The journey of Yuto Nakashima is one that is remarkably rare. Nakashima, a former professional Mix Martial Arts fighter in his native Japan, crossed over to professional wrestling with a particular goal of joining the ranks of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Nakashima took part in two try-outs to train at the New Japan Dojo in Tokyo, renowned for its intense and rigorous training system that prepares young lions to compete on the main NJPW roster. Nakashima was unsuccessful in several try-outs, yet he remained determined to reach his goal. This led Nakashima to take an unconventional approach.
In June 2019, Nakashima travelled from his home in Gifu, Japan to Auckland, New Zealand where he began his formal professional wrestling training at Fale Dojo / NJPW NZ Dojo. Prior to becoming an official part of the NJPW system in 2020, the Dojo initially served as a New Japan affiliate that bridged a pathway for international non-Japanese graduates to gain further training in Japan. Toks Fale, the founder, and Head Coach of Fale Dojo embraced Nakashima for his relentless persistence.
“Here is a young man who refused to take no for an answer,” stated Toks Fale about his student Nakashima. “After failing his try-outs in Japan, Yuto sought other pathways to make it and in doing so, he found the Fale Dojo. That is what I call hungry.”
“Yuto was a stranger in a foreign land,” Coach Fale added. “He couldn’t speak English, but he surrendered himself to the training and did what he needed to get to his goal. I am immensely proud of this young lion.”
During his time at Fale Dojo, Nakashima learned the fundamentals of strong style wrestling which he blended with his MMA background, particularly in the disciplines of judo and Jujitsu. The young lion also put his skills to practice, wrestling in one of the student Exhibition showcase events. Nakashima also contributed his combat experience as the Kickboxing Coach for the Fale Dojo General Community Classes.
The Dojo staff found Nakashima to be a polite and courteous member of the community. He showed initiative in undertaking tasks and was super efficient in the workouts. Furthermore, Nakashima always demonstrated grace and humility, and as such was genuinely well-liked and respected by his Senpais, peers, and students from his Kickboxing class. After completing two consecutive intakes (a total of six months training), Nakashima returned to Japan equipped with his newly developed skills, ready to pursue his goal once again. This time, on his third try-out, Nakashima succeeded and was accepted into the New Japan Dojo.
“My training at NJPW Dojo was valuable and satisfying,” Nakashima explained of how his experience in New Zealand helped prepare his venture in Japan. “Fale Dojo laid the foundation in training me to wrestle and develop my instincts in times of struggle. The two went hand in hand as I discovered.”
“At NJPW Dojo, I trained at a very high level,” Nakashima explained. “Fale-San warned our intake that the standard will only get tougher when you transition between the two Dojos. NJPW Dojo is closely monitored, there is no room for going backward. You will not last if you lose your fighting spirit or misbehave.”
“I learned that your voice must have a strong presence.” As a key point of Nakashima’s training, he was keen to elaborate. “You must project and amplify your roar whether you’re wrestling, working out, or greeting others, especially your elders.”
After a year at the New Japan Dojo, Nakashima was ready for the next phase of his journey. The young lion made his NJPW debut on the 14th of February 2021 against his fellow young lion, Yuya Uemura. However, moments into the match as the two lions grappled, Nakashima suffered an injury to his left elbow so severe, that the referee immediately stopped the contest and declared Uemura the victor – much to the disheartened Nakashima who was on the cusp of stepping into the NJPW ring.
“I was disappointed, I thought I would beat Uemura,” Nakashima recalled after he angrily confronted and pushed his opponent Uemura while guarding his injured arm.
“I tore my ligament, but surgery was not necessary,” he said, revealing the extent of the damage to his elbow which forced him on the side-line for eight months. “Rehabilitation such as tube training helped with my recovery.”
The setback did not deter Nakashima the young lion. Having built resilience through the barriers he faced upon entering the wrestling profession, Nakashima was ever more determined to overcome this obstacle. If there was ever a time where Nakashima’s fighting spirit was tested, it would be at this point of his journey.
“It was important for me to keep my passion going and not to go backwards,” he stated. “I remembered my match at the Fale Dojo Exhibition show with a fellow student. We knew each other well, and he, having more experience pushed me beyond my comfort zone.”
“Then I thought of a scenario where I wrestled a rival that I had never met before,” the young lion described. “Unlike my opponents at Exhibition and at my first match in NJPW, I had no knowledge of who he was, what background he possessed, and whether he was friend or foe.”
Nakashima continued: “This took me back to a time at Fale Dojo where it was drilled into us that pro-wrestling should be treated as a fight. The reminder made me competitive, and it kept me from becoming complacent and to be vigilant when wrestling.”
“After five months, I started light training,” he shared. “I couldn’t work out in the ring yet, but I was keeping my fitness up by doing squats, push-ups, and jump rope.”
Nakashima returned to the ring on the 31st of October. With over twenty matches under his belt since coming back, one that is worth noting was a tag team event. This was a milestone for Nakashima the young lion, as one of his opponents that night was his trainer, the ‘Rogue General’ Bad Luck Fale.
“Professional wrestling fans will know the relationship between me and Mr. Fale,” said Nakashima. “I am pleased to be living my dream as a pro-wrestler, but I did not expect to live out another dream of wrestling Mr. Fale so soon.”
He added: “While wrestling against Mr. Fale, I learned the importance of having heart and never giving up. Fight even when it’s difficult; that is the essence of having a fighting spirit.”
Yuto Nakashima is an inspiring example of how the right attitude can move mountains. Presently, he is on a path that has been travelled by past Fale Dojo graduates such as ‘Switchblade’ Jay White, Aaron Henare, and Hikuleo. All three are now thriving on New Japan’s world stage. In addition, Nakashima is a rarity to the entire NJPW 50-year training system, having been the first Japanese young lion to gain his initial training abroad. Amazingly, Nakashima’s journey is similar to his trainer Toks Fale, who is the first foreigner to graduate from the NJPW Dojo.
“I am a Japanese-born Fale Dojo graduate,” Nakashima proudly stated. “I will never forget the words that Fale-San, Mark-San [Tui], and Tony-San [Kozina] shared with me that my dreams would come true. Their support means so much that I did not lose my heart and passion when I was injured and during the global pandemic.”
“I would like to thank everyone at Fale Dojo for accepting me,” Nakashima expressed his gratitude while closing. “I am grateful, Fale Dojo has changed my life significantly. Thank you very much.”