While training at the NZ Dojo, Warren Walters discovered the similarities between the Dojo’s training system and his background as a chef of 17 years. The hierarchy and the bonds that are formed are essential to the system in both disciplines.
Many years ago, Walters injured his shoulder in a car accident. Unfortunately for Walters, the injury resurfaced during a recent training session, Walters is unsure if he will be able to continue his quest in the ring due to this recurring injury.
Food For Thought
In the meantime, Walters (as the eldest of Fale’s pride) has used his valuable life experience to take care of the trainees. Before he can think about sitting down to enjoy the meal that he has prepared at the NZ Dojo house, Walters is always making sure that the trainees are served first.
The trainees are enjoying the cold breezy weather on their morning walk in Mission Bay beach (a popular destination in Auckland city) before they get into their workout.
With the upcoming Exhibition student showcase event, the trainees have a week to prepare. However, in these types of settings, several injuries have occurred.
“It’s a dangerous thing that we do,” said Toks Fale, the Head Coach of the NZ Dojo. “I give it up to anyone that pursues this as a professional career. But you have to be mentally prepared to go all the way – to do it properly.”
The opportunity to train at the NZ Dojo resonated deeply with Mitch Schoemaker (aka Mitch Ryder; as he is known on the Australian independent scene). After learning of the Dojo’s reputation and of the graduates that have gone on to have successful careers on the international stage, Schoemaker was determined to travel from Australia.
For Schoemaker, this meant leaving behind his loved ones, and even missing his initial flight while awaiting a COVID test that did not return on time, Schoemaker eventually joined the rest of the trainees in NZ.
For their workout, held in Kohimarama Road (a neighbouring suburb of Mission Bay) the trainees had to run up then down a long set of steps twenty times. While some are clearly thriving in this exercise, there are others who are finding this a challenge.
“I truly sympathise for these guys that are struggling,” said Fale. “We know what they’re going through because I’ve been through all of it. What we’re teaching them is that they can do it too, and this is where the work begins,”
“The sacrifices, the time you invest in yourself for the opportunity: I did this to go to New Japan,” explained Fale the 11-year veteran. “So, the question for all these guys is how much do you really want it?’”
“That’s not for me to answer, it’s for them, and I truly hope they find some clarity in this programme,” he assured. “Because I know what we’re doing at the NZ Dojo is right, but is it right for them?”
Young Lion’s Assemble
Back at the NZ Dojo house, the trainees begin setting up the ring to train for the upcoming Exhibition showcase.
The history behind the ring goes back to 2016 when Toks Fale built the squared circle when the Dojo first started. Additionally, the ring was used by the top New Japan Pro-Wrestling stars to train in when they visited NZ.
Accompanied to the Maori tune, Tutira Mai Nga Iwi, the trainees let out their roar as they charged into battle. Excitement absorbs the trainees who do not hold back on unleashing holds and strikes.
The controlled chaos is beneficial to all involved, especially for the least experienced who are sharing the ring with the more seasoned members of the class like Andrew Villalobos and Jake Taylor, and of course the coaches, Fale and Tony Kozina who delight in giving Villalobos a painful wishbone.
Although Schoemaker has been missing his family back home, it is moments such as this amongst his fellow trainees where he has found renewed strength.
At the conclusion of the training, Fale called on the trainees to show their roar by giving their most intense pukana.
When Coach Kozina was asked how he felt about the trainees heading into the Exhibition event, he did not feel confident. Kozina expressed with the number of injuries that have occurred, some trainees might get overly excited and attempt to do things that they have never done before.
Kozina, however, added that if they do what they know and what they were trained to do, and the rest of the trainees follow that example, then the show would be a wonderful experience.
Watch Lion’s Roar Episode 6 on NJPW World