The Fale Dojo’s first intake for 2020 began training on the second week of February. As always with every class, a large portion of the young lions converge on South Auckland, New Zealand from all over the world to receive training from Toks ‘Bad Luck’ Fale, founder and Head Trainer and his world-class coaching staff comprised of Tony Kozina, Professional Wrestling Head Coach; Mark Tui, General Manager/Coach; and Tangi Ropati, Head Trainer in fitness and nutrition. This is also the first intake to train under the NJPW New Zealand Dojo banner since Fale Dojo became an official part of New Japan Pro Wrestling. This two-part series will document the eight young lions as they reach week six of the three-month professional wrestling course.
Due to the measures taken by the New Zealand government in its response to the COVID-19 Outbreak, several of the international students have returned home, however, they intend on resuming their training in future intakes. Those who’ve remained are training while on lockdown.
Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico
‘Committed’ is how Chris Cruz described his goal to train at Fale Dojo and eventually wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling. Cruz is a lifelong wrestling fan, having grown up in his native Mexico. He and his brother Adrian were exposed to a variety of genres namely Lucha Libre, Puroseru and American wrestling. Chris and Adrian relocated to San Antonio, Texas where they were trained for the squared circle. Since then, the two brothers based themselves in the United States and wrestled extensively.
Cruz would soon hear about Fale Dojo and the NJPW training system from his friend and fellow wrestler Jonny Flex. This intrigued Cruz so much that he registered for the programme.
“I came to Fale Dojo for the full three-month experience,” said Cruz. “I feel like there’s no other. I wanted to get out of the same environment that you’re in and being thrown into something completely different will make you or break you.”
Cruz’s decision was not an easy one to make due to the fact he is married: “It was a very difficult decision to come by, but it’s not the worst,” he explained. “My wife was supportive when I told her I received the email that I had been accepted to Fale Dojo. When I told her, she immediately told me to take it.”
Cruz described his training at Fale Dojo as the most challenging programme. Though along the way he found strength from his fellow lions. “It was definitely the most mentally and physically challenging endeavour I’ve ever undertaken,” he stated. “That being said I can already see the changes being made both physically and mentally within in me.”
“I was definitely broken before the change occurred. I’ve met some phenomenal people from literally around the globe. Friends that I’m positive I’ll keep in contact with far past this Dojo intake.”
“Aside from the obvious physical ones, I’ve found one of my challenges was to ensure my budget. I don’t believe since college I’ve ever had the worry of strict budgeting.”
“It also didn’t help that my debit card was withheld at an ATM my first week here! However, I believe I’ve finally got the swing of things and am as comfortable as I can be in our given situation. Luckily I’ve been able to sell a few shirts as well from Pro Wrestling Tees which has helped immensely!”
“The training helped me to break mental barriers,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve been told before in previous training but never really fully grasped until now.”
“Coincidently I don’t think I’ve ever been broken down to be rebuilt quite like this ever before either. Pushing past limits of comfort is the only way to grow. This is known everywhere. But possessing the strength within you to keep moving past exhaustion is a next level sort of training. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to get better.”
Cruz shared his enjoyment of New Zealand for its diverse culture and food. He misses his family, understandably due to his strong bonds.
“I absolutely LOVE New Zealand,” Cruz said excitingly. “The scenery is beautiful. I am enthralled with the immense amount of different cultures all packed in together.”
“Every day there’s a great possibility of hearing at least four different languages and I think that is so amazing.”
“I live in New Braunfels, Texas back in the States, and the most diversity heard in Spanish and English,” he observed. “That diversity pales in comparison to here, and the food is amazing! One of the favourite things to do when we have time is to go to the night markets!”
“I am heavily homesick, but I try to remember and focus on why I’m here in the first place: Why I’ve sacrificed so much to be here. It helps a lot having so much support from my friends and family back home. Without them, there is no Chris Cruz, period. I still thankfully get to speak to my wife regularly and she sends me photos of our dog’s Tails and Ollie (a Pomeranian and Corgi).”
“I want to be able to have a job with New Japan,” stated Cruz. “I want to have those eyes on me. I want to be able to return to the United States with such a higher calibre of my name carrying the weight of being a graduate of Fale Dojo which I believe immensely comes with respect.”
