The idea of community is vital in the wrestling industry as it is in any profession that functions on the collaboration between people. The wrestling industry – especially is crucially dependent on people working together. For instance, it takes a minimum of two wrestlers to have a match and a referee to control the conflict and declare a winner. But before then, communication and trust should be established.
At Fale Dojo, the Young Lions learn the communication skills which will go hand in hand with their wrestling education. When the lions graduate from Fale Dojo, they will be equipped with the skills to wrestle, communicate, and build relationships with other members of the wider wrestling community. These lessons are first established through basic etiquettes such as greeting the trainers and others present upon entering the Dojo and cleaning the Dojo daily in groups. In their downtime, the lion’s social skills develop as they live together during the course of their training.
The relationships the students forge become a valued motivator during their intense training sessions because as a collective, they offer words of support to one another.
Tony Kozina, Pro Wrestling Head Trainer at Fale Dojo, shared a detailed analysis of what the aggressive training will bring out of the Young Lions, as well as emphasising the benefits they will gain from training together as a group.
“Training with the intensity that we do at Fale Dojo builds self-confidence and self-esteem,” said Kozina, an accomplished 20-plus-year veteran.
“When it’s you vs. you, you push yourself to finish a workout. You soon come to realize that no matter how hard it gets, if you just take one more step, and then one more step, before you know it you’re at the top of the mountain.”
Kozina makes it a point at the end of every session to remind the Young Lions of what they’ve accomplished in that time so that can see their own growth.
“I preach this daily when everyone has finished and has rested. Once they have a fresh mind, they can reflect and say, ‘actually yes! I was about to give up, or I thought, I couldn’t do all of this, but somehow I finished.’ So, I reinforce that sense of achievement. It builds character in a person.”
Kozina illustrated the incentives that come with training in a group are attributed to the students coming from diverse backgrounds and possessing different levels of experience.
“Training in a bigger group means a stronger team,” he stated.
“There are more people to cheer you on and to lend you a hand. That’s one more person you don’t want to let down by not finishing.”
“It gives you some mental strength as more people training means more questions, more ideas, more diversity.”
“It also creates a better social learning environment because of all the diverse personalities. We have a well-rounded group of students from all over the world for this intake, and at all skill levels too, which is great! There are different levels of learning for different people.”
The topic of community has resonated with the Young Lions throughout this series. It is a key element to the training at Fale Dojo as it is in pro wrestling.
Tome and Stevie Filip:
Tome and Stevie Filip, also known as the “Natural Classics” tag team have a strong following on the independent circuit. The brothers from Melbourne, Victoria have competed throughout Australia as well as gaining experience across the United States training at Booker T’s ‘Reality of Wrestling’, and competing for Joey Ryan’s Bar Wrestling in Los Angeles, Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, and Zelo Pro in Chicago.
As wrestling fans, Tome and Stevie were naturally drawn to brother tag teams like Matt and Jeff Hardy, and the Hart Foundation which consisted of Bret “Hitman” Hart and his brother-in-law, Jim “Anvil” Neidhart. Tome and Stevie were heavily influenced by the Hardy’s so much that they recognised similarities in regards to their respective roles and wrestling styles.
Tome, the eldest of the two, made his wrestling debut in 2013. He identified himself with Matt Hardy who was the older brother and wrestled an opposite style to his brother, Jeff.
“I considered myself the Matt of the team, and my brother Stevie as Jeff,” said Tome.
“Stevie likes to do more areal moves while I have a ground-based style.”
Tome watched WWE on television regularly until he discovered the local wrestling promotions when he became a wrestler himself. He also became aware of the international wrestling promotions namely New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“It wasn’t until I became a wrestler that I found out about the Aussie scene and other overseas promotions like New Japan and the Mexican promotions,” he revealed.
In 2017, Tome and Stevie attended the NJPW try-out in Australia. It was there where they met Toks Fale. The Filips maintained a rapport with Fale since their first meeting and have even wrestled the ‘Underboss’ as part of a 6 pack challenge match.
Tome and Stevie then attended the Fale Dojo tryouts in Melbourne and were selected to join the February intake.
