The addition of Strength & Conditioning training at the beginning of 2020 has been a focal part of the Fale Dojo / NJPW NZ Dojo three-month professional wrestling training course. As the head of this discipline, Tangi Ropati oversees, with great attention, the physical and nutritional development of the young lions.
“The young lions for the July Intake are filled with experienced and first-time wrestlers,” said Ropati, who is steeped in a rich sporting background with careers in international Rugby League as well as Fitness & Bodybuilding.
“They have all been put through a fairly tough month of training,” he continued. “For a lot of them, it’s not what they expected it to be coming into this NZ Dojo, especially for those without previous experience.”
“This profession is not for everyone,” he added. “Nevertheless, the young lions so far have shown signs of heart, passion, and determination to get through the intense training.”
Ropati concluded: “There are plenty of weeks ahead to help these lions to develop into top elite wrestlers to one day compete in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.”
Torquay, Victoria, Australia
Since completing the June and September intakes in 2019, Jake Taylor (along with Oskar Münchow) were selected to move on to the NJPW Dojo in Tokyo for advanced training. Taylor returned to Australia in March 2020 following his three months in Tokyo with plans to resume his training at Fale Dojo. However, with the disruption of the COVID pandemic, Taylor (along with the other lions from Australia) couldn’t travel to New Zealand, having to wait over a year for the Trans-Tasman travel bubble to take effect. Taylor’s close connection to NZ was also another reason why he was eager to return. Taylor, who is part Maori, with links to iwi’s Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama, and Te Atiawa has always felt at home in NZ. Taylor has returned to Fale Dojo as a Senior Lion, bringing with him a wealth of insight he attained while training at the New Japan Dojo.
“Fale Dojo brought me closer to my dream. Training at NJPW Dojo last year was incredible, without Fale Dojo that may never have happened. NJPW Dojo was a bit of a culture shock, Fale Dojo prepared me in areas such as Japanese etiquette and the training in strong style. Training in NZ is less individual-focused than it is in Japan. We really do all work together as a team to reach our goals.
“Getting to Japan did come with a price, it put a strain on my previous relationship, the uncertainty became too much, and we separated. I missed birthdays, weddings and just missed a lot of time with loved ones. Japan was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Mentally, I was tired from my breakup.
“Training was extremely hard. I was tired mentally and physically every day. But from the fighting spirit that I gained in NZ, I knew I wasn’t going to quit.
“This intake is definitely different from the two previous intakes I did in 2019. There are many different personalities, goals, many different levels of experience, and diverse backgrounds as well.
“Living in the Dojo house as opposed to living upstairs at the Dojo has been interesting. It’s challenging sometimes not having a car to get around but it’s also best to have that separation from the Dojo itself after training and on the weekends.
“The Last time Oskar and I were here in NZ, we pushed each other like crazy to make sure we got to Japan. Now it’s teaching the rest of the guys what they need to do but also use what I have learned in Japan with the intense training to keep us all at an elevated level.”
Otara, South Auckland, New Zealand
Richard Mulu has been a mainstay at Fale Dojo since 2018. While being exposed to New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s strong style, Mulu, an NZ-born Samoa resonated with the style after watching Toks Fale embrace the hard-hitting genre. As a member of the Fale Dojo General Community Class, WrestleFit, (which was then a beginner’s wrestling class), Mulu trained under the watchful eye of Tony Kozina and was mentored by Toks Fale in applying his build to wrestling the ‘big man’ style. Mulu studied Toks Fale intently, learning effective subtleties and simplicities such as the facials, posture, and movement of a big man. Mulu put his skills into action as a regular competitor on the Fale Dojo Exhibition shows where he gained invaluable experience. In 2020, Mulu took the next step in becoming a young lion during which he completed two intakes. Mulu has returned for his third intake; ready to take himself to the next level.
“With this being my third Intake, nothing’s really changed other than training with a large group. There is a vast amount of experience within this intake. It’s a challenge at times but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You have to embrace EVERYTHING! We’re doing so much more compared to the February 2020 intake when Covid-19 first hit us, and a lot of restrictions were put in place.
