Recently, I was interviewed by journalist Walter Yeates in an exclusive where I spoke about my role with Fale Dojo, the Dojo’s mission locally and globally, and partnership with New Japan Pro Wrestling. Here is the transcript to the article.
The following is an exclusive interview with Ite Lemalu, Media Relations Manager of the Fale Dojo. Questions from Walter Yeates are in the normal presentation, while Ite’s answers are bold and italicized.
When did you begin working at the Fale Dojo as the Media Relations Manager?
I started working at Fale Dojo as a content writer in July 2018 and my role evolved to media relations in June 2019. I’ve followed Toks Fale [Bad Luck Fale] on Twitter since 2012 and have exchanged tweets with him over the years. I also began following Fale Dojo closely on social media as I was drawn particularly to the Dojo’s philosophy and values about creating opportunities and working together as a community. These principles aligned with my values.
I have a background in music, however, a few years ago I decided to return to university to upskill and change careers. I came out with qualifications in media, but, there was a sociology paper I took that completely changed my outlook and it also reaffirmed my values. I wanted to hold onto my beliefs while working in the media, so I approached Fale-San and Mark Tui (Fale Dojo Coach and General Manager) about the opportunity to be a content writer for the Dojo which they allowed me the opportunity,
The switch from music to writing about pro wrestling was a comfortable transition. I’ve been a wrestling fan since childhood and there are parallels between gigging in a live band and a wrestling match. It takes a combination of people with a different set of skills to pull off a sophisticated performance. This helped with my understanding of the basics of wrestling when I first started. It’s an absolute privilege to be in this position and to learn about the wrestling profession from the Dojo’s coaching staff. I’m very grateful to Fale-San and Mark-San for bringing me on board.
Jay White, Toa Henare, Robbie Eagles, Gino Gambino, Aaron Solow, Michael Richards, and Andrew Villalobos all completed Fale Dojo Intakes and moved on to either the NJPW Dojo in Tokyo or becoming a full member of the roster. Did the Fale Dojo staff see similar traits of that group in Oskar Munchow and Jake Taylor who recently joined the NJPW Dojo in Tokyo?
Oskar and Jake were noted for their persistence to excel. Their commitment to their training saw them grow with every match they were in at the Fale Dojo Exhibition events. Both Oskar and Jake are very much down to earth and humble gentlemen, and we’re proud of what they’ve achieved thus far. It was a thrill to see them thrown straight into the lion’s den while performing ringside duties at Wrestle Kingdom 14.
How would you describe a Fale Dojo Intake? How similar is it to how the training is at the NJPW Dojos in Los Angeles and Tokyo?
The Fale Dojo young lions are taught very early on the importance of training (and living) together as a group. The lions also have the best of both worlds as they get to learn the Japanese strong style from Fale-San, and the American style from Tony Kozina [2x National Wrestling Alliance World Junior Heavyweight Champion]. Tony is a 20 plus year veteran from Portland, Oregon who brings a wealth of experience to our team. In addition, Mark-San brings his expertise as a Fale Dojo graduate (one of Fale’s early students) and has a background in amateur boxing and aikido. The lions also have the luxury of training outdoors amongst Auckland’s green scenery. Though the greenery is beautiful to the eye, the workouts up Mangere Mountain and One Tree Hill can be excruciating.
How important is NJPW’s approach of a partnership and not colonialization to the wrestling scene in Australian and New Zealand? Do you feel NJPW’s and Fale Dojo’s presence in the region has helped build the local wrestling scene?
I believe it’s very crucial that NJPW and Fale Dojo’s approach to NZ and Australian wrestling as an ally can help local Kiwi [colloquial demonym for New Zealanders] and Aussie wrestlers to tap into and develop authentic and relevant versions of who they are as wrestling personalities. I also believe that fans will eventually be able to see a reflection of themselves in these characters. As a New Zealand born Samoan, I’ve seen how the characteristics that NZ Pacific Islanders are known for brought to life by Fale Dojo mainstays Mark Tui, Arthur Papali’i and Richard Mulu. These athletes aren’t depicting stereotypes or adopting a generic ‘copy and paste’ model. Each of these guys has a different personality from the other, a different build, and a different background. These attributes have helped to develop their own specific wrestling styles with the guidance of the coaches. This is the kind of influence from Fale-San (and Tony-San) that is so valuable to professional wrestling. Never before has there been a New Zealand Pacific Island wrestler that’s gained prominence on the international stage and yet Fale-San remains committed to sharing his experience with his community and growing the wrestling scene Down Under.
The influence also extends to Jay White and Gino Gambino, whose accents are natural and uncompromised. But it’s not just their accents; when you hear Fale-San, Henare-San, Jay-San, and Gino-San speak you immediately notice that their voices and personalities are true to their cultural identities. This is in stark contrast to other Kiwi and Aussie wrestlers; local and abroad who are trapped in the habit of speaking a colonised ‘copy and paste’ entertainment tone because that’s what they’ve been exposed too.
The Fale Dojo premises are situated in a culturally diverse part of Auckland where the population is predominantly Pacific Island. We like to share with our international students’ many parts of the Pacific culture especially the food and dancing. In previous intakes, we implemented the Maori Haka and the Samoan ‘Fa’ataupati’ (Samoan slap dance) into the training for fitness and coordination purposes. Not only do the students come away learning a different culture, but they’re also able to apply the discipline of learning such intricate actions (and performed together in unison) into their craft.
Approximately how many wrestlers tryout for Fale Dojo’s Intakes? On average how many are accepted to each h program?
The numbers vary, the February 2019 intake had ten young lions, our largest group so far. The June intake had eight students, three of whom returned from previous intakes, and the September intake held seven lions, two of which were new arrivals. We moved to bigger premises in 2018 to keep up with the demand of students.
With Bushiroad recently purchasing Stardom, does Fale Dojo plan to create a similar arrangement with them as a place for women trainees to eventually work?
I’m not sure about a future relationship at this point, however, Fale Dojo, is all-inclusive. We had our first female join the 2019 February intake, and she trained with us for the entire year. Naturally, we would welcome more females to register for future intakes.
What are several aspects of the Fale Dojo you would like the wrestling community to know?
Tony Kozina has said it many times “we are building our reputation.”
In addition to being a professional wrestling training school, we also offer general classes to the locals in boxing and kickboxing to help build one’s fitness.
There are strong similarities between the Japanese, Maori, and Pacific cultures which is why Fale Dojo is very steeped in embracing community, pushing our students to reach beyond their limits, celebrating each other’s successes and working together as a collective. Our motto “Invest in Yourself” is a message of encouragement for anyone to pursue their goals and work towards fulfilling them regardless of how arduous the journey.
We’ve had students come from all over the world to train at Fale Dojo, those places include India, Israel, South Africa, the UK, United States, Australia, and Spain.
Fale Dojo has a lot to offer professional wrestling, and 2020 is going to be a big year for us.