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Sensei Viola Day

On September 23rd, 2019 Allegheny County Council proclaimed “Sensei Viola Day” for the Pittsburgh Region in recognition of the Dojo 50th year anniversary (1969-2018)  

Viola karate history

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.”

Read more in Black Belt Magazine

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. On William Viola IV’s birthday (September 23rd, 2019) Both Allegheny and Westmoreland Country area celebrated “Sensei Viola Day” for the Pittsburgh Region in recognition of the Dojo 50th year anniversary (1969-2018)  

sensei viola day

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.

In 1998 Arnold Schwarzenegger recognized them as the #1 school in America and Hines Ward selected Viola’s students as Positive Athletes to represent marital arts (2012-2013).

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).

Brownsville:

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.

sensei viola day

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.

Philanthropy/Community Service

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).

#violakarate #alleghenyshotokan #senseisays #senseiviola #pittsburghkarate #pittsburghmartialarts #pittsburghmma #shotokan #karate #budo #pittsburghkaratelegacy

CommonSensei – Book

common sensei book
common sensei book
bill viola jr author book
Recent releases by bestselling author Bill Viola Jr.

The latest book by Bill Viola Jr. -Common Sensei is Coming Soon

“H🤔W TO KICK A$$ @ LIFE” School will NOT prepare you for the real world; FACTS⚠️. It’s not your fault — priorities have shifted from common sense education, to being really-really good at taking standardized tests😠. The same kids who ace AP Calculus are later sinking in massive credit card debt and English majors can’t draft a decent resume. The system is lacking street smarts: instinct, application, and self-confidence. This book will CHANGE YOUR LIFE… follow us on facebook

com·mon /ˈkämən/ (origin Latin)   sen·sei  /ˈsenˌsā,senˈsā/ (origin Japanese)

Let’s break it down.  “Common” is an adjective of sound judgement based on perception of facts or the situation. Simply put, it describes things that should be standard or well known.  “Sensei” is a noun synonymous with teacher, but it’s not exclusive to karate. In Japan it is a blanket term for doctors, lawyers, politicians etc.  Its literal translation is even more symbolic:  Sen (先) translates as before and sei (生) means birth, making the definition “one born before.”  In laymen’s terms, Sensei is someone with loads of experience and knowledge (been there, done that).  When we drop the “i” from Sensei, we of course have “Sense,” which for our purpose is the ability to make reasonable decisions.  You will be majoring in the forgotten sense—common.  There is no consensus on the exact number of senses, but we all know the traditional 5:

The Traditional 5

  1. 👀 Sight  
  2. 👂 Hearing
  3. 👃 Smell
  4. 👄 Taste
  5. 🖐 Touch

The ever popularSixth sense” is an ability to know something without using the ordinary five senses.   In modern times, all kinds of other senses have been identified with fancy technical jargon like vestibular (balance) or proprioception (awareness), and the list continues to evolve. 

For me, #7 remains “common” sense, although it’s not a true sense of the word, it is the rarest.  While logic offers a single answer to a problem, common sense seems to defy the odds. The most powerful supercomputer in the world, in all its grandeur, still can’t replicate the common sense of a 7-year old child, just as a driverless Tesla can’t outwit a savvy New York City cabbie during rush hour (at least not in my lifetime). Intuition is the ultimate act of trusting yourself, and it is what makes humans unique.  Artificial intelligence is cool, but some things are immeasurable like the faith of a pastor, or the size of Rudy’s Rudy you say?  Trust me, grab some popcorn and stream it ASAP. 

black belt in life book

The fun begins when we morph ‘em all together. The synergy of “Common” and “Sensei” is best described by a mashup of famous characters (past and present). Let’s mix the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi and Yoda with the intelligence of Professor Dumbledore and Gandalf; the awareness of John Wick with the charisma of Ferris Bueller; the poise of Doc Holiday with the spirit of Katniss Everdeen; the class of the Great Gatsby, with the street smarts of Tony Soprano; the Spidey senses of Peter Parker with the confidence of Black Panther, and the grit of Creed with the motivation and intensity of his coach, Rocky Balboa🥊.  Ironically, CommonSensei is anything but common; he’s a master of “life skills.” Ok-ok, as your CommonSensei, I may have jazzed up the imagery just a bit, but it’s attitude not aptitude that fuels aspirations. If I didn’t believe in myself, why would you or anyone read this book or come to me with tough questions? Go ahead; ask me anything!

