The NJPW New Zealand Dojo welcomed the second intake of 2021 which commenced on the first week of July. The three-month professional wrestling training course is designed and led by Toks Fale aka ‘Rogue General’ Bad Luck Fale, Dojo Co-Director, and New Japan Pro-Wrestling star. He is joined by his coaching staff of Mark Tui, Dojo Co-Director and Coach; Tony Kozina, Pro-Wrestling Head Coach; and Tangi Ropati, Strength and Conditioning Coach.
This intake is the largest group since the Dojo’s inception in 2016. A total of 14 young lions converged on the Fale Dojo facility in Otahuhu, Auckland ranging from different parts of NZ, Australia, and the United States. Since halfway through the previous intake, the young lions moved to the Dojo house nearby the facility. Learning to live together as a group is a vital part of their training, so added emphasis has been placed on this aspect of the curriculum.
In addition, the 2021 July Intake is currently being followed by a film crew for a full-length series about the NZ Dojo.
“This intake has been challenging because of delays due to COVID-19,” said Toks Fale. “The trainees have gotten stuck into it and have really proved that no matter all the troubles, they can still push through the adversities they face.”
He added: “There has been a lot of progress in this short time and I’m looking forward to seeing how they pull through the adversities of this intake.”
This three-part article documents the lion’s journey as they reflect on their first month of training.
Mount Wellington, Auckland, New Zealand
Michael Richards is revelling in the recently growing number of lions in Fale’s pride which is made up predominantly of New Zealanders and Australians. This is due to the Trans-Tasman agreement between New Zealand and Australia which allows residents of both countries to travel back and forth. As a Senior Lion, Richards is tasked with creating a space that ensures every lion in the intake has a voice, as well as all lions training together as a unit. Richards hasn’t been able to train due to a recent injury, however, this does not take away his ability to lend his experienced voice in helping to lead the pride.
“This is my first time ever living with 13 guys in a house, you can imagine the amount of testosterone that is built up, haha! But to be serious, we all get along well. We have team bonding sessions every weekend. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows; we do clash with one another whether that is during training or at the house, but it is quickly rectified with communication.
“This intake is a lot different compared to the previous February Intake, in a lot of ways. This intake is more focused on wrestling and shoot fighting due to the number of students from overseas that have come through. Whereas the February Intake was based more on our strength and conditioning: They are both intense in their own ways.
“Recently, I had a high ankle sprain which has taken me out of action for a few weeks. In the meantime, I’m glad to be here for the lions, and I’m still able to take the General Community’s WrestleFit classes. I’m inspired by the number of lions that we have. It’s competitive which brings fire out of everyone.”
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Andrew Villalobos has quickly found his rhythm since settling into New Zealand life. Villalobos lives and trains alongside the young lions. Like Richards, Villalobos, as a Senior Lion helps to uphold the standards expected of the lions. Managing a pride of 10-plus with diverse personalities was a massive task in its initial stages. However, Villalobos excelled in this undertaking and has since emerged as an astute and refined leader.
“Training with a large group is ruthless. I’ve done the Dojo life before, but we have a lot of guys with different personalities, different pet peeves, different cultures, and so things can get full on. Overall, we’ve built a solid brotherhood and it’s been a great experience to build up my leadership skills.
“I only experienced the backend of the last Intake. I’ve found that during these past few weeks, there’s been a lot more progression on a weekly basis. Not so much murderous stagnant workouts but more so workouts that are pushing the limits physically and mentally. However, growth and maturity are being shown from the whole team each day, and morale is a lot better.
“My highlight would be having a sit down with just the boys and hashing out how we feel and what we expect from this intake. Getting to understand where everyone’s coming from and having a back and forth has really made us feel comfortable with each other. We’ve given guys the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones.
“Incidents such as not being on top of cleaning chores can throw a spanner in the works in regard to training and morale but overall, we have the mindset of attacking everything as a team no matter what.
“Listening to Fale-San and Tony-San speak about their expectations of us and what they believe I am capable of definitely lights that fire and assures me that I’m on the right path. I’m blessed to wake up every day with health and opportunity.”
Manurewa, South Auckland, New Zealand
Lloyd Morgan has not been fully present in the intake due to being called away on jury duty for three weeks. However, this does not affect the training of this experienced lion as Morgan’s primary focus as a referee is to develop his understanding of an NJPW wrestler built on what he achieved in the previous intake. As a resident at the Dojo house, Morgan is active in the day-to-day life of the house and is present at the Fale Dojo facility during the General Community Classes in the evenings where he joins the other lions in maintaining the facilities and assisting the trainers.
