Determined and united to the end! An apt description of the young lions of the Fale Dojo / NZ Dojo 2023 February intake who have now completed the renowned three-month training. Led by Toks Fale – Head Coach, along with Tony Kozina – Pro Wrestling Coach, and other members of the coaching staff, the surviving pride of 11 impressed Fale with their cohesiveness. All have come from different parts of the world to gain Fale’s insight.
“This intake had a lot of passion and were eager to learn,” said Toks Fale. “They had their ups and downs. We lost a few hopefuls on the way, but the remaining group pulled together and forged a tight bond. They pushed each other to complete this course.”
“Their attention to detail,” Fale noted of the pride’s resilience and teamwork, “especially for their chores and duties outside of the ring made this intake stand out to me. I see a bright future for this lot.”
This group marks a new chapter in the Dojo’s three-month training. Jordan Allan Wright and Nikolai Anton Bell, the Senior Senpais have helped guide this new generation of lions to emerge successful on the other side. This was a young and diverse group that ranged in different levels of experience. The majority of them will be returning in the June 2023 intake to continue their training.
This two-part article documents the 2023 February intake, with each lion reflecting on their training, accomplishments, challenges, and the outcome.
JORDAN ALLAN WRIGHT
Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
“This intake felt like it went by fast. Living with the lions at the Dojo house and leading to the Dojo was a blast. It did present some challenges, as you wanted to make sure everything was done right.
“The highlight of this intake was helping to mold everyone. This was a strong crew coming together with different experiences, but all of them have brought heart. While my challenges going forward are helping continue the growth in the crew that is staying on for the next intake and working on my personal growth as I feel I’m ready to take the next step in my own journey.
“Usually in an intake, there are one or two lions that would cause unnecessary drama, but that’s never happened with this group. Everyone’s training hard and putting the effort in. It’s set the example for the next two intakes this year. We hope our next recruits will live up to the bar that’s been set.
“I haven’t lost sight of my long-term goal of becoming the first New Zealand-born wrestler to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. While I work towards this accomplishment, I will continue to strive on the Tamashii shows and help develop our lions.”
NIKOLAI ANTON BELL
Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand
“This intake has a lot of positives. Every intake gets more diverse. Not only do we have people from different nationalities, but we’ve also got different types of fighting experiences. It’s refreshing, there’s always something to learn about someone whether it’s culture or sports. This also benefits me.
“The first couple of weeks with every intake are always the hardest. This is where the new people need the most guidance. They need to be shown the etiquette, the culture, and the systems we have in place here at Fale Dojo. After those first couple of weeks, they start to understand how things are meant to be, and if stuff is out of line, then we can fix it, and it shouldn’t happen again.
“I have been helping the lions who will be staying for the next few intakes. The biggest part for the last couple of weeks is making sure that they know the systems inside and out. We don’t just create wrestlers at Fale Dojo, we create leaders. This doesn’t just help me; it helps the entire Dojo. More leaders are never a bad thing, and they’re a really good group of guys, so I’m excited to see how they all turn out.
“When you’re leading the lions, you have to be aware of all things at all times. There’s no real off-switch to your brain. You constantly need to be in tune when delegating roles at the Dojo house and the Dojo.
“I’m excited that we have more people from around New Zealand coming to Fale Dojo, and I hope that interest continues to grow.”
Oakland, California, USA
Dashawn Franklin is part of a growing list of Americans to train at Fale Dojo. Franklin arrived with four years of experience, having competed on the US independent scene in California, Las Vegas, and Arizona. Franklin trained under such names as Anton Voorhees, Rik Luxury, Shaun Sims, and Jacob Fatu. Looking to take his wrestling to the next level, Franklin found inspiration from his friend, Juicy Finau, and his journey during his time at Fale Dojo in 2019. Franklin’s journey has been one that stands out the most in this intake. So much so that he was awarded an NJPW tracksuit at the completion of the course.
“I was inspired to make my way to Fale Dojo after Juicy Finau, a good friend of mine, participated in the Dojo’s 2019 Intake. Seeing Juicy’s results when he returned was intriguing. Last year, I thought to myself, what is the next level for me, and that’s when I thought of Fale Dojo.
