … That’s why we’re sharing this story. We are all about hope,” Viola says.
“What does karate teach you, Gabby?” he asks his daughter.
“Be tough, and have courage,” she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaryPickels.
WHO is PIND? Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s Disease, Stroke, and Alzheimer’s Disease).
WHAT: Community service is an important part of building character. Our dojo is supporting the Annual PIND walk/run by establishing a kick-a-thon fundraiser throughout August. Students will kick in 1-mile kick-a-thon and parents are welcome to sign up and walk along side them.
WHY: PIND is an organization that Sensei Bill and all of the Norwin Ninjas and Allegheny Shotokan supports. He lost his Grandmother and Uncle to complications caused by Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It is a cause near and dear to his heart.
WHEN: July-August raise money. Collect sponsors to support you kicking for 1-mile. Labor Day Monday September 3rd 8AM is the Kick-A-Thon. Students will kick for 1-mile. It’s a challenge! Get ready to sweat!!!!!! Actual Kick-A-Thon is Labor Day.
WHERE: Boyce Park, Monroeville
*Important information. You must register online by August 20th to guarantee a t-shirt. You do not have to walk, run or kick to make a donation. We ask that all students try and raise at least the minimum of $25. Kick-a-thon will follow the 1-mile walk. Event begins @ 8AM Boyce Park, Monroeville.
PIND offers a unique twist to the traditional 5K by incorporating a “Kick-a-thon” portion where local martial artists literally kick for a mile non-stop alongside the walkers. It is a first of its kind in event in the region, possibly the country. The estimated amount of kicks thrown by each participant is 2000, collectively they hope to hit 200,000 kicks to raise awareness.
The “Kick” concept was developed former State Senator Sean Logan along with and Irwin native Bill Viola Jr. (owner of Norwin Ninjas and Allegheny Shotokan Karate). Logan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in his mid-forties and Viola spent years caring for his Grandmother who passed away from neurodegenerative complications.
Viola said, “The cause is near and dear to my heart. I’ve been looking for a way to fight this epidemic, and having my school ‘Kick’ for a cure was a perfect fit. Building character is an important part of martial arts. My students exceeded my expectations by collecting donations.” Rayden Galley led the group of 50 kickers by donating nearly $500. The karate students in total donated over $4500 to PIND bringing the 2017 efforts to over $100,000 for the entire project with aid from corporate sponsors and the surrounding communities.
PIND spearheads efforts to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s Disease, Stroke, and Alzheimer’s Disease. The kids have already made plans to “Kick Parksinsons” again next year. For more information please visit: PIND5K.org