Category Archives: featured

Gabby Viola – Fighting in 🥋 and out ⚕️ of the Ring

karate gabby viola

Let me share.  Life isn’t fair, the sooner you accept that the better.  In 2018, completely out of the blue, my daughter Gabby was diagnosed with bowel disease, an incurable inflammatory form of colitis 😥.  Without too much detail 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 🙏 for remission.

In the meantime, she wanted to continue karate. It was her sanctuary, and her doctor gave it the👍. In July 2019, she attended the World Karate Commission Team Trials in Detroit, Michigan. Top placement earned a spot on “Team USA” to compete at the World Championships. Gabby and her teammates bled for this opportunity. She was one of the youngest competitors to enter and still only a brown belt, in a division dominated by seasoned black belts.  The selection process is based on multiple rounds of competition.  Day 1, she stumbled😱.  The look of disappointment on her face broke my heart into a million pieces😭, but I couldn’t show it.  Her little lip quivering, trying to hold back tears, I consoled her the only way I knew how.  I said, “It’s time to unleash tora 🐯.”  “Win or lose, show everyone your tiger spirit.”

We had something special up our sleeve, a symbol of her destiny.  That weekend, I brought a 55+ year old brown belt with me.  It was tattered and way too long, but it was magical. It was the same belt my father wore, that I wore, that my sister wore, and now Gabby.  She knew the history behind the belt, and I told her she just needed to add her own sweat to it.  In that moment, she showed “tora no me,” the “eye of the tiger.”  It was a complete 360.  She took the mat with a passion and fervor I’ve never seen.  She absolutely nailed her kata, flipped the script, and catapulted to🥇. In that moment, not a single individual victory or title I’ve experienced could compete with the pride I felt. 

Gabby still has good and bad days, but when the disease attacks, I remind her that she’s a fighter💪👊 It seems scary, but deep down she has the fortitude of a hundred kids.  She proved it to me and all the bystanders that day in Detroit.

Gabby Viola with WKC team USA karate
TEAM USA – 2019

*This except was used with permission from the upcoming book CommonSensei.

Gabby has successfully competed in over 100 tournaments and has no plans on slowing down. Her dream is the attend the 2020 Olympics and watch her idol, Sandra Sanchez (Spain), go for the gold medal🥇 in Tokyo, Japan.

For those that are close to my family, you already know how this situation dramatically changed our lives. For twenty years I promoted the Kumite Classic (one of the largest and most prestigious independent tournaments in North America). The expo was a 24/7 – 365 type operation. Despite the show being apart of my identity, it does NOT define me. As they say, “family first” and I have retired from the Kumite until Gabby is in remission. Someday, I hope to pass the torch 🕯️to her, and she can reignite 🔥! I enjoy coaching my team, teaching, and traveling when she is 💯%. It’s a new chapter in a long book!

Today, Gabby is receiving biologic infusions at UPMC Children’s hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. Her Doctors are kind, compassionate, and very knowledgeable. The infusions are typically 3-4 hour procedures (she has to miss school for each treatment). It is taxing on her body and mind.

However, insurance doesn’t make it easy on these patients. The amount of red tape and outrageous medical bills is both frustrating and sad 😔. According to The National Center of Biotechnology (NCBI), the yearly cost of her current medicine is $25,000 to $45,000 annually, depending on the frequency needed 😡😤. Big Pharm 💊💉 should be ashamed. The polices and regulations need to change! As a result we choose to “fight” and get involved. Gabby has been asked to join a national effort to raise awareness for the disease. Beginning this May, she will be lobbying on behalf of patients (like herself) who suffer lack of access to certain treatment. She will be sharing her story as an advocate of IBD research, trying to convince Washington to support her cause. She hopes to be part of the solution and be a small part of one day finding a cure for IBD. She will be attending the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s “Day on the Hill” to meet with different Senators an Congressmen to plead with them to do more! Her trip will be mulitple meetings with legislators about policies impacting the IBD community. The event includes forums hosted by the National Council of College Leaders for parents and pediatric patients, informative advocacy training briefings, and a reception on Capitol Hill .

