Fale Dojo / NJPW New Zealand Dojo welcomed the final intake for 2021. Beginning on the first week of October, the three-month professional wrestling training course is led by Toks Fale, aka ‘Rogue General’ Bad Luck Fale of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. As Head Trainer, Fale is joined by his coaching staff comprised of Mark Tui (Coach and Dojo graduate); Tony Kozina (Pro-Wrestling Head Coach); and Tangi Ropati (Strength & Conditioning Coach).
With 25 years of experience, Coach Kozina brings a wealth of knowledge to the Dojo’s pro-wrestling curriculum. Kozina has helped train many wrestlers, the most notable of which include Bad Luck Fale, Kyle O’Reilly, and Aaron Solow. The 2021 October intake marks Kozina’s 10th class since arriving in June 2018 from Portland, Oregon, USA.
“Straight away, the October intake was full of surprises, both good and disappointing,” said Coach Kozina. During the second month of the 2021 July Intake, Auckland went back into lockdown just days after the Lion’s Roar Exhibition showcase. Auckland remains under the lockdown restrictions. However, training continued for the rest of the intake and into the October intake.
“Due to flights being delayed to Australia, three of the Aussie boys from the July intake had no choice but to stay in New Zealand,” explained Kozina, the international trainer. “So, they decided they would partake in this intake as well. It’s been an eye-opening experience for them all.”
“We have five solid wrestlers with similar experience and potential,” stated Kozina, who oversees the day-to-day training of the young lions. “The question remains… are they looking to stay and make a career out of this? The three-month intake is one thing; but to get to Japan, on the NJPW roster is a full-time commitment, otherwise, it’s not likely to happen.”
Kozina went on to discuss where the lions are presently in their training, and what lies ahead.
“I think the boys are getting a full understanding of that now,” Kozina the veteran observed. “With that said, every one of them is progressing with every session and are maturing in the ring, and we could finally be developing a nucleus of guys. Key phrase: could be.”
Kozina added: “Time will tell. We have a BIG 2022 planned. There’s no better time than now to make the full commitment if this is what you want. That’s what I say to them and to anyone else wanting to come train at NJPW NZ Dojo.”
In this article, the young lions of the 2021 October intake, reflect on their individual and collective goals as they reach the halfway mark of their three-month training.
Mount Wellington, Auckland, New Zealand
Michael Richards is the longest-serving Fale Dojo lion. This is Richards’ 10th intake. His initial intake was as a young lion in Tony Kozina’s first class. Richards has been a Senior in the other nine while working closer to his goal to becoming a professional wrestler with New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
“This Intake so far has been great; we all have multiple years of wrestling experience. Three of us have already trained at the NJPW Dojo in Tokyo, so we are all training hard with at least four-plus hours of wrestling every day. We are fine-tuning everything so that we can be razor-sharp.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t a part of the Lion’s Roar Exhibition show in the last intake due to a sprained ankle. Watching my Dojo brothers wrestle gave me a massive itch to get in the ring and shoot around. It hit me quite hard, to be honest. I hate missing opportunities.
Even though we have lesser numbers in this intake, I prefer training with a smaller group. We get more work done in the gym and in the ring. Whereas the July intake, there was always a lot of waiting for your turn.
The benefits are just the non-stop learning I get from being here. The amount of knowledge and experience at the NZ Dojo is everything that is expected in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. There is progress happening each day for which I’m extremely grateful. This is my life now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Another product of Coach Kozina’s first class is Andrew Villalobos. The Senior Lion has easily acclimated to life in New Zealand after leaving behind his life in Sydney to pursue his passion as a professional wrestler. Despite past challenges, Villalobos remains unphased.
“The end of this intake will mark six months living in New Zealand. This is the longest I’ve been away from home. I’ve grown accustomed to the lifestyle. As I’ve previously mentioned, this is a permanent move and I’m still holding strong. I am used to NZ life now.
The Lions Roar Exhibition was different due to the travel restrictions that prevented international students from coming to NZ. In the end, it was another learning opportunity. Training with a smaller group is better, we’ve trimmed the fat and kept the ones who are serious about chasing a career in New Japan.
