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North Huntingdon men still kicking as martial arts masters

October 13, 2018

For many people entering their so-called Golden Years, it’s a time to kick back and relax. But slowing down is not in the vocabulary of either North Huntingdon resident Ray Adams, 76, or Dave Zezza, 63.

The pair are, literally, still kicking up a storm in the practice of martial arts. And they have no intention of slowing down.

Adams and Zezza were recently promoted to the rare Master Rank in the art of Shotokan karate at the Allegheny Shotokan Viola Karate School along Route 30.

“Ray and Dave are now in an elite club where only a few students reach. It is really an exclusive fraternity that requires a lifetime of study, practice and diligence to be inducted,” said the Allegheny school’s founder, Bill Viola Sr.

“It’s really part of their DNA,” Viola said.

Adams, a retired photography teacher at East Allegheny High School, scoffed at any mention of taking it easy.

“I still have a lot to learn. When I started back in 1971, Sensei (teacher) Viola told me it would be a lifelong journey, and that’s the thing that has stuck with me over all of these years,” Adams said.

“I’m always thirsty for knowledge,” added Zezza, who continues to work full time as a systems consultant.

Adams began participating in karate almost 50 years ago where he met Viola, a fellow East Allegheny teacher.

“Back when I was going to college at (California University of Pennsylvania), I saw this little guy who was an expert in judo take this big football player and flip him across the room, and that always stuck with me,” Adams said. “Sensei Viola was teaching classes after school in the gymnasium and I wanted in on it.”

And he’s never left.

As for Adams’s trailing partner, Zezza, he began his journey in martial arts in his late 30s.

“I think I was about 39, and I was literally going through a mid-life crisis,” Zezza said. “I needed to do something, and my sister recommended martial arts classes at the North Irwin YMCA. I went there for about nine months but felt I needed something more cardiovascular and came here and got into it.”

Zezza noted the achievement of a black belt, “but to be a master requires a unique combination of character skill and teaching ability with decades of training.”

Adams said black belt is just “the beginning.”

Zezza is nicknamed “Tombo,” which means dragonfly in Japanese, and he is the school’s resident weapons expert and teaches classes. He has a dragonfly tattoo on his arm to signify his commitment.

Adams also teaches at the school. The pair train Saturday mornings and Monday evenings.

Adams and Zezza were honored at the school last month for their achievements, which was complete with a gong ceremony.

Viola, whose son Bill Jr., is also a master rank, said Adams and Zezza are only the fifth and sixth members to reach the masters rank since he started the school in 1969.

Adams didn’t flinch at the mention of 1969. He said he’ll still be around.

“My next test will be in my 80s. And if I can’t kick, I’ll be punching,” he quipped.

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