NZ Dojo 2022 September Intake – Part 1

Fale Dojo / NZ Dojo welcomed its final intake of 2022. Commencing on the first week of September, this class is the one with the most participants to train at the Dojo.

Led by Toks Fale, Head Coach, New Japan Pro-Wrestling star, and the principal force behind the New Japan Tamashii brand; Fale is joined by his coaching team of Tony Kozina, Pro-Wrestling Coach, and Tangi Ropati, Strength & Conditioning Coach.

Also joining the class are Senior Senpais, Michael Richards, Andrew Villalobos, and Jake Taylor, who make up the 14-member intake that will feature in this two-part series.

This first instalment focuses on the young lions who have trained past their initial intake and wrestled on the inaugural New Japan Tamashii show, held in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

When chasing the dream of becoming a full-time professional wrestler, it is advised that one three-month intake would only go as far as to establish a foundation of professional wrestling training. Students are advised that in order to progress that they continue their training after their initial intake. This was the case for Nikolai Anton Bell who has trained for a full year, a completed total of three intakes.

“The majority of my time during the February intake was taken up with wrestling the Senior Senpais, Michael-San, Andrew-San, and Jake-San,” said Bell. “The last two intakes gave me extra conditioning and shoot wrestling, plus learning the Japanese etiquettes. So, by the time we had the September intake when my body became used to the fitness, I could spend more time focusing on wrestling and the physical side of training.”

After much preparation at the Dojo, Bell was ready to take the next step, making his New Japan Pro-Wrestling debut on the NJPW Tamashii show.

“Wrestling on the Tamashii show was really surreal,” Bell explained. “It’s crazy to see that a year of hard work at the Dojo gave me that opportunity. If you had asked me two years ago if I’d be wrestling, I would never have dreamt that it would be on an official NJPW show on the first Tamashii tour.”

“Two years ago, I was studying broadcasting, film, and television at university, but wrestling was always at the back of my mind,” Bell shared of his discovery that changed the course of his life.

He added: “At the time, I didn’t think it was something that could be pursued in New Zealand until I found out about the Dojo. Once I found out about this pathway, everything else became a backup to wrestling.”

Leading up to Tamashii, Bell gave insight into the expertise that was instilled in him by the coaches.

“Having Tony-San is fantastic, especially for my instincts and for what to do in the ring,” said Bell. “Fale-San broke everything right down. For example, you’re applying a headlock, and you think you know everything there is to know about a hold. Then Fale-San stops you and gives you five different things to work on with your headlock to make it look and sound better. Fale-San really brought out my voice, which is something that I struggled with in wrestling. Now I’m more comfortable with being vulnerable and using my roar.”

In gaining a taste of NJPW, Bell became aware of what he needed to achieve with his craft moving forward.

“Having the New Japan guys at the show, even having their presence there really gave me a boost and helped me see that I needed to step up my game,” Bell recalled.

“The experience made me see that I really need to perform at a high level because this isn’t independent wrestling where there are no risks,” expressed Bell, a passionate advocate for NZ wrestling. “New Zealand wrestling is depending on this show, and having those big names there was a huge eye-opener.”

“It was pretty cool to wrestle on the same card as KENTA-San, Ishimori-San, and even the Senior Senpais who worked multiple years for their opportunity,” Bell reflected on the outcome of the show. “It’s a cool thing to get back to the hotel and everyone’s in high spirits because everything paid off and it was great to see it all come to fruition.”

Back at Fale Dojo, Bell has been adjusting to training with a large intake that ranges in levels of experience. This has also required Bell to take up the responsibility of becoming a Senpai amongst the younger pride.

“After being here for three intakes, and this intake having more people, my experience has thrust me into a leadership position that’s expanded my outlook,” the young lion explained. “I have my friends from Christchurch who have joined the intake and my new friends who are looking to me for a steady hand to help get them through, or to give them the support of the other Senior Senpais who are away.”

“What I’ve noticed, which reminds me of what Tony-San has said is that ‘everyone’s journey’s different,’” Bell observed through the lens of a Senpai. “Some of the guys who’ve never wrestled before, are looking at some of the guys who are having matches, and they’re clouded with thoughts like ‘wow, I’ll never get there,’ when that’s just not the case.”

“Some people are going to get injured, while some will need more time to pick up certain bits,” Bell advised in closing. “That all comes down to their individual journeys, and I’m more than happy to help guide them along the way.”

Senior Senpai | NJPW Wrestler
Mount Wellington, Auckland, New Zealand

“For this September Intake, I was a senior lion to this group. My role during the Intake was to look over the guys during their training. Making sure that they were training properly and pushing them to the limit alongside Tony-San and Tangi-San. On top of this, I was overseeing the guys and how well they were cleaning the dojo in the morning.