As a family, we have made the decision use this terrible diagnosis as a powerful teaching moment. We look for anyway to change a negative 👎 into a positive 👍. So we tackle this disease, the way we train at the dojo. with relentless determination! She promises to fight 👊 everyday, and I know she will inspire and empower other’s to do the same. This disease will not stop her from reaching her dreams, goals, and aspirations. There are be setbacks, but without them there are no comebacks.

Over the years, we have had to make multiple emergency stops to local hospitals, urgent cares, and medical facilities. Recently she was hospitalized at the 2019 US Open ISKA World Championships and admitted into Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital after nearly passing out. She was in a flare 🔥 and her body was attacked. Unfortunately, she was unable to perform to her standards the next couple months, and fell short of winning WKC Worlds. She could either spiral into self-doubt and depression, or double down on her training. I’m proud to announce she back to her winning ways taking 1st place 🏆 at NASKA’s 6-A COMPETE Internationals. The place really doesn’t matter, its continuing to “suit up,” time and time again, when other’s say “hang it up.” This journey will always have ups and downs 📈 but we fail forward ➡️. No matter how difficult the challenge, we continue to inch forward ➡️. We call is Kaizen (改善) continual self-improvement! 1% every day… Its our “Violosophy.”

🙏Please help us find a cure. Steroids and biologic medicine are only a temporary fix (a band-aid). The toll it takes on the body is heartbreaking. Just look at this little girl on and off drugs💔:

Understanding inflammatory type diseases:  Inflammation 🔥 is the body’s response to fighting off harmful things.  It could be an injury, infection, or something toxic.  In Gabby’s case, she is always on 🔥. Her body is confused. This is called IBD or (Inflammatory bowel disease) not to be confused with the very common IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) which is not an inflammatory condition/disease.  IBD is an umbrella covering both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.  Both Crohn’s and colitis are characterized by chronic inflammation 🔥 of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract.  IBD is a “ninja” of sorts, because the symptoms often stealth like to the outside world.  Patients often look totally normal to friends and family, but behind the scenes they are struggling with abdominal pain, fatigue, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, and persistent uncontrollable trips to the bathroom. Its cause is unknown, but Doctors do know it’s the result of a defective immune system.  Essentially Gabby’s immune system is attacking itself causing the inflammation 🔥. While there is no cure, we search for ways to help her live a comfortable life, and hold on to hope that a cure will be discovered in her lifetime.  

-Bill Viola Jr.

The People’s Champ 👑💪🏆

Often times people associate martial arts as a rough-and-tumble sport dominated by male competitors, but Gabby Viola is shattering the stereotype.  9-year-old Gabby was recently honored by the national karate media and their peers with nationwide “People’s Choice Awards.”  Point Fighter Live is one the most popular media outlets in North America for the sport and recognized the top athletes.

Gabby Viola was nominated as “Competitor of the Year” by Point Fighter Live.  The honor, dubbed as a “Power Award” was voted on by coaches, competitors, and promoters from across North America.  After a nationwide poll, Viola not only won her category (edging out a talented competitor from El Paso, Texas) but was the highest vote total of the show. The physical award will be presented this April in Warwick, Rhode Island at the Ocean State Grand Nationals.

Gabby is a third generation Viola to win national honors.  She’s following in her Dad Bill Jr. and Grandfather Bill Sr.’s footsteps. She began her training as a toddler and has been a national champion since she debuted at the 2013 Kumite Classic.  She’s a member of Team USA, and defending Gold Medalist from the WKC Nationals Championships.  Gabby is an inspiration to other girls battling  bowel disease.  At 7-years-old, she was diagnosed with chronic inflammation and ulcerative colitis.  While there is no cure for the condition, she is fighting for remission every day and proving that nothing can stop her karate dreams.  She is currently treated with infusions at UPMC Children’s hospital and will travel to the Washington, DC this May to meet with the Senate and Congress about funding new research to find a cure.  