“I’m pleased that we have a big intake this time around. I’ve formed some strong friendships with the new lions and reconnected with our returnees. I absolutely miss training with the boys, I’m gutted with the timing and having to miss the first three weeks of the intake.
“In the time that I have trained with the boys, I’ve found it to be quite satisfying. There are minor challenges, but I credit the gruelling and intense workouts that the coaches, especially what Tangi-San put us through in the previous intake.
“Tangi-San has a deceiving smile; he can present a workout like we’re going on a Sunday jog. But reality hits us hard when we’re gasping for air. I wouldn’t have it any other way. At the end of the day, we come away stronger and grateful to have conquered a massive feat.
“In the meantime, I’m maintaining my fitness by working out in my spare time and taking part in several of the General Community Classes. I can’t wait to fully engage in the intake.”
Hastings, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
The increased number of lions is a common theme amongst those who were present in the previous intakes, they have welcomed their new brothers with open arms. This is especially apparent for Will Averill who by nature is sociable and down to earth; not forgetting that Averill was just one of two lions during his initial September 2020 intake before becoming part of a trio in the previous class of February 2021. A highlight for Averill is the outdoor training sessions held throughout various locations around Auckland. This can be a double-edged sword as it is an opportunity to experience wonderful scenery, but the main objective of these sessions is to build teamwork and push one’s fitness.
“This being my third intake, I enjoy training with a large group compared to the smaller groups from the previous two intakes. There is always positive energy to bounce off. Each of the guys that brings their experience have different and useful advice to share. I also find that with more sets of eyes and hands, cleaning can become easier.
“We’ve had some massive training sessions around Auckland just in this first month of the intake. Of all the workouts that we’ve completed so far, the most challenging started outside the Dojo. We had to walk around the block [the length of 2 kilometres] while taking turns lifting a large truck tire high over our heads in the cold winter rain while the other lions carried each other on their backs.
“This exercise required a full team effort. If we weren’t working together as a team; the coaches would pull us to the side on the grass to do 10 burpees before we could carry on with the exercise.
“To call this workout ‘challenging’ is an understatement. But it’s lessons like this that have helped increase my fitness and endurance, and for that I’m thankful. Every day we’re pushed to go beyond what we exceeded the day before.
“I’ve had very few setbacks. However, one, in particular, is a nagging injury that I got at the very end of the last intake as it took me a while to bounce back from, I felt like I took few steps back. Since this intake, I’ve noticed continued improvements in and outside the ring. I’m slowly seeing things come together piece by piece. It reminds me that I’m a step closer to reaching my goals.”
Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand
The voice is a powerful leadership tool. Throughout the previous intake, AJ Visagie’s voice was heard increasingly, particularly in the trenches of the Fale Dojo General Community Classes where his roars of encouragement helped give members the confidence to push themselves. On many occasions, Visagie would go the extra mile and do the workouts alongside certain individuals who he felt needed that extra support. Visagie has developed a friendly rapport with many in the General Community Classes. So much so that during the July Intake, he was promoted to the Front of House for the evening classes. This role was previously held by his predecessors Derrick Shaw, and Will Averill.
“I am absolutely humbled to be able to help the Dojo financially. Connecting with the public has helped reinforce my confidence from doing the training and vice versa. It gives me the awareness that I personally can help Fale Dojo and the wider community thrive with my skill set and personality. I am better prepared to go into the workforce having now recognised more of my strengths.
“This larger group of young lions have incentivised camaraderie rather than individualism. We get through cleaning a lot faster, especially compared to February’s three-man intake. There were some teething problems at first – as expected. We needed to be better organised so that clashes in personalities would not cause problems. We make do with what we have, and I feel that we are thriving and bouncing off of each other’s energies which keeps us moving forward.
“We have been doing a lot more team bonding amongst the lions. I feel more connected with the other lions and feel valued for who I am. I still struggle with self-confidence, but I feel reassured in the effort I am putting out.
“Our training in this intake has more variety with priority placed on sparring. For me, the training is about polishing my skill set from the previous intake and reinforcing the lessons I have been taught.
“After having done the last intake, I now have a sense of confidence and more of a willingness to experiment when sparring. Learning from the new people who have wrestling and or combat sports backgrounds has been very insightful. I appreciate the support from everyone.”