Category Archives: pittsburgh

Gabby Viola and Lucy Lokay Sport Karate People’s Choice

lucy lokay gabby viola karate

For 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

Gabby Viola and Lucy Lokay in karate action
14-year-old Lucy Lokay and 9-year old Gabby Viola

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.    

9-year-old 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. 

Gabby Viola dreams of Olympic karate
Gabby Viola hopes to attend the 2020 Olympics

14-year-old 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.”

Her 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 award. 

Lucy is 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. 

Throughout 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 of work.  

Gabby Viola and Lucy Lokay Karate girls
Gabby and Lucy

Gabby 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!

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  

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#gabbyviola #lucylokay #karategirls #karate #pittsburgh

Sensei Viola Day

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.

Sensei Viola Day in Pittsburgh Trib

Pittsburgh Post Gazette Article

Pittsburgh Tribune Review Article

Pittsburgh Karate Sensei Viola Day Trib

Read more about Sensei Viola Day.

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

Sensei Viola Day
Sensei Viola Day

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.”

Kick start

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.”

Getting tough

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

Tough Guys – Showtime

tough guys mma on showtime

TOUGH GUYS – SHOWTIME

Showtime documentary proves Pittsburgh-area early mixed martial arts fighters were ‘Tough Guys’

By MARIA SCIULLO Pittsburgh Post-Gazette msciullo@post-gazette.com

Google the “history of mixed martial arts.” Sometimes, the name of action star Bruce Lee pops up. Other times, it might be Art Davie, who created the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993.

But for practical purposes, a couple of guys from the Pittsburgh area got there first.

At 9 p.m. Friday, Showtime will premiere “Tough Guys,” a documentary feature that revisits the “City of Champions” era — one that spawned a series of streetfighter-type competitions.

In spirit, if not legally, it was the grassroots beginnings of MMA.

“For me, growing up in the ’80s in Pittsburgh, I had no idea any of this existed,” said Craig DiBiase, a Peters Township High School grad and producer of the film. His New York-based MinusL  production company financed “Tough Guys,” and one of its directors, Henry Roosevelt, co-directed with William Zullo.

“Tough Guys” is a sideburn-wearing stroll through the evolution of bikers, bouncers and steelworkers brawling for cash, honor and the sheer thrill of beating each other up.

At the beginning of the film, karate promoters Bill Viola, who grew up in Brownsville, and Frank Caliguri, of Arnold, talk about the night they laid the groundwork for their tough guy competitions.

“Some great ideas start in laboratories. Some start in classrooms. But ours started at America’s diner: Denny’s,” Mr. Viola said.

They’d seen all sorts of bar fights and, as martial arts experts, were familiar with various forms of self-defense. What might happen if you put boxing, wrestling and martial arts together? Even better, what would happen if the participants were amateurs, fighting mainly for pride and street cred?

Would anyone come to watch? Resoundingly yes: more than 3,500 fans crammed the 2,000-seat ballroom at the New Kensington Holiday Inn.

Mr. Viola and Mr. Caliguri put up posters recruiting “tough men” to compete in a three-day event beginning March 20, 1980. With $6,000 in prize money available, the response was great. Three secretaries were hired to handle the flood of entries. 

“In the late ’70s and early ’80s, ‘Rocky’ was the biggest movie out,” Mr. Viola said. “Everyone was listening to the song [‘Gonna Fly Now’], drinking eggs in the morning

“He was fictitious, but we were going to have the real ‘Rocky.’ ”

These were fighters like Dave Jones, a kickboxer and road laborer; Mike Murray, a car salesman, and Danny “Mad Dog” Moyak, a construction worker with a wild Charles Manson beard. 

“A lot of them were from the New Kensington area, real streetfighters,” Mr. Caliguri said. “When we put the word out, they came.”

Tough Guys” competitions had a loose set of rules (no eye-gouging, biting or “kicking anyone in the jewels”). Knocking out your opponent helped get you to the next round.

Competitors wore boxing-style headgear as well as padded footwear and gloves for safety. That didn’t entirely prevent injuries: one, Frank Tigano, a steelworker from Braddock, broke his jaw but still competed the following month.

There would be other, bigger events, such as the regional finals at the old Stanley Theatre in Downtown Pittsburgh, now the Benedum Center. But according to the film, death in the ring involving a rival promoter’s event would lead to Pennsylvania legistlators banning the sport.

Based on a story idea by Robert Zullo, a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer, “Tough Guys” was shot in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area, as well as parts of New York and New Jersey.

Many of the fighters were not only tough, they were survivors who seemed happy to tell their stories on camera. In addition to archieved footage of the fights and promotions (remember Liz Miles and Dave Durian on “Evening Magazine”?), there are re-creations of certain scenes that brighten the look of “Tough Guys.”

“We played a little with the narrative,” Mr. DiBiase said. “We made it fast-paced; there’s never a lull.”

Besides Mr. DiBiase, at least another key player in making the documentary has Pittsburgh ties. Brad Grimm, director of photography, is a Monroeville native working in New York City.

Robert Zullo, father of the writer and director, even played Monroeville’s legendary boxing promoter Al Monzo in one re-creation scene.

Executive producers include Morgan Spurlock (the Oscar nominated “Supersize Me”) and Ross Kauffman (who won an Oscar for “Born Into Brothels”).

“Tough Guys” had its cinematic debut in June, when it played to a sold-out crowd at the American Film Institute’s Docs festival. A free, public showing is set for 9 p.m. Friday at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg. 

In an early scene, Mr. Jones, the kickboxer, is duking it out with Mr. Murray, the car salesman. Reeling, Mr. Jones tucks into the corner, but it seems he’s just playing possum. As his opponent moves in for the kill, Mr. Jones gives him a vicious kick to the chest and wins the match.

“The MMA,” he said, “was born right then.”

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or @MariaSciulloPG.

the original tough guys
Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola the Godfathers of MMA and inventors of the Tough Guy Contest