Stevie’s wrestling aspirations were boosted with the presence of Fale Dojo. The Dojo’s Auckland location has given wrestlers, in particular, those in the southern hemisphere the hope of reaching their goal to compete in Japan.
“When I realised the opportunities that were available outside Australia and beyond WWE, my goal to be a full-time wrestler became a reality,” said Stevie.
“Fale Dojo is the place to bring that goal to fruition. It’s my dream to hopefully one day wrestle in New Japan Pro Wrestling.”
Stevie, who debuted in 2015 also mentioned that this is his and Tome’s first time in New Zealand.
“It’s fantastic being in New Zealand, and it feels great to finally come to Fale Dojo and experience the training and the culture.”
With their previous training experience in mind, Tome regards the Fale Dojo curriculum as a big step up from his past training, noting that the intense workouts and teachings of the Japanese culture, though challenging, are extremely rewarding.
“Fale Dojo’s training is almost incomparable to any training in the past I’ve done,” stated Tome.
“Each day from start to finish we are training, living, and breathing the Japanese way. My biggest challenge is learning the Japanese phrases and striving to say them fluently, I’m pushed to my limits with every exercise and activity, so it’s very satisfying when a training session is complete.”
The work ethic instilled in the lions goes beyond that of professional wrestling. It also helps develop other life skills such as the learning of a new language.
Stevie shares the same challenges in learning the basics of the Japanese language as it is foreign to his own culture. He too respects and understands the Dojo’s training methods.
“The challenges I have experienced so far is learning Japanese. It’s very different to our Macedonian heritage,” Stevie added.
“While the training is intense, it is rewarding. Everything has a purpose from the workouts to the chores.”
Tome explained the importance of training in a group, noting that it builds relationships that will prepare the lions for the wrestling profession. Tome also believes that good relationships are the foundation of responsible industry and is central in wrestling. Without the trust of your fellow wrestlers, the profession would not be sustainable.
“I’ve trained in big groups before, but not like this,” revealed Tome. “Not daily for three months.”
“The benefits of training with a big group is the fact that we learn to not let each other down but grow as a team and family.”
“In wrestling, this is essential because without your peers being on the same page as you, the business would crumble.”
“My brother and I enjoy bonding with our peers here at the Dojo and exploring New Zealand’s wonderful land,” said Tome. “We also enjoy the BBQ’s with Fale-San.”
Liam Hazan is the youngest of the February intake. Born in Manhattan, New York, Hazan’s family moved back and forth between the United States and his parent’s country of birth, Israel during his infancy before making the US their permanent home when Hazan was 4 years old.
Hazan was introduced to wrestling by his Israeli grandmother who was an avid fan. Wrestling promotions like New Japan and World Class Championship Wrestling were immensely popular in Israel.
“My grandma was a big wrestling fan,” recalled Hazan, as he remembered his grandmother with great fondness. “Her favourite wrestlers were Nobuhiko Takada, the Von Erich’s, and the Bushwhackers. General Skandor Akbar was her favourite manager.”
Hazan’s first memory of wrestling was while watching a videotape of New Japan at his grandmother’s house. A match that featured Takada against Shinya Hashimoto grabbed his attention.
“Takada was humongous in Israel,” said Hazan. “People in Jerusalem would sell bootleg tapes of his wrestling and MMA bouts.”
Hazan inherited his grandmother’s love of wrestling and had started watching New Japan on tapes that he bought through email and tape trading.
“When I first started watching, my favourite wrestlers were KENTA, Naomichi Marufuji, Kenta Kobashi, and Cima,” he remembered.
“My favourites now are Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii, Katsuyori Shibata, Masaaki Mochizuki, and Shingo Takagi.”
Hazan’s passion for wrestling and New Japan stayed with him throughout his teenage years. He would send letters to New Japan expressing his interest in wanting to become a wrestler. Following his high school graduation, Hazan travelled to Japan to try and get his foot in the door.
While in Japan, Hazan met a K1 fighter who offered to train him. He accepted and relocated to the Netherlands where the fighter resided. Although the trainer did not have wrestling experience, he coached Hazan in kickboxing.
