A North Huntingdon girl has earned her first-degree black belt in karate at age 11, persevering through an inflammatory bowel disease that can be debilitating.
Gabriella “Gabby” Viola, 11, the daughter of Jennifer and William Viola Jr., became the youngest holder of a black belt among those who have trained at Allegheny Shotokan Viola Karate Dojo, a North Huntingdon karate school operated by her father, Bill Viola Jr., and founded in 1969 by her grandfather, Bill Viola Sr. She earned her black belt on Aug. 17, which was her birthday.
“Gabby has what I call ‘zentensity,’ a body-mind connection that pushes past what you thought was possible,” her father said.
Having a black belt runs in the family. Both her father and grandfather have their black belts, as well as four of her aunts — Addie, Jacque, Ali and Joce Viola. Fewer than 100 people who have trained at Allegheny Shotokan over the past 50 years have earned a black belt, her father said.
“I wanted to be like my dad. My black belt is better than any trophy,” said Gabby, who shared the honor with six teammates who also took the test.
The youngster, a fifth grade student at Norwin’s Hillcrest Intermediate School, has been “kicking before she could walk,” her father said.
“She literally grew up in the dojo,” said her mother, Jennifer, of the karate school. “It was like her playground.”
Gabby, who trains three or four times a week, said she underwent a six-hour test in which her skills were judged to earn her black belt. She had gone through a four-month process which involves learning the history of martial arts, Japanese terms, hundreds of techniques, endless combinations, self-defense maneuvers and physical endurance.
Gabby has accomplished this while suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, her father said. It is an incurable form of colitis, an autoimmune condition that attacks the healthy tissue in the intestine. She has dealt with bouts of severe bleeding, dehydration, abdominal pain, cramping and joint and skin inflammation, her father said. She has had to endure a number of setbacks and emergency room visits.
“Martial arts teaches perseverance, and she decided that nothing would stop her from earning her black belt,” her father said.
She undergoes monthly infusions of medication at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh as part of the treatment regime that includes medical trials, diets, medication, steroids, tests and therapy.
Despite the risk of having a flareup of major symptoms after a period of remission, Gabby has competed nationally. She won a gold medal at a World Karate Commission National Championships for martial arts in 2019 and earned a spot on Team USA. She has been recognized as a five-time state champion and ranked first in the North American Sport Karate Association for black belt sparring in 2020.
As for earning her second-degree black belt, Gabby said she must wait until she is 16 to take that test.
She is joined in her family’s love of the sport by her 4-year-old brother, William Viola IV, who trains in the “Nursery Ninja” program and holds a yellow stripe belt.
Gabby is an ambassador for the sport, promoting it to other youngsters.
“They should try it. It is fun, and it is good exercise,” Gabby said.
“Zentensity” is a phrase coined by her father and author Bill Viola Jr. Zentensity is a manifestation of mind over matter, pushing someone to new levels of achievement. Read more in the book CommonSensei
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – They say good things come in small packages. But here in Pittsburgh, even small packages pack a punch.
“I am a seven-time state champion, a three-time national champion, and last year I won my world title,” Gabby Viola said as she laid out her impressive resume.
“The Viola karate legacy starts back in the 1960s with my father,” Bill Viola, Sr. said. “He was a pioneer of the martial arts. He opened his first dojo [Viola Karate] in 1969 here in western Pennsylvania. And throughout the seventies, eighties, and nineties, the dojo became a dominant force,” Viola added.
The Viola name became synonymous with champions in this region.
“As I came up through the ranks, I also became national champion, and lo and behold, I have my kids, and they become the third generation of Violas to represent the storied tradition of our school. And so now, my son, Will, and my daughter, Gabby, represent the dojo throughout North America,” the senior Viola said.
“Gabby competes in kata, kobudō, and kumite, those are the three levels,” Bill Viola added.
Gabby then laid out the differences between the fighting styles.
“Kata is empty-hand or an imaginary fight. Kobudō is when you use a weapon to do a form, kind of like kata. Kumite, or sparring, is when you actually fight someone,” Gabby said.
This October, Gabby will be competing internationally, traveling overseas to represent the country, and western Pennsylvania, in the world championships.
“I actually won my world title in kumite, but this year, I’m going to try and get the world title in kata, too,” Gabby said.
Gabby has been training at the dojo since the age of two. She trains by herself seven days a week and then takes additional classes five days a week as well.
