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.
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.
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 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.
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.
For more information on the Chuck Norris Hall of Honors visit Kumite Classic
” ‘Cause it makes me that much stronger Makes me work a little bit harder It makes me that much wiser So thanks for making me a fighter Made me learn a little bit faster Made my skin a little bit thicker Makes me that much smarter So thanks for making me a fighter “
Gabby listens to this song 🎵, and it speaks to her 💗 reminding her to always keep her hands up! She still has good and bad days, but when the disease attacks, I remind her that she’s a fighter It seems scary, but deep down she has the fortitude of a hundred kids. She proved it to me and all the bystanders that day in Detroit…
Let me share. Life isn’t fair, the sooner you accept that the better. In 2018, completely out of the blue, my daughter Gabby was diagnosed with bowel disease, an incurable inflammatory form of colitis😥. Without too much detail you’d never know she is sick on the outside, but on the inside, it is killing her: severe bleeding, dehydration, abdominal pain, cramping, fatigue, inflammation of joints, skin and eyes, and a swelling colon just off the top of my head. She was only seven years old; no family history of the illness! Why oh why?! Long story short, we continue to do what we have to do: Specialists, naturopathic and holistic experts, trials, infusions, diets, meds, steroids, tests, and therapy — the works. All you can do is pray 🙏🏻 for remission.
She’s Got Guts! Intestinal Fortitude
In the meantime, she wanted to continue karate. It was her sanctuary, and her doctor gave it the. In July 2019, she attended the World Karate Commission Team Trials in Detroit, Michigan. Top placement earned a spot on “Team USA” to compete at the World Championships. Gabby and her teammates bled for this opportunity. She was one of the youngest competitors to enter and still only a brown belt, in a division dominated by seasoned black belts. The selection process is based on multiple rounds of competition. Day 1, she stumbled. The look of disappointment on her face broke my heart into a million pieces, but I couldn’t show it. Her little lip quivering, trying to hold back tears, I consoled her the only way I knew how. I said, “It’s time to unleash tora .” “Win or lose, show everyone your tiger spirit.”🐯
We had something special up our sleeve, a symbol of her destiny. That weekend, I brought a 55+ year old brown belt with me. It was tattered and way too long, but it was magical. It was the same belt my father wore, that I wore, that my sister Addie wore, and now Gabby. She knew the history behind the belt, and I told her she just needed to add her own sweat to it. In that moment, she showed “tora no me,” the “eye of the tiger.” It was a complete 360. She took the mat with a passion and fervor I’ve never seen. She absolutely nailed her kata, flipped the script, and catapulted to GOLD🥇. In that moment, not a single individual victory or title I’ve experienced could compete with the pride I felt.
Understanding inflammatory type diseases🔥: Inflammation is the body’s response to fighting off harmful things. It could be an injury, infection, or something toxic. In Gabby’s case, she is always on
Her body is confused. This is called IBD or (Inflammatory bowel disease) 🔥 not to be confused with the very common IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) which is not an inflammatory condition/disease. IBD is an umbrella covering both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Both Crohn’s and colitis are characterized by chronic inflammation of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract. IBD is a “ninja” of sorts, because the symptoms often stealth like to the outside world. Patients often look totally normal to friends and family, but behind the scenes they are struggling with abdominal pain, fatigue, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, and persistent uncontrollable trips to the bathroom. Its cause is unknown, but Doctors do know it’s the result of a defective immune system. Essentially Gabby’s immune system is attacking itself causing the inflammation
While there is no cure, we search for ways to help her live a comfortable life, and hold on to hope that a cure will be discovered in her lifetime.
For those that are close to my family, you already know how this situation dramatically changed our lives. For twenty years I promoted the Kumite Classic (one of the largest and most prestigious independent tournaments in North America). The expo was a 24/7 – 365 type operation. Despite the kumite being apart of my identity, it does NOT define me. As they say, “family first” and I have retired from the Kumite Classic until Gabby is in remission. Someday, I hope to pass the torch 🕯️ to her, and she can reignite 🔥! I enjoy coaching my team, teaching, and traveling when she is %. It’s a new chapter in a long book!
