sideways common sensei book

11 Feb



Bill Viola Jr. is a multifaceted personality deeply rooted in martial arts, education, and filmmaking. He has significantly contributed to the martial arts community, not just as a practitioner but also as an educator and author, pioneering concepts like “zentensity” to bridge traditional martial arts wisdom with practical life skills.

What is “Zentensity” exactly? Enjoy an excerpt from CommonSensei to shed some light on this incredible mind of matter experience:

*All rights reserved © CommonSensei

-By Bill Viola Jr.

-Sensei Bill Viola Jr. with Shihan Bill Viola Sr. (early 1980s)

While I feel like I’ve lived ten lives already, we all start from scratch.  For me, that’s being “the student,” and I got my sea legs before I could walk.  As a toddler, I was taught mental warfare at the dōjō – not your typical preschool.  I wasn’t much older than three-years-old when karate officially became my whetstone. You see, in my household training was a religion, and when church was in service, Shihan (master) exercised the demons! The dōjō was “hot as hell,” and my feet were constantly held to the flame.  If I was lazy punching the bag, I’d catch the “Wrath of Kahn.”  Stylistically, my dad resembled one part Bobby Knight, two parts Mike Ditka, three parts General George Patton with the punch of Jackie Gleeson (Google em’).  Volatile, tough, decorated, and animated — well intended and damn good at building champions. Outside the dōjō he personified Dr. Jekyll; inside the sanctuary, Mr. Hyde. You just never knew who you’d get, the serious Dean Martin type or the jovial Jerry Lewis?  He was an enigma, making his process unpredictable, yet very effective. Shihan (pronounced she-hawn) was preparing me for a battle, and it required full fudōshin. We had endless private lessons where every microcosm of my being was scrutinized. Tired? Too bad.  Sore? Too bad.  Incapable? Too bad.  Sick? Too bad.  The Japanese have a saying, mō ichido meaning “once more,” and it became our credo. Do it again.  Again.  Again.  Again. Again. When it was time to practice, it was shut up and put up. 

I’m not going to lie, it took years for me to discover my fudō-frame, but when I did, anguish shifted to determination, but I wasn’t there… yet. I was still a typical kid who’d rather be watching Saturday morning cartoons, especially He-man. Life has a peculiar way of imitating art, and soon I was living in the Masters of the Universe. “By the power of Grayskull,” I sharpened my first sword. I can’t tell you the exact day or time “it” happened, I just remember I was a blue belt.  My kata of choice that day was an advanced pattern called Bassai Dai, literally meaning “penetrate the fortress.”  Pretty convenient since my mind was under siege. My dad fondly recalls that lesson when “It just clicked 😈.” Or was it, I “just   snapped” 👿, shattering the mental shackles holding me back.  Shihan always told me how good I could be, but that day I became great. I’d given 99% a thousand times, but never went full throttle. The endless harping, yelling, and screaming: “harder, harder, harder” lit a wick that burned slowly.  Then, without any warning about half way through Bassai Dai — ignition!  I exploded in martial bliss. Bruce Banner became the Hulk, and I saw my true potential for the first time. I was “aware” of what Bill Viola Jr. was capable of.  My nostrils flared as the clouds parted. It scared the bejesus out of me; frightening and glorious all the same. Yin to the yang!  Up until this point I was a hard worker and winning, but still a mere mortal.  Finding “ZENtensity” was immortal. It was the spark Shihan had been longing for, and his face gleamed like the 4th of July — an expression forever tattooed in my mind.  That image is a permanent reminder of my breakthrough to the dark side of the moon.  It’s since become my mission to help other’s reach for the stars.

Sensei, what exactly is ZENtensity?” Great question.  While there’s no words to fully describe this physical/mental phenomenon, ZENtensity is achieved when outside influences vanish, and one harnesses all potential power into an activity. Zen symbolizes tranquility while intensity reveals ferocity and potency. One inner; the other outer.  One making peace; the other waging war. Its mysterious synergy of amity and vehemence — pure alchemy!  Such beautiful music can be heard only when the mind, body and soul leap onto the “stairway to heaven.”



0:01 -❍──────── -8:02, ↻ ⊲ Ⅱ ⊳ ↺

In the pantheon of rock ‘n roll, this is my anthem of ZENtensity. The tempo progressively increases until what the band describes as an orgasm at the end. ▂▃▄▅▆▇  ZEN ZEN ZEN ZEN ZEN ZEN ZENtensity!  The YIN and YANG of Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar and Robert Plant’s epic lyrics shreds of materialism and the path you take. It’s wildly open to interpretation, so go ahead and make your own determination. PS, the song also made my elementary recorder (fipple flute) cool for a minute 😆. 

I’ve been using the term for decades, and not just for karate. For you it could be soccer, ballet, or weight lifting. Whatever. ZENtensity is a performance that intentionally leaves absolutely nothing to be desired!  In simplest terms, it’s giving more effort than you thought was possible: One more inch, one more ounce, one more rep. ZENtensity has nothing to do with winning a trophy, and everything to do with beating yourself.  It’s the secret to sharpening your sword! The experience was mind-blowing. I held in my possession a sparkling new katana, one of a self-motivated young boy. My superpowers were no longer dormant, and for once, I wasn’t Barry Allen, I was the Flash ⚡. Everyone has unrealized potential bottled up. Shihan was the corkscrew, and I popped off 🍾! I went from sippin’ boxed wine to Cristal, the finest cuvee champagne.  Drunk with confidence, I was under the influence of my new found awareness.  I’d only been using a fraction of my private reserve, and that was a waste of my God-given talent. That lesson offered a life-changing realization — the human body can do more; much more. Call it “mind over matter,” “where there’s a will there’s a way,” whatever. I became inebriated with mental fortitude, and I would not be denied. ZENtensity was a drug and I was addicted.

I fought flipping that switch 💡 for years.  Why? Was I scared?  Was I embarrassed?  Was I storing up energy like a dam retaining water? Something was restricting my flow, but when I fully opened the valve a flood 🌊 followed. Hanging on for dear life, the raging rapids were breathtaking.  ZENtensity rushed through my mind, body, and spirit as a single stream of solidarity.  The marriage of shoshin and fudōshin unleashed the vast power of my katana, and I’ve never be the same since.  Although I cracked the ceiling of my capabilities, there was still a huge learning curve.  I had accepted Shihan’s tough love, but that didn’t mean the training got any easier. The world will always try to break you, so Shihan progressively pushed me harder. The difference was, I “got it” now. Adversity, fear, pain, and failure didn’t dull me anymore, it sharpened my blade.  Shihan refined my skills in a John Kreese / Mr. Miyagi kind of way: Equal parts intimidation, I mean motivation 😉, and inspiration. Yin to the yang! Strict and blunt, yet wise and honorable.  Long before the Karate Kid film franchise, “Fear does not exist in this dōjō!  Pain does not exist in this dōjō.  Defeat does not exist in this dōjō!” Does it?  “No Sensei!”

Back in the ‘80s, our North Irwin dōjō held court at an old converted meat locker. Shihan presided over a hardcore group of men and women who lambasted the harsh conditions. His militant tone, intense commands, and passion were calling cards of a warden laying down the gauntlet. There wasn’t room for democracy. Nope, he was judge, jury, and executioner… and the students wouldn’t have it any other way.  Allegheny Shotokan was known to set the precedent for grit, and pushed the legal limits of hard work.  The scales ⚖ tipped back and forth withblood and sweat; cheers and tears; yin and yang. There was a colorful cast of soldiers:  Jack Bodell, member of the United States Secret Service who protected President Jimmy Carter; Jacquet Bazemore, World Heavy Weight Kickboxing champion and sparring partner to Muhammad Ali;  Doug Selchan, the first American to win a Gold Medal in Kumite at the Pan American Games, and little old me. What a trip!

ALL ABOARD! 🚂🚂🚂. Prior to being a freezer, the dōjō was a train terminal and hub for freight headed to Pittsburgh.  Thick concrete block walls hugged a “mindfield” of warriors trying to kick down mental barricades. The tracks were adjacent to the school, so on any given evening one could hear the howling of boxcars marred by battle cries — kiai.

Sensei Says🥋: A kiai 📢 is a battle cry or spirit shout signaling ATTACK: “Hi-yah!” or “Eeee-yah!” followed by a deadly chop 👋👋😂.  Instead of yelling a bunch of vowels, it can be your favorite motivational quote, lyric, or mantra.

Outside, the air horn would sound: WAAANK WAAANK!  A warning signal to all its path that a collision was eminent. Inside, fists and feet traveled at top speeds, equally difficult to stop. Students methodically pounded away to the CLICKETY-CLACK-CLICKETY-CLACK cadence. It was all very surreal.  There weren’t many children passengers back then, but since dad the conductor, Addie and I were exceptions. My sister and I took the fast track growing up, as only a handful of elementary soldiers stood in line.  We rode that same locomotive every day of our lives: CHOO CHOOOOO, CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUGGA! Destination, “Pain Town, USA.”

Our home away from home was reminiscent of the musty old boxing gyms of yesteryear, an atmosphere that fit the mold of Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed, and Rocky Balboa. Absolutely no amenities; by design. My father would patrol the lines with a bamboo stick, a tool he adopted from Teruyuki Okazaki. The “Big O” and other Japanese masters introduced pain as “encouragement” to correct your form: SWAT! My dad followed the tradition: THWAP! People actually paid to be treated this way 😂. Those methods might not be kosher today, but they were effective.  There’s something to be said about that.

