As the Head Coach of Pro-Wrestling at Fale Dojo / NJPW NZ Dojo, Tony Kozina is responsible for shaping the minds and abilities of the young lions. His objective is to ensure that the lions are always on point with their training and are being pushed to do more with each session.
Kozina’s expectations go beyond the wrestling ring. With over 25 years of experience in the wrestling profession, Kozina applies his vast knowledge to teaching the young lions life skills that are necessary for understanding the Japanese culture and the life of a traveling professional wrestler. Kozina is available to the lions 24/7. With every intake that has trained under Kozina, he often sees the lions at their very best and worst as part of their growth.
“We are just over one month into the July intake and progress varies across the board,” said Kozina, the esteemed international coach. “We have some students with some in-ring experience and a few with zero. With a larger number of students, personalities clash more, because as one tries to take a shortcut that blows up in their face, everyone receives the punishment.”
“It is a time for each individual to learn to take full accountability for their actions at all times,” he stated. “The interesting thing is those who haven’t earned the full respect of their peers will likely feel that in the ring at Exhibition – Lion’s Roar on August 14th. This could get interesting.”
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Sebastian Matters is one of several Fale Dojo returnees to join the NJPW NZ Dojo 2021 July Intake. Much has evolved at the Dojo from when he first arrived in September 2018. Matters has never forgotten his association with the Dojo and loves to share generously the experience with others. This is evident in his recent return as he has brought along with him two of his fellow wrestlers from Gold Coast, Queensland, Tim Hayden, and Mitch Ryder.
“The times between my first intake and now are vastly different. The first intake I completed had four people, this intake has more than triple that. We previously didn’t have to learn Japanese phrases to speak, and we lived upstairs at the Dojo. The addition of Tangi-San has also meant that we have more gym-based workouts and have better results physically.
“Communication is so important and with more people creates more problems that can be harder to resolve. I’ve really enjoyed having a larger Intake. It helps when it comes to training and having more brothers surrounding you and push you through. We have a bigger variety of wrestling styles and more challenges with finding chemistry with everyone.
“This intake has been full of ups and downs, but every day I learn and grow as a person. It can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but week by week I become a better wrestler, athlete, and human being.
“The biggest highlight for me is the improvement in our teamwork and communication. We do still have a long way to go but we have really opened up and have been able to better ourselves as a unit. I do get homesick on occasion, but the training is top-notch. I’m occupied and, on some days, we barely have an hour of free time to unwind.
“That’s the nature of being part of an international wrestling programme like the New Japan NZ Dojo. My perspective of pro wrestling is constantly changing as a direct result of the Dojo training programme that’s evolved. It helps to have some of the greatest Senpais in the world to learn from as they can help point us into a successful mindset.
“The change from Fale Dojo to NJPW NZ Dojo has come with even greater expectations put upon us. I use the lionmark logo to push me through training as we are training at the highest level a professional wrestler can train at.”
WARREN THOMAS WALTERS
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
‘Leaders come in and lead,’ these are the words that Toks Fale shared with Warren Thomas Walters when he first arrived at Fale Dojo. Walters comes with previous training experience having gained his initial wrestling education at Japan’s Wrestle-1 International Wrestling Camp, before furthering his craft at Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw) Academy in Germany. As the eldest member of the July Intake, Walters brings a wealth of life experience, plus many years as a chef in his native Australia and having lived overseas in Canada, Japan, and Germany. Walters has instilled these remarkable and unique strengths to serve the Dojo and the day-to-day life of the Dojo House.
“It’s been my childhood dream to become a professional wrestler. My first memories of watching wrestling were with my sister and dad in the early 1990s.
“I discovered Fale Dojo when it first opened at the beginning of 2017. I had returned to Australia from training in Japan at Wrestle-1 with Kaz Hayashi. Unfortunately, the Dojo had just started and didn’t have accommodation at the time, so I went to WXW in Germany instead.
“I’ve been based in Toronto, Canada, when in 2020 I was unlucky enough to be in the U.K. on holiday when covid hit. I couldn’t get back into Canada and had to return to Australia. That’s when I reached back out to Fale Dojo about training.
“I arrived in New Zealand a month before the start of the intake. This allowed me more time to build relationships with Fale-San, Mark-San, Tony-San, and Tangi-San, as well as to get a bit of a head start in regards to how the Dojo is run, the etiquette, and what to expect from the intake itself.
“There’s definitely more of a focus on shoot wrestling than pro wrestling here at the Fale Dojo / NJPW NZ Dojo. The training is also a lot more intense than I’ve previously experienced.
“A highlight for me was when we did 2000 squats. It was initially only meant to be 1000, but we had to restart numerous times due to bad timing and bad form. I’d never done that many before and to be honest the prospect was quite daunting. It was quite rewarding to see how far I could push myself physically.