She even passes on what she’s learned to those even younger than her, including her brother.
“I like teaching. It’s harder to teach my little brother,” Gabby said with a smile. “He doesn’t listen to me, but the rest of them do.”
Gabby’s father, Bill, told the Fan N’ATion crew how surreal this experience has been, seeing Gabby develop into a champion, because of the time he spent with his father. Now, the elder Viola is sharing his expertise and passing that down to his children.
“We call it a family. I don’t look at our students as clients that come through the door. They’ve become one with us. It’s embedded in our culture here,” Bill said.
“All my family has done it, and I really enjoy doing it. If I have a family one day, I would want them to do karate,” Gabby said.
Durham, NC, December 1, 2020 – Jessie Bowen, Director of the American Martial Arts Alliance Foundation announced the release of highly anticipated 2020 MARTIAL ARTS MASTERS & PIONEERS CHUCK NORRIS BIO BOOK – US & World Edition.
Author Bill Viola Jr. Honored in Chuck Norris “Who’s Who” Book
Bill Viola Jr. and his Father Bill Sr. have been inducted into 2020 AMAA “Who’s Who Legends Hall of Honors” alongside martial arts icon Chuck Norris. The pioneers are featured in the 2020 edition of Who’s Who in the Martial Arts Book.
Bill Viola Jr. has followed in his father’s footsteps taking the reins of Allegheny Shotokan Karate Dojo (family owned and operated since 1969). His son William Viola IV and daughter Gabby (third generation of Viola’s) are now on their way to black belts. Bill Viola Jr. was a multiple time USA Karate National Champion and All-American Athlete. He was named World Champion in 1998 by Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact it was Arnold that encouraged Viola to establish his own production company, and in 1999 he founded Kumite Classic Entertainment which grew into the mecca for martial arts and fitness in the Pittsburgh region.
Viola Jr. is an accredited associate producer, producer, and executive producer with credits in Pittsburgh area films including Warrior, Tough Guys, and most recently had a cameo as Mary Steenburgen’s “Karate Sensei” in the Hulu’s “Happiest Season” which debuted on Thanksgiving.
Viola Jr. is a #1 bestselling author whose latest project CommonSensei is creating major buzz in the self-help genre. His book series, where each volume you can earn a different colored belt, is slated to launch in 2021. The project is aimed towards millennials and Gen-Z sharing, “everything they should teach you in school, but don’t.” Viola explains that the goal of series is becoming a, “Black Belt in Life.” He was just honored as “Author of the Month” (December 2020) by Elite Publications out of North Carolina.
Bill Viola Sr. is the family patriarch of a Pittsburgh’s most famous karate legacy. He is one of the most well-known figures in the karate industry and last year Allegheny Country council honored him by naming September 23rd as “Sensei Viola Day” in recognition of his 50-year anniversary founding Allegheny Shotokan Karate in Western Pennsylvania. Viola Sr. began his journey in combat sports in 1955 in Brownsville, Pennsylvania taking up boxing lessons from the legendary Marion “Slugger” Klingensmith and then in High School he took up Shotokan Karate — never looking back. In 1969 he opened his first dojo (East Allegheny) and then in 1979 he wrote the rules for mixed martial arts (MMA) competition (Tough Guys). He has since been honored by the Heinz History Center as the co-creator of the sport of MMA more than a decade before the UFC. His life story was the subject of the books Godfathers of MMA (2014) and #1 bestselling sports book Tough Guys (2017) which inspired the Showtime film Tough Guys (2017) produced by an Academy Award winning accredited team. He is a member of the USA Karate Hall of Fame, and was named by California University of Pennsylvania as an Illustrious Californian Award (2020).
The ceremony will be an online event with an online Emerging Leaders Conference with special guest speaker Laura Silva Quesada, world renowned transformational coach and author. There will also be online Seminars, martial arts demonstrations and a special salute honoring Grandmaster Chuck Norris, and the Violas.
Jessie Bowen (publisher of Who’s Who) explains, “We are dedicated to preserving and sharing our inductee’s extraordinary journeys with the world. The book is the first of its kind that combines a martial arts history book and directory all in one.
The new Chuck Norris book will be available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Lulu, and other book outlets.
For more information, interviews, and demonstration contact Bill Viola Jr. 724-640-2111
Night of Steel featured speakers – The Viola Family.