I’m going off script for just a minute, but only to illuminate my dad’s attitude.  I had a chance encounter with a man named “Moe” a few weeks ago.  I was picking up a couch I purchased from an auction when a man (late 50s) yells, “Are you related to Sensei Viola.”  Evidently he saw “Viola” on the receipt, and sprinted across the parking lot to introduce himself.  “My name’s Mohammed, and your dad was a real bad ass [laughs].  He taught me science in middle school, and I’ll never ever forget him.”  Moe expressed he didn’t fancy school too much, but when it came to Mr. V’s class, he sat up straight and paid attention. I asked why? “If not, he’d send my ass to Siberia.”  Siberia, I asked?  “Yup, if you acted up he’d put you in the corner (holding a stack of books) in a horse stance until you behaved – that was Siberia [laughs]. One trip, and you didn’t wanna go back!  “Man, he taught me discipline (dropping into a stance and firing off a few punches).  See, I still got it!”  Moe flagged down his fellow workers and proceeded to gush about how my dad was his Sensei back in the 1970s.  He shook my hand and said, “Yo, your dad made a difference. He was tough, but it was from the heart. I appreciate him. Tell him Mohammed says thanks.” I’ve heard hundreds of these tales over the years, and each and every story has the same ending:  appreciation. In an age where accountability and discipline are lost arts, “Karen” and “Ken” would cry child endangerment, but I’d argue “time and place.”  No matter, this was who my father was, and so the first twenty something years of my life went like this…

One muggy afternoon I was tasked to rep out 100 kata!  My father didn’t fancy AC or heat, so depending on the elements the dōjō was either an ice rink or sweat box.  Today, the house that Shihan built was sweltering. To a neophyte, doing a bunch of kata might not seem like much, but this wasn’t a wimpy walk through.  Kata is like shadow boxing, only in a strict and precise memorized fashion. Each routine is a 2-3 minute workout that was, how can I say this delicately, “balls to the wall.” No matter, the result was music to my ears. 

Kata is a symphony of all the martial arts instruments in perfect arrangement.  My movement, akin to the strings, is like a violin 🎻 both sparkling and brilliant.  Stances sink deeper and deeper, that of the lowest bass cello or tuba 📯, anchoring my position. AHHH-OOOOH-GAA, that’s the sound of my jinkai (war shell). It’s monotone and melodic tenor alerts samurai of an attack. The volume is deafening. Blocks slice through the air, smooth as John Coltrane on the sax 🎷 and strikes shred imaginary foes, electric like Eddie Van Halen on guitar 🎸. As I float effortlessly across the mat, I work up to a fever pitch. The percussion hits—BANG!  Punches thrash the snare drum 🥁—BOOM! Kicks clash the cymbal—CLANG.  Each technique shrill like the brass: “Da-da-da-DAT-da-DAH 🎺” CHARGE! I’ve called out the enemy! Each kata an epic mental battle to the death.  Each kata an invigorating breath of life.  “Wow Sensei, quite an ensemble!” Yes, music and kata can equally heal the soul.  

It is a performance of a lifetime.  Shihan the maestro waving his stick, and I, the one man band. His animated gestures set the tempo, but it’s his brow, oh man that brow that intently interprets my score 🎼! A wrinkled scowl indicated I better pick it up, while a slightly raised eyebrow granted silent approval. From the podium his head gently lowers; I bow. Then with no warning the master’s hand flings upward.  I strike accordingly, and the choreography engages.  Up-down, up-down, up-down his baton moves in fast sequential movements as my mind and body anticipates and reacts.  As the wand glides slowly through the air, my core engages in deep breathing and dynamic tension.  He snaps – explosion! He waves – 360 spin. He spears – punch kiai 🔊! I have to laugh, I was literally a human Konami cheat code:  UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START.

Sensei Says🥋Konami is a Japanese video game company famous for classics like Frogger, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dance Dance Revolution and of course Contra (1987) which popularized “cheat codes, and you can still dial it in today!  Contra Returns is now available on Android and IOS.     

Kata is a free-for-all of internal and external expression that can’t be quantified, only experienced.  While Shihan might be pulling the strings, I’m not a puppet. We need to, we “must” work in unison. Each kata tells a unique story opening a gateway to the past. As I speak to my ancestors with this war dance, I’m creating my own time remnant. As the “chosen one,” my methods will be passed down to the next generation and it’s an honor.  “Sensei, this is epic!” Yes, Shihan the narrator, and “I” the author. Ultimately my words, stances, and desire determines a happy or sad ending, so I push.    

After 10-15 kata, my shortness of breath wheezed like emphysema echoing off the mildew stained walls. Shihan didn’t acknowledge my doubts, he simply turned the page and said, “Again.” Waggling his fingers, maestro analyzed every nuance and scrutinized each position.  As clay, I was molded and sculpted into a warrior.  We continued to negotiate with our eyes, but he sees things I can’t.  He hears things I don’t.  I stumbled up to 25 patterns, on the brink of exhaustion. Fudōshin was fading. WTH, I’ve got 75 more.  No way! “Dad, I can’t do anymore.”  He just glared.  It’s true, my mind was lying to me. I had plenty left in the tank, but I had to break a pain barrier to reach the reservoir. I hadn’t scratched the surface of ZENtensity… yet.  Running out of gas was accepting defeat, meaning I’d have to push my car the rest of the way.  That’s silly, especially since I knew how to manipulate the needle.  We all have a reserve tank where potential is stored, and pain is the universal code to unlock it. For most, it’s rarely tapped because we follow the path of least resistance. Luckily, Shihan didn’t believe in taking the easy road.   I forged ahead talking to myself, “no-pain no-gain” and struggled to #50. The mid-point gave me hope and a second wind.  Minutes earlier I was ready to throw in the towel, but something changed. There are only two choices at this crossroads, give “up” or give “all.” Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right!” HORSEPOWER! My desire to grow overpowered my desire to quit. “The mind quits before the body,” I said it over and over. I said it so many times I disabled my governor and modified my mind. With the restrictor plate removed, my engine was free to cut loose and speed across the threshold: #51! I was finally closer to the goal line than the start line. Fudōshin supercharged! I took control of the wheel, realizing this was my orchestra. Shihan set the tone, but the melody, that was all me!  Pain was no longer pulling me down, it was pushing me forward in beautiful harmony! I visualized 👀 victory, and in doing so, defeat disappeared!  Out of its sheath, SHIIIING, my katana chopped that mission into mini sets of 10, banging them out: 60-70-80-90 — slaying one dragon at a time, one micro goal at a time, crossing one finish line at a time. My song was coming to life.

By now I’d been swimming in a pool of perspiration, a gi drenched in sweat, but #100 was in sight. The low fuel light illuminated my dashboard for over an hour now, but somehow I was still trucking? My heart raced: thump-thump ❤❤ thump-thump ❤❤ thump-thump ❤❤. Grasping for oxygen like a panting dog in full blown heatstroke, I closed my eyes and took a few slow deep breathes in through my nose to regain composure.  SINGLE-MINDEDNESS!  My gaze shifted to hyper focus. I’ve come this far, one more rep for triple digits. KIAI 🔊!!!!!! Dropping to my knees, I felt TRIUMPH!!! Shihan smiled… “mō Ichido!” 

Are you kidding me?!?  Ah man, my father relished in these “Will” power moments. After all it was our namesake 😉. Finding another gear in his pupils was his specialty, something only a master mechanic can discover. He had a magic way of reading the room and calling out emotional bluffs.  Shihan was not only a composer, but in fact a sorcerer of sorts. My posture slouched and my eyes welled up; I felt broken.  In a louder tone, “I need everything you got.”  I quipped back, “I just gave it to you!?! I’m spent.” My needle was buried on “E” with no gas stations in sight.  Shihan, oh Shihan.  He wasn’t interested in gas, he wanted the fumes. He sensed I had, “one” more in me, even if I didn’t. I started to sob. “Suck it up,” he barked.  How was my limp body gonna react?  My arms and legs were jelly; my lungs breathless. Was I truly empty? Fuel is “anything” that reacts with “something” to create energy.  That “anything” is your mind, and that “something” is your potential.  Calmly this time he said, “Eye of the tiger, son.”  This was virgin territory and I chose to be a man. Eff this kata, I’m creating my song. Like Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart, this became my opus. Grimacing, but with renewed fervor, fudōshin assured me this rep would be a master piece.


BUGLER’S DREAM (1958) by Noël Leon Marius Arnaud

0:01 -❍──────── -4:26, ↻ ⊲ Ⅱ ⊳ ↺

This classical theme hit home during the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and has since become a symbol of the Games. The composition is synonymous with the quest for TEAM USA 🥇.   

            “Gentlemen, start your engines 🏎.” It was now a two car race, mind vs body, and NASCAR had nothing on me. I flipped the switch: SHUUUSSSHHH ‍💨, slowly injecting NOS into my engine for one final surge of torque and power. Inching the line I prayed, “Please don’t stall.” Shihan commands,  “Ready, hajime (begin)!”  Fast and furious is the only way to reach ZENtensity, so naturally I squealed out in a haze of burning rubber.  Squeezing every last smidgen of nitrous oxide out, I drained the tank. PUNCH. KICK. SHIFT. BLOCK. STRIKE. KIAI 🔊🔊🔊!!! Fudōshin stood firm and I hurdled over the pain barrier 🏁.  The race was over, and a ticker tape parade rained down in my head. I’d called out my mind, “you’re a liar,” and put fear in the rear view mirror. Weakness left my body, and confidence was vindicated.  Shihan nodded; I bowed back. He demanded an encore, and I delivered.  The standing ovation was his subtle approval, and I basked in its glory! There may have only been two of us in the dōjō, but together we were louder than the New York Philharmonic. It was my final bow, at least for that day.  Pain might not always be tangible, but I could taste the gain… and it was sweet. No seriously, we’d celebrate with a half-gallon of Islay’s hand-packed chocolate ice-cream on the way home.  It was heaven 🍨🍨🍨.    