Truth be told, I don’t have all the answers, but in my Liam Neeson voice, “what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career.” I’m a jack of all trades.  I know what you are thinking, so I’ll say it out loud, “Master of none!”  That puts a negative spin on things, so bear with me.   

It’s all about interpretation, and I prefer the extended version, “Jack of all trades, master of none, but often times better than master of one.” — that’s sexier.  To me, when we’re all in, that little rhyme is the best hand ♦♣♠♥.  While we do tend to “ace” something, be it our college degree or passion, its broad based knowledge outside our expertise that helps us have a winning hand in life.  I’m your wild card 🃏 and what I can’t teach you, I do know who, what, when and where to lead you.  Think of me as a dealer of life hacks, calling out bluffs and stacking the deck in your favor.  Life’s a gamble, but CommonSensei will help you raise the stakes and beat the odds by learning a new strategy.    

sensei says
“Sensei Says”

At face value, CommonSensei is just that, a teacher of common sense, but its play on words is unique to my own personal brand of self-discovery.  While I didn’t score 2400 on my SAT’s, I’ve since graduated at the top of my class in gut instinct, adaptability, and confidence.  So let’s get inside my head and explore the book.  

Meet the author

#commonsensei 📖 📚 🖊 📝 🤔 💭 #education #college #lifeskills4college #lifeskills #lifeskills101 #billviolajr #motivation #commonsense #lifeskillstraining #lifeskillsteacher #selfhelp #author #bestseller #bestlife #senseisays #wordstoliveby #howto #liveyourbestlife #kaizen #ikigai #kickassatlife #blackbelt #japan #blackbeltinlife #lifecoach #quotes #inspiration #instagood #inspirationalquotes

black belt in life common sensei
Earn all 10 CommonSensei ranks and become a black belt in life.

Kick Parkinson’s Disease

Kicking for a Cure

Pittsburgh area karate school (Allegheny Shotokan) is literally kicking Parkinson’s disease with a mobile 1-mile kick-a-thon to support PIND 5K research lead by Sean Logan and Bill Viola Jr.

kick Parkinson's

My dojo is my inspiration and the students have made it their mission to KICK Parkinson’s disease—literally.  The Viola Karate Dojo and their sister program Norwin Ninjas assembled over 100 students to make a statement and kick non-stop for one mile at Boyce Park to support our good friend Sean Logan.  The “KICK” concept was developed Irwin native Sensei Bill Viola Jr., Owner of Norwin Ninjas, 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, “This year we are proud to break the $20,000 mark in just three kick-a-thons.”

The Allegheny Shotokan students have donated over $20,000 to aid The Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases (PIND) for research.

PIND offers a unique twist to the traditional 5K by incorporating Viola’s “Kick-a-thon” concept. 

“There are a lot of in-house kick-a-thons that take place at schools, but none that actually kick for distance in the heat. This is the first of its kind.” 

Bill Viola Jr.

1500 kicks was the estimated amount thrown by each participant. We had over 100 students, so the total number was approximately 150,000 kicks.

“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. Their selflessness is incredible.” 

Bill Viola Jr.

Madden McKeever at just six years old was the top fundraiser with over $2000 in donations.   In just four years, through corporate sponsorship and participants the PIND 5k has surpassed over $1 million dollars in total donations. 

Viola says,

“They are making a difference and learning the value of paying in forward. I tell them, Kick with kindness and create an endless a ripple.”