Today, Gabby is receiving biologic infusions at UPMC Children’s hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. Her Doctors are kind, compassionate, and very knowledgeable. The infusions are typically 3-4 hour procedures (she has to miss school for each treatment). It is taxing on her body and mind.
IBD Advocate & Lobbyist
However, insurance doesn’t make it easy on these patients. The amount of red tape and outrageous medical bills is both frustrating and sad . According to The National Center of Biotechnology (NCBI), the yearly cost of her current medicine is $25,000 to $45,000 annually, depending on the frequency needed . Big Pharm 💊 💉 should be ashamed. The polices and regulations need to change! As a result we choose to “fight” and get involved. Gabby has been asked to join a national effort to raise awareness for the disease. Beginning this May, she will be lobbying on behalf of patients (like herself) who suffer lack of access to certain treatment. She will be sharing her story as an advocate of IBD research, trying to convince Washington to support her cause. She hopes to be part of the solution and be a small part of one day finding a cure for IBD. She will be attending the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s “Day on the Hill” to meet with different Senators an Congressmen to plead with them to do more! Her trip will be mulitple meetings with legislators about policies impacting the IBD community. The event includes forums hosted by the National Council of College Leaders for parents and pediatric patients, informative advocacy training briefings, and a reception on Capitol Hill .
As a family, we have made the decision use this terrible diagnosis as a powerful teaching moment. We look for anyway to change a negative into a positive . So we tackle this disease, the way we train at the dojo. with relentless determination! She promises to fight everyday, and I know she will inspire and empower other’s to do the same. This disease will not stop her from reaching her dreams, goals, and aspirations. There are be setbacks, but without them there are no comebacks.
Over the years, we have had to make multiple emergency stops to local hospitals, urgent cares, and medical facilities. Recently she was hospitalized at the 2019 US Open ISKA World Championships and admitted into Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital after nearly passing out. She was in a flare and her body was attacked. Unfortunately, she was unable to perform to her standards the next couple months, and fell short of winning WKC Worlds. She could either spiral into self-doubt and depression, or double down on her training. I’m proud to announce she back to her winning ways taking 1st place at NASKA’s 6-A COMPETE Internationals. The place really doesn’t matter, its continuing to “suit up,” time and time again, when other’s say “hang it up.” This journey will always have ups and downs but we fail forward . No matter how difficult the challenge, we continue to inch forward . We call is Kaizen (改善) continual self-improvement! 1% every day… Its our “Violosophy.”
The People’s Champ
Often times people associate martial arts as a rough-and-tumble sport dominated by male competitors, but Gabby Viola is shattering the stereotype. 9-year-old Gabby was recently honored by the national karate media and their peers with nationwide “People’s Choice Awards.”Point Fighter Live is one the most popular media outlets in North America for the sport and recognized the top athletes.
Gabby Viola was nominated as “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 total of the show. The physical award will be presented this April in Warwick, Rhode Island at the Ocean State Grand Nationals.
Gabby is a third generation Viola to win national honors. She’s following in her Dad Bill Jr. and Grandfather Bill Sr.’s footsteps. She began her training as a toddler and has been a national champion since she debuted at the 2013 Kumite Classic. She’s a member of Team USA, and defending Gold Medalist from the WKC Nationals Championships. Gabby is an inspiration to other girls battling bowel disease. At 7-years-old, she was diagnosed with chronic inflammation and ulcerative colitis. While there is no cure for the condition, she is fighting for remission every day and proving that nothing can stop her karate dreams. She is currently treated with infusions at UPMC Children’s hospital and will travel to the Washington, DC this May to meet with the Senate and Congress about funding new research to find a cure.