Potential was reached at the curtain call #101, not #100. That last kata is what separates a “warrior from a worrier.”  My dad’s words, not mine.   I cried a lot in those days, but those sessions are how I practiced my fudō-frame. Those workouts allowed me grasp the lesson, “pain is inevitable; suffering optional.”  In karate we don’t say “why me” we say “try me.” I no longer hated the drill, I loved the result 🙌. “Now that’s a powerful mental block, Sensei!” Yes it is, here’s your new mantra, “Yesterday’s pain; today’s gain; tomorrow’s tears of joy!” Whether it’s a bark or a bite, pushing you past what you thought you’re capable of is a dog you want in your corner. Shihan growled, I whined, but in the end… we both howled at the moon in victory.  “A ‘ruff ryder’ eh, Sensei?” Yup, with some serious fangs!  ZENtensity will make you the leader of the pack.  ARrrrr Rufff, where my dogs at?!?



0:01 -❍──────── -3:42, ↻ ⊲ Ⅱ ⊳ ↺

WARNING [Explicit] This banger ranks as the most intimidating song on my playlist, and “Iron Mike” agrees 🥊.  In 1999, Tyson made his first return the ring after a suspension for biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear 👂. He proceeded to knock out South Africa’s Francois Botha. The iconic walkout to “Intro” is full of aggression and ferocity.  It is the hardest opening track ever, prove me wrong!  RIP DMX 😥.

Throughout my upbringing I took some lickings, but my skin became rhino thick; an unbreakable armor. I was a remnant of Shihan’s volcanic eruptions: wurtzite boron nitride!  That’s the hardest substance on earth! Getting a beat down is the only way to really appreciate a glow up. Ya feel me? Everything that attempts to break you either succeeds in destroying you or strengthening you. I “chose” to feel the burn 💪.  Pump p-p pump p-p-p pump it up!

Look, everyone walks to the beat of their own drum 🥁.  While Shihan was some heavy metal, your sensei (coach, mom, dad, teacher, mentor, etc.) could be smooth jazz?  You might not have a bandleader at all?  Just because his style of music 🎼 got a rise out me doesn’t mean it’s a one size fit all anthology?  I’ve learned as a Sensei that every single genre should be explored. If you aren’t open to challenges outside your comfort zone, you’ll never know if your ultimate score is a country or hip hop concert. All that matters is that you discover the right rhythm: a regular recurring motion that pushes you past what you thought you’re capable of.  I am a unique artist.  You are a unique artist.  We all have different lyrics and songs to sing, but in the end we’re faced with two tracks 📻: 

1. Hit?   😁

2. Flop? 😖        

Billboard only has room for 100 on the hot list, so you better “Hustle & Flow 👇”. 

Kickin’ Flicks🎬:  Hustle & Flow (2005) stars Terrence Howard as a Memphis hustler with aspirations to be a rapper. The film received widespread praise and garnered a host of accolades including an Academy Award for Best Original Song.  “You know what they say, everybody gotta have a dream”.

Sensei says, “Anything is possible; nothing is actual.” How you arrange your sounds determines your future playlist.  It’s your choice to live life in stereo or monotone?  Raise the volume: 🎚 ▂▃▄▅▆▇ to its fullest potential. Do you hear what I’m saying?  ZEN ZEN ZEN ZEN ZEN ZEN ZENtensity!  Never back down, and you’ll find a way to rise up!

kangeiko cobra kai

03 Jan


Kangeiko (寒稽古)

“Cold Training”

🥶 🧊 😓 🥋 👊 🌨️ 🏔️ ❄️

Konnichiwa (こんにちは). It’s your favorite CommonSensei® coming at ya with another ZENsational life skill ⛩️. As you follow “the way” (道) towards enlightenment, enjoy the journey towards earning a “Black Belt in Life.”

Ever heard of kangeiko?

If not, that’s ok.  It’s an obscure tradition that gained popularity at the at the turn of century.  Certain martial artists would “rough it” mid-winter by training outside on the coldest days… on purpose 🥶.  Think polar bear plunge only with punches, kicks, and loud yelling 😂. Kangeiko is commonly translated as just “cold training” or “winter training.” At my (Allegheny Shotokan Viola Karate) dōjō, we observe kangeiko as a spiritual cleansing of sorts. This “Spartan” like workout is a test of mental fortitude and physical discipline as students are pushed to overcome the elements.

kangeiko cold training
Gabby and Bill Viola perform Tekki Shodan during the 2021 Kangeiko

It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when these frigid trainings were created, but we do know that “kangeiko” as its practiced in Japanese martial arts was popularized by the Kodokan (circa the winter of 1894-1895).  Kodokan judo of course was founded by Kanō, Jigorō, a friend of Funakoshi, Gichin.  Legend has it, Kanō would open his dojo doors during the absolute coldest days of winter to introduce shugyo.  More on shugyo later.

Today we continue the ritual at our dōjō as a way to start the New Year off with renewed spirit.  It goes along with other “spirt forging” shugyo traditions such as its sister summer training (sochu geiko) and New Year ’s Eve (Toshi Goshi geiko).  

It doesn’t have to snow… in 2020 instead of a blizzard ❄️ we got freezing rain 🌨️. We decided, why not use the weather to our advantage! Balancing a cup of icy cold water is a great tool to train both body stability and balance. Performing kihon, while holding the 🥤(without spilling it) turned out to be fun and challenging 🥋 👊. Spoiler alert, we had a few frozen hands 😂.

kangeiko 1
My daughter Gabby throwing a yoko geri while holding a cup of water collecting freezing rain 🥶 🌨️ 🏔️ ❄️and self-balancing at our 2021 Kangeiko.

However, it wasn’t until recently that most folks ever heard of kangeiko… and we have Cobra Kai 🐍 to thank. Watching Johnny, Daniel, and the gang on Netflix has become a guilty pleasure of mine, and if you haven’t tuned in it’s definitely binge-worthy.  While their karate is subpar at best, like millions other, I tune in for the nostalgia.  It doesn’t disappoint.  It also interjects some pretty interesting cultural traditions that only keen budoka pick up on. I love hidden gems 💎 💎 💎.   

Kangeiko in Cobra Kai

Cobra Kai Season 2 Ep. 7 “Lull” (2018)

“Since it’s not hot enough for you guys to experience Shochu-Geiko, I asked a buddy of mine if we can use his freezer room, there we will experience KangeikoShochu-Geiko and Kangeiko is a Japanese exercise where you train during either the hottest time for Shochu, or coldest time for Kan, of the year.  Both are about pushing yourself to your limit.  The fight won’t always come to you when it’s comfortable. Let’s go.” 

-Daniel LaRusso

cobra kai

Cobra Kai Easter Egg 🥚:

Daniel calls in a favor to a “friend” so his Miyagi-do pupils can train in a meat locker.  Super sleuths will notice the packaging labels read: “Fernandez Meat Company.” Wait a minute… Fernandez, Fernandez, that sounds familiar???  Fans of the original Karate Kid remember Freddy Fernandez, Daniel’s first buddy upon arriving to Southern California.  The two met as Daniel front thrust kicked open a door at South Seas apartment in Reseda.  Coincidentally, the Allegheny Shotokan Dojo in the 1980’s was in fact an old meat locker.  The changing room was the old freezer area, and Sensei rarely turned on the heat. It was kangeiko every day in those days.

freddy fernandez karate kid
The Karate Kid (1984) CR: Columbia Pictures

Let’s break down kangeiko

Here we will get a better understanding of this cool 🧊 (pun intended) tradition. First we will breakdown the three kanji (symbols) that make up the word:


  1.  寒 = cold (kan)
  2.   = think/consider (kei) *also known as kangaeru 考える
  3.   = old (ko)

Kan (寒) by itself is simply means cold, and keiko (稽古) means practice or training.  Voilà:  “Cold Training.”  *When all three kanji come together it becomes kangeiko (the “k” changes to “g” just to confuse us Westerners).

We could stop right there, and for most causal martial artists, that definition is adequate.  However, I can’t help but dive deeper into the essence.  Spoiler, keiko isn’t just practice.

Let’s dig in:

Kei (稽) all by itself means “thinking.” I personally like “contemplating.”

Ko (古) all by itself means “old.” Yup, the same ko as in kobudō 古武道 or koryū 古流.

So what does “contemplating the old” have to do with karate kicks in the snow?!?

You see, a keiko it is actually a time of reflection and refinement.  It is a period to contemplate all of the past lessons. Kata is often referred to the blueprint of karate and keiko is it’s history book. In keiko, we look to the past for answers, as thinking in the “now.” It’s interesting that keiko by definition has no sense of physical practice or discipline in it? 

Other terms to digest are renshū and tanren

Renshū (練習): learn and practice the same thing over and over again to increase completeness. (you can flip it to read Shuren)

  • Ren (練) practice, gloss, train, drill, polish, refine
  • Shu (習) learn

Tanren (鍛練): means hardening, tempering, toughening, and drilling

  • Tan (鍛) work out, forge, harden, hammer, steel and practice.
  • Ren (練) practice, gloss, train, drill, polish, refine

To me, all of the terms are a type of “practice” but the emphasis is different. I think of renshū as repetition, tanren as conditioning, and keiko as thinking.

In fact, there is a Japanese idiom called “Keiko-syoukon” (稽古照今)

It means,

“Learn from the past and make use of it in the present.” 

This is Keiko

So, the next time you suit up for karate “practice” don’t just focus on repetition or conditioning, instead ask yourself how you can improve today? With a growth mindset, keiko can embrace shoshin (beginners mind) and welcome improvement—evolution.

Always be open to learning from the past, preparing for the future, and living in the present! 

FYI:  when we suit up, the correct term for our attire is actually keikogi 稽古着, not just gi.  Now you know!