Gabby Viola was a featured “Impact Speaker” the Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation for our third annual Night of Steel, a virtual celebration of all things Pittsburgh!
In 2018, Gabby was diagnosed with bowel disease, an incurable inflammatory form of colitis. 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 has made it her goal to “fight” to find a cure and is an advocate for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
The fundraiser was presented by UPMC and the UPMC Health Plan. The evening featured a craft cocktail experience with the Cocktail Guru and standup comedy from well-known comedian, Casey Balsham.
Please join us on our mission to find cures for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and provide care and resources to patients and their caregivers. With your support, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation has invested over $350 million to fund critical research for treatments and cures.
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation is a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization dedicated to finding the cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It was founded in 1967 by Irwin M. and Suzanne Rosenthal, William D. and Shelby Modell, and Henry D. Janowitz, M.D. in New York City. The Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia Chapter is headquartered in Pittsburgh and serves the Western PA region including Altoona, Erie, and State College. We also serve the entire state of West Virginia.
Gabby and I are advocates for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and this May we were supposed to visit Washington, DC to lobby at the annual “Day on the Hill.”
Well the Pandemic changed the original plan, so today we are meeting with the Congressman and Senators virtually. Our goal has not changed… we are dedicated to helping push along two important bills that would be game changers for patients of IBD. Wish us luck!
Now for the fun part! We are homing in on two legislative issues this year: step therapy reform, and medical nutrition access. Please see the attached/linked below handouts for more detailed information. There will be plenty of opportunities to discuss these issues further during our two training webinars, and you are welcome to reach out to me individually with any questions. Below is a brief overview of each of the issues:
Step therapy reform: Step therapy is when a health insurer requires patients to try and fail on one or more medications before the insurer agrees to cover the treatment initially selected by the patient and provider. Insurance-mandated step therapy does not always follow clinical guidelines and can lead to a delay in the appropriate treatment, as well as worse health outcomes. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation has joined with several other patient and provider organizations to pass S2546/HR2279, the Safe Step Act, which would require employer-based health plans to establish a streamlined appeals process so that patients can bypass an inappropriate step therapy protocol and gain access to the right treatment in a timely manner.
Federal vs. State step therapy initiatives: You may have noticed that we are supporting step therapy reform bills on both the state and federal level. This is because the nation has a patchwork of health insurance plans, and state bills impact state-regulated plans (ie, plans on the individual and small group market, and fully-insured plans), while the federal bill impacts federally-regulated plans (ie, self-insured plans, usually large employers). Therefore, we need all federal and state bills to pass to support the entire private market. See www.crohnscolitisfoundation.org/steptherapy for more on our state efforts (led by Jake Johnson).
Re-post from Facebook: Republicans and Democrats read: Today Gabby and I embark on an important mission… We’re advocates for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation by participating in the annual Day on the Hill. and will lobbying for bipartisan support of two important bills to help patients who suffer from these terrible inflammatory 🔥chronic diseases. THERE IS NO CURE. On our agenda is meetings with Senator Robert Casey, Rep. Connor Lamb, Rep. Mike Doyle, and Senator Pat Toomey. We can all put aside our political affiliations and agree that our DOCTORS not INSURANCE companies should make decisions on what treatment we get. Gabby was denied a certain medication her Dr. wanted and was told it would be $900 for 3 pills 💊… or she can simply take a approved drug that her Dr. doesn’t recommend because it followed their “steps”😡Some of the infusions are 5K or more per treatment and you pay out of pocket if you can’t get whats approved. NO WAY. Step therapy needs amended… That is what we are fighting for today… millions of patients are given drugs that insurance companies push instead of individual care. This is unacceptable on so many levels. When you life and health is on the line, you should be able to get the BEST possible treatment, not your 2nd or 3rd choice. Insurance doesn’t know you pain, your sickness, your symptoms…only your Dr. does. Give them the power to decide, not some pencil pusher who’s never lived a day with your disease! We need to hold the big $$$$ accountable. Many of you don’t know I was a Political Science major top of my class at Pitt. I interned with a Federal Congressman and was prepped to enter the world of politics. Well I broke my neck, had a stomach surgery, moved to Hollywood, and founded the Kumite Classic instead LOL. My calling was a Sensei all along but everything happens for a reason, and now I’m putting my degree to use as a lobbyist. Stay tuned. #findacure
IBD Issues and COVID-19
Existing access barriers are exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic due to increased health risks and challenges reaching a provider during the lockdowns. Stable patients, without co-morbidities, have a positive prognosis if they contract COVID-19. Stable patients should maintain their treatment.