When asked about the recognition Gabby said, “I’m really happy. I hope this helps get me to Japan!” She’s on a mission to fund raise to watch her Idol Sandra Sanchez from Spain compete for a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Gabby had the opportunity to train with Sanchez in Orlando, Florida this past July. When she’s not competing, she loves playing piano, dance, and teaching her 2-year-old brother karate.
Throughout the long season, Gabby traveled to Illinois, California, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, New York, West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey and Canada to compete. The honors are based on an entire year’s body of work.
Gabby is a member of Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate Dojo which recently celebrated its 50-Year Anniversary. The Dojo was honored with a proclamation from County Executive Rich Fitzgerald who recognized “Sensei Viola Day” on September 23rd 2019 for the Pittsburgh region. Sensei Bill Viola Sr. has 4 daughters, all of whom have earned their black belts. His Granddaughter Gabby and all the up and coming Senpai and Sensei (Lucy, Sammy, Taylor, Zoey, Haley, Abby, Riley) carry on the tradition of strong inspiring ladies from the dojo!
The team is gearing up for the 2020 WKC World Championships held in Madrid, Spain and fundraising to visit Tokyo, Japan and attend the 2020 Olympics . For more information visit www.alleghenyshotokan.com
# # #
Gabby began training at just 2-years-old and was the inspiration of the Nursery Ninjas program at Allegheny Shotokan Karate. She made her competition debut at the 2013 Kumite Classic and has since competed in over 100 tournaments across North America. In 2015 she won her first Grand Champion, and later that year was the youngest competitor at the World Games. She is a multiple time PKRA State Champion, USKA National Champion, WKC National Champion, and consistent champion on the NASKA World Tour. She is a 3rd generation Viola to carry on the family legacy. Gabby is committed to community service, and has been a top fundraiser to “Kick Parkinson’s Disease” a charity her father helped establish in memory of their Grandmother.
We would also like to extend this positive energy out to our Allegheny Shotokan dojo brothers who also suffer from GI complications: Sensei Conor Burns, Sensei Dave Zezza, and Senpai Mike Pietrzyk
Immediate Release: 2/13/20 Contact: Call/Text Bill Viola Jr. 724-640-2111
Pittsburgh Karate Girls Honored by Peers with National “People’s Choice” Meet Gabby Viola and Lucy Lokay
Often times people associate martial arts as a rough-and-tumble sport dominated by male competitors, but two Pittsburgh area karate girls shattering the stereotypes. 9-year-old Gabby Viola and 14-year-old Lucy Lokay were recently honored by the national karate media and their peers with nationwide “People’s Choice Awards.” Sportmartialarts.com and Point Fighter Live are the equivalent to the Academy Awards and Grammys for sport karate. They are the two most popular media outlets in North America and recognize the top athletes at the beginning of each season with year-end recognition.
Gabby Viola was nominated as “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. The physical award will be presented this
April in Warwick, Rhode Island at the Ocean State Grand Nationals.
Gabby is a third generation Viola to win national honors. She’s following in her Dad Bill Jr. and Grandfather Bill Sr.’s footsteps. She began her training as a toddler and has been a national champion since she debuted at the 2013 Kumite Classic. She’s a member of Team USA, and defending Gold Medalist from the WKC Nationals Championships. Gabby is an inspiration to other girls as she’s been battling bowel disease. At 7-years-old, she was diagnosed with chronic inflammation and ulcerative colitis. While there is no cure for the condition, but she is fighting for remission every day and proving that nothing can stop her karate dreams. She is currently treated with infusions at UPMC Children’s hospital and is scheduled to visit Washington, DC this May to lobby for new treatments for the disease with .
When asked about the recognition Gabby said, “I’m really happy. I hope this helps get me to Japan!” She’s on a mission to fund raise to watch her Idol Sandra Sanchez from Spain compete for a gold medal at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Gabby had the opportunity to train with Sanchez in Orlando, Florida this past July. When she’s not competing, she loves playing piano, dance, and teaching her 2-year-old brother karate.