Since Graduating from a Young Lion, I have moved out of the dojo house so that’s where Andrew and Jake come in. They oversee the house, whereas I oversee the Dojo.

NJPW Tamashii was incredible. It was something I have been waiting over three years. The last time I wrestled for NJPW was Destruction in Kobe in 2019. This has been years in the making and it’s finally here, kicking off with a bang in Christchurch.

It was a shame not to be able to wrestle Jeff Cobb, but I’ve learned to just roll with the punches, and I went on to go to war with Young Lion, Richard Mulu.

The biggest crowning moment for me at Tamashii was graduating from a Young Lion. Not having to wear black trunks anymore, being able to discover who I really am in the wrestling ring.”

Palmerston North, Manawatu-Whanganui, New Zealand

Honour and loyalty are among the two principals that Rowan Davis carries with him. Prior to becoming a professional wrestler, Davis served in the New Zealand Defence Force for nine years where he earned the rank of Corporal. When Davis began to pursue his wrestling aspirations, he did so by taking his grandmother’s maiden name, Davis, the matriarch who is the foundation of her grandson’s support system. Now in his second intake at the Dojo, Rowan Davis has been advancing his craft in New Japan’s strong-style wrestling.

“Obviously, there are the physical benefits to doing multiple intakes,” said Davis. “I feel like I’m in uncharted territory, I’ve surpassed what I thought I’m physically capable of and I can’t wait to push my limits even further.”

“I think the reason why I love the Dojo so much is that it has its similarities to the Army,” the young lion spoke of the parallels he experienced between the New Japan training system and the military. “There’s a hierarchy, there’s respect and comradeship. A lot of cleaning and intense training to make you the one percent that can do a job to a standard like no other. I’m very thankful for my time in the Army which taught me so many skills that I use almost every day.”

In preparation for the Tamashii event, Davis sought a wealth of insight from the Dojo’s comprehensive classes.

“Our night training with Fale-San and Tony-San would entail dissecting and nit-picking everything we did in the ring,” Davis detailed of the Dojo’s strong style training. “We would be so exhausted that we would almost fight on autopilot.”

“Ultimately that’s what it comes down to,” he added. “Trusting your instincts in the ring. Your body knows what to do, you just got to let it do its thing, which was pretty great when it came down to the first Tamashii show.”

Making his New Japan debut, Davis went into combat with Nikolai Anton Bell in tag team action, against Dojo 2019 graduates, Tome, and Stevie Filip.

“It was a remarkable night,” Davis spoke of his experience. “The music, the lights, and the roar of the crowd; it was one of the best moments of my life if I’m being honest.”

The young lion added: “It was also fascinating seeing people like KENTA-San and Ishimori-San, people you’ve watched for years. Then suddenly you’re thanking them for your debut. It’s crazy how life works!”

Living amongst a large intake of students at the Dojo house, as Davis found has both its benefits and challenges.

“I think the biggest challenge this intake was trying to find some peace and quiet,” Davis stated. “We live a busy life and there’s always something for us lions to do.”

“There are also 12 guys staying at the Dojo house, there’s always yarns going down, and a lot of banter which I love most of the time,” he concluded. “But it makes you appreciate the quiet.”

Senior Senpai | NJPW Wrestler
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

“It meant a lot to me to wrestle KENTA. KENTA has a big presence in New Japan and having that testimonial from someone like him raising my arm after our match definitely benefits the NZ Dojo.

After the Tamashii show, we’ve approached the final weeks of the current 2022 intake, so we have been spending more time with the students as well as reprioritising our own personal fitness goals.

This time of year, we have an opportunity to recharge and plan for what’s ahead.”

Ipswich, Queensland, Australia

Shep Alexander has come a long way from his days as a police officer in his native Queensland, Australia. His three years serving on the force helped to condition his thought process to resolve difficult situations in a smart and effective manner. Likewise, at Fale Dojo where Alexander is completing his second intake, he has been transferring those skills in the squared circle.

“The first intake at Fale Dojo gave me a taste of what it takes to reach that next level, whereas with doing a second intake I was more adjusted to the routine and expectations of being a young lion,” said Alexander.

“I felt a stronger connection and understanding with my Senpais,” he elaborated on his overall growth from his commitment to stay the course. “With that Tony-San, Fale-San and Tangi-San were all able to know me better thus giving me specific advice and feedback best suited to what I need to do in order to excel.”

Alexander also noted his bond with fellow lions Rowan Davis and Nikolai Anton Bell, whom he trained with during the previous intake. Collectively, Alexander, Davis, and Bell assist the Senior Senpais in guiding the youngest of Fale’s Pride.