PIND is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s Disease, Stroke, and Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Hollywood

Bill Viola Jr. hopes to hit it big in Tinsel Town

media

TRIBUNE-REVIEW

Wertz, Majorie (November 4, 2000).  “North Huntingdon Township man hopes to hit it big in Tinsel Town”. Pittsburgh Tribune-Reviewp. 5.  Standard Observer Section

You can take the man out of western Pennsylvania, but you can’t take westernPennsylvania out of the man. At least, that’s what Bill Viola, Jr. believes.

Born and raised in North Huntingdon Township, the 1995 Hempfield High Schoolgraduate attended the University of Pittsburgh and received a degree in political science. Within a year’s time, he took his good looks and talents to Hollywood. “A number of things happened to bring me out to California,” said Viola. “It’s always been a dream of mine to break into movies. And I’ve always been in front of a camera and in front of large audiences when competing in karate.”

Viola has been training and competing in a Japanese form of karate for nearly 20 years. Viola’s father, Bill Sr., owns the Allegheny Shotokan Karate School inNorth Huntingdon. Since 1981, Bill Jr. has won over 2,000 trophies, awards and titles. But a serious automobile accident last year could have ended his days in competitions. “The vehicle I was in got hit from behind on Route 30 in North Huntingdon last summer,” he said. “I suffered a fractured neck.”

The accident and his injury put a stop to his competing in the karate national championships in August. Viola was a six-time Pennsylvania state karate champion and couldn’t defend his national title win of 1998. “All I’ve ever done was compete in karate tournaments and championships,” said Viola. “Then in January, I had to have surgery on my esophagus at UPMC. I wasn’t allowed to train or compete. So I decided to try a different avenue.”

Viola began promoting karate and tournaments, but it wasn’t enough. “Summer was coming and I had to decide what do to. I have a cousin who is a model inCalifornia. He encouraged me to come out and try modeling.” After only two weeks in Hollywood, Viola was signed by the Pang Matusi Agency. “Pang Matusi is Japanese and because I’ve competed in Japanese style karate, there was a click between me and the agency right away,” he said.

Since moving to North Hollywood, Viola has found work as a model, actor and dancer, appearing in a wide variety of movies, commercials, promos and dance videos, including Britney Spears’ “Stronger” video. “I like to keep myself open to a lot of things – TV, movies, videos. A casting director was selecting the right look for the Britney Spears’ video and he saw my photograph on my web site,” said Viola. “The casting director said I had the perfect look for her video. “My three little sisters are the most popular girls in school now because of my association with Britney Spears,” he said with a laugh. 

bill viola jr hollywood
Onset of the music video “Stronger”

The 23-year-old son of Bill Viola, Sr. and Shelly Rossi of the Penglyn area of North Huntingdon said other opportunities have opened up since the Britney Spears’ video. “Since then, I’ve done other things, little things here and there. You never know what to expect. It’s like no other job out there and you have to be ready. You get to meet directors, actors, connections that will help you in the future. My political science background has helped me in this industry. Hollywood is all politics. So I have to give credit to my poly sci professors at Pitt.”

Although Viola’s future in Hollywood is bright, he still maintains his hometown roots in western Pennsylvania. “People comment on my western Pennsylvaniaaccent all the time,” Viola said. “The relatives I have out here are originally from western Pennsylvania, so we can relate. “I come back home as much as I can. All my friends and family are still there. I hope to be back for Christmas.”

Living life in Hollywood is definitely different, Viola said. “The traffic is unbelievable. To go a mile may take an hour or two. If anything stresses me out, it’s the traffic jams.” Despite the setbacks that have hampered his competing in karate tournaments and championships, Viola continues to be an active member of the Hollywood scene. “I’m very fortunate that I can still teach and coach karate to make extra money, but I’ve been really busy with modeling and acting.”

bill viola jr hollywood
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