Lucy Lokay was recognized by Sportsmartialarts.com in the “Overall
Youth Female” category. She received enough preliminary votes
nationally to beat out thousands of other competitors and earn a nomination in
the final four, and a trip to Chicago, Illinois for the awards ceremony. Lokay explains, “I was so honored. I mean these other girls are already starring
in TV shows and movies, and I’m just a small town girl. I’m just getting
started. It’s crazy.”
coach Bill Viola Jr. agrees, “Lucy was the youngest in the field nominated by
SMA. This puts her name on the radar for
the entire league. She has a bright
future.” Although Lucy took runner up,
just to share the stage with North America’s top female martial artists was
empowering. She is ranked #2 in the
World Rankings by the North American Sport Karate Association. Not since one of her mentors, Ali Viola, a
decade ago has any female from the tristate area ever been nominated for an SMA
dedicated to giving back as a representative of the Western PA Police Athletic
League, volunteering for their community initiative. She works alongside Pittsburgh Police and
community leaders to help those less fortunate learn martial arts and boxing
and helps organize “Stuff-a-Store” toy drives with her mother Amy.
the long season, Gabby and Lucy traveled to Illinois, California, Georgia, Florida,
Michigan, New York, West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey and Canada to compete. The honors are based on an entire year’s body
and Lucy are members of Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate Dojo which recently
celebrated its 50 Year Anniversary. The
Dojo was honored with a proclamation from County Executive Rich Fitzgerald who
recognized “Sensei Viola Day” on September
23rd 2019 for the Pittsburgh region.
Sensei Bill Viola Sr. has 4 daughters, all of whom have earned their
black belts. Now his Grand Daughter
Gabby and Lucy carry on the tradition of strong inspiring ladies from the dojo!
team is gearing up for the 2020 WKC World Championships held in Madrid, Spain
and fundraising to visit Tokyo, Japan and attend the 2020 Olympics.
The North American Sport Karate Association (NASKA) sanctions the most prestigious karate tournaments in the country and abroad. For the last thirty years, the league has tracked and ranked competitors throughout the tournament season to determine the World Tour Champions. The ratings are compiled annually, with the highest point total determining who earns the World Championship Belt and ring.
North Huntingdon residents Xander Eddy (10 years old), Luke Lokay (16 years old), and Cameron Klos (17 years old) became the first Western Pennsylvania martial artists to win a NASKA title since their Coach, Bill Viola Jr. and his sister Addie were ranked #1 in NASKA in the 1980s.
Sensei Bill Viola Jr. said, “I am so happy to pass the torch to these kids. They are an inspiration to this community and a testimony of hard work and dedication. They made all of Norwin and Pittsburgh proud.”
The 2019 World Championship awards were presented at the AKA Warrior Cup in Chicago, Illinois. It is the longest running tournament in America founded in 1964. The tourney hosted the NASKA Banquet on Thursday January 23rd 2020. NASKA President Larry Carnahan from Minneapolis, MN presided over the ceremony in which the three Western Pennsylvanian black belts earned #1 rankings and World Titles for their age categories.
NASKA World Tour Champions:
10-year-old Xander Eddy World Champion (10- Open Weight and 10- Black Belt)
16-year-old Luke Lokay World Champion (16-17 Light Weight Black
17-year-old, Cameron Klos World Champion (15-17 Open Weight
16-17 Heavy Weight black belt
The trio are members of Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate Dojo which recently celebrated it’s 50 Year Anniversary proclaimed by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald as “Sensei Viola Day” on September 23rd 2019 for the Pittsburgh region.
Xander, Luke, and Cameron traveled to Illinois, California, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, New York, West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey and Canada to compete during the season. The honor is based on an entire year’s body of work.
Immediate Release: 11/21/19 Contact: Call/Text Bill Viola Jr. 724-640-2111
Titles brought home to Western Pennsylvania
The World Karate and Kickboxing Council (WKC) hosted the World Championships November, 3rd -9th in Niagara Falls, New York. The world’s best from 22 countries converged to compete in WKC Tatami-style divisions. The competition was the largest WKC championships in history with thousands of athletes.
