When the Fale Dojo professional wrestling training school was created by Toks ‘Bad Luck’ Fale in 2016, his initial purpose was to present it to his community so that young people could pursue the same opportunities that he had. As the first non-Japanese graduate of the New Japan Pro-Wrestling Dojo, Fale recognised the significant parallels between the Japanese culture and the Maori and Pasifika cultures; in particular the community values and the natural ability to engage in physical contact sports.
Fale believed that these attributes could be transferred over to pro wrestling, and this prompted him to construct a three-month wrestling curriculum that was based on the NJPW Dojo training system of strong style wrestling though slightly customised to cater to New Zealanders.
From there, Fale initiated a pathway for graduates from Fale Dojo to gain advanced training at the NJPW Dojo in Tokyo. Graduates from the first class of the Fale Dojo/NJPW Dojo pathway have since emerged onto New Japan’s world stage where they are thriving. This group that supports Fale’s earlier observations includes Toa Henare, of Cook Island, and Maori heritage from Ngapuhi and Ngai Takoto; ‘Switchblade’ Jay White of NZ European heritage; and ‘Young Gun’ Hikuleo who is an American of Tongan descent. Hikuleo is the youngest of the Fifita wrestling family which is headed by the patriarch King Haku. Hikuleo is also the first international student to train at Fale Dojo.
“I came to Fale Dojo in late 2016 to further my training in professional wrestling, honing in on the skill set of a big man,” said Hikuleo, who stands very tall at 6 feet, 8 inches, and learned the art of wrestling the ‘big man’ style directly from Toks Fale.
“We see how much success Fale has had, now just imagine all that knowledge being passed down to all his trainees,” he continued. “That’s what I gained while going through the Fale Dojo before entering the NJPW Dojo.”
“Training at Fale Dojo was almost a resemblance of everything I eventually went through at the NJPW Dojo,” Hikuleo recalled about his training. “From cleaning the ring, the offices, the kitchen, and bathroom, to the squats, push-ups, and wrestling itself. It was a preview of what was to come.”
On his arrival in New Zealand, Hikuleo was joined by his father, King Haku, and his older brothers, Tanga Loa and Tama Tonga. They came in preparation for New Japan’s first NZ-held show titled, NJPW On the Mat. The event was a career milestone for Hikuleo who made his professional debut in the opening match against his fellow graduate, Henare.
“Henare and I were the only two at the time at Fale Dojo, so we had a lot of 1 on 1 training with Fale,” he revealed. “A few key components that stick out was learning every bit of movement counted; from our body and face to little details like what positions are hands in, whether in a fist or just hanging, and not to waste any of it.”
The Fale Dojo curriculum proved valuable to Hikuleo in establishing the fundamentals of strong-style wrestling. However, the experience of training under Toks Fale was paramount to young Hikuleo’s growth who strongly identified with Fale as a ‘big man’ which he alluded to as well as a proud Tongan.
“Fale Dojo is more than just wrestling,” explained ‘Young Gun’. “The transition into the dojo system was made a lot smoother because of our Polynesian background and how we were brought up.”
“Applying basic common sense of respecting the elders, especially the ones who’ve pathed the way for us was the key ingredient to making it through,” he described passionately. “Once you see these legends and superstars around and you talk to them they should only want to push you harder to be on their level. Not just to gain their respect but also put your family name up there beside or above theirs.”
“It’s definitely been a benefit to learn from Fale, I’m lucky to still be learning from him when we’re working together,” Hikuleo shared about his trainer the ‘Rogue General’. “There are not many big men around the business that you can get this type of knowledge. Then again there are not many big men around that’s accomplished as much as Fale has. There are a few wrestlers I draw inspiration from and Fale is definitely one of them. It’s not just being about a big man in the ring, it’s being a professional outside.”
After emerging from the NJPW Dojo in 2017, Hikuleo joined Bad Luck Fale, Tanga Loa, and Tama Tonga as a member of Bullet Club. During which, he toured full-time with New Japan Pro-Wrestling until 2019 before moving to the United Kingdom for his excursion. Since September 2020, Hikuleo has been competing regularly in the NJPW Strong television series which is produced in the United States where he is presently competing in the 2021 New Japan Cup USA tournament. Although much time has passed since he was training in New Zealand, Hikuleo still holds closely the foundation of his teachings in strong style wrestling that he learned at Fale Dojo.
“Fale Dojo is the place to learn first-hand how NJPW works and what they expect of you,” Hikuleo stated. “If you want to further and better your career, why wouldn’t you join Fale Dojo?”
‘Young Gun’ continued: “Being around Fale and seeing him have his own school in NZ while being a superstar in Japan shows that it is possible to achieve your dreams. He has a way for all Pacific Islanders to better themselves not only physically and in the ring but as a better human.”
“If you’re at Fale Dojo already, then you’re halfway there,” said the proud graduate in closing. “Fale and his trainers will give you all the tools you need, you just need to apply them.”