When asked about the recognition Gabby said, “I’m really happy.  I hope this helps get me to Japan!” She’s on a mission to fund raise to watch her Idol Sandra Sanchez from Spain compete for a gold medal 🥇 at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.  Gabby had the opportunity to train with Sanchez in Orlando, Florida this past July. When she’s not competing, she loves playing piano, dance, and teaching her 2-year-old brother karate. 

Throughout the long season, Gabby traveled to Illinois, California, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, New York, West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey and Canada to compete.  The honors are based on an entire year’s body of work.  

Gabby is a member of Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate Dojo which recently celebrated its 50-Year Anniversary.  The Dojo was honored with a proclamation from County Executive Rich Fitzgerald who recognized “Sensei Viola Day” on September 23rd 2019 for the Pittsburgh region.  Sensei Bill Viola Sr. has 4 daughters, all of whom have earned their black belts.  His Granddaughter Gabby and all the up and coming Senpai and Sensei (Lucy, Sammy, Taylor, Zoey, Haley, Abby, Riley) carry on the tradition of strong inspiring ladies from the dojo!

The team is gearing up for the 2020 WKC World Championships held in Madrid, Spain and fundraising to visit Tokyo, Japan and attend the 2020 Olympics 🥇.  For more information visit www.alleghenyshotokan.com  

# # #

Gabby began🥋 training at just 2-years-old and was the inspiration of the Nursery Ninjas program at Allegheny Shotokan Karate. She made her competition debut at the 2013 Kumite Classic and has since competed in over 100 tournaments across North America. In 2015 she won her first Grand Champion, and later that year was the youngest competitor at the World Games. She is a multiple time PKRA State Champion, USKA National Champion, WKC National Champion, and consistent champion on the NASKA World Tour. She is a 3rd generation Viola to carry on the family legacy. Gabby is committed to community service, and has been a top fundraiser to “Kick Parkinson’s Disease” a charity her father helped establish in memory of their Grandmother.

We would also like to extend this positive energy out to our Allegheny Shotokan dojo brothers who also suffer from GI complications: Sensei Conor Burns, Sensei Dave Zezza, and Senpai Mike Pietrzyk

A few highlights:

World Games

Super Grands

#IBD #inflammatorybowel #UlcerativeColitis #UC #colitis #crohnsdisease #crohns #indeterminateboweldisease #Inflammatoryboweldisease

gabby viola

Tough Guys Showtime

Toughs Guys make television history on Showtime

tough guys showtime mma

Emotional day! 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 (along with my cousin Fred) “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!!!!!!! #toughguys #godfathersofmma #showtime  Thanks, Bill Viola Jr. 

showtime

ACADEMY AWARD® NOMINATED MORGAN SPURLOCK JOINS ACADEMY AWARD® WINNER ROSS KAUFFMAN FOR THE MIXED MARTIAL ARTS DOCUMENTARY “TOUGH GUYS”

DOCU FILM ON THE ORIGINS OF THE MIXED MARTIAL ARTS COMPETITION PHENOMENON IS SET TO WORLD PREMIERE THURSDAY AT AFI DOCS IN WASHINGTON DC
June 12, 2017 – 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.”

TOUGH GUYS made its world premiere on June 15 at the AFI DOCS Film Festival in Washington, DC. It will make its network debut September 15 on Showtime.

###

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.
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.

Tough Guys Doc – AFI

Tough Guys movie mma

Tough Guys Doc

Shortly after the exclusive preview run of Godfathers of MMA, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Robert Zullo stumbled upon the Tough Guys exhibit featured at the Heinz History center. Zullo explains, “I couldn’t believe I’d never heard about this story. I was enamored with the time, place and machismo of the whole thing. I just had a gut instinct to meet these guys.”   Zullo reached out to his brother Will and childhood friend Craig DiBiase a producer [MinusL] and Director Henry Roosevelt from New York City. Two years later after 52TB of filming, the Tough Guys Doc was born. Initial praise attracted a star studded lineup of executive producers including Academy Award® Nominated Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) and Oscar winning writer Ross Kaufmann (Born in Brothels).   The world premiere of “Tough Guys” took place at the American Film Institute (AFI) Docs on June 15th 2017 at the famous Landmark Theatre in Washington, DC. It was screened the day after the mega Mayweather / McGregor announcement. The film sold out.   www.toughguysdoc.com

Washington Post

Variety

 

THE FILM

10 years before the debut of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

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.