Insurance-mandated step therapy remains prevalent
Patients on steroids have worse outcomes if they contract COVID-19
Steroids are often insurer-preferred treatments in step therapy protocols
Patients on nutritional therapy are faring just as well as patients on biologics
In 2007 I set out to share the untold story of the “Tough Guys.” These are the men who created the sport of MMA while Dana White was still in elementary school and 13 years before the UFC existed. A decade later and my book “Godfathers of MMA” is coming to life on SHOWTIME ? The same network that just set PPV records with Mayweather vs McGregor, will broadcast the real origins of MMA in America. Pittsburgh is the “City of Champions” and now can add “Birthplace of MMA” to its banners! It may have been the wrong place wrong time… but it was one hell of a ride. Congrats to my dad and Frank on being a part of American sports history!!!!!!!
Tough Guys reveals the clandestine plot to subvert the “first” mixed martial arts revolution in American history, one poised to challenge boxing as the king of combat sports. Confounded by a freak accident (death in the ring) and widespread corruption, a massive struggle ensued over money, power, and respect between boxing’s gentry and an upstart MMA company from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. CV (Caliguri and Viola) Productions ignited a bitter turf war with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission that sparked a spectacular David and Goliath battle for leverage.
The legendary story, buried by rhetoric for years, casts a wide net reeling in everyone from politicians to mobsters, all with ulterior motives; all with eyes on a billion dollar blueprint. From boxing’s “Holy Territory,” the home of Rocky Balboa, to a bizarre connection with the Supreme Court that lead to the first legal precedent for MMA—ever, this is the ultimate inside look.
ACADEMY AWARD® NOMINATED MORGAN SPURLOCK JOINS ACADEMY AWARD® WINNER ROSS KAUFFMAN FOR THE MIXED MARTIAL ARTS DOCUMENTARY “TOUGH GUYS” MMA TV SHOW
MMA TV SHOW ON THE ORIGINS OF THE MIXED MARTIAL ARTS COMPETITION PHENOMENON IS SET TO WORLD PREMIERE ON SHOWTIME
NEW YORK, NY Academy Award® nominated documentarian Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME) teams with fellow Oscar® winning filmmaker Ross Kauffman (BORN INTO BROTHELS) to bring TOUGH GUYS – the story of the origins of the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting phenomenon – to the big screen. The film is executive produced by Kauffman and Spurlock together with Spurlock’s business partner Jeremy Chilnick.
TOUGH GUYS is directed by two award-winning filmmakers, Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo and produced by the award winning commercial producer Craig DiBiase. This moving and insightful non-fiction cinematic film chronicles the origins of the MMA beginning in Pittsburgh, PA in the early 1980s. Back then, these fights were known as the “tough man,” or “tough guy,” or “battle of the brawlers,” or “battle of the superfighters” matches. These fighting bouts have now achieved multimillion-dollar fight status.
“When I was around 12 years old, my dad took me to my first “tough guy” competition in my hometown of Beckley, WV,” says Spurlock. “And I have to admit, it was one of the greatest things I’d ever seen. So when the opportunity came along for me help tell the story of its origin, I jumped at the chance. TOUGH GUYS is an unbelievable tale about the creation of this one of a kind, man against man, skill against skill, sport of the ages. Films like this are rare discoveries, and the characters behind them are even more incredible. If you like watching guys get punched in the face as much as I do, then you are going to love this movie!”
In 1979, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri dreamed up a contest pitting barroom bigmouths against wrestlers, martial artists, boxers, bouncers and brawlers, billed as no-holds-barred new type of competitive fighting. When the fights succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, they were swept up in a chain of events that ended in the first mixed-martial arts ban in the nation.
Presented through the untold stories of scrappy brawlers and amateur promoters, TOUGH GUYS chronicles the inception of Caliguri and Viola’s first bouts and the colorful, crazy cast of fighters who made them a hit as well as the politicians who brought it all crashing down. The film brings to life a moment when the national martial arts craze was building to a crescendo as the economies of Pennsylvania steel towns were plummeting to levels of unemployment never seen before or since, breeding desperate men looking for chance to prove their worth and earn some money in the ring.