USA was comprised of athletes from across the country who won the National Team
trials in Detroit this past June. 13
members from Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate Dojo earned positions to
represent the United States at the World Championships. Of that group, 5 students advanced to the
medal rounds and secured top honors.
These medals are the first ever for the Pittsburgh region.
Sensei Bill Viola Jr. said, “I am proud of the way these kids represented our community and the United States. Win or lose, they demonstrated respect and determination. We they play our National Anthem for Gold, it makes all the sacrifice worthwhile.”
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that I, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, by virtue of the authority vested in me, do hereby proclaim September 23, 2019 as “Sensei Bill Viola Day” in Allegheny County. We congratulate Sensei Bill Viola and the Allegheny Shotokan Karate School on their 50th anniversary and wish them many more successful years to come.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the County of Allegheny to be affixed this 23rd day of September, 2019.
Hey Google, when is
Tribune Review Article:
Learning the discipline of karate requires humility, but operating a successful karate studio for 50 years requires self-confidence, self-promotion and even a certain amount of bravado.
William Viola Sr. doesn’t see a contradiction between the two.
What keeps his feet on the ground are the expressions of gratitude he regularly gets from students.
“I always thought that if I could change one person … that, to me, is so much more important than papers and glittery things,” he said. “When you change someone’s life positively, that is more important.”
Viola, 71, of North Huntingdon, has plenty of accolades on his walls but prefers to think of the tens of thousands of students who have passed through the doors of Allegheny Shotokan, now known as Viola Karate.
“I have some kids who started with me when they were 4-5 years old who are still here,” he said recently.
Viola will soon be able to add proclamations from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties to his list of accomplishments. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has designated Monday as “Sensei Bill Viola Day.”
The proclamation notes that Viola not only helped popularize karate in Western Pennsylvania but also became an advocate for the sport worldwide, leading to its acceptance as an Olympic sport in Tokyo in 2020. As co-creator of the sport of mixed martial arts, he is the subject of a book, a documentary and a museum exhibit.
On the 50th anniversary of Viola Karate, the founder said, “Nothing I did in the 1970s would work now, but the basic concepts of character and self-discipline are the same — those are the things you have to keep. Those are the building blocks.”
A native of Brownsville, Fayette County, Viola was introduced to karate in the early 1960s by “one of my friends throwing me around, knocking me down, kicking and punching me.” The friend, Medick Capirano, had learned martial arts as an ROTC student at West Virginia University.
“I said, ‘Geez, this is great.’ … That really piqued my interest,” he said.
While a student at what is now California University of Pennsylvania, Viola started giving private karate lessons to football player and friend Denny Costello. Upon graduating and accepting a teaching job at East Allegheny High School, he started an after-school karate program for adults and began teaching karate to students as an extracurricular activity.
“We were one of the first American public high schools to offer karate as an accredited course,” he said.
It didn’t hurt that at the time, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, karate was enjoying a “golden era” courtesy of TV shows such as “The Green Hornet” and “Kung Fu.”
The level of interest was high enough for Viola to open his first studio in 1969 in an old community center in Turtle Creek. He rented the space for $50 a month.
“The catch was: the furnace didn’t work, we had to put buckets out because the ceiling leaked, the floors had cracks in them. I thought it was great,” he said.
He later opened studios in White Oak, Irwin, Paintertown and West Newton, although he has spent the longest amount of time on U.S. Route 30 in North Huntingdon.
Viola said the secret to his success was combining his skills as a teacher — he taught science at East Allegheny for 30 years — with his love of martial arts. He still teaches a black belt class at Viola Karate every Monday night.
His first black belt student was Jack Bodell, who went on to become a Secret Service agent assigned to President Jimmy Carter’s security detail. Viola is a ninth-degree black belt.
Capitalizing on the “mystique” of the martial arts, Viola taught karate as a way of life and not just as a way to break boards, kick and punch. He retained students by learning their names and something about each one of them.