*An important caveat.  The pronunciation of many words in Japanese have different kanji (symbols).  It’s all about context.  Take keiko for instance:  In fact keiko can reference a rehearsal (as in playing the Viola) or even study time.  But other pronunciation of kei can include:  慶 (kei) meaning “celebrate”, 敬 (kei) meaning “respect”, 啓 (kei) meaning “open, begin” or 恵 (kei) meaning “favour, benefit” combined with 子 (ko) meaning “child”.  

When a training becomes extreme, it transforms into shugyo.  In our case kan (寒) or cold is a way to push a student past the normal limits of their ability. ⬇️⬇️⬇️

Shugyō (修行) “Forge the spirit” 😤

I first learned of the term shugyo from one of my father’s senior black belts, Sensei Ray Walters. Although shugyō is engrained into the fabric of our dōjō philosophy, it wasn’t until he introduced me to the book “Living the Martial Way” (Forrest Morgan) that I really grasped its authentic meaning. PS, I’ve had the opportunity to train with Sensei Morgan, and I highly recommend his work.

  • Shu (修) means: ascetic practices or discipline
  • Gyo (行) means: to go or act (a journey)

Shugyo (修行) as I like to describe it is, “conducting oneself in a way that inspires mastery.” It is an extreme training that fosters enlightenment. In the karate community, you may hear the phrase “tighten the slack” tossed around. It means toughen the body, and polish the spirit. Simplest terms, its a karate cleanse by one of the most intense workouts of the year. A gut (hara) check, where you push yourself to the limit! 👊

In the words of Johny Lawrence, shugyō would be “Bad Ass.” How’s this for an extreme training 😂:

Cobra Kai version of shugyō 😂😂😂 ⬆️

Shugyo were popular among bushi (samurai). Today, many dōjō uphold the tradition musha shugyō (武者修行).  A popular image is budoka doing kata under icy cold waterfalls. Here is a modern adaptation that the JKA does. Love it! 🥶 🧊 😓 🥋 👊 🌨️ 🏔️ ❄️

I believe shugyō can spark enlightenment. Be it extreme heat, cold, or just crazy intensity, it can be a means to an end… senshin.

READ MORE: 6-Shin (samurai spirits) 🎍

  1. 🤩 Shoshin:    (初心)  Beginner’s Mind 
  2. 😤 Fudōshin:  (不動心) Immovable Mind
  3. 🚨 Zanshin:     (残心) Alert Mind
  4. ☮️ Heijōshin:  (平常心) Peaceful mind
  5. ✈️ Mushin:     (無心) Automatic Mind
  6. 🤯 Senshin:     (先心) Enlightened Mind

Read about Mokuso

“Welcome to my dojo of life skills. Dōjō literally means “place of the way.” This blog shares my “,” or Violosophy.” PS, Dō (道) is pronounced like cookie “dough.” 

viola karate dojo

Arigato ありがとう Thanks, Sensei Bill

tough guys best selling mma book

14 Nov


Tough Guys – #1 Amazon Best Seller!

Sensei Bill Viola Jr. was honored as an Amazon bestselling author after his book Tough Guys, topped the charts September 18, 2017. He latest project is CommonSensei.


Tough Guys (originally titled Godfathers of MMA) was the inspiration for the SHOWTIME film Tough Guys which Bill Viola Jr. was an associate producer. Viola Jr. documents the first mixed martial arts promotion in America and answers the question “Who invented MMA” and who created the modern sport.

showtime tough guys

For more information on the history of mma please visit these resourses:




common sensei iphone

13 Nov


Who’s Who in the Martial Arts – Jessie Bowen hosts a virtual book tour.

CommonSensei Author Bill Viola Jr. will join host Jessie Bowen and other leading authors for a special round table discussion. The event is sponsored by Elite Publication and will feature an virtual signing and review. Tune in Saturday November 14th for Facebook live at 1PM.

whos who in the martial arts chuck norris
Virtual book signing this Saturday

Jessie Bowen specializes in introducing martial arts principals, visualization and Zen-Mind Body Meditation for corporate empowerment coaching by teaching his unique black belt management system, which features his most popular course Empowerment Board Breaking.

The Who’s Who in the Martial Arts Autobiography Books showcase some of the greatest Martial Artists of all time. According to Jessie, “We want to preserve and share their journey with the world through the Who’s Who in the Martial Arts Book. This autobiographical publication serves as a history book for today’s Martial Artists. It is an essential guide for learning the history of our martial arts pioneers who have paved the way for today’s martial arts.”

The book features over 200 martial artists sharing their journey, hard work, and personal achievements. including Bill Viola Jr., author of CommonSensei.

As always, let us help you become a “Black Belt in Life.”

Grandmaster Jessie Bowen, the founder of the American Martial Arts Alliance, is a 10th-degree black belt with over 40 years of martial arts experience. He is an author, motivational speaker, and life success coach. His organization focuses on promoting martial arts ethics and integrity worldwide, providing education, training courses, and hosting tournaments. Bowen’s extensive work includes coaching, authorship in martial arts literature, and contributing significantly to martial arts education and personal development​,

While both Jessie Bowen and Chuck Norris have made significant contributions to the martial arts world, their paths have showcased unique approaches and achievements. Norris, a martial arts legend and actor, is known for his competitive success, cinematic contributions, and development of martial arts schools. Bowen, on the other hand, has focused on martial arts education, personal development, and establishing organizations to support martial artists. Both have utilized their martial arts expertise to influence and inspire countless individuals in and out of the martial arts community.


03 Aug


With my mind on my Matcha and my Matcha on my mind


“Welcome to my dojo of life skills. Dojo literally means “place of the way.” This blog shares my “,” or Violosophy.” PS, (道) is pronounced like cookie “dough.” 

Arigato ありがとう Thanks,

-Sensei Viola

With my mind on my Matcha and my Matcha on my mind…😂

-Common Sensei

7 Reasons to sip this Japanese super tea:

OK, its time to spill some Tea 🍵, literally. A guilty pleasure of this Common-Sensei is my morning iced green tea “Matcha” Latte (w/soy milk) from Starbucks. Why? Its delicious and nutritious of course 😉.

matcha starbucks
My guilty pleasure

Matcha (pronounced MA-CHA) is all the rage these days, and you can find it’s magic blend in beverages and treats around the world. It’s a trendy spin on a traditional Japanese elixir that Zen Monks have enjoyed for nearly 1000 years. Matcha has been a staple in Japanese tea ceremonies since the 12th century because this ancient concentrated form of green tea is loaded with “ZENsational” goodness… and its mainstream!!

green team matcha
Traditional Japanese tea ceremony (茶道 さどう, Chado/sadō) uses hot matcha .

Alas, I don’t make my matcha from scratch (although i should, since Starbucks is an added sugary treat). What I can tell you is MATCHA in and of itself is AWESOME.

SENSEI SAYS: So what is the entomology of the mystical Matcha “抹茶” anyhow?

Spoiler alert, it just means “Powered tea:” 🍵🍵🍵 抹 (MAT) means to “to /grind or rub” and 茶 (CHA) just means “tea.”

Being powered or as I like to look at as POWERed is the secret. You see the leaves 🍃 found on the Camellia sinensis (plant) are used to make all green teas across East Asia and the world. But what makes Matcha powerful and magical is how its prepared and grown.

🍃How it’s prepared: Most green tea’s are just infused with a mature leaf. Matcha is instead made from young leaves ground into fine “powder” and then whisked in hot water. Trust me, it makes all the difference.

🍃How’s it’s grown: It is a “shade-grown” shrub where farmers “cover” the plant for approx. a month before harvest to avoid sunlight. Experts say this shade period is what maximizes the chlorophyll content boosting nutrient density.

Now for some fancy technical jargon: The leaves are full of theanine, an L-glutamate amino acid. When the plant is shielded from the sun ☀️, the theanine levels stay high ⬆️ because the hydration used in biosynthesis of catechin is lowered ⬇️. In other words, blocking the sun keeps the amino acid content in the leaves high… And that’s what matters!

matcha leaves
The Matcha leaves are hand picked to remove steams and veins and then ground up into a very fine powder known as “Matcha.”

matcha tea

Today flavoring of matcha can be found in ice cream (mochi) and noodles (soba) and even sushi.

7 Reasons to sip this tea:

1. ☕ Energy Boost

Obviously tea is known for having a caffeine kick, just like its big brother (Coffee), but not all is caffeine is created equal! How the body metabolizes or breaks down caffeine is often overlooked.

When my neighbor Casey downs her white chocolate mocha, it hits the body pretty hard and fast. In other words, she gets her and immediate fix and spike to the blood stream. Matcha on the other hand has a slow release. So the energy boost is sustained, released over time. You can be fueled for hours on a single cup.

Because Matcha grinds the buds and young leaves 🍃 of Camellia plants, it contains more caffeine than mature leaves used in other green teas. When you drink matcha, you are practically ingesting the whole/entire tea leaf as opposed to just brewed water so you get the full potency of entire stone-ground powder. It’s the best of both worlds!

2. 😞 Stress

Those ancient Monks were really on to something when they enjoyed their matcha tea before mediation. Why? Because it’s a calming agent of course. Some claim to feel a sort of “high” or heightened meditative state. In karate we teach mushin (the Japanese philosophy of “no mind.”)

A benefit of Matcha is it’s natural propensity to reduce anxiety and stress. L-theanine is proven activator of dopamine and serotonin which calms the mind by leaping the “blood-brain” barrier. The theanine stimulates alpha waves in the brain, producing a sense of relaxation. It is a clean energy without traditional caffeine crash! So stay calm, cool, and collected with an Iced Matcha.

3. Antioxidants 🥝

We all know antioxidants are good because they are natural defenders. I refer to these as “blocks” throughout Common Sensei. Matcha carries a class of antioxidants called catechins, especially one called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). Turns out matcha has the highest concentration of these in nature. That’s good news because they have been shown to reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol. EGCG has also been noted to have strong cancer fighting properties. The matcha “blocks” and counteracts free radicals like UV Rays, radiation, and chemicals that can lead to cell damage.