“At 35 years, I’m a good 10 years plus older than most of the guys in the intake. My body has a few more miles on the clock. Unfortunately, I’ve been injured now for a couple of weeks and facing the possibility of having shoulder surgery which would not only end my intake but more than likely my in-ring career. This has been a bitter pill to swallow, but Fale-San and Mark-San have been incredibly supportive, as has everyone at the Dojo.
“My journey so far has been very positive. I’ve been a chef for 17 years and it’s honestly prepared me very well mentally for this training. There are similarities to chef life and training as far as hierarchy and structure.
“Living and training with a large group is interesting and has its pros and cons. Pros being there’s a lot of guys to motivate each other. Cons being some of the guys don’t put in as much effort as others and it slows others down.
“Since my injury, I’ve become more of the dad role at the house. Making sure guys have what they need, that they are comfortable and have someone to vent to, driving them to get their groceries and to the Dojo. I’ve not just volunteered to take things as I have just come in and done what’s needed to be done both at the house and at the Dojo. I also make sure they get a kick up the bum and a stern talking to when they need it.
“My long-term goal in wrestling was to make a living in the industry wrestling. Whether that be with NJPW or otherwise. My current injury has made me re-assess the in-ring aspect of my goals and consider another path in pro-wrestling out of the ring.”
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Being part of a community is a challenge that Tim Hayden wrestled with during his formal education as a teenager. It wasn’t until when he discovered pro-wrestling that he found his purpose. As part of the Australian independent scene in Gold Coast, Queensland; Hayden formed a friendship with Sebastian Matters and Mitch Ryder. Matters being a Fale Dojo graduate recommended the Dojo to Hayden and Ryder. With the first month of training completed, Hayden reflects on his journey, adapting to the training, and being part of the Fale Dojo community.
“I didn’t enjoy my time in high school, so when I graduated I thought I’d go to uni because that’s what everyone else was doing. But I realised within the first two weeks that I didn’t want to be there. I was always a wrestling fan so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. I immediately fell in love with wrestling, and I haven’t looked back since.
“I heard about Fale Dojo from Sebastian when he did his first intake in 2018. The Dojo came highly recommended from Seb, when the opportunity to train here became available I jumped at it.
“Our intake has a variety of characters. It can be tough not having your own space and being around a lot of people 24/7. Being away from my family and friends has been harder than I initially thought.
“As much as it has been difficult, this journey has been rewarding so far. It’s nice to have great people to help me along the way. Some of the difficulties that I’ve had to overcome were the customs which were foreign to me at first, and the workouts that are on a whole other level. There’s no remedy better to tackle these challenges than simply learning them and training hard: The hard way is the easiest way.
“It helps also when you know the people you’re sparring with. Getting to see parts of Auckland as a group whether it’s for training or an outing has also brought us closer.
“The training has kept me focused, especially the way the training presents pro-wrestling as a real fight. This has become clear to me that the intensity and heart that you show impact the way your match feels. Nothing is more inspiring than seeing the NJPW logo during training. Seeing my goal as I train really helps me push through.”
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
Professional wrestling has been a lifelong passion for Mitch Ryder. From his first memories of watching wrestling in 2005, Ryder has only ever wanted to make his living as a pro-wrestler. When the opportunity came along to train at Fale Dojo, Ryder immediately jumped at the chance. However, this almost was not going to happen after the suspension of the Trans-Tasmin travel bubble between NZ and Australia when COVID cases began emerging throughout Australia. As the last of the Australian lions to arrive in NZ, Ryder was still waiting for his COVID test results to come back (having informed the lab of the nature of urgency) while at the airport with his luggage hoping to catch his scheduled flight. The results didn’t come back in time, though Ryder was determined and eventually arrived in NZ two days after.
“The battle to get to Fale Dojo was arduous, but it is worth it. The training is some of the toughest I have ever done by far. Learning to push through anytime my mind tells me to stop is something that I won’t soon forget.
“I have always loved pro-wrestling. For me, it has never been about making millions of dollars. The fact that I could make a living through wrestling is what inspires me and is the main goal to earn a comfortable living and be happy.
“Being away from my partner, our dog, and my family is the hardest challenge that I’m facing. But it doesn’t get more rewarding than completing a huge workout with the boys.
“I’m not used to living with anyone other than my partner and our dog, so to live with 10 plus other guys is certainly a new experience. We all gell well, I also am very used to training by myself, I’ve never really been part of a team before, and I really like it.
“NJPW is the pinnacle of professional wrestling; it’s treated truly like a sport. The athleticism is what drew me to it in the first place, and why I was trying my best to make it to NZ to be part of this intake. What I’ve taken away from this intake so far is that this is the best wrestling training in the world, and to embrace that is going to be hard of course. When it does get hard, I find inspiration from Fale-San’s words, ‘there is greatness within you.’“