“Like my previous films, BORN INTO BROTHELS and E-TEAM, TOUGH GUYS is about underdogs striving to achieve the impossible,” states Kauffman. “In TOUGH GUYS, the underdog is America’s working class who are searching for respect and ultimately a way to survive. When I got involved I didn’t know how timely the story would be.”
ABOUT TOUGH GUYS:
Told through the colorful stories of scrappy brawlers and amateur promoters, TOUGH GUYS brings to life the birth of mixed martial arts competitions in 1980’s Pittsburgh. The idea to legitimize street fighting by putting it in the ring, brought big money, crowds, copycat competitions and ultimately scrutiny and tighter control. The film is directed by Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo and produced by award winning commercial producer Craig DiBiase. It is executive produced by Oscar winner Ross Kauffman together with Oscar nominated director Morgan Spurlock and his producing partner Jeremy Chlinick. The film is based on associate producer Bill Viola Jr.’s book Godfathers of MMA.
ABOUT MORGAN SPURLOCK:
Morgan Spurlock is an Oscar® nominated filmmaker and founder of Warrior Poets, a New York-based production studio. His first film, SUPER SIZE ME, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, winning Best Directing honors. The film went on to win the inaugural WGA Best Documentary Screenplay award, as well as garner an Academy Award® nomination for Best Feature Documentary. Since then he has directed, produced, and distributed multiple film, television and online projects, including THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD; WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?; RATS; MANSOME; CNN’s INSIDE MAN; and more.
ABOUT ROSS KAUFFMAN:
Ross Kauffman is the Academy Award winning Director, Producer and Cinematographer of BORN INTO BROTHELS, winner of the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary. He is Co-Director of E-TEAM, a documentary about the high-stakes investigative work of four human rights workers and winner of the 2014 Sundance Cinematography award. He served as Executive Producer on the documentary feature IN A DREAM, which was short-listed for the 2009 Academy Awards and as Consulting Producer on the Academy Award nominated film POSTERGIRL. Ross is a Founder and Creative Director of Fictionless.
The Car Crash that ended my Karate Career… or did it?
I’m in my early 20’s, and I had just graduated college. Pitt was a great university, but I didn’t attend for the academics. Nope, I chose this campus because I needed to commute and train 5 days a week. The 1999 USA Karate National Championships were slated for mid-August and I was a defending Gold 🥇, poised to repeat. My hard work was finally paying off.
Up until now, I was groomed to be a champion🏆. It was all I knew: school, karate, eat, sleep, repeat. No other activities were allowed! Day in, day out I had tunnel vision toward Olympic greatness. I was not naturally gifted with speed or size by any means. In fact, my high school my driver’s license listed me as 5’6” and 105 lbs. Yea, I was a twerp. How the heck did I become an All-American? I had no choice — Sensei says, “Be a champion,” and you know the rest. I had to hold my own against animals at the dojoand bullies at school who thought karate was a joke. Toughness and tenacity were byproducts of survival. I sure took some lumps and abuse, but when my growth spurt hit, it was payback👊. By the time I entered college, I was 6 foot tall with something to prove. I fought in -60 KG category (that’s still only 132 lbs). Hardly menacing, but my confidence grew with my height. I was lean, mean, and kickin’ ass. I didn’t have all the finesse yet, but I unleashed my frustrations in the ring. Win or lose, they remembered the name.
Some careless jagoff in a box truck literally rear-ended my dreams — Fractured neck 😱😥🤕 (summer of 1999). It was earth-shattering. I was just coming into my prime and now my new uniform was a neck brace. Diagnosis from the doc, “Don’t fight anymore.” My heart sank into my shoes and the walls closed in. I had never looked past karate — ever. I was 😡 at the world, and needed a reboot. So I followed an old saying, “Go West young man.”
I took a leap of faith and moved to Los Angeles to learn the entertainment biz 🎥. What?!? I wanted to be a promoter just like my Sensei, and thought Hollywood 🎬 was the ticket. I knew absolutely nothing about the industry, so my friends and family were skeptical to say the least. Fake it till you make it, right? I borrowed my dad’s swagger and walked in like I owned the place. I had instant success. Confidence is contagious, there is no other explanation. SAG card in hand, I worked with A-listers; everyone from Britney Spears to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and all along the way, despite my decision, no one was prouder of me than my father. I knew a conventional job wasn’t for me.
