Before the Fale Dojo was established at its South Auckland location in 2016, its training programme and philosophy designed by Toks ‘Bad Luck’ Fale and is based on the New Japan Pro Dojo was first taught to his student Toa Henare. Henare graduated to the New Japan Dojo where he gained extensive training which eventually led him to join the NJPW roster. This achievement made Henare the first wrestler of Maori heritage to sign with New Japan Pro Wrestling in its almost 50-year history. Henare has been a notable addition to the New Japan presentation for the last three years, he proudly displays his culture to the appreciation of the Japanese fans. He has also remained grounded and has never forgotten the foundation of his training. When he is in New Zealand, Henare will normally drop by the Fale Dojo to assist with the young lions training sessions.
Henare told of his excitement in being part of the New Japan’s ‘Southern Showdown’ tour of Australia, after having already experienced the atmosphere from the ‘Fallout Down Under’ tour the previous year.
“I’m always pumped to be on the Australian tours,” said Henare.
“After the 2016 ‘On the Mat’ show in Auckland, we haven’t been back home. But as usual of late Australia has become our home away from home.”
“Australian fans have been just as welcoming and accommodating,” stated Henare the ‘Prized Lion’. “It’s a huge change for any Australasian to be on the card, and I’m amped to be on it with other ANZAC wrestlers.”
Australia’s thriving landscape is worth learning from in comparison to New Zealand’s wrestling scene. Henare, a former regular of the New Zealand wrestling industry during his late teenage years (prior to his formal training with Fale) shared his thoughts on what the NZ scene needs to do to progress.
“One word – Commitment,” Henare emphasised. “Commitment to learning the game, commitment to letting go of what you think you know, and commitment to bettering the scene.”
“I think a lot of what’s holding NZ wrestling back is their unwillingness to commit to evolving.”
“With the exception of a promotion south of NZ that have gone above and beyond In terms of reaching out to other companies, networking for more opportunities for their guys, and setting achievable and worthwhile goals. A lot of being stuck has to do with not wanting to remove those ‘sticky foundations’ which are keeping the scene stuck.”
“On top of this, the commitment of the actual wrestlers to training,” Henare added. “The commitment to learning the product and marketing, the commitment of a large majority of wrestlers in the country, not placing importance on their look and athleticism.”
“I mean, a lot of the guys that were around when I was active in New Zealand are still here now. Almost five years later, doing the same routines, working the same crowds, not improving their training or work at all.”
“But also in saying that, there are about five or six guys that I’ve seen who’ve really dedicated themselves to improving, and I’ve told each of them they should either sign up to Fale Dojo, or get out of New Zealand.”
“But hey, that’s just me,” said Henare. “I’m used to excessively challenging myself all the time. Like Gatsby said ‘my life’s got to be like this, it’s got to keep going up'”.
As the wrestling industry looks on at the inevitability of a war between AEW and the WWE, Henare described New Japan’s position as a company on its own journey aiming to broaden their presentation to a worldwide audience.
“I think it’s good to compare WWE and AEW in one bracket, and NJPW in the other,” observed Henare. “We are all wrestling but we are all different kinds of wrestling.”
“We are on our global expansion and we’ve been getting bigger and better and more known and recognizable throughout the world.”
In spite of Henare’s support for his peers at AEW, he concluded that they will have to brace themselves for the long term challenges that await them.
“I love the AEW boys and I appreciate their venture, but they’re going to learn just how much grind is needed,” Henare said in closing. “The grind that NJPW has been churning since 1972.”