“I feel the brotherhood with Rowan and Nikolai is well established, so we could all push each other to be better and lift one another up, if need be,” Alexander stated.

“A large intake meant even more bonds are formed amongst each other as we experienced the gruelling training together,” he continued. “There will always be guys you click with better and put more trust into throughout the time here, but everyone has been a solid comrade and I’ve been able to connect with each person in one way or another. Although I’m focused on my goals, I want to see every one of my brothers become better versions of themselves and now that the intake is almost up, I’m happy to see the positive changes amongst everyone.”

While gearing up for the New Japan Tamashii show, Alexander shared the discipline and the members of Fale’s pride that helped propel him for the event.

“I was very fortunate when it came to training and preparing for NJPW Tamashii,” he explained. “Tangi-San and Michael-San helped prepare my body to go to war, they guided me on how to surpass strength plateaus by honing my muscles to be harder and more resilient, and my movements became swifter than ever.”

“Each night I was able to get in the ring and constantly work on my wrestling with other young lions and senior lions,” Alexander continued. “Sometimes it was just Andrew-San and I wrestling in front of Fale-San and Tony-San, when this happened it was as if the spotlight of training was just on us.”

Equipped with his world-class training, Alexander the young lion, made his New Japan debut, a goal that has been five years in the making. Teaming with fellow lion, Jordan Allan-Wright, in the opening match, the Aussie-Kiwi duo went up against Mark Tui, Dojo Co-Director and graduate, and Chris Miles, local wrestler.

“Tamashii was an awesome experience, I achieved my initial goal of representing the NZ Dojo and Fale-San on a NJPW show,” Alexander shared. “Jordan-San has had my back since day one. In training he is so intense, like a rabid dog wanting to fight and kill any exercise or challenge given to us, so to be able to tag with him meant I knew I had to up my aggression to match his energy. He’s a good brother to work alongside, but with that, I want to test myself against him in a match.”

“It was an honour to be able to meet and work alongside KENTA-San and Ishimori-San,” Alexander spoke of his interaction with New Japan’s KENTA and Taiji Ishimori. “To be able to debut for NJPW and have the Senpais congratulate me and wish me all the best going ahead meant the world, and that combined with overcoming obstacles to get there through Fale-Sans support and training sparked a fire underneath me that I know will help make me reach heights larger in scale than ever before.”

Steeped in faith and armed with a world-class wrestling education, Alexander has set some bolder goals moving ahead.

“Now that I’ve had a taste of NJPW, I want more,” Alexander declared of his future objectives. “I’m not just wanting it; through my actions, I’m willing it into the universe. I will face the best wrestlers in the world at NJPW, I will enter the young lion’s cup and I will be a champion whose name will be remembered in the history books.”

“I’m happy that I continued to push through in order to get to Fale Dojo and make the most of NJPW Tamashii,” Alexander stated. “The road was hard but by doing so and putting my faith in God, my Senpais, and myself I achieved so much by attaining a stronger overall physique, a mentally sound mind, and an ascended level of spirituality.”

“I’ve had so many great experiences through wrestling, from wrestling in my hometown in front of family and friends to being a part of NBC’s Young Rock television show where I worked on helping cast other wrestlers with opportunities to be seen by a wider audience and achieve acting goals,” Alexander reflected on his journey.

“With all these achievements over the years, nothing surpasses what I have accomplished through Fale Dojo / NZ Dojo,” he said in closing. “Being here just feels right and I know by sticking with it and continuing to learn off the Senpais, NJPW that as future Tamashii shows occur I have the best chance to keep striving forward and achieving all my goals. I’m hungry and my appetite ain’t going anywhere.”

Senior Senpai | NJPW Wrestler
Torquay, Victoria, Australia

“New Japan Tamashii was the Dojo’s big goal for 2022. There was a lot of pressure leading up to the show, to really prove that we were training at a high level, we could produce quality talent so that we could have tours in Australia and New Zealand was going to be beneficial for the company.

This intake had another mix of experience levels. We had some guys who have been here previously and some new fresh faces.

It’s always interesting saying goodbye to guys you have built genuine connections with, then a new group comes in and you begin to build new connections again. The new students were eager to learn and hit training head-on. They are great guys who studied film and listened to everything Fale-San and Tony-San would teach them.

For Tamashii, guys got to debut for NJPW including myself and the feedback was all positive. Everyone was nervous before the Christchurch show, but like always once the music hit, those nerves slip away, and you just go out and enjoy every bit of it.