“That’s why I’ve kept so many students for so long,” he said.
His longest-tenured student is Ray Adams, 76, who joined the studio in 1971 and still actively trains today. “I just earned my master rank and have no plans of slowing down,” Adams said. “My next test will be in my 80s.”
In 1980, Viola and business partner Frank Caliguiri, sitting in a Denny’s in Monroeville, dreamed up the first “tough guy” contest in Western Pennsylvania. The idea was to recruit men who fancied themselves as good street fighters and put them in the ring with a referee.
The first “tough guy” contest was held March 20-22, 1980, at the New Kensington Holiday Inn, with a finals match at the Stanley Theater (now the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts) in downtown Pittsburgh.
Tough guy contests were banned in Pennsylvania in 1983. But times changed, and by 2009, the ban had been lifted. In 2011, Viola and Caliguiri were memorialized as co-creators of mixed martial arts, or MMA, in an exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
Viola gets a kick out of the fact that the MMA exhibit is adjacent to the one honoring Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 2017, Showtime debuted the documentary “Tough Guys,” which tells the story of the early tough guys contests and controversies. The documentary, which features extensive interviews with Viola and Caliguiri, was based on the 2014 book “Godfathers of MMA,” written by Viola’s son, Bill Viola Jr., and his cousin Fred Adams.
Viola Jr. has received the mantle from his father and now operates Viola Karate. In 2017, one of his students, 9-year-old Xander Eddy, won the gold medal in his age category at the Pan American Kickboxing Championships in Mexico.
In addition to being “Sensei Bill Viola Day,” Sept. 23 is the birthday of Viola’s grandson, William Viola IV, who, along with his sister, Gabby, is a fixture at the studio.
Viola also has four daughters, Joce and Jacque, who are pharmacists in North Huntingdon, Addie, a teacher in Bethel Park, and Ali, a lawyer in Pittsburgh.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280
Stow, Ohio-The USA Karate Federation has unveiled its 2019 Hall of Fame Class, to be inducted at a black-tie ceremony on March 9, at the SYB Party Center 4157 Hudson Drive Stow, Ohio. Bill Viola of Pittsburgh, PA was nominated as an inductee into the Hall of Fame as a Pioneer of USA Karate for his contributions to the Olympic karate movement during the 1980s and 1990s. He is a previous member of the class of 2003, inducted as USA Karate “Man of Year” and “Distinguished Service.” His son Bill Viola Jr., was nominated as an Athlete but was unable to attend the ceremony.
The 2019 Hall of Fame Class includes the entirety of the overall effort to raise the standing of Karate competition to Olympic quality. This includes individuals who competed Nationally and Internationally as athletes, Regional Sports Organization Administrators, and National and International referees, coaches and officials.
All of the inductees were selected by a determination of a selection committee of the USA Karate Federation and past members of the Hall of Fame.
This year the USA Karate Federation will also honor its former President, the late George E. Anderson, who is world renowned as man responsible for getting the Olympic Karate Movement started by posthumously awarding him a 10th Dan in Karate. Hanshi Anderson had over 50 years of martial arts experience, and was President of both the AAU Karate and USA Karate programs as well as a member of the United States Olympic Committee. He was also the founder of the USA Karate Federation (USAKF), which became the National Governing Body for Sport Karate in the United States. Internationally Anderson was President of the Pan American Union of Karate-do Organization, and was senior vice-president of the World Union of Karate-do Organizations, the international governing body for sport karate as well as serving as their chief referee.
Sadly, and unexpectedly, Anderson passed away on August 6, 2009. However, in 18-months his dream of having karate participate in the Olympic Games will become a reality in Tokyo 2020. In his honor, the USA Karate Federation will be presenting special Pioneer Awards for those who helped Anderson achieve Olympic recognition.