“This first month has been physically and mentally exhausting as I’m also working in the evenings which certainly takes its toll. But I’m always reminded of WHY I’m here and WHO I’m doing this for. That helps me to face any obstacle in my path. There will always be something in the way, but I know I’m able to conquer it and I’m capable of doing a lot more.”
ELI PERENISE TAITO
Otara, South Auckland, New Zealand
Eli Taito is new to professional wrestling; however, he holds an extensive background in military training, and combat fighting in the disciplines of Freestyle Wrestling, Boxing, Kyokushin Karate, and Kickboxing. More recently, Taito competed at the NZ King of the Ring Kickboxing tournament. Taito grew up watching pro-wrestling at an early age with his cousin, Richard Mulu, and although the two would embark on different journeys, they would eventually reunite in pursuit of the same dream. Taito joined the Fale Dojo General Community Classes in April this year where his interest in wanting to cross over to pro-wrestling became clear after taking part in the NJPW NZ Dojo tryout this past May.
“Pro-wrestling is something that I’ve always wanted to pursue. My cousin Richard and I grew up watching wrestling together. I haven’t seen much of the wrestling that we used to watch. But I love the intensity of New Japan Pro-Wrestling and I like that New Japan’s strong style is treated with the respect of a combat sport.
“New Japan’s strong style mindset is similar to the training that I grew up on. I wrestled as a student at Waitakere College in West Auckland and was a part of club wrestling with the Kelston Gladiators Olympic Wrestling Club because our school didn’t have a team. I won the National Secondary School, and Club Wrestling Championships at 96kgs in 2008 and competed in the Downunder Games in Australia that same year.
“In 2015 I won Silver Medal at the National Club Wrestling Championships and was selected to compete in the Oceania Wrestling Championships that were held here in 2016. From there, I trained and competed as a boxer and kickboxer. In a way, I’ve come full circle, now training as a professional wrestler at Fale Dojo.
“This past month has been cool, naturally with a large number of guys there’s bound to be a few personality clashes, but it just goes with the territory.
“There are similarities in pro-wrestling training and to what I was doing previously. The most common is that you have to reach a high fitness level needed to be able to perform. Learning to adapt to this new environment can be challenging. Fortunately, my background in shoot fighting is a foundation in strong-style wrestling.
“Getting the NJPW tracksuits has been a highlight: I still have so much to learn. I’m constantly looking to improve and better myself not only as a wrestler but all around. The intake has been fun, and we’ve been through difficulties, but the end is worth it.”
Manurewa, South Auckland, New Zealand
Daniel Puru is the youngest member of Fale’s pride. Having spent his teenage years growing up at Fale Dojo; Puru, during his first visit at the Dojo in late 2017 as a 15-year-old, was introduced to the WrestleFit beginner’s wrestling class for the general community. Puru, who is of Tongan and Maori heritage reflected the Dojo’s initial mission statement to offer a pathway for young Maori and Pasifika from South Auckland the opportunity to pursue a career in pro-wrestling. Puru was tall for his early age (he was 6 foot 1 inch when he first arrived), played sports, and showed a natural ability to adapt to the ring. His potential developed throughout the years with the guidance of the Dojo trainers. Now at 19 years of age and standing at 6’4, Puru joins the ranks of the 2021 July Intake.
“I’ve been an NJPW fan for a long time for its realness and gritty style. I came to the Dojo in 2017 to buy some New Japan merchandise when Mark-San asked me if I wanted to come to be part of the wrestling class. I kept going back to the Dojo from there.
“The training is different from when I first started working out at the Dojo. We were training in a small garage; we’d be pulling broken cars and running up and down the road. Now we have this big open space to train in and all the equipment and facilities we need. I’m happy that I was able to see the Dojo grow to what it is today.
“My journey as part of the 2021 July intake has been really good, it can be hard but that comes with being part of one of the top wrestling schools in the world. There are times when I’ve made it hard on myself because I can talk too much which leads to me having extra training time. The biggest lesson I’m taking from training is to take in every word spoken to us by the coaches.