“I’ve met Aaron Solow a few times and he told me nothing but great things about this place,” Cruz said in closing. “I see what he’s doing in the US. I want to take those same steps that he’s taken.”
Otara, South Auckland, New Zealand
Richard Mulu has been a mainstay at Fale Dojo since 2018. As a member of the general classes for the public (now known as Wrestle Fit), Mulu was one of few NZ Pacific Islanders to understand the marriage between wrestling’s strong style genre and Pacific Island athletes. He also gained this knowledge from observing the careers of Bad Luck Fale and Toa Henare and how they utilised the style to their respective crafts.
“At first I was looking for somewhere to train,” said Mulu. “I noticed that most of the wrestling gyms were in West Auckland, and I came close to heading out that way until I saw an ad online about Fale Dojo.”
“When I saw that the Dojo was affiliated with New Japan Pro Wrestling, that drew me in,” he added. “I figured, ‘why not give it a go. I’ve got nothing to lose.’”
“It also helped that Fale Dojo is owned by Pacific Island wrestlers. Toks Fale is living proof that if you just work hard, and you’re consistent, you’ll get to where you want to be.”
Mulu went on to say: “I was working at the time at my regular job, and I kept having that though at the back of my mind that I didn’t want to grow old working at a machine. I know I would’ve regretted it if I didn’t try.”
Mulu dedicated his time to developing his skills and persona under Tony Kozina’s watchful eye while also gaining advice from Toks Fale in how to wrestle the ‘big man’ style. Mulu competed on every Fale Dojo Exhibition show to date, absorbing as much experience from participating in cards and wrestling his opponents who were predominantly graduates or members of the three-month professional wrestling course. With two years of general classes to his credit, Mulu took the next step and joined the three-month course, becoming the first Samoan since Mark Tui (2016 graduate) to do so.
Mulu has been a wrestling fan since childhood, so it was no surprise to his family when he decided to become a young lion: “My family are very supportive, they know I really want this,” said Mulu.
“Mum and Dad are really supportive. But you know island mums, they don’t like to see their sons getting hurt,” he added. “My family always came to see me at the Exhibition shows, except for Mum. It’s taken time for Mum to show her support, but she’s fine with it, now. I just have to show her that I can look after myself and that I’m working with professionals.”
Since the programme began, Mulu has been working vigorously, though his journey has not come without obstacles.
“My training has been a great learning experience. It’s been a very challenging but rewarding,” stated Mulu. “My mental state has been the most challenging to deal with but I’m surrounded with a great group of brothers and great coaches. I’m always wanting us to break those barriers and strive for the absolute best.”
Mulu has certainly grown from these challenges, citing that it has pushed him beyond his limits.
“I’ve always had problems doubting myself and not taking charge of what I want,” he revealed. “Fale Dojo has taught me that you only get out what you put in and just doing the smallest things right matters. That also means staying consistent, believing in myself, working smarter not harder. I’m a lot confident in who I am and what I want to do.”
Unlike most of his peers that are from overseas, Mulu has had the option to visit his family. However, there are instances when Mulu feels a sense of homesickness.
“I can’t speak for my peers who have sacrificed so much to come to New Zealand,” said Mulu. “I have the privilege of living in Otahuhu at the Dojo, but my home is just the next suburb over in Otara. But there are times when I need to see and speak with my parents.”
“They’re my WHY and what keeps me going and they are my recharge so I’m lucky that I can still see them during these three months.”
Recently, Mulu underwent an amazing transformation that is still ongoing. Mulu took to his social media to share about his achievement.
“It’s been very challenging and difficult in all aspects but with the awesome coaches and my peers around me I’ve been able to break barriers and push through.”
“I never would’ve thought I’d be at this stage after six weeks. Here at Fale Dojo we look adversity in its face and bring it every day.”
“I still a long way to go and I’m looking forward to it,” Mulu concluded. “Let’s get it!”
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
In the past five years, Jonny Flex has wrestled throughout the United States. Flex is a soft-spoken and reflective person, a stark contrast from his wrestling persona; a cocky and boastful loudmouth that could also be interpreted as ambitious for instigating trouble with larger opponents. Much of Flex’s influences when he first started wrestling came from a blend of characters. In later years, Flex looked to wrestlers from New Japan Pro Wrestling to broaden his craft.