“For many years the best karate athletes in the United States were part of the USA Karate Federation. This is where the Olympic Karate movement started, and today the coaches, administrators, and athletes of the USA can thank the pioneers of the USAKF for making their Olympic dreams come true,” said Patrick Hickey, current president of the USAKF. “We are thrilled to induct another outstanding group of individuals into our Hall of Fame. This event is truly a special night to honor their accomplishments and recognize the foundation they have laid for the karate athletes of today.”
In 1987 Shihan Viola established USA Karate Allegheny Mountain Region. The RSO was a qualifier for the USA Karate Federation (USAKF) National Championships for over a decade. The USAKF was the national governing body for Karate in the United States (1985-1995), and member of the US Olympic Committee. George Anderson (USAKF President) was the father of “Olympic Karate” Without his contributions and his team during the 1980s and 1990s karate would have not reached the Pan American Games. In 1992 Viola hosted the USA Karate Junior Olympics at the University of Pittsburgh Field House with Master George Anderson. Sensei Bill Viola Jr. was a triple Gold Medalist at the Jr. Olympics. The only athlete to win Gold in kata, kumite and kobudo.
USA Karate Team Members Jack Bodell, Rich Sowash, Doug Selchan and Dustin Baldis began their training at the school. Bodell was the first black belt promoted by Shihan Viola and would go on to be a member of the United States Secret Service protecting President Jimmy Carter. He also served as a referee for CV Productions during the Tough Guy Contest craze (The first mixed martial arts competitions in America). Bodell would open additional schools in the late 1980s including West Newton, PA (School of Orthodox Shotokan Karate). Their he oversaw Selchan and Baldis before relocating south to Memphis, Tenn. Selchan took over as head instructor for the dojo. Doug went on the win a Gold Medal the 1999 Pan-American Games in the +80kg Kumite for the United States. While in Tennessee, Bodell trained USA Karate Team Member Clay Morton.
Shihan Viola was inducted into the USA Karate Hall of Fame and honored as the 2003 Man of the year (Lifetime Achievement). Bill Jr. was a USA Karate All-American Athlete, multi-time National Champion and Member of USA Karate team in late 1990s.
On Wednesday August 29, 2018 history was made at the Allegheny Shotokan Viola Karate Dojo. North Huntingdon / Irwin Residents Sensei Ray Adams, 76, and Sensei Dave Zezza, 63, were promoted to Master Rank in the art of Shotokan karate. It has been a lifetime of study, practice, and diligence that both men agree that has been, “a journey and not a destination.”
Karate is a journey, not a destination
Adams first donned a karate gi (uniform) in 1970. It’s a routine he still carries on today. He was a photography teacher at East Allegheny High School when and met fellow teacher Bill Viola Sr. (Founder of the dojo). Adams explains, “In those days karate was brand new. Sensei [Viola Sr.] had been teaching the students in the high school gymnasium and I wanted in on the action.” Nearly fifty years later, Ray is still kicking, teaching and loving living the martial way.
His training partner Dave Zezza, shares his passion as both men obtained 5th Dan (degree). Zezza, a systems consultant, began in his late thirties, and at age 63 he’s never looked back. Affectionately nicknamed “Tombo” or dragonfly in Japanese, he is the resident Kobudo weapons expert at the dojo. Zezza sports a dragonfly tattoo on his arm to signify his commitment. Viola Sr. explains, “Our philosophy is ‘old school.’ Black belts come and go, but to be a master we require a unique combination of character, skill, and teaching ability with decades of training.”
Adams and Zezza are still “learning.” They explain that a black belt is just the beginning. Now at master rank, they don’t plan on slowing down. Zezza explains, “I’m always thirsty for knowledge.” Both men thank Shihan Viola and Sensei Ray Walters for pushing them. They also acknowledge their friend and fellow Alumni of the dojo, Sensei Joe Bauccio, who relocated to Florida. Bauccio is training towards joining them in the ranks soon.
Adams and Zezza join a very elite club where only a few other Masters have ever etched their names. The exclusive fraternity requires a lifetime of dedication to be inducted. The only other Masters in the Allegheny Shotokan Karate Association are Bill Viola Sr., Bill Viola Jr. Ray Walters, and Jack Bodell.
