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History of Team Kumite

From X-Caliber to

Kumite International

Team Kumite was established to fill the void left by “X-Caliber,” Pittsburgh’s first all-star team founded in the late 1980s.  Viola was an original member of X-Caliber, and the experience left a lasting impact.  Once X-caliber dissolved years later, Western Pennsylvania all but disappeared from the national radar.  Viola says, “I wanted Team Kumite to be a reboot; an X-caliber 2.0 almost.  I wanted to give this generation the same opportunities I had.  Team Kumite was going to be the ticket. My goal was simple, to bring respect, honor, and tradition back to Pittsburgh for the new millennium. Looking back, we did and then some.  Still going strong decades later.”  It is true.  Team Kumite is the most successful sport karate team in the history of Western Pennsylvania. The black and gold is recognized at all major tournaments across North America.

Western Pennsylvania had a rich tradition of producing some of finest sport karate competitors in the country. The 1980s saw super stars Billy Blanks, Jack Bodell and Leonard Jackson bring notoriety to our area. During the 1990s champions such as Doug SelchanTodd HumesMasai Turner, Bill Viola Jr. and Mike Shurina became household names at international open and traditional events. They were pioneers during a groundbreaking era of sponsored junior karate teams.

X-Caliber upsets SMASH

X-Caliber was born in 1989, and exploded on the scene as the first Junior all-star team from Western Pennsylvania.  The group was led by Mike Shurina (Team Captain), who made history as the first Junior Black Belt competitor to win both a NASKA and NBL World Title in the same year.  The squad was coached by Pittsburgh martial arts legend Leonard Jackson.

“This was the first time in Pittsburgh that competitors from separate schools joined together to represent the city. It was always taboo to spar with other people outside your clique.  We bucked the trends, and the result was magic.” -Bill Viola Jr.

X-Caliber may have been a “regional” Pittsburgh-only based group of kids, but they stood tall against all the handpicked “national” champions of the era and did the unimaginable—beat them.

X-Caliber is credited as being the first team ever to defeat the formidable SMASH team.  SMASH was sponsored by Boice Lydell (owner of SMASH Magazine), and  stacked with current NASKA World Champions. They were the prototype all-star team, built to promote the magazine dominate challengers.

X-Caliber vs SMASH:

The scene was one of NASKA’s premier events, The U.S. Capitol Classics in Washington, DC.    The seemingly unbeatable Jr. SMASH team jumped out to 6-2 lead after two rounds. Then Billy Viola won a shutout (4-0) over Jamily Boone to swing the momentum and tie the match up at 8-8.  The next matches went back and forth with SMASH leading by 1-point going into the last match up between Todd Humes and Adam Keister.  X-Caliber fought to the final seconds, with the Pittsburgh kids winning a sudden death point to pull off the upset by a score of 11-10.  SMASH team was made up #1 ranked kids across the USA and Canada, and X-Caliber a Pittsburgh crew.  An unknown group of underdogs made sport karate history.  Bill Viola Jr. [seen below holding the award and rocking the rec specs 😊] was named MVP for his performance.

smash karate team nbl

Pictured above ⬆️ (Left to right front):  Ashley, Todd, Zach, Billy (Left to right back row):  Dave Humes, Masai, Leonard Jackson, Mike, and Bill Viola Sr. 

X-Caliber Karate Facts

X-Caliber defeated SMASH again at the 1990 NBL Super Grand’s, but controversy marred the win after SMASH was given another “seed.” Following a melee, several the X-Caliber players and coaches were removed from the tournament for protesting the ruling.  Pittsburgh was stripped of the NBL title win, but remain people’s choice.

X-Caliber vs METRO

X-Caliber had momentum and began knocking off team after team.  Soon, they would encounter their biggest challenge to date, at the Ocean State Grand Nationals.  Coach Hector Santiago (New York) had assembled a dream team of adults and juniors called “Metro All-Stars.” METRO was dynamite, bursting onto the scene with more hype than any other group in history; a buzz saw through opposing teams leading to a showdown with X-Caliber.  Lightning ⚡⚡⚡ struck again, and X-Caliber defeated the Metro All-Stars in an action-filled slugfest filled with blood, DQs, and a lot of respect on both sides.  The word was out, Pittsburgh had some of the top junior players in the nation.

Coach Santiago was so impressed with X-Caliber’s potential, he offered to absorb the Pittsburgh team and provide a fully sponsored opportunity to travel across North America.  As a result, X-Caliber joined the New York City based Metro-All Stars in the early 1991. Mike Shurina would go on to become the Jr. Captain of METRO.  For years, METRO would dominate the sport karate scene and eventually ascend to GOAT status with the likes of Steve Nasty Anderson on the roster.

metro all stars karate team

Pictured above are Pittsburgh X-Caliber’s who joined Metro:  Mike Shurina, Masai Turner, and Bill Viola Jr. ⬆️

The Kumite 🖤💛 brand was created to restore world class sport karate in the Pittsburgh region.  Kumite Classic was inspired by the level of sport karate competition that existed in Pittsburgh during the 1980s and 1990s.  Coach Bill Viola’s Kumite Classic, (his signature brand was for nearly 20 years) became the largest martial arts and fitness expos in the world. He simultaneously founded “Team Kumite” to represent Pittsburgh at the most prestigious martial arts competitions in the world. Since its establishment, no other team in the Greater Pittsburgh Region has been more successful on the open sport karate circuit. We are a homegrown dojo family, that has earned titles with every major sanctioning body. Team Kumite and Coach Bill Viola have developed more national, international and world champions than anybody in Western Pennsylvania. You will be joining a Pittsburgh sport karate legacy!

Since its inception, “Team Kumite” has been a fixture at the largest events in sport karate.  They are NASKA, WAKO, WKC, AAU, and USANKF Champions.

x caliber karate team
smash karate team nbl
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Karate instructor working hard to promote foundation

DUSTIN DOPIRAK | Sunday, May 13, 2002 12:00 a.m.

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 Area High 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 Allegheny Shotokan 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.”