I went to Hollywood 🎬, crushed it, and came back a new man. I missed my college sweetheart (and future wife), my family, and dojo. I refused to let this car crash define me. What should have “broke me; woke me.” It took some Cali🌞for it to sink in, but being a Sensei was in my blood. When I returned to Pittsburgh, the students rejoiced. I didn’t realize how much they missed and needed me. It was just the therapy I needed.
The car crash that should have “broke” me “woke” me.
Being a Sensei was my destiny, and I turned the negative into a positive. That’s right, it can either break you or wake you. My passion inspired new avenues including coaching, promoting and of course confirming my calling to be a lifelong Sensei.
Sensei Bill Viola Jr Karate 空手 🥋 Sport Karate Highlights from the 1990s. Viola was a champion karate competitor in kata, kumite and kobudo. He retired from tournaments in 1999 after a career ending car crash accident. #karate #kumite #pittsburgh #irwin #northhuntingdon #alleghenyshotokan #norwinninjas USA Karate National Champion
Billy and Addie Viola stood on the sidelines and patiently watched 11 members of Father’s Allegheny Shotokan Karate School in North Huntingdon Township win 36 medals at USA Karate’s 25th National Championship in Canton, Ohio.
There was no doubt the siblings were happy for the students – most of whom they helped train – but there were times when they stared out at the mats and wondered, “Why us?”
Billy and Addie Viola, who had competed and won medals at the national competition 18 years in a row, wanted desperately to compete in the tournament, but it wasn’t going to happen this year. They had to miss nationals for the first time in their lives due to off-mat incidents out of their control.
Billy Viola, 22, a six-time Pennsylvania state karate champion from North Huntingdon Township, was unable to defend his national title win of a year ago because he was recovering from a cervical sprain and a small fracture in his neck that he suffered in a car accident two weeks earlier on Route 30 in North Huntingdon Township.
Addie Viola, 20, also an accomplished karate champion, was involved in a separate car accident on Route 30 three weeks earlier. She suffered head and neck injuries, including a gash on her forehead that will require several plastic surgeries to correct.
The Violas’ father, Bill, was concerned for his son and daughter, not only because of their injuries, but because they trained all year for nationals but could not compete.
“That was very disturbing,” Bill Viola said. “It was something that just happens. After all the training, sweat and time they put in, and then this happens.”
Even though the Violas were unable to compete at nationals, they still wanted to be there for their students. The only problem was they were in Denver, Col., with their University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg ecology class when the championships started. The Violas talked the rest of the class into jumping in the van and finishing their trip early so they could return in time to see some of the matches in Canton. Twenty-nine consecutive hours of driving later, the Violas, exhausted and sore, arrived at the Civic Center to the surprise of their students.
“I’ve been in martial arts since I was 3 years old, and this is one of the rare times I had to miss the national championships,” Billy Viola said. “Being a defending champion, it was difficult to watch. But I had to be there for my students.”
Addie Viola agreed.
“It was tough to watch and not be able to do it,” she said. “We still went and watched and supported them.”
Their students didn’t disappoint. Billy Leader, a 7-year-old from NorthHuntingdon Township, won two golds in weapons and advanced synchronized weapons, a silver in kata and a bronze in sparring. His 5-year-old brother, Dominic, the youngest representative Allegheny Shotokan sent to the championships, won a gold in weapons and silver medals in kata and sparring.
Ian Elms, 7, of North Huntingdon Township, brought home three gold medals in weapons, sparring and advanced synchronized weapons team. Ian also earned a bronze in kata.
Leah Ray, a 10-year-old from Larimer, won a silver in sparring and a bronze in kata. Another 10-year-old, Brian Hails from Jeannette, led the 10-13 age group advanced synchronized weapons team to a gold medal and won a silver in kata.
Rick Fox, 17, of Irwin, won golds in weapons and adult synchronized weapons team and a silver in sparring. Theresa Perry, an 18-year-old intermediate green belt from McKeesport, earned gold in weapons, silver in kata and bronze in sparring.
Two intermediate green belts, 22-year-old Christina Adams of Irwin and 24-year-old Tim Meyer of Greensburg, won golds in kata and sparring and silver in weapons. Meyer also captured a gold medal in adult synchronized weapons and a bronze medal in advanced adult team fighting.