The men exemplify that age is truly just a number, as both plan on kicking as long as their bodies allow them. If they can’t kick, they will just punch 👊. Adams and Zezza also teach and share their knowledge weekly with the younger members of the dojo and train themselves every Saturday morning and attend Shihan Viola’s black belt class every Monday night.
The official presentation to the dojo members and “gong” ceremony will take place Wednesday September 5, 2018.
Master can be defined as an artist of consummate skill. Adams and Zezza are a perfect examples of men who continue to evolve and share their experience. We are blessed to have them apart of our karate family. The Viola Karate dojo will celebrates its 50-year-anniversary in 2019. The new Masters are looking forward to a reunion workout .
Master Zezza and Adams know all 27 Shotokan Kata (listed below) so Shihan gave them a challenge outside of their comfort zone. They had to learn a kata other than Shotokan style and learn the differences in method, technique, and execution. The Goju kata Suparinpei was chosen.
1. Taikyoku Shodan / Kihon kata (太極初段) Means ~ first cause first level Introduced by ~ Gichin Funakoshi 2. Heian Shodan (平安初段) Means ~ Peaceful begining level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 3. Heian Nidan (平安二段) Means ~ Peaceful second level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 4. Heian Sandan (平安三段) Means ~ Peaceful third level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 5. Heian Yondan (平安四段) Means ~ Peaceful fourth level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 6. Heian Godan (平安五段) Means ~ Peaceful fifth level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 7. Tekki Shodan (鉄騎初段) Means ~ Iron Horse first level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 8. Bassai Dai (披塞大) Means ~ To penetrate a fortress (dai=major) Introduced by ~ Peichin. 9. Kanku Dai (観空大) Means ~ To view the sky (dai=major) Introduced by ~ Kung Hsiang Chun 10. Enpi (燕飛) Means ~ Flying swallow Introduced by ~ Wang Ji 11. Hangetsu (半月) Means ~ Half Moon Introduced by ~ Bushi Matsumura 12. Jion (慈恩) Means ~ Thought to be named after the Chinese temple Jion-ji. kata and comes from Tomari te 13. Sochin (壯鎭) Means ~ Preserve Peace Introduced by ~Yoshitika Funakoshi 14. Meikyo (明鏡) Means ~ Mirror of the soul and comes from ~Tomari-te 15. Ji’in (慈陰) Means ~ Named after the saint and comes from Tomari te 16. Gojushiho Dai (五十四歩大) Means ~ 54 steps Introduced by ~Yasutsune Itosu 17. Jitte (十手)Means ~ Ten hands and comes from Tomari te 18. Gankaku (岩鶴) Means ~ Crane on a rock Introduced by ~ Bushi Matsumura 19. Tekki Nidan (鉄騎二段) Means ~ Iron Horse second level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 20. Tekki Sandan (鉄騎三段) Means ~ Iron Horse third level Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 21. Chinte (珍手) Means ~ Incredible hands Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu? 22. Bassai Sho (披塞小) Means ~ To penetrate a fortress (sho=minor) Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 23. Kanku Sho (観空小) Means ~ To view the sky (sho=minor) Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu 24. Nijushiho (二十四步) Means ~ 24 steps Introduced by ~ Seisho Aragaki 25. Unsu (雲手) Means ~ Cloud hands Introduced by ~ Seisho Aragaki 26. Wankan (王冠) Means ~ Kings Crown Introduced by ~ Gigo Funakoshi 27. Gojushiho Sho (五十四歩小) Means ~ 54 steps Introduced by ~ Yasutsune Itosu
Suparinpei – “108 Hands”
Suparinpei is the most advanced Kata in Goju-Ryu and contains the greatest number of techniques. It is translated as the number “108.” 108 is suggested to have origins in Buddhism and can represent the “108 sins of man”. On the Chinese New Year, temple bells are rung 108 times to “drive away the evils of man.” In japanese we call this kata Hyakuhachiho.
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.