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.
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.”
Viola is “Sensei” of Allegheny Shotokan Karate, the gold standard for martial arts in Western PA (celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2019). The family-owned and operated dojo is blessed with 3 generations of Violas who carry on the legacy. Over the past fifty years, Viola’s karate school has welcomed and transformed everyone from children struggling with autism to Olympic level competitors. On September 23, 2019 the Pittsburgh region celebrated “Sensei Viola Day” to honor the dojo’s contributions to the community over the past 1/2 decade.
“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). The growing Pittsburgh karate legacy includes all four of his sisters and now his daughter, Gabriella Capri Viola (2018 US Open International Champion) and a son, William Viola IV born 2017.
Sensei Bill Honors:
Triple Gold Medalist USA Karate Jr. Olympics
Multiple time USA National Champion as Junior athlete
Recognized as World Champion by Arnold Schwarzenegger -1998
Member of the USA Karate National Team
4x USA Karate Federation National Champion (1995-1998)
4x USAKF All-American Athlete (1995-1998)
Most successful PKRA State Champion of his era.
Creator Sensei Says ® Life Skills Curriculum
2003: Inducted into National Black Belt League The Martial Arts Hall of Fame, 2003
2005: Recipient of The Lifetime Achievement Award, Sport Karate Museum
2011: The Willie Stargell “MVP Award” for community service
2016: Pittsburgh Magazine’s 40 under 40 recipient.
2017: “Whos Who in the Martial Arts” (Legend of American Karate recipient)
In 2020 Viola Jr. was inducted into “Who’s Who Legends” Hall of Fame and was featured in the Chuck Norris edition 2020 Martial Arts Masters and Pioneers book.
Bill Viola was introduced to the art of Shotokan Karate by his father William Viola, founder of Allegheny Shotokan Karate. His lessons began in the late 1970s as a toddler.
As a youth Viola was one of the most consistent and well rounded competitors in the country recognized as a USAKF Jr. Olympic champion and 1993 Overall Sport Karate International Champion. He went on to be the most successful sport karate champion in Pennsylvania Karate Rating Association history winning an unprecedented 8-consecutive black belt overall state titles (1992-1999). As an open and traditional competitor Viola excelled on multiple circuits including NBL, NASKA, AAU, and USAKF. He competed across North America as a member of X-Caliber and Metro All-Star national travel teams.
He was recognized as a multiple USA Karate All-American Athlete and National Champion. Viola was the only adult black belt triple gold medalist (Kata, -65 Kilo Kumite, Kobudo) at the 1997 USAKF National Championships in Akron, Ohio. read more
Bill is the head coach of “Team Kumite,” an all-star travel team that represents Pittsburgh on an international level. Most recently he coached his student, Xander Eddy at the Pan American Championships in Cancun, Mexico. Eddy became the youngest American in history to win Gold and was honored by the Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and WTAE featured athlete. In 2020, the team is slated to compete at the Irish Open in Dublin, Ireland and visit Tokyo, Japan for the Olympic Games.
Stunt Work & Professional Shows
Viola has served as a stunt actor and choreographer including performances for Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, US Steel, Police Athletic League, Eckert Seamans Law Firm, and the University of Pittsburgh. Over the years Viola has participated as a spokesperson for national campaigns including, Say No to Drugs, a tour took Viola coast to coast from Los Angeles to New York. -Pictured left, Bill Viola congratulated by Arnold Schwarzenegger for winning the Arnold Classic -1998
Viola has won numerous national and international titles and was inducted into National Black Belt League Hall of Fame in 2003 (Houston, Texas). He was also inducted into the National Federation of Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Kumite International Hall of Fame, and the Pennsylvania Karate Rating Association Hall of Fame. In 2004 he was honored at The Sport Karate Living Legends Banquet with the Lifetime Achievement Award, Lynchburg, Va. Viola was recognized at the 35th Annual Willie Stargell Memorial banquet on December 16th 2010. He received the “Pittsburgh M.V.P.” award for his work within the fitness and Martial Arts industry.
In the summer of 1999, Viola was involved in an automobile accident on US Route 30 in North Huntingdon, PA. He sustained a serious cervical neck fracture injury that effectively ended his competitive karate career (1981-1999). –Tribune Review Westmoreland Sports August 15, 1999 page 6.
In 2000, Viola partnered with the Western PA Police Athletic League and Eckert Seamans Lawfirm to establish Kumite International college scholarships for competitive martial artists. May 8th 2004 Viola and former NFL Professional Lynn Swann (Chairman, President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports: June 20, 2002 – July 30, 2005) honored scholarship recipients at the Kumite Classic. In 2002 Team Kumite was founded, and have earned the only NBL World Titles in the Pittsburgh region since its inception. NBL World Champion alumni include; Alison Viola, Terrence Tubio, Nicole Sullivan, Jose Rivera, and Dominic Leader. Kumite International was awarded the “Image Award” at the 2005 Arnold Classic in Columbus, Ohio. The ceremony was covered by Black Belt TV.
Fitness And Sports Training
In 1995 Viola began teaching sports endurance and cardio classes. In 2004 Viola expanded his personal training and established “Fitness And Sports Training” (The FAST Class). The conditioning and sports performance classes focused on improved speed, agility and strength for competitive sports teams in the Pittsburgh region.
Viola has served as a consultant for martial arts documentaries and coordinator for International martial arts events across North America including the Mexican Open and the NBL Supergrands World Games; (Jacksonville, Florida / Houston, Texas / Myrtle Beach, South Carolina).
Viola has served as a talent judge and promo coordinator for Sony Pictures Entertainment. He acted as a consultant for the motion picture Warrior, a mixed martial arts movie filmed in Pittsburgh (released September, 2011 by Lionsgate). Viola teamed up with longtime associate Jim Cvetic (Western PA Police Athletic League) to help organize major scenes for the production.
Bill Viola (member of SAG/AFTRA) has made numerous television, film, and radio appearances on networks such as MTV, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, UPN, WB, USA, Blackbelt TV, ESPN and more.
In 2000, Viola won Sisqo’s Shakedown, MTV’s most popular program at the time. Singer-choreographer Pink selected him as the most dynamic performer on the show. He has also made appearances in national commercials for companies such as 7-Eleven and built an impressive portfolio as a fashion and commercial print model, featured on MTV’s Hitched or Ditched (Big Bear, California) working along side Jennifer Lopez, Mandy Moore and Carson Daly.
Viola has worked as a freelance talent scout and entertainment entrepreneur. He has mentored top martial arts performers, helping them gain exposure within the entertainment industry. Viola helped launch the modeling career of Nick Bateman at the Model Universe competition in Miami, Florida. Bateman was discovered by fashion Icon Calvin Klein at the event.
Viola has extensive experience within the entertainment industry, working behind the scenes of major Hollywood productions. He has worked on location for big budget music videos sharing the set with musical artists such as the Def Tones, Britney Spears, and The Black Eyed Peas. The experience influenced the creation of The Kumite Classic concept.