Nick Cyktor Jr. of West Newton, who was competing in his first national championship, won a gold in sparring and a bronze in adult team fighting. Cyktor, a beginner white belt, impressed his teammates by taking on black belts in the team event despite a lack of experience.
Rocky Whatule, a 21-year-old advanced black belt from Jeannette, led the adult synchronized weapons team to a gold medal, won a silver in kata and bronze medals in weapons, sparring and adult team fighting.
The Violas’ students and training partners missed seeing them compete. Whatule, who learns and trains with Billy Viola, said this was the first tournament he attended that Billy didn’t compete in.
“As soon as I’d get done with a fight (at past events), I’d head over to his ring and cheer him on and vice versa,” Whatule said. “I used to get pumped up by watching him fight and cheering him on.
“I hope their health stays good and they can compete again soon. When you don’t have a member of your team there, a lot of people get thrown off their games.”
The Violas hope to get back into competition in a couple months. Billy Viola is undergoing therapy three days a week at the Medical Wellness Center in Jeannette, but still teaches at the karate school to stay active. So does Addie Viola, who will need a skin graft to cover the scar on her forehead.
“My goal is to make it back to nationals next year and not move a step back from the previous year when I was the champion,” Billy Viola said. “I want to be right back where I was.”
The car crash did end Bill Viola Jr.’s competitive career, but it opened the door to his true passions.
Bill Viola Jr. began his non-profit work as a Senior at the University of Pittsburgh (1999). Viola founded Kumite International (KI), a scholarship foundation (the first of its kind in the United States) through a partnership with Western PA Police Athletic League and Eckert Seamans Law Firm. KI allocated $50,000 in scholarship funds for karate athletes and 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 his 2004 Kumite Classic.
Viola poised to provide karate scholarships to youth
By Brian Hunger
July 22, 2001
The tone in his voice tells it all.
He wouldn’t tell you it himself, but when Bill Viola graduated from HempfieldArea High School in 1995, he just might have been the most accomplished athlete in his class. But because his specialty was karate, a sport offering little opportunity on the college scene, Viola, now 24, was left with no scholarship offers. He surely had the credentials. A nine-time Pennsylvania state champion who had won six national titles and a 1998 world title, Viola graduated in the top five percent of his senior class, which was one of the biggest in the state.
It seems hard to believe there was no money waiting for him, considering an athlete with similar accolades in, say football, could pick any school he wanted, from Notre Dame to perhaps the Ivy League. Not Viola. He would sit back and ponder whether to laugh or cry. Lots of his friends, most of whom were good athletes but not great ones, received numerous offers from colleges to wrestle and play football or baseball. “I graduated at top end of my class and had a No. 1 rating (in the nation), but couldn’t get any kind of scholarship,” Viola said. “It really bothered me a lot. Even mediocre kids were getting a lot of money. I went to the state and had references and everything but just couldn’t get a dime.” Forced to pay his own way, Viola enrolled at theUniversity of Pittsburgh and graduated Summa Cum Laude and in the top one percent of the political science program.
Still disgruntled years later, Viola recently developed a program called “Kumite International,” which is the first non-profit sport karate rating organization in the United States based upon competitive scholarships. Through two sponsors, Viola designed a ranking system called KicKiss, which is Pennsylvania’s first and only rating system supporting the academic and sport goals of karate students. Viola held his first tournament, the Kumite Classic, recently atHempfield Area High School. The event marked the first of several competitions over the coming year. The top 10 scorers each will be given a $1,000 scholarship. “It’s a unique program,” said Viola, who has won more than 2,000 medals and trophies. “There’s been no financial aid to help in schooling for so long, and there really has never been a board to bring all the other schools in the area together. This new system is like a league of sorts because it brings everybody together, and it’s really catching on in the martial arts community.” Viola said one of the things that bothered him the most regarding the lack of financial support for karate students is that most of them are forced to quit the sport and pursue other avenues in the hope of landing an athletic scholarship. “I’ve known so many people who could have possibly been Olympians, but quit because they needed to go to college,” he said. “There’s no support for them. This is a theme long over due, and we’re starting to draw some national attention. We’re just starting, but it had to begin somewhere.”