Regardless of the dramas from the previous intake and the stress from the documentary, I have learned a lot from Fale-San and Tony-San, and I’ve learned a lot of skills that I believe separate me from the pack.”
Torquay, Victoria, Australia
Jake Taylor’s focus in his training is learning to wrestle the ‘big man’ style. The 6-foot 5-inch Senior Lion makes the effort to initiate communication and to continuously seek guidance from the coaches, particularly Toks Fale who is a specialist in this specific genre. By asking questions and continuing to develop his knowledge, Taylor will be able to get closer to his goal which is finding his way back to Japan.
“The big focus from last intake and this current intake for me is to keep asking questions. Even if it becomes annoying for the other guys, where training might turn into a ‘big man’ focused session because I’m constantly asking what I should do here and there in a match.
Being 6 foot 5 inches and experiencing being a young boy on shows in Japan, I was taller than most of the wrestlers with only Lance Archer at the time only being taller. Fale-San continues to train me in that ‘big man’ style. So, every day I’m just picking his brain. I’m not the biggest extrovert but once you are in the ring, if you can’t show any character or think you might look stupid then the crowd has no reason to get behind you.
The Exhibition show was an amazing experience. I loved doing all the grappling competitions, and as always, I enjoyed battling Andrew [Villalobos]. There’s a healthy rivalry between Andrew, Michael [Richards], and I; we are constantly pushing each other to achieve our goals and leading the next guys who sign up to the Dojo.
During my time in Japan, I got injured, and I let it get to me mentally. Being hurt, I couldn’t prove what I had, and it was frustrating. I guess you could say I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, I want to redeem myself as well as regain the confidence of [Takashi] Iizuka-San and the other Senpais at the New Japan Dojo.”
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Sebastian Matters is now in his third intake. Over time, and with the right environment and guidance, Matters‘ confidence has grown significantly. So much so that the lion’s fighting spirit has reawakened and he is determined to pursue a career with New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
“My journey has been a bit unexpected and I’m only just finding a set routine now. I originally intended on staying just for the July intake, but I since decided to continue my training in pursuit of debuting in Japan. I didn’t want to leave behind any excuses, I believe that if I continue to train at this level I can one day wrestle on the top cards of NJPW.
The Exhibition show in August also happened to be my first-time wrestling in New Zealand. It was cool to wrestle Mitch [Ryder]. Mitch is someone who I trained with back in Queensland but never had a one-on-one match with until we locked up at Exhibition.
Training with a smaller group is so much better. We have all gotten to know each other’s strengths and flaws, and we can work together a lot easier than trying to find chemistry with everyone in a larger group.
It also helps that we have five competent wrestlers where we can have less focus on fundamentals and split hairs on the more advanced things. The benefit from multiple intakes is that there is always a bit of a different focus and training is always changing up. Not having any new guys to have to introduce to the system also gives us more ring time for us to improve.”
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
With one intake already under his belt, Tim Hayden is now experiencing the benefits of doing consecutive intakes at Fale Dojo. The first intake introduced Hayden to the fundamentals of the New Japan training system. While the second intake equates to post-graduate studies where training becomes more thorough and intensely in-depth.
“This is my second intake at the NZ Dojo, so far, it’s been great. There’s real positive energy amongst the boys and the Senpais! We’re all focused and eager to progress as a team and develop our individual skills.
I was supposed to fly back home to Queensland before COVID forced the Trans-Tasman borders to close, but I couldn’t return home in time. While it wasn’t my intention on doing a second intake, I’m very happy with the way things have turned out. More than ever, I’m motivated and eager to train harder.
The Exhibition event in August was an incredible experience. Unfortunately, I became injured during my match, which caused me to miss a fair bit of this current intake, which is why it was worthwhile for me to come back!
Training in a smaller group has allowed us to have more one-on-one time with the Senpais. We’ve stayed focused on some of the finer details, and this makes all the difference.”