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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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
The All-Star Team “Kumite” traveled to Orlando Florida for the 2018 The US Open held July 6-7 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Convention Center. The tournament, broadcast live on ESPN2 and ESPN3, is recognized as the world’s largest sport martial arts competition with over 40 countries and 6 continents present. The two-day tournament showcased 200,000 square feet of competition that included karate and kickboxing.
Representing Pittsburgh were 10 members from the Viola Karate Dojo including Sensei Bill Viola Jr., (Head Coach), Sensei Cameron Klos (Player Coach), and Sensei Gary Klos (Assistant Coach). All members placed in the top two in their respective divisions. The students were the only champions from the Western Pennsylvania region.
Results include: Luke Lokay: Gold 14-15 black belt sparring, Silver Clash Contact Fighting, Stephen Jackowski: Gold 12-13 Advanced Kata, Bronze Advanced Weapons, Nicolette Jackowski: Gold 14-15 Intermediate, Silver Kata, Lucy Lokay: Gold 12-13 Advanced Gold sparring, Gabby Viola Gold 6-7 year old Advanced Sparring, Silver Kata, Taylor Provence: Silver 10-11, Silver Sparring and Xander Eddy 4x Gold 8-9 year Advanced.
Lokay and Eddy each earned a spot to represent the United States as members of the 2018 “Team USA” at the Pan American Kickboxing Championship in Cancun, Mexico October 24-28th. Lokay will represent America in the 63- Kg division and Eddy secured the 30- Kg weight class. The selection process is limited to the current national champions officially recognized by their National Olympic Committees or Ministry of Sports.
Lokay, a Norwin High School student explains, “Representing my country is such huge honor. I am training every day to make my family and coaches proud. I know a lot of the kids at the dojo are counting on me.” Lokay and Eddy each have been training at Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate in North Huntingdon since they were 4-years-old. Their Sensei, Bill Viola Jr. explains, “Luke and Xander set themselves apart with work ethic. They are both naturally talented, but it’s what you do with that talent that gets you to the next level. They have the determination and dedication to win.”
Eddy is one of the youngest members to make Team USA but has already amassed an impressive resume. In 2017, he earned the Open-Weight Grand Championship Title at North American Open in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event was part of UFC’s International Fight Week. Eddy proudly explains, “I only had one thing on my mind—win.” The victory put him on the radar of the coaching staff. Lokay and Eddy are the first US Team members to earn a team selection for The World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) from Western Pennsylvania.
STAFF REPORT | Sunday, July 2, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
The Allegheny Shotokan Karate School was honored as the “Top Team” at the 2017 Kumite Classic martial arts championships at the 18th annual Pittsburgh Fitness Expo on May 26-27 at Monroeville Convention Center.
The Kumite Classic is the region’s largest multisport convention, featuring more than 100,000 square feet of competitions and participation from around the world.
One hundred students from the Pittsburgh based school and their sister program “Norwin Ninjas” competed at the tournament. The school brought home more top honors than any other school in North America.
The team qualified to compete in Las Vegas this week for the WAKO North American Championships, part of UFC International Fight Week at the MGM Grand.
The team is coached by Sensei Bill Viola Jr. and Shihan Bill Viola Sr.
For more information about Pittsburgh area karate classes visit www.Norwinninjas.com.
Norwin Ninjas: A Family Martial Arts Tradition in the Irwin, North Huntingdon, Pittsburgh area…
Martial Arts are great way to build self-confidence and boost self-esteem in children. Every mom and dad wants to instill respect, discipline and focus in their kids, but with so many options available today it can be difficult to find the right program. Parents across the region have been raving about the Irwin based Norwin Ninjas, winner of the Trib Total Media Readers’ Choice Gold Award. As Western Pennsylvania’s premier youth marital arts course, the programs are structured to develop positive “character” traits that reinforce strong family values. The award winning classes have been honored for their creativity and unique curriculum developed by certified teachers and educators. Gary Klos of North Huntingdon has a son in the school and tells us, “Every class is exciting, and the workouts challenge the kids mentally and physically. I’ve been around a lot of other martial arts and this is simply the best program for my son. He loves it.”
The energetic group of students is led by the Viola family; three generations karate champions. Master Bill Viola Sr. has over fifty years’ experience in the martial arts and has enlisted his black belt family; son Bill Jr, and daughters Addie, Jacque, Ali and Joce to help run the school. Over the past 6 decades Viola Sr. has taught thousands of students, making him the authority on karate in the Norwin area. In 1969 he founded Allegheny Shotokan Karate, the first martial arts school in the area. Viola Sr., a retired school teacher, has used his education background and years of hands-on experience to help devise a program that not only teaches self-defense and Shotokan karate, but more importantly building character in young people.
The Norwin Ninjas emphasize a child’s “SELF” image and uses goal oriented objectives to encourage them. Every student sets goals and works towards reaching them. Sensei Bill Viola Jr. says, “We strive to build positive role models, and as our students advance, they are taught to set an example. To us, it’s all about building online casino future leaders. The mental focus and determination they learn in karate will carry over to school, family and life. It starts a young age and I have seen so many kids improve their grades, behavior, and coordination after joining the class. I couldn’t be prouder of the kids who have graduated from our programs.” In fact Connor Burns and Liz Leaseburg were honored by former Steeler Hines Ward as male and female “Positive Athletes of the Year” for martial arts. Viola continues, “Kids like Connor and Liz are making a difference in the community. They epitomize the motto, ‘Building Champions in Life.’”
Michael Russell of North Huntingdon has a daughter in the teenage class. He says, “I love that it is a family run school. All the instructors are exceptional and they make you earn everything! This is not a chain; you will progress at your own pace. They have really brought out the best in Sara.” Sara recently competed at the National Black Belt League World Games representing the United States and won a World Title. Eight years ago she began as a Norwin Ninja, and now after years of dedication has become yet another role model for the next generation of Norwin Ninjas. Sensei Viola ads, “We teach all our Ninjas that to in order to achieve, you have to embrace the three ‘D’s’ Desire, Determination, and Dedication.”
New students are now being accepted for Monday and Wednesday classes. If you would like to reserve a spot for a free lesson at no obligation, call 724-864-3495. www.norwinninjas.com
Norwin Ninjas promotions. North Huntingdon / Irwin martail arts karate school and classes for kids ages 4-7 years old.
The Norwin Ninjas karate class celebrated downtown Irwin during the annual Light Up Night parade celebration for North Huntingdon. Norwin Ninjas is part of the Allegheny Shotokan Karate School located on Rt. 30 in North Huntingdon.
Pictured: Marie Mosa, Cameron Klos, Rachel Bartuska, Lucy Lokay and Sara Russell