“The guy fought a lot and made his career in Japan,” explained Hazan.
“I moved to a small town in the Netherlands called Hoorn and trained with him since he lived there.”
“He trained me just in kickboxing and he didn’t really know too much about wrestling. After that year, I returned home to New York.”
Hazan was persistent to chase his goal, and it would soon pay off. While searching online, Hazan came across the Fale Dojo website where he read the testimonials from two of its alumni, Toa Henare and Michael Richards.
“I read through the website and filled out the registration form for the three-month pro wrestling course. As soon as everything was confirmed, I made arrangements to come to New Zealand.”
Since training began, Hazan has found his time rewarding not without overcoming challenges along the way.
“The training at Fale Dojo is difficult but extremely rewarding,” expressed Hazan.
“I injured my left hand, so I’ve had to find ways to train around it or at least make up for it through other work.”
“A lot of the exercises are challenging for me, but the fact that I get to do this and be in this environment is a highlight for me on its own.”
Hazan is also inspired by being part of a group that encourages each other. He also values the experience of his peers. Hazan is also reminded of his wrestling heroes from his childhood that went through the same training that he is now doing, and he is excited to be following in the same path.
“Training in a big group is great,” he advised. “There are a lot of people to learn from and everybody pushes each other to their limit.”
“This is the training that a lot of the wrestlers I grew up watching went through and I’m thrilled to be given a chance to walk in the same footsteps.”
Patrick Schischka from Te Atatu, West Auckland remembers watching wrestling for the first time as a 7-year-old boy. His interest in grappling eventually led him to pursue amateur wrestling while in his late teens at the Club Physical gym where he received extensive training in this discipline.
In 2010, Schischka transitioned to pro wrestling. He wrestled for a local independent promotion for five years until he became inactive from the scene as he grew unhappy with the environment.
“I started pro wrestling in 2010 when I was 19 years old,” said Schischka.
“I quit sometime in 2015 because I wasn’t happy where I was at. The atmosphere was bad and I had a few vices that didn’t help either.”
Due to his situation, Schischka spent the next couple of years trying to immerse himself in alternative projects. However, he wasn’t satisfied with how he left his wrestling aspirations unresolved.
“I got into wrestling for two things, to do it because I love it and to get paid,” explained Schischka.
“I fell out of love at that point. Over the next few years, I tried other creative outlets, but I couldn’t shake the idea that I still didn’t give it my best shot at being a pro wrestler.”
Schischka resumed his journey in 2017 when he returned to the gym to get back into shape. He took a further step by attending the NJPW tryouts hosted by Fale Dojo. This step led to Schischka finding himself surrounded and motivated by the right people. This, is a striking contrast from his previous environment that drained his passion and drove him away from wrestling.
“I started going back to the gym and I was even part of the 2017 NJPW tryout that was held here in NZ,” Schischka shared.
“Then late last year, I decided to join the night classes at Fale Dojo after seeing the opportunities that it had brought Henare, Michael Richards, and others. Eventually, the night classes gave me the confidence to do the three-month pro wrestling course.”
Schischka enjoys the Fale Dojo programme due to its ‘strong style’ discipline which requires the Young Lions to train in combat fighting. This excites Schischka as the classes would allow him to utilise his experience in amateur wrestling.
“The training at Fale Dojo has a big emphasis on conditioning and shoot fighting which I love because of my amateur background,” stated Schischka.
“I always wanted to present myself as a legitimate threat to anyone I came across in the ring but didn’t exactly know how to do it.”
Schischka is grateful to the trainers for their support in helping him pursue his dream again.
“I’ve trained before with Mark-San, and he’s made sure that I see this through to the end,” he revealed.
”Thanks also to the training from Tony-san and Fale-san, they are helping bring the best out of me.”
“Before I came to the Dojo I had my doubts on where I could go in wrestling. But since joining, I know that as long as I put the work in and keep on track, I will find success in the wrestling business.”
Schischka believes that he made the right choice to train at Fale Dojo. He hopes to go onto Japan to wrestle full-time.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Schischka concluded. “Fale Dojo has a reputation for breeding success. I hope to one day wrestle in Japan.”