Food for thought: Research at Tufts University discovered that the ORAC level in matcha is 20x more than blueberries or pomegranates.

Sensei Says: Some boast a single cup of matcha contains 137 times the antioxidants of typical green tea. I find that a bit extreme, but but even if its just 10x times better, I’m in.

4. Brain 🤯

Matcha is a brain-booster or natural “Nootropic.” NOO What?!? Nootropic is an ancient greek word used to classify stimulants such as coffee and “smart drugs” that enhance mental performance. *Disclaimer: I don’t advocate the synthetic or chemically engineered type. Stick with the plants! Matcha is a unique synergy of Caffeine, Theanine, and EGCG that improves neuroplasticity. Natural nootopics sharpen memory and increase focus. It’s “ZENtastic!”

Many experts gush about the how long-term therapeutic benefits of catechin as it can elevate BDNF (Brain Derived Neurtophic Factor) and NGF (Nerve Growth Factor). BDNF is an important biomarker for improved cognitive health and memory.  Reports have shown a connection of NGF with theanine to help with symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

When I teach Karate 🥋 we focus on reducing stress and heighten cognitive abilities through Zanshin. A cup of green tea can enhance the experience.

5. Weight ⚖️

We all can stand to shed a few pounds, so why not let your morning tonic help ya out. Matcha does the work as a “fat blocker” due to our friend EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) again. It boosts our metabolism and yes, it blocks fat cells.

6. Healthy Heart ❤️

Guess what, Matcha has shown to reduce levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol while leaving the good alone. Wooza. It also reduces triglycerides, the chemical fat in our blood. Bonus: the flavonoids present in the tea also fight free radicals in the body while helping to enhance the lining of blood vessels. This reduces cholesterol which regulates blood pressure and prevents clotting. By reducing inflammation in body tissue, the blood vessels can remain flexible.

“The most important finding is that green tea may prolong people’s lives through reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Shinichi Kuriyama

7. Fight the Flu? 😷

These days with Covid running rampant, i’ll try just about anything to boost my immune system. While there is no forcefield to combat the Corna Virus, it can’t hurt to supplement and I do.

✅ High levels of polyphenols, catechins, and flavonoids aid in defense

✅ EGCG assists your body’s production of T-cells and can fight pathogens.

✅ Chlorophyll helps detoxify body of toxins.

✅ Flavnoids are a form of anti bacterial defense and can sooth a sore throat. They also fix bad breath 😂

✅ Matcha includes vitamin C.

While I love my mainstream Starbucks latte, its loaded with unnecessary sugar. So its just an occasional treat. If you want the full benefits from this super tea, you need to go “old school.” Get the powder and whisk it! But there is no reason you can’t spice it up a bit. I do like to add chai spices: cinnamom, clove, allspice, ginger and cardamom Why, because Matcha is pretty “earthly” on its on.


One serving of Matcha green tea (1gr – 1/2tsp) :

Energy 3.24 Calories 
Polyphenols 100mg
Protein 306mg 
Lipids 50mg
Carbohydrates 385 mg
Tea Caffeine 25 mg
Dietary Fiber 385 mg 
Theophylline 0.42 mg
ORAC Units 1384 
Total Amino Acids 272 mg

Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamin A Carotene 595 mg 
Calcium 4.2 mg
Vitamin A Retinol Equiv. 99.17 mg
Magnesium 2.3 mg
Vitamin B1 .06 mg 
Potassium 27 mg
Vitamin B2 .0135 mg
Phosphorus 3.5 mg
Vitamin B6 .009 mg 
Iron .17 mg
Vitamin C .6 mg
Sodium .06 mg
Vitamin E .281 mg
Zinc .063 mg
Vitamin K 29 mcg
Copper .006 mg

Want a special treat. Here’s my daughter with her favorite “Mochi”, Matcha flavored Ice Cream:

mochi 1


Common Sensei

common sensei

common sensei

04 Jul


How to earn a Black Belt in Life?

*Black Belt in Life is the official slogan of CommonSensei.

black belt in life

What is a “Black belt in life and “Common Sensei” all about?!?🥋🤯

Bare bones–a Common Sensei is a teacher of common sense of course. However, at face value that definition doesn’t do the ideology real justice. You see, Common+Sensei is a conglomeration of my personal one-of-a-kind journey and philosophy. My kihon (fundamental) beliefs are rooted in Christianity and polished by the peace and tranquility of Zen. My methodology? A quirky spin on Japanese culture and lifestyle intertwined with traditional Western values. I’ve been blessed with “EXPERIENCE.” A ton of experience that is unique to only a Sensei.

My mission is to guide students to find their “way.” Quite frankly, I am sharing my secret to success: the balancing act of being healthy, wealthy, and wise. How to find your passion and make it a lifestyle. This is my friends is an exclusive inside look into my jo. The “end game” of course is, “Earning a black belt in life.” What is more important than self-mastery?

SENSEI SAYS: jo literally means “place of the way” not karate school. CommonSensei shares my way of life. (道) is pronounced like cookie “dough.”

ZENtastic approach to “living your best life.”

My “,” or Violosophy,” is “the way” i live my life — PERIOD. My blog, books, and classes are based on real life experience. Each belt you earn is structured to share that “way” whether as a big brother, friend, husband, mentor, leader or Sensei. It’s ZENtastic approach to “living your best life.”

black belt in life
“Black Belt in Life”

Common sense is “personal perception” of sound judgement…in a nonsensical world. My job is present you with a “instruction manual for life,” a blue print for success that will share with you all the things they should teach you in school, but don’t. Throughout the journey, you’ll earn different colored belts (Martial SMARTS) in subjects like setting goals, financial freedom, health, positive thinking, etc. I call these “HOW TO KICK A$$ @ life.” Everyone starts @ white belt and moves up the ladder at their own pace.

The final book / chapter will focus on how to balance your life-so you can live a fulfilling life in HARMONY. This is aptly titled, “HOW TO EARN A BLACK BELT IN LIFE.” In the end, this most important: How to be a champion of positive thinking or master of Personal development? CommonSensei is your life coach to reach this uncommon degree. The book series will help you prepare, plan, and take action to make your vision a reality.

Black Belt in Life

black belt in life book

Common sense is really a contradiction. Experience is limited, so let me share my failures, triumphs, and advise. Common sense is supposed to be held by a large number of people… If that was true, there would be no need for my book.

It is sometimes said, common sense is very rare.

Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique (1764)

I like to think of this work as the “Instruction manual for life.”

The book by Bill Viola Jr., positioned as a guide to achieving a warrior’s mindset, appears particularly beneficial for teenagers for several reasons:

  1. Self-Improvement: It advocates for dedicating a small, manageable amount of time each day (864 seconds) towards self-improvement. This structured approach to personal growth is something teenagers can easily integrate into their daily routines, encouraging consistent, incremental progress without feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Developing a Warrior’s Mindset: The book aims to instill a warrior’s mindset in its readers, promoting qualities like resilience, discipline, and focus. For teenagers navigating the complexities of adolescence, these qualities can be particularly empowering, helping them face challenges with confidence and determination.
  3. Balance and Self-Reflection: Through the principles of martial arts, the book encourages balance and self-reflection. Teenagers learning to balance desires, necessities, careers, and relationships can benefit from this holistic approach to life, promoting mental and emotional well-being alongside physical and academic achievements.
  4. Life Skills: The curriculum provided by the book equips teenagers with essential life skills necessary to excel in various aspects of life. It goes beyond traditional academic learning, addressing personal development and practical skills that are crucial for real-world success.
  5. Relatability to Younger Generations: The content is specifically tailored to be engaging and accessible to younger readers, making the lessons relatable and applicable to their lives. This can be especially appealing to teenagers who might be skeptical of traditional self-help literature.
  6. Foundation for Future Success: By adopting the principles outlined in the book, teenagers can lay a strong foundation for future success in personal, academic, and professional endeavors. The focus on continuous self-improvement and excellence can inspire a lifelong pursuit of growth and achievement.

In essence, the book offers teenagers a unique blend of martial arts philosophy and practical life skills, making it a valuable resource for those looking to navigate the challenges of adolescence with strength, wisdom, and grace.

Common Sensei is all these things an more:

  • How To
  • Self Help
  • Self-improvement
  • Personal development
  • Personal growth
  • Character development
  • Life Skills
  • Street Smarts
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-Confidence
  • Vision
  • Success
  • Wisdom

Title: Unraveling the Wisdom of Common Sensei: Insights into Everyday Mastery

In the realm of martial arts, the figure of the sensei commands reverence and respect. Traditionally, the sensei embodies wisdom, discipline, and skill, guiding their students along the path of mastery. However, beyond the dojo walls, another kind of sensei exists—one whose domain extends far beyond the martial arts studio and into the everyday fabric of life. This is the sensei of common sense, whose teachings are as practical as they are profound.

What exactly is common sensei? It’s not a title bestowed upon an individual by tradition or training; rather, it’s a concept that embodies the wisdom of navigating life’s complexities with clarity, intuition, and practicality. Common sensei doesn’t reside solely in the domain of martial arts dojos or philosophical treatises; it’s found in the everyday actions and insights of ordinary people.

At its core, common sensei is about making sound judgments and decisions based on practical wisdom and experience. It’s the ability to discern what is right, what is true, and what is most beneficial in any given situation. While common sense is often touted as something innate, it’s also a skill that can be cultivated and honed over time.

One of the hallmarks of common sensei is adaptability. Life is unpredictable, and challenges often arise when least expected. The common sensei understands this and approaches each situation with flexibility and resilience. They know when to stand firm and when to yield, when to act decisively and when to exercise patience.

