The year 1969 was a glorious time to be alive. A new home cost $15,000. Ninety percent of kids walked to school. Woodstock took place. Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, Mario Puzo released The Godfather and a little-known dojo called Allegheny Shotokan began operating in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.

by Bill Viola Jr.

This was the golden era of karate, and those who wore a crisp white gi and a black belt had a special swagger. The martial arts were provocative and mysterious, and if you wanted to learn their secrets, Bill Viola was your man. Unbeknownst to him, the Viola name and Pittsburgh karate would soon resonate throughout the region.
Viola was a no-nonsense disciplinarian who lived the mantra, “The more you sweat in here, the less you bleed out there." With this philosophy of intensity, he trained thousands in the art of self-protection. Over the ensuing half century, his powerful brand of punches and kicks camouflaged life's most important lessons, those that revolve around respect, discipline and focus. Among his many messages to his students: “Character is a commodity that can't be bought, only built."
The confidence Viola instilled in his students manifested on and off the mat, in the classroom as well as in the boardroom. “It's that indomitable spirit that builds champions in life," Viola would say. “Our dojo is a family."

In 2019 Allegheny Shotokan Karate celebrates its 50th anniversary. The family-owned and operated dojo now boasts three generations of Violas to carry on the legacy. All five of Bill Viola's children are black belts, and as his eldest son, I now head the school. My daughter Gabby and son Will are fixtures at the studio, as well.
Now 71, my father, a ninth degree, still teaches his black-belt class every Monday, offering a reminder to all that karate is a lifelong journey. That's evidenced by people like Ray Adams, 76, who joined the club in 1971. “I just earned my master rank and have no plans of slowing down," he said. “My next test will be in my 80s."
In 2011 my father was honored in a permanent exhibit at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and Senator John Heinz History Center that recognizes him as the co-creator of the sport of mixed martial arts. He and I received the Champion Associations Willie Stargell MVP Award in 2011 for community service. In 2017 we were included in the book Who's Who in the Martial Arts: The Legends Edition.
My father's life was the focus of the Amazon best-seller Godfathers of MMA, which inspired the 2017 Showtime documentary Tough Guys. I wrote the book and served as a producer for the film and am currently adapting it for the big screen.
Through the years, our dojo has built a reputation as the most successful sport-karate school in the Pittsburgh region. That followed its grooming of the only Pan-American gold medalists in both traditional karate and kickboxing, as well competitors who own countless national, international and world titles.

As karate approaches its Olympic debut in 2020, my father is being recognized for having been instrumental in the movement. His involvement started when he hosted the USA Karate Junior Olympics at the University of Pittsburgh in 1992 under the auspices of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Clearly, the dojo has always had its finger on the pulse of the martial arts, and it continues to play a pivotal role in the Pittsburgh karate community.
Over the past 50 years, Allegheny Shotokan Karate has welcomed everyone from children struggling with autism to Olympic-level competitors. It doesn't matter whether the person is a professional athlete or a teenager who's coping with bullies. Everyone is on his or her own personal journey of self-enlightenment and courage. Our goal is to help them reach their potential and go beyond.

That formula for success was born in 1955 when my dad got his first taste of combat while studying boxing with a family friend, the legendary Marion “Slugger" Klingensmith. He discovered the Asian arts in the early 1960s. “My friend Medick Capirano picked up karate at WVU in the ROTC program," my father said. “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."
While attending California State University, my father continued training with the All-American Karate Federation, an offshoot of the Japanese Karate Association. He earned rank under pioneers Robert Trias and George Anderson.
He selected the name “Allegheny" for his school because of its original location in Allegheny County. The “Shotokan" portion of the name was a no-brainer since his base style was the traditional Japanese art. My dad began teaching in 1969, and the first student to sign up was former California State football player Denny Costello.
The first teacher to come on board was Keith Bertoluzzi. The former master of ceremonies at the Holiday House in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, Bertoluzzi used his connections to invite visiting celebrities to attend karate class, among them several members of the Beach Boys. “Karate in the '60s and '70s was so popular," my father recalled. “We [instructors] were the rock stars."
As evidence, he cited the fact that by 1971, the local school district, known for its progressive policies, offered him the opportunity to teach a regular elective karate course. It was the first in an American public school.

One reason Allegheny Shotokan Karate remains a leader in the local community is its dedication to philanthropy and community service. I've participated in charitable work since my senior year at the University of Pittsburgh, when I established Kumite International collegiate scholarships. The partnership program with the Western Pennsylvania Police Athletic League and Eckert Seamans Law Firm allocated a whopping $50,000 for karate scholarships. The program made national news when Lynn Swann, chairman of George W. Bush's Council of Physical Fitness and Sports, and I presented the scholarships at the 2004 Pittsburgh Fitness Expo/Kumite Classic.
The dojo has raised tens of thousands of dollars for various causes, including the battle against muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease. In 2017 former state Sen. Sean Logan and I launched Kick Parkinson's Disease, a cause that was close to both parties. (Logan was diagnosed with Parkinson's while in his mid-40s, and I spent years caring for my grandmother until she passed away from neurodegenerative complications.)
The members of our dojo have since made it their mission to Kick Parkinson's disease — literally. Each year, hundreds of students assemble to execute kicks nonstop over a distance of 1 mile in conjunction with Logan's PIND (Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases) 5K. In 2018 they did so in record-setting heat, bumping their two-year total to $15,000 in donations. Over the past three years, the event has raised more than $1 million in appropriations, grants and sponsorships, with every dollar earmarked for testing and research in hopes of finding a cure.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: or go to

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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