“It’s great to have the support of the lions, we are able to feed off each other’s energy. The more we’ve come to know each other the better our training becomes.
“I have to admit that I’m a bit rusty, I’ve been away for a bit because of work commitments, so I’ve had to start from square one. But the reaction of people at the Dojo when they found out that I was doing this intake has been uplifting. Fale Dojo has always been my home.
“Someone that’s inspired me in my training is my Mum. Listening to Fale-San share about how he’s been able to look after his parents and that peace he has that they never have to work again is what keeps me motivated every day. I hope that one day I can do the same for my Mum and pay her back everything that she’s done to get me to the places where I’m at today.”
NJPW NZ Dojo Tryout Scholarship Recipient
Oceanside, California, USA
Tumanako Te’i is the only international lion outside the Trans-Tasman to be training in the 2021 July Intake. Since the global pandemic, Te’i has been living with his Kiwi mother who trains at the Fale Dojo General Community Classes and brought the Dojo’s three-month professional wrestling training course to his attention. This led to Te’i’s enquiries to which he discovered the NJPW NZ Dojo tryout. With no previous wrestling experience, Te’i grasped the opportunity with both hands. Following the tryout, Te’i was informed of his acceptance into the 2021 July Intake.
“What’s inspired me to pursue this is not only being a huge fan of wrestling but also I saw this as an opportunity which I never really imagined possible. Having the support of my fellow lions and coaches is affirming and has given me the confidence to give this opportunity everything I have. Lastly, my family, especially my Mum, are always in my corner ready to offer their love so I can pursue this dream. I have confidence in my own discipline and work ethic to undergo the strenuous pressures that the intake requires of me.
“Japan is the first place I remember living, I was born in San Diego, my Dad who was in the US Navy was transferred to Japan when I was still an infant, and I eventually spent the first 7 years of my life there. My memories there are very positive: the food, the people, the scenery, and the culture are just amazing. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of New Japan Pro-Wrestling because even when I lived in Japan I watched WWE, but I really wish I did watch New Japan. From what I have seen and heard, New Japan is more intense, and the matches are so physical that they are more real than what I grew up watching in the States. I’m excited to be learning more in this intake.
“My journey at Fale Dojo is still just beginning. I’ve learned a lot about not only wrestling but myself. There are times when I really had to look inside myself and see what’s in there to find some strength, hope, and inspiration to continue. Reflecting on my first month, I’m ecstatic about the gains I’ve made and I’m excited that there are 2 months to continue the journey and just continue to work to become the best version of myself both mentally and physically.
“I would place an emphasis on the mental aspect because I know the body is capable of many things that you would not even believe and with enough time and stress it is forced to adapt to its environment. The mind however wants to tell you to stop, but I believe like the body, it can be trained to become stronger and withstand increased stress than before. Before this intake, there’s no way I would just pop 1000 squats for fun but now I can do more than 2000 if my mental capacity can hang in there through the pain.
“Having responsibilities inside and outside the ring, doing things right away, knowing when to do more, knowing when to relax, at the end of the day, everything is a test, and everything is a lesson, and you’ll know when you’ve messed up because you’ll be doing a thousand squats first thing in the morning at training.
“My perspective about pro-wrestling has evolved since training at Fale Dojo. I’ve come to realise that person-to-person relationships are massive in this business and the stakes could not be any higher. If you and your opponent are not on the same page, then someone could get hurt or even die.
“I’m rubbing shoulders with guys who have wrestled for years, some guys from different countries, different racial backgrounds and I’ve found that I can still make a connection through things other than wrestling (not just our shared suffering either). I think it’s essential that we know each other well because without the other guys there is no match, we must work together as a team to accomplish things.
“My long-term goal is to get my name out there and set myself up for a film career. No seriously, that is goals (did you hear his correctly??) just look at what the Rock, Batista, and John Cena have done, they’re killing it on the big screens.”