Moreover, common sensei is deeply rooted in empathy and understanding. It’s about seeing the world through the eyes of others and responding with compassion and kindness. In a world fraught with division and discord, the wisdom of the common sensei reminds us of our shared humanity and the importance of treating others with dignity and respect.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of common sensei is its universality. It knows no boundaries of age, gender, race, or social status. Whether you’re a seasoned elder or a wide-eyed youth, whether you hail from bustling metropolises or sleepy rural towns, the principles of common sensei are accessible to all.

In a time when the world seems increasingly complex and bewildering, the wisdom of the common sensei offers a beacon of clarity and guidance. It reminds us that amidst the chaos and confusion, there is still room for reason and understanding. By embracing the teachings of common sensei, we can navigate the challenges of life with grace and wisdom, forging a path towards greater fulfillment and meaning.

In the end, perhaps the greatest lesson of the common sensei is that wisdom is not the exclusive domain of the elite or the learned—it’s something that resides within each and every one of us, waiting to be discovered and nurtured. So let us heed the call of the common sensei, and embark on the journey towards greater insight, understanding, and mastery of the everyday.

Common Sensei will guide you to be a black belt in life:

  • Intellectually
  • Financially
  • Emotionally
  • Spiritually

common sensei
Common Sensei

commonsensei book

20 Apr


DNA of a CommonSensei

Common Sense meets street smarts…

Preview Snippet Editor

common sense
Meet your CommonSensei

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

Common+Sensei Break Down:

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. 

Kickin’ Flicks🎬:  The 1993 film Rudy was inspired by the real life underdog story of Rudy Ruettiger who overcame insurmountable odds to make the Notre Dame Football team. It’s made plenty of tough guys and gals shed a tear.

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!

Sensei Says🥋:  A portmanteau is a fancy word (I still can’t pronounce correctly😄) formed by combining two different terms to create a new entity. By blending the sounds and meanings it creates a new expression.  Sex+texting = sexting or Chill + relax =chillax. 

Punchin’ Playlist 👊🎶 “You’re the Best” (1984) is the anthem from All Valley Karate Championships in Karate Kid.  It will definitely put you in the mood to watch Cobra Kai on YouTube. FYI, the song was originally written for Rocky III but was replaced with “Eye of Tiger,” another must download.   

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.   

Sensei Says🥋: One of the first references of “Jack of all trades” appeared in 1592 as a term dismissing none other than Shakespeare—Ouch! But he turned out ok.

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.    

Punchin’ Playlist 👊🎶 “The Gambler” was a #1 chart topper for Kenny Rogers (RIP) in 1978 when it was released on vinyl. It’s forever famous for the lines:

“You’ve got know when to hold ’em,

 Know when to fold ’em

 Know when to walk away

 And know when to run.”

Sensei Says🥋: Audio formats such as vinyl, eight tracks, cassette tapes, and compact discs (CDs) were all in vogue before mp3s were invented in 1993.  It wasn’t until 2001 with the release of the iPod before digital music really caught on.  FYI, There was no such thing as an iPhone until 2007.

Kickin’ Flicks🎬:  Rocky was the first sports movie to win an Oscar in 1977.  Burgess Meredith (Mickey)

was nominated for an Academy Award. Coincidentally, I was born later that year.

Many of these classics hit theaters long before your time.  Choose a couple as part of your Common Sensei curriculum:

Sensei Says🥋:  You can’t go wrong with the teen dramedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  He doesn’t wait until his 20’s to “start living.”    

  • Karate Kid (1984) avoid the sequels 
  • Star Wars – Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  • Harry Potter (2001-
  • Lord of the Rings  (2001-2003)
  • John Wick (2014, 2017)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
  • Hunger Games (2012-2015)
  • Tombstone (1993)
  • Great Gatsby (2013)
  • Spider Man (anyone will do)
  • Black Panther (2018)
  • Sopranos (1999-2007) in my opinion the greatest television drama in history.
  • Any Rocky flick (with the exception of 5, that was a stinker) or Creed Movie

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 method to my madness🤪, 

Bill Viola Jr. AKA Ryōshiki sensei 良識先生

Let me help you become a…


common sensei chapters



Common Sensei

common sensei

Bill Viola Jr.

Bill Viola Jr.

dna of common sensei

Meet the author, Sensei Bill Viola Jr.

Common Sensei
Common Sensei

Bill Viola Jr. is a bestselling author, film producer, and creator of Sensei Says® life skills curriculum.  He is currently President of Kumite Classic Entertainment based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He authored the award-winning and critically acclaimed Godfathers of MMA that peaked at  #1 on Amazon in the sports category with its commemorative re-release (2017).  The book inspired the SHOWTIME documentary film, Tough Guys (2017).  Viola co-produced the project which 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).   Viola a made a cameo playing his father and is currently developing the screenplay for a major motion picture adaptation of  Tough Guys.  He has served as an independent consultant for number major motion pictures including Warrior (2011) and producing credits for films such as Tapped Out (2014), Gridlocked (2015), The Sound (2017).

He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and moved to Hollywood, California to gain hands-on experience in the entertainment industry.  Subsequently, he was accepted into the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio and established his own company, Kumite Classic Entertainment (KCE).  He gained notoriety from his role in the Britney Spears video Stronger (2000) and was able to network and build relationships with leading directors and producers.  

His company’s signature event, the self-titled “Kumite Classic,” is regarded as the mecca for martial arts in Western Pennsylvania.  KCE also produced the annual Pittsburgh Fitness Expo, recognized as the largest and most established multi-sport convention in Western Pennsylvania attracting sports and entertainment icons such as Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, Antonio Brown, Ice-T, and Royce Gracie over the years. Viola has served as a consultant, referee, and event coordinator for some of the largest martial arts events in the world. In 2017 he brokered a partnership with Century Martial Arts and WAKO to produce the North American Open in Las Vegas, Nevada in conjunction with UFC Fight Week. 

Viola experienced the “Golden Era” of MMA firsthand as his father, Bill Sr., is credited as the co-creator of the sport (a decade before the UFC) by the Heinz History Center, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute.  In 2011, Viola’s research and documentation of martial arts was honored with a permanent exhibit installed at the Western PA Sports Museum and Senator John Heinz History Center.  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.  The dojo is home to the only karate athlete’s honored with the “Positive Athlete” award and featured on KDKA’s Hines Ward Show.  In 2016 his work was honored by Pittsburgh Magazine who named him to the prestigious “40 under 40” list recognizing the most influential young leaders in the city.

Viola is an award-winning journalist and blogger whose bylines include Black Belt Magazine,  Martial Arts Success, Sport Karate Magazine, Shotokan Magazine and Sport Karate Illustrated.  He is the senior writer for mmahistory.org.  He established Kumite Quarterly magazine in 2003, serving as publisher and overseeing distribution throughout North America until 2007.  In 2016, he co-authored Go Ask Your Dad, an inspirational book about fatherhood which debuted on the Amazon best-sellers list.

Viola Jr. began his career following in his father’s footsteps as one of the most consistent sport karate competitors in the nation recognized as a multi-time United States of America Karate Federation (USAKF) National Champion and All-American Athlete.  He was the most successful Pennsylvania State Karate Champion of the era. As a Junior at the University of Pittsburgh, he was recognized by Arnold Schwarzenegger as a World Champion at The Arnold Sports Festival, Columbus, Ohio in 1998.  In 1999, he sustained a cervical neck injury in an automobile accident followed by surgery on his esophagus that ended his competitive aspirations.

Viola is the owner or “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.  “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.  On September 23rd 2019 (William Viola IV’s birthday) The City of Pittsburgh celebrated “Sensei Viola Day” to recognized the schools 50th anniversary.

Bill is the head coach of “Team Kumite,” an all-star travel team that represents Pittsburgh on an international level. Most recently his protégé Xander Eddy won 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.   The team is slated to visit Tokyo, Japan in the Summer of 2021 for the Olympic Games.

Viola has been involved with charitable work since his Senior year at Pitt when he established 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. He has raised tens of thousands of dollars for research for Muscular Dystrophy and Parkinson’s Disease. Currently, Viola has made it his mission to KICK Parkinson’s disease—literally.  After he lost his Grandmother to complications from the disease, he created a mobile 1-mile “kick-a-thon” in conjunction with the former State Senator Sean Logan’s PIND (Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases) 5K.  In all, over the past three years, the PIND 5K 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 a breakthrough in Pittsburgh.  

In 2018 Viola’s daughter Gabby was diagnosed with Indeterminate bowel disease, an incurable inflammatory form of colitis 😥.  In 2020 the two became advocates for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.  They joined the national effort to raise awareness for the disease. Today they lobby for a cure by meeting with legislators, congressman, and senators to help fund research and improve healthcare.

His latest project, CommonSensei, is a self-help (HOW TO) book series aimed at teaching life skills.  

Edition 1:  “H🤔W TO KICK A$$ @ LIFE”


For more information about him check out: 

Bill Viola Jr.  Wikipedia

Bill Viola Jr. IMDB

sensei says

20 Apr


Sensei Says

Get to know the author: Sensei Says® is Sensei Bill Viola’s signature life skills curriculum (a federal trademark)

sensei says bill viola jr


“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” –Bruce Lee 

Konnichiwa!  My name is Bill Viola Jr., but 99% of the people in my life call me Sensei.  Exactly how I earned that title is a labor of love, fueled by an endless journey of mistakes, missteps, and mishaps that ultimately lead me to enlightenment 💡.  To understand where I’m coming from, you’ll need to take a quick peak at where I’ve been to appreciate my Violosophy and see what inspired this curriculum of awesomeness! 

Life hits hard, and it can completely knock you out cold without some defense.  It’s like Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” While it’s true that, “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger,” I’d rather dodge Iron Mike’s (or your generation’s Jon “Bones” Jones) right hook if I can, wouldn’t you?  Luckily, my convictions taught me to how to “block and counter.”  I can teach you how to outmaneuver the bullies, but as they say, “you need to weigh-in to wrestle.”  The game of life is filled with spectators and/or players so it’s up to you to take action!  Don’t watch life pass you by.  Let’s play. 