 “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, breeding desperate men looking for a chance to prove their worth and make some money in the ring.

THE FILM

10 years before the debut of the

Ultimate Fighting Championship.

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.

“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, breeding desperate men looking for a chance to prove their worth and make some money in the ring.

THE FACTS

It happened like this…

  • 39 days of filming

  • 42 interviews

  • 12 meals at Denny’s

  • 18 locations

  • 1000 frames per second

  • 52 terabytes of footage

  • 1 film

Sensei Says ®

sensei says quote

Sensei Says is an award winning martial arts and education curriculum.

Being a SENSEI isn’t for everyone, but everyone needs a Sensei  -Bill Viola Jr.

sensei says

My Sensei gave me the greatest gift he could give someone, he believed in me.  This is a concept I have dedicated my life to sharing with the world.  Sensei Says ® is life skills curriculum that promotes character based education.  The program was created by Sensei Bill Viola Jr.  Sensei is an award-winning author and motivational speaker. #senseisays

sensei says logo

Sensei Bill Viola Jr. aka Common Sensei and Founder of Sensei Says 

Bill Viola Jr. is a Pittsburgh Pennsylvania based author, producer, and Master Martial Arts instructor.  He is the president and founder of Kumite Classic Entertainment Inc. and operates  Allegheny Shotokan “Viola” Karate, established in 1969 by his father (Bill Viola Sr., the co-creator of the sport of mixed martial arts). Pittsburgh Magazine recently named Viola Jr. as one of the “40 Under 40” most influential people in the city in 2016.

» Education

  • University of Pittsburgh, Summa Cum Laude
  • University Scholar, 1998
  • BS Political Science, 1999

» Work Experience

Allegheny Shotokan Karate Inc., North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania

Master Instructor, 1995-Present

  • Recognized as World Champion by Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1998

Kumite Classic Entertainment Corp., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

President & Founder, 1999-Present

  • Established 18th Annual Pittsburgh Fitness Expo
  • Film producer and writer

Author

Non-Fiction, 2003-Present:  Notable work  

  • Go Ask Your Dad (2016) Debuted on Amazon Best Seller List
  • Godfathers of MMA (2015) Inspiration of the documentary film Tough Guys
  • Tough Guys #1 Amazon Best-Seller

Kumite Quarterly Magazine., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publisher, 2003-2007

Eckert Seamans Law Firm, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

KI Scholarship Program Director, 2001-2007

Congressman Ron Klink (PA 4th District), North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania

Congressional Intern, 1997

» Associations

Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League Martial Arts Chairman Union member of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio.

» Honors

  • Honored with The Willie Stargell “MVP Award” for community service, 2011
  • Recipient of The Lifetime Achievement Award, Sport Karate Museum, 2005
  • Inducted into The Martial Arts Hall of Fame, 2003

Congratulations on Sensei Bill Viola Jr. making the Amazon best sellers list with his latest book, “Go Ask Your Dad.”  Bill was also recently selected as one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s Pittsburgh’s “40 under 40” people who influence the community.  Congrats!

“Being a SENSEI isn’t for everyone, but everyone needs a SENSEI.”

ask-dad

2017 Kumite Classic

2017 Kumite Classic

Mark Your Calendars! 2017 Kumite Classic May 26-27th Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Pittsburgh’s largest martial arts and sport karate tournament.

2017 Kumite Classic

Photos by Joe Kleon.  Visit http://www.joekleon.com/ for more info.