The trainees are shown at the NZ Dojo house (located in Mangere, South Auckland) doing various chores around the property. The Dojo house was previously the family home of Toks Fale where he grew up; subsequently converted into a dormitory for the trainees.
Fale shared that as one of eleven siblings, the family home was always opened to members of their extended family that came to stay with them before moving on to start their lives. This has been a common part of Pasifika culture in New Zealand, going back to the 1950s when Pacific families migrated from the islands to fill NZ’s demand for labour jobs.
In the same way, Fale maintained the cultural values at the Dojo house. Trainees from all parts of the world will stay at the house before moving on at the completion of their training.
Tumanako Te’i was one of the successful applicants for the NZ Dojo tryouts. Born in California, USA to his Samoan father, and his mother who is part Maori and part Samoan, Te’i is already accustomed to what is expected at the Dojo house. Te’i expressed excitement and confidence about the challenges ahead.
Welcome to Mangere
One of the first trips the trainees and the coaches take together is to the Mangere Town Centre to shop for groceries. Fale shared about the challenge that comes with shopping for a large group of trainees is the cost of food because wrestlers are required to eat a lot.
However, the flea market in Mangere Town Centre is an excellent alternative to the more expensive supermarkets, where the best affordable deals can be found. The food is fresh and healthy and is a great way to support small, local businesses and put money back into the community.
A Redemption Story
Michael Richards, an NZ Dojo Senior Lion, spoke about his experience in competing at the 2019 Young Lions Cup. Richards was very open in sharing that it wasn’t his best showing.
What followed afterward in the locker room was an admonishment so severe that it shook him. Richards, however, showed determination in resuming his training at the Dojo in a mission of redemption to return to Japan.
Fale arrived at the NZ Dojo training facility where he was greeted by several of the trainees. Fale led the trainees through the Senpai system which included etiquette and greetings in how they should address each other and their elders in the Japanese culture. The trainees were expected to know all the greetings by Monday.
Monday rolled around as Richards led the trainees in the New Japan warm-up which consisted of stretches and a 3-kilometre group run (1.8 miles) around the block while holding a large rope. The warmup itself is demanding, but it was only an appetiser to a very intense session.
Fale noticed that some of the trainees had not memorised the Japanese greetings. As a result, the entire class had to do one thousand squats – a workout that is infamous with past graduates. Those who already knew the greetings and etiquettes were not pleased, nevertheless, this was an opportunity for the trainees to work together as a unit.
The coaches as well as Richards had to stop the exercise numerous times for several reasons that came down to the trainees not communicating. Because of the lack of teamwork amongst the trainees, the workload was doubled to two thousand squats. At this stage, Richards became visibly frustrated at the class.
Finally, after completing the two thousand squats, Fale told the trainees that they would have done one thousand squats if they had just listened to the instructions. The lesson behind everyone moving at the same pace was that the discipline must transfer to the ring. Wrestlers should move together, and if you’re moving faster than your opponent then other wrestlers will not want to work with you.
Richards and Andrew Villalobos await Jake Taylor’s arrival at Auckland International Airport who had flown in from Torquay, Victoria, Australia. Richards and Villalobos have trained together at the Dojo since June 2018.
As Senior Lions, their styles in leadership are vastly different but are also complementary to each other. Villalobos described their styles as Richards being the ‘angry dad,’ and he (Villalobos) being the ‘nice mum.’
Taylor appeared, proudly wearing his NJPW jacket. He acknowledged Richards and Villalobos with a Japanese greeting.