Simon says put your left arm up.  Simon says touch your nose.  Sit down.  You’re out!  Having flashbacks to Kindergarten yet?  Who hasn’t played the age-old classic at one time or another?   I often reminisce about those carefree days and wide-eyed wonderment of being the last man standing.  If Simon was in your corner, it gave you limitless confidence; you could conquer the world.  Simon could be your best friend🙂. 

The game, in its simplicity, parallels life.  One person, the controller🕹️, essentially influences your next move.  It could be a friend, foe, or even your subconscious, but someone or something is always telling you what to do.  Either you listen carefully or stumble; make a conscious decision to follow the leader or deliberately disobey.  Sometimes it’s a sudden lapse in judgement—a mistake.  Nonetheless, at the end of the game, there are only a few winners. Life is tough.

At school, the teacher is the controller.  At home, it’s our parents.  As we grow older the game is more complicated with bosses, spouses, friends, siblings, doctors, politicians, and of course your faith—God. You get the idea; it’s a spider web of Simons telling us what to do or not to do.  To make matters worse, those Simons begin to contradict themselves and pull you in opposite directions. Your wife says left👈while your mom says right👉.  Your Pastor says up☝️ and your boss says down👇. Suddenly, you don’t like Simon anymore.   

While Simon is merely a fictional character in my game-of-life analogy, I grew up with a real life figure.  In my household, Simon’s reign was short-lived, replaced with a much more formidable figure—Sensei. You see, my father, Bill Sr., is a badass karate master. Affectionately known as Sensei, his wisdom is revered.  In my world, Sensei and dad were one in the same. The game had changed. 

My father was born with strong Sicilian roots bearing the stereotypical fruit — a red hot Italian temper and equally famous short fuse💣. One could say nitroglycerin flowed through his veins.  His fiery temperament runs deep, but passion may better describe his explosions.  That dynamite personality allowed him to love as hard as he worked.  He believed everyone had unrealized ability (aka potential).  He saw something in me, and so our journey began.   

Violosophy is steeped in martial arts tradition: discipline, respect and honor. My home away from home was the dojo.  Some days I was in the “zone,” and others, sluggish. The tone and language could become quite colorful depending on my demeanor. One can imagine when Sensei Says… you sat up a little straighter.  He employed a serious no-nonsense approach to working out.  I had to leave everything in the ring.  Yes, Sensei could be a tyrant at times, but his mission was admirable.  Why?  To quote one of my favorite movies The Bronx Tale, because, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” 

Kickin’Flicks🎬:  Bronx Tale (1993) was Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut.  This coming of age gem is loaded with street wise characters.  The film tackles racism, while teaching you to follow your heart❤. Definitely worth a 120 minutes of your time. 

So, day-in and day-out, my blood, sweat, and tears poured onto the tatami (mat).  When failure seemed eminent, Sensei would preach “will over skill” and somehow, someway, my mind prevailed.  Under his watchful eye, I spent thousands of hours honing my craft. I was always the smallest, never the fastest, and certainly not the most naturally gifted athlete at the time; however I was gritty and driven. He’d remind me, “Hustle beats talent when talent doesn’t hustle.” My arms and legs would scream exhaustion, but the 😢 fell on deaf ears.  Just before my breaking point, Sensei had an uncanny way to squeeze out one extra percent of effort. For that I am forever grateful.  I found a way to win, and I won over and over again.  When I failed, it was haunting. When I survived, it was euphoria — an adrenaline shot💉of confidence you can’t describe.  In those moments, I had won a round of Sensei Says.

Victory was exhilarating, but being pushed to the limit can conjure love/hate emotions. While other kids played outside, I was hitting a heavy bag.  I didn’t always appreciate the sacrifice, but I did obey Sensei. Deep down, he was strengthening me for life’s battles.  Sensei Says became a domino effect.  The work ethic and principals spread to my school work, studying for tests, or even helping afriend.I had become an overachiever, and no goal was unattainable.  Sensei wasn’t just preparing me for a fight in a tournament; he was training me for the ultimate crown, the championship of life🏆.  That competitive spirit has driven me to be the man I am today.  I’ve never been satisfied with Bs, second place, or vice president; I wanted high honors, the grand championship, and the VIP parking space.  Obviously, I’ve come up short at different points in my life, but my confidence never waivers.  It’s a testament of Sensei’s Molotov cocktail that always fired me up.   

Even though Sensei ruled with an iron✊, he loved us dearly.  His persona was larger than life, a man everyone seemed to admire. As a kid, I remember random men bowing to him at a bank or gas station.  I didn’t fully understand why, but I was enamored. Strangers would thank me for what my dad had done for them, how he changed their life, or pushed them to become successful.  He wasn’t just my dad; he was Sensei to an entire community. I wanted to be that guy.

I began to wonder, do I have what it takes?  I began to think about my dad’s remarkable focus and drive.  Where did it stem from?  I tried to imagine his childhood.  My Grandfather and namesake (William Viola I) was the “Godfather of Brownsville,” a charismatic figure who, for lack of better words was a Don

Sensei Says🥋:  Brownsville, Pennsylvania was once the gateway to the West.  In the 1800s People used to say, “Pittsburgh will amount to nothing — it’s too close to Brownsville.”  Today, Pittsburgh’s metropolitan area is 2,324,743 people while Brownsville has dwindled to 2,249.  Don is an honorific title (prefix) in Italian with historical roots with nobility.  It is reserved for people of high esteem such as priests, civic leaders, and powerful men.    

He was loved by many, feared by some, but respected by everyone.  Sadly, he cashed in his chips far too soon leaving my dad (an only child) as the man of the house in middle school.  Those moments can break a man’s psyche, but my father chose to fight.  He fought for everything, every day to make his family proud.

His workaholic attitude was born out of survival — a determination fueled by the void in his household. He put himself through college and feverishly studied the martial arts. Soon he was teaching science by day while operating karate schools at night.  In between he always had side hustles: real estate, sports memorabilia, antiques you name it.  Those paid the bills, but he wasn’t satisfied.  The fight game was his 🦄and he almost lost it all chasing the dream.

Kickin’Flicks🎬:  The SHOWTIME film Tough Guys (2017)was inspired by my father’s life story chasing his dream of creating the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in 1979.  If you’re into MMA, check it out on iTunes.

He was a master pitchman and negotiator, but more than anything he was the quintessential tough guy. I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps 👣.  At some level, I was channeling my Grandfather’s courage and moxie. In retrospect, my dad’s success was paying homage to his father who never got the chance to see his potential.  My father created his own way and vowed to protect me from the struggles he faced.   It planted a seed. 

Sensei is a guardian. He wanted to give his children a better life, and sacrificed to give us that opportunity.  His kids, all of whom earned their black belts, found success though his methods:  two doctors, one lawyer and one teacher with a Master’s in Education. They entered the real world with no college debt, a gift from Sensei,and a strong family support system.  Each won a round of Sensei Says.  I however, the first born, took the road less traveled 🚧. 

Sensei Says be a politician.”  Of course I followed orders and graduated Summa Cum Laude, naturally, with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.  Gradually I began to second guess my decisions, but stayed on course. Sensei Says was starting to frustrate me😖.  My passion was filling his shoes as a “Sensei,” yet my aspirations went ignored. After college, “Sensei Says go to law school.” For the first time in my life, I didn’t listen. I stood still 😮.  My father’semotions echoed Vito Corleone, “I worked my whole life, I don’t apologize, to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all of those big shots. I don’t apologize, that’s my life, but I thought that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone. Governor Corleone.”  It was as if the script was written about our relationship.  He quoted those lines to me in jest a hundred times, but a hundred times I refused. 

Kickin’ Flicks🎬:  Vito “Don” Corleone is quoted from The Oscar winning The Godfather (1972). At nearly 50 years old, its lessons of loyalty, respect, family and power are timeless.  Many critics hold it as the single greatest piece of cinema.  Go; download and stream it.  Better yet, get some friends together and have a gangster themed party.  @ 177 minutes though, keep in mind that good things come to those who wait.

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’ve accumulated a treasure trove of experiences in my own right, but I still listen to what Sensei has to say.  At 72 years old, my dad has seen the highest of highs, creating a new sport with all its fanfare, and the lowest of lows, seeing that billion dollar 💸 dream slip through his fingers. He’s won, lost and finished everywhere in between. He’s war-torn and softened a bit, but the glimmer remains. Over time, Sensei’s commands have become less authoritative and more suggestive. The gameevolved; Sensei was not just as a disciplinarian or instructor, but now an advisor, a mentor and my consigliere. It’s a new level of the game.

I’ve been blessed to wear many hats in my 42 years on earth as a serial entrepreneur, ever since flipping baseball cards in the 6th grade.  I’ve been self-employed and self-assured ever since.  Whether it’s working with 5-year olds struggling with autism or hosting UFC legend Royce Gracie in my hometown, I’ve seen and done it all in the martial arts industry.  Outside karate, I’m diversified:  I dabble in the equity game, real estate, and stock market.  I’ve been a personal trainer, talent scout, and manager.  I’ve authored bestselling books and produced multi-million dollar films alongside Academy Award big wigs.  For 20-some years, I promoted the most epic martial arts events in America as President of my own entertainment company [Kumite Classic].  As the boss, I never delegated and always regulated; my blood and sweat lubricated every moving part of the company.  Some perks have been glamourous like rubbing elbows with Olympic champions, supermodels and professional athletes, but it wasn’t always glitzy.  I started in the trenches as a grunt, gutting houses literally littered with 💩 at my dad’s rentals and labored over endless piles of gravel on construction sites (pro bono mind you), and then continued as a soldier at hundreds of events he produced. I’ve been the CEO and the janitor across the board, and I have learned to appreciate the process.   I’ve been lucky to be on the receiving side of major sponsorships and have reciprocated my good fortune by awarding kids college Scholarships. I believe in passing it forward.