Prior to becoming a karate teacher and coach, Viola saw his own career of competing come to an end in a automobile accident. Seemingly invincible, Viola endured a life-changing day in 1999. While travelling on Route 30, his car was struck from behind and he suffered a fractured neck. The accident ultimately ended his competing days, and also left him unable to defend his 1998 national title. “The wreck sure put my life on a different avenue,” he said.
A few months after the accident, Viola moved in with his cousin in Hollywood and did some acting and modeling, including an appearance in a Britney Spears video. He has also coordinated several karate stunt shows on ESPN.
While Viola said he could see himself working in movies as an instructor someday, lately he has been solely a karate connoisseur. “It’s all I really know,” he said. “My dad’s been teaching it since the 1960s and I’ve been doing it since I could stand.”
Karate Instructor Passionate About Foundation
By Dustin Dopirak
June 13, 2002
Bill Viola Jr. had spent countless hours on the phone, on airplanes and in different cities trying to get his organization, Kumite International, going. He had put everything, even a budding career in Hollywood, on hold.
But he remembered why he was doing it the first time he saw the fruits of his labor.
Kumite International is a non-profit organization that sanctions events in sport karate, a sport which allows martial artists of every discipline to compete against one another with a unified point scale. Throughout the year, competitiors accumulate points for winning matches at tournaments. The organization ended its third year of existence with the Kumite Classic April 27 at Hempfield AreaHigh School.
This year’s event marked the first time Viola, 25, was able to award scholarships to those who had earned the most points in each division. It made his organization the first non-profit organization to award scholarships to sport karate athletes.
“It was just a tremendous feeling of gratification,” Viola said. “It was great to know that all of that work we put in allowed them to receive something they truly deserved. I know how much they put into this sport and how little they get for it. Karate athletes face a lot of obstacles that a lot of people don’t know about.”
Viola knows as well as anyone. He began his competitive martial arts career when he was 3 years old, learning karate at his father’s school, the AlleghenyShotokan Karate School in North Huntingdon Township. He won nine state titles, six national championships and one world title in 1998. He already owned four national titles by the time he graduated from Hempfield Area in 1995, but unlike conventional athletes, his successes were rewarded only with trophies.
“I was about as good as there was in the sport of karate, and there was no money there at all for college,” Viola said. “There was a lot for football and basketball and sports like that. Even guys that were mediocre could get a scholarship.”
He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, and continued to practice karate while he was in school. However, his career ended when he suffered a broken neck in a car accident in 1999. While recovering, he decided to find another way to contribute to karate, and that was where Kumite International found its beginnings.
After leaving the hospital, Viola contacted James Cvetic, president of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Police Athletic League, whom Viola had known since his youth. Cvetic put Viola in touch with C. James Parks of the law firm of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin and Mellot, who made the foundation a legal entity.
Viola went on the road to promote the foundation and took it from there. In its second year, Kumite-sanctioned events dotted the East Coast. There are sanctioned tournaments throughout the United States and in Canada and Italy. Last season, there were approximately 18 sanctioned events throughout the entire season. Viola already has scheduled 15 through November.
“Kids his age usually don’t know what they want to do,” Viola’s father said. “But he’s always been very goal-oriented, and you see that in the way he works with this. It’s become like a job to him, and its difficult to have a job like this to do, and he’s done a great job with it.”
The foundation brings in money through selling memberships and through various other fund raisers.This year, it awarded $10,000 in scholarship money to the overall national point champions in novice and advanced divisions in three age groups: 11-and-younger, 12-18, and adult. There are also scholarships for junior black belts (17-and-younger), adult black belts and female black belts.
Next year, Viola said he plans to allocate an additional $10,000 in scholarship money for members who show leadership. High school seniors and college students who intend to teach martial arts also will be able to apply for scholarships.
The foundation has allowed Viola to help a few people that have followed his path, including Angelo Marcile, one of Viola’s best friends and toughest karate rivals.
Marcile, 30, is a blackbelt who has won more than 30 national and state titles in his continuing career. He didn’t have enough money to go to college when he graduated but remained dedicated to the idea while working as a free lance subcontractor and teaching karate at night.
He is enrolled at Point Park College, where he will begin classes after he finishes a course at Community College of Allegheny County to get his grades up. He expects the scholarship he won to pay for his books.
“He told me he was thinking about doing this, and I told him I would help him out anyway I could,” Marcile said of Viola. “He’s really put his heart and soul into this and I’m very thankful for what he’s done.”