I teamed up with Tony-San, listened, and took the advice going into the match against Fale-San and Jack Bonza. It was a pretty cool feeling having my first NJPW match against Fale-San, and teaming with Tony-San. Mark-San took his family down to Christchurch a few months before to do all the groundwork, and you could see the challenging work he went through, to get this show to happen.

After one hour of sleep, we were off to Sydney, and it was great to be back in Australia and to have time to explore for a while. I felt more relaxed after getting the first show done. I loved the venue in Sydney, it was great teaming up with Richard Mulu and having his family there to cheer him on. It’s been great to see his confidence grow. Nothing beats ring experience with a crowd. We were met with more positive feedback before returning to New Zealand. This was an exciting step forward for the Dojo and NJPW.”

Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

As one of the first in Fale’s pride, Jordan Allan-Wright served in several roles over the years and witnessed the Dojo’s vision come to fruition as an international destination for professional wrestling training. After a two-year absence, Wright resumed his training at the Dojo which has rejuvenated his gifts and passion.

“Upon the multiple benefits of returning to Fale Dojo for another intake, my physique has improved immensely,” Wright noted of Tangi Ropati’s Strength & Conditioning classes. “There were days where it was just me and Rowan Davis lifting the heavy weights for multiple reps and egging each other on to get ONE MORE REP!”

“Besides the physical elements, my confidence in the ring is beyond what it used to be in previous intakes,” he alluded to the Dojo’s evolved curriculum. “It feels extremely comfortable being in the ring and wrestling in Infront of large crowds. It was that acceptance I had towards myself and finally trusting myself in the ring that I knew this was definitely what I wanted as a career.”

“No matter how hard the training was, no matter how bad my wrist, knee, or my toe hurt, I strapped it up and went to work and made sure I gave it my all in every single training session,” said Wright, his fighting spirit is an example to the younger lions.

Having previously trained in several intakes that varied in size, Wright added a vociferous drive to help encourage the young lions.

“I’ve trained in intakes with similar sizes,” said Wright. “You could see that the boys are hungry for it, everyone is pushing each other. But if I saw someone lacking in training, a quick yell of encouragement would see them push through the lion push-ups or muscle-ups.”

“Also living together in one house forced us to get along, and I believe that’s what’s solidified the intake as one of the best I’ve seen so far,” he added.

Wright’s reignited passion is also due to his partner’s influence, and her immense support for the young lion’s wrestling aspiration.

“Earlier this year for my birthday, my partner organised for me to do a bungee jump in Taupo,” he shared. “At the time I was terrified of heights, but once it was done it felt like something just clicked in my brain and I adopted the mindset NO ONE WAS OUTWORKING ME!”

“Leading up to the September intake every day, I was running, lifting weights, boxing, grappling, and swimming in the sea in the chilly winter mornings. I knew as long as the mind said, ‘go,’ the body would follow,” he explained.

Wright’s aspirations however nearly ended abruptly after experiencing a serious health issue.

“I faced a health scare that I thought was going to make me pull out of the intake,” the young lion shared. “I spent two weeks wondering if my wrestling journey was over and I was thinking of other ways of how I could still contribute to the wrestling world as a referee or some kind of trainer.”

Wright added: “But luckily I had a great medical team that gave me all clear and all the encouragement I needed to get my biggest achievement from this intake and that was debuting on New Japan Tamashii.”

Wright gained his opportunity to wrestle on the NJPW Tamashii tour, competing on both shows in Christchurch, and Sydney, Australia.

“When the Tamashii tour was announced, I knew right there and then that I was going to be on that show through my work ethic,” Wright shared. “Being on both shows was a life and career highlight that I will hold dear.”

The experience also allowed Wright to observe an up close and intimate view of matches that involved New Japan’s KENTA, and Taiji Ishimori.

“Sharing a locker room with KENTA-San and Ishimori-San, seconding their matches at ringside, and just watching the way they wrestled left me wanting more,” the young lion revealed.

An aspiring Junior Heavyweight, Wright’s long-term objective is to ascend to the top of New Japan’s Junior Heavyweight division.

“I want to be in future Young Lion Cups and represent NZ in the Best of the Super Junior tournaments,” said Wright. “That is the next goal I will be working towards. In the meantime, I’ll knuckle down and work hard more than I have leading up to Tamashii.”

“I want to see Tamashii grow, but I want to expand my horizons,” Wright, added in closing. “I want to compete in Japan and face everyone there to truly test myself. I want all the pain, the experience, and the knowledge. I know deep down it’s the one thing that wakes me up each morning, and by attacking the Dojo training each day is how I will become the first NZ-born, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.”

Fale Dojo

Credit Cover Graphic: Michael RichardsSquared Circle Graphics 

NZ Dojo 2022 September Intake – Part 2

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