“I’ve been watching wrestling for as long as I can remember,” said Flex. “There’s a lot of wrestlers I try to draw my ideas from. When I started wrestling my influences were Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, and Brian Kendrick.”
“Most recently I’ve been captivated by Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, and ‘Switchblade’ Jay White,” he added. “I also look up to a wrestler out of Texas by the name of Andy Dalton.”
“I started paying attention to NJPW a few years ago,” he said. “I found it due to AJ Styles and his match with Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Everyone praised it as the match of the year so naturally, I had to check it out.”
“I loved the intensity displayed in New Japan along with the tradition. That’s the two things that really drew me into the company and style.”
Although Flex has been challenged by the Dojo’s three-month course, he happily welcomes the intense training which has been a much-needed antidote in his life. Flex shared courageously:
“2019 was a really tough year for me, personally,” Flex revealed. “I think coming to New Zealand and Fale Dojo was just a way to get away from everything, reset, and start over.”
“I suffered from depression and confidence issues before I came, but so far everything has been so much better from a mental standpoint. I’m also in the best shape physically.”
“I’ve honestly had the time of my life so far,” he continued. “It’s been very enjoyable and such a new experience. The main challenge has just been waking up earlier than I’m used to, but I’m happy that I’m not sleeping until noon anymore!”
Due to the recent events, Flex returned back to the United States. However, the young lion from Baton Rouge, Louisiana intends on returning to resume his quest to one day wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“My experience was incredible,” said Flex in closing. “Unfortunately with everything going on right now I had to go home, but I’ll definitely be back as soon as everything opens up again.”
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
In December 2018, Sebastian Matters was deemed worthy of graduating from Fale Dojo to the NJPW Dojo. Matters regrettably left Tokyo within a week of his training and returned home to Queensland. However, the heart of this young lion did not deter him from giving up his dream. Rather, he sought a second chance at returning to Fale Dojo.
“I feel that I let down Fale Dojo by leaving Japan,” Matters shared openly. “I hope I can finish this three months and move onto bigger things. I want to erase any bad that I caused, and represent Fale Dojo.”
Matters spoke about his late father, Douglas who played an integral role in his journey to becoming a wrestler. Matters’ endeavour, however, was not received well by other members of his family.
“My father supported me with whatever I wanted,” stated Matters. “His support really helped when I started at the age of 12. Dad wasn’t a wrestling fan, but he was the best dad ever,”
“He would take an interest in whatever I liked, and he always had time to talk with me,” he added. “I was too young to drive to the shows and training, so Dad would always take me places.”
Matters has spent the last year rebuilding his confidence wrestling on the Australian independent circuit. His biggest breakthrough came from reconciling with his mother and gaining her blessing to resume his wrestling aspirations.
“My Mum has been helping me to fund my return to Fale Dojo,” he revealed. “In the past, I didn’t want Mum to watch me. But in the last year, she’s been coming to the shows.”
“It means a lot that Mum shows a lot of pride and belief in me,” Matters shared. “She didn’t support me before, but now she has become my greatest supporter. When you have your family behind you, it definitely makes a big difference.”
Although Matters has been through the Dojo’s training system, he has found that there is still a lot to learn. Several components have been added to the 2020 curriculum since Matters’ initial intake in September 2018.
“The training has been really tough and challenging yet also rewarding,” he stated. “I feel we have a good team that really pushes each other to get through any workout, no matter how tough it may be. I still feel it is early into the course but it is going well so far.”
“Some of the weight sessions with Tangi-San have been difficult, but I have improved a lot and am lifting heavier weights each week.”
“A lot of the cardio is also extremely tough. It mostly comes down to breathing and being mentally strong,” he explained. “The biggest lesson I’ve taken away is that we are capable of so much more than what we think we are. Secondly, to use your goals to drive you and to never forget why I am doing what I am doing.”
“I have enjoyed it but also been very homesick,” Matters said in closing. “I try to think that everything at home is the same and I am not missing anything there, yet I am improving myself as not only a wrestler but a person too by being here.”