Not all jobs are 9-5.  During my first year of marriage, I unexpectedly became a 24/7 caregiver.  My maternal grandmother, God rest her soul 🙏, was struck with a nasty trifecta: Parkinson’s disease, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s after a stroke. Sad, frustrating and depressing, it tested every bit of my mettle as she died holding my hand😢. 

I grew up fast in general — an independent latch-key kid (Gen-Xer) from a broken family (my parents divorced when I was a toddler).  Although my mom and dad mixed like oil and water, I was an emulsifier:  Mom, nurturing, Godly, and compassionate; Dad, practical, savvy, and responsible.  I was a well-blended and blessed to have two amazing role models.

Still, as my resume continues to evolve, only one title truly defines me—SENSEI.   As the oldest child of five siblings, and the only boy, it seems as if I was preordained to be the next Sensei, although my father never wanted the stress to fall on my shoulders. I’ve accepted the immense responsibilities that come with my new title, and vow to be the shoulder to😭on, the sincere advisor, and the honest counselor.  I promise to educate with a calm voice of reason and firm hand.

Today I’m raising my own clan. On August 17, 2010, my wife Jennifer gave birth to a precious 9lb 5oz baby girl, Gabriella Capri Viola.  It was a game changer. William Viola IV would follow September 23, 2017. 

sensei says
Sensei Bill Viola and his daughter Gabby

Sensei Says🥋:  My daughter is a member of Gen Z: (1995-2015).  This book is dedicated to you guys, so don’t make the same mistakes as those pesky millennials (my younger sisters) did 😆.

It wasn’t until I became a father myself that I fully understood the depth of Sensei Says. The cliché “someday you’ll understand,” had come to light, and his version of tough love clicked.  Sensei was tough because he had to be, and the hard exterior complemented hard decisions; decisions that hold your kid’s future in the balance—heavy. While I’m not quite as brash as my dad, some say I’m more diplomatic in my approach, I’ve accepted my calling. The truth is, being a Sensei isn’t for everyone, but everyone needs a Sensei. The ceremonial torch has been passed, and a family tradition continues. How we approach the game may be slightly different, but our end-game is the same—confidence.   It’s finally my turn to call the shots and I🙏each day for the wisdom to give the right “instructions” in this crazy game. My parents believed in me, and now I will do the same.  Deep down Gabby and Will have what it takes, but it will take all they got! 

I’m obviously proud of my biological family, but I’m equally attached to my extended “karate family.”  Countless students from all walks of life have entrusted me with their well-being, and I’ve felt the heartache💔and optimism😃of tens of thousands more that my father has touched. Since being my dad’s apprentice from day one, I’ve been exposed to the all the good, the bad and the ugly in people.  That experience gave me a knack for judging character. I had no choice but to become wise beyond my years. For as long as I can remember I’ve been the resident psychologist, mediator, principal, therapist, father figure, and everything in between (playing the good guy and bad guy), from kids battling depression to adults overcome by jealousy. I didn’t fully comprehend the power of my position until a 10-year-old student confided in me that they were suicidal; while I was able to talk him off the ledge, it was sobering😔. Over the past half-century, my family’s brand of self-defense has camouflaged life’s most important lessons and it really made me think.  They may sign a waiver to punch and kick, but what they’re really investing in is a mentor. I had an epiphany🤔; why not share my experiences with an even larger family—YOU and the millions of other “blunder kids” who are lacking someone to give it to ‘em straight. 

I work with thousands of teenage students and I’m amazed how easily they can fall apart when mom and dad aren’t there to hold their hand.  I’m not knocking them, they have been🔗“connected” since birth, it’s all they know – but when the wifi drops, panic sets in.  There is a big difference between being smart and being quick (able to adapt), so my mission is to prepare Gen Z to be more self-sufficient.  Whether it’s balancing your checkbook or handling a traffic stop, there isn’t an industry type that hasn’t set foot in the dojo to give me the scoop, so all the resources were at my disposal.  CommonSensei was born.     

I know that was a bit long winded, but I didn’t want to gloss over my journey.  I wanted you to feel my emotional investment; it is the soul💗of this book. 

Now that you’ve gotten to know me, let’s get to the meat and potatoes. CommonSensei was created out of necessity to be the streetwise self-help coach for Generation Z: 1 part motivation, 2 parts determination, all the common sense missing from the education system.  Your manual is chock full of tips on how to set goals, “apply” knowledge, and find your “way.”  I’m here to offer insight on all the skills they forgot to teach you🤷. Every chapter in this book is based on real stories and testimonial from students, friends, and colleagues that I’ve been blessed to bond and connect with through my marital arts adventures.     

As your CommonSensei, I welcome you into my dojo of empowerment and present you with the ceremonial white belt.  Each rank level serves to train, educate, and encourage you along your journey towards a black belt in common sense🎓.  Are you ready to win at life?

Sensei Says, “Let’s kick some ass.” 



04 Jan


Dojo 道場

Throughout the CommonSensei curriculum, I constantly reference “Dojo.”

Western society immediately associates the term “dojo” with “Karate Schools,” and rightfully so (martial arts studios are popular dojos), but they are NOT exclusive.

“While 100% of karate schools are dojos, not all dojos are karate schools.” .

Bill Viola jr

You see a dojo is simply a place to find your “way” or do (道). Do is pronounced like cookie “dough. “That “way” can be found in hundreds of art forms (archery, preparing tea, karate etc.). Each art is just a means to an ends. The physical skill associated develops your character along the path. Your 道 is your philosophy, ideology, methodology all wrapped into one. 道 dictates your lifestyle, passion and purpose.

DO (道) means “WAY” and JO (場) means Place. It is pronounced like cookie “dough,” and can reference a school or discipline. A dojo can be anywhere: a building, park, or basement. The term is rooted in Buddhism describing temples where monks for follow the path.

SENSEI SAYS: Chinese call 道 Tao or Dao. also meaning path, or way.

“Welcome to my dojo of life skills.  This blog shares my “,” or Violosophy.” In America we often say life imitates art, in Japan life is art.

Japan, Tokyo Senso-ji, Buddha hands, close-up

FYI: Some famous 道 DO

  • Aikidō (合気道), the way of harmonious spirit
  • Budō (武道) martial way
  • Bushido (武士道 ) way of the warrior
  • Chadō/sadō (茶道) the way of tea
  • Gendai budō (現代武道), modern warrior way, the group of martial disciplines that arose after the Meiji restoration
  • Hapkido (합기도; 合氣道), the way of the harmonious spirit
  • Iaidō (居合道), a Japanese martial art associated with the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword
  • Jōdō (杖ō), the Way of the jō, wooden staff fighting
  • Jūdō (柔道), the “gentle way”, a grappling martial art
  • Jūkendō (銃剣), the way of the bayonet, bayonet fighting
  • Kadō (華道) the way of flower
  • Karatedō or karate (空手道), the Way of the empty hand, Okinawan boxing
  • Kendō (剣道), the Way of the sword, fencing with bamboo swords
  • Kumdo (劍道) Korean kendō
  • Kyūdō, (弓道), the Way of the bow, archery, Hand-to-hand fighting recently evolved from karate
  • Kobudo (古武道) old martial way
  • Jeet Kune Do (截拳道) the way of the intercepting fist
  • Okinawan Kobudō (沖縄古武道) old martial way of Okinawa
  • Sadō, chadō (茶道) the way of tea, Japanese Tea ceremony
  • Shodo (書道) the way of calligrapy
  • Tang soo dō (唐手道) the way of Tang hand (Chinese dynasty hand)
  • Taekwondō (태권도; 跆拳道), the Way of the foot and the fist
  • Taidō (躰道), the Way of the body, Hand-to-hand fighting evolved from Okinawan karate
  • Yado (弓道) way of the bow
  • Yoseikan Budō (養正館武道), the teaching truth place warrior Way

The truth is, anything can be a dō 道 or way. Take sojido (掃除道) for instance. It is the way of cleaning up. Soji is simply cleaning, but is sort of a custom in Japan.

In fact, the Japanese take great pride in cleaning up in general. The students clean up their own schools, and the workforce cleans their own office. The idea of respecting their environment is entgrained. o-soji is a “great cleaning” cultivates a sense of pride in your dojo. It maintains humbleness and modesty. Japanese students each have their own zokin (washrag) many times had stitched. The value of cleanliness is held high. The Japanese proverb “work of self, obtainment of self”, reminds us that your work is your own reward.

Recommended reading: Karate-Do: My Way of Life by Gichin Funakoshi. FYI: the kanji (道) “way” is also part of the Japanese word for “principle” or “morality” dotoku 道徳. It is a fundamental philosophy of a person.

A Japanese dojo is traditionally a training place for martial arts. The term “dojo” literally means “place of the way” in Japanese. It’s not just a physical space but also a place where students learn discipline, respect, and the philosophical aspects of martial arts. Dojos can vary widely in appearance and style, ranging from modern facilities with various training equipment to more traditional settings that might include tatami mats and minimalistic decor, reflecting the simplicity and focus of the martial arts practiced within. The atmosphere of a dojo is one of respect, concentration, and dedication to the art. In traditional Japanese dojos, the environment is steeped in history and the practices of the martial art being taught, whether it be karate, judo, kendo, aikido, or others. The structure of training and the physical space are deeply connected to the philosophy of the martial art, emphasizing respect, mindfulness, and the continuous journey of learning and self-improvement. Training often begins and ends with a bow to the sensei (teacher) and to the kamidana (a small shrine found in many dojos), signifying respect for the art’s traditions and ancestors.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Bill Viola Jr.

Kumite Classic Entertainment