“When I arrived at Fale Dojo it was quite surreal after watching the Lion’s Roar documentary. Doing the pro-level training that many before me have done and getting to meet my team that I’d be sharing this experience. It was also a positive for the group to gel instantly with each other.
“As we all got to know each other, you could feel our chemistry grow. My biggest challenge earlier on was at the start of my day, when there was barely any energy in my body. I was mentally tired, and I needed to find the strength, knowing that it would be another day of extremely difficult work. To overcome this, I accepted what lay ahead and did not think too much about the task. One foot in front of the other, and one day at a time.
“My biggest accomplishment for this intake was gaining more of an understanding of the craft that is professional wrestling. With the help of my Senpais, I felt a furthered sense of about the art of wrestling. I still have so much to learn, but I have a better idea of what it means to be a professional wrestler.
“Whether it be self-value in a match, understanding the match and the business, or conducting yourself as a professional, Fale Dojo has instilled much into my perception of the business as a whole. I feel with the short time being here I’ve gained a lot, but I also know that the surface hasn’t been scratched. Thank you to the people who got me to New Zealand and thank you to the amazing driven team that I’ve lived with.”
New Brighton (Ngai Tahu), Canterbury, New Zealand
Cameron McCallum has been ingrained in grappling since the age of 16. A proud native from Ngai Tahu, McCallum began competing in freestyle wrestling at the Rangiora Amateur Wrestling Club. His early start in combat sports provided a solid foundation that helped unleash his potential and led him to capture several regional championships before competing at a national level. Soon after, McCallum started his journey into professional wrestling under the name Cam Kaiba. In 2020, McCallum was formally trained by Fale Dojo graduate, and New Japan Pro-Wrestling star, Aaron Henare.
“I began training under Aaron Henare in 2020 to prepare myself for Fale Dojo. Henare took me under his wing and helped shaped who I am as a wrestler. Henare understands a lot of the small details in wrestling which helped grow my knowledge of the sport. But most of all he helped toughen me up and strengthened my body and mind for the lifestyle of being a professional wrestler.
“I came to Fale Dojo for the opportunity of being signed with New Japan Pro-Wrestling. I have great respect for New Japan, and my goal is to sign a full-time contract. I knew that this would be the first step on a long journey, and so far, I’m getting closer to my goal every day.
“I was a little bit cautious when I first arrived at the Dojo. I didn’t really know anyone, and I was aware of how cutthroat the business can be. I was waiting for things between all the wrestlers to get heated. But to my surprise, everybody that was a part of the intake was super cool. We had such a diverse range of people from different backgrounds, cultures, and experience levels. We came together and bonded over our mutual love of pro wrestling. I was surprised at how well we worked as a team and supported one another, especially during the first few weeks of really intense training. Even though it was tough, we made sure we got through it as a team.
“My biggest challenge during this intake was managing my coeliac disease whilst living in a house with a bunch of people There was a period of adjustment, I didn’t tell anyone about my condition, but there were a couple of times where I was really sick during the training. But one of the best pieces of advice Fale-San gave me was to ‘never complain, even to yourself.’ I just stayed positive, fought through it, and learned to adjust.
“My biggest accomplishment was that I did every single day of training in the intake. Regardless of being tired, sick, or sore; a lot of people quit this intake, but I really pushed myself to never give up during each training and made sure I gave 100% each day. I’m proud of how much I’ve grown in understanding the Japanese culture, this has been a fully immersive training experience. I speak Japanese every day to my Senpais and to the other lions, which has really helped deepen my understanding of Japanese culture. I believe it’s important when learning a language, to understand the lifestyle, history, and traditions as well. My Japanese is still a work in progress, but it is much better than when I started. My Nihongo sensei is immensely proud!
“I feel lucky to be able to learn under two of the top minds in the business. Fale-San has had years of experience all over the world and is incredibly open and giving with his time. He demands perfection out of us but is always there to teach us how to get better.
“Tony-San is like a mad scientist; he just GETS wrestling. I’ve spent countless hours staying after training and picking his brain, and Tony-San is always willing to break it down. Not to mention all the other great coaches we have access to in kickboxing, boxing, and strength and conditioning, I feel like a fully complete wrestler.
“My perspective of the business has definitely grown. It’s almost like the equivalent of studying your chosen field at a high-level university. I feel like I’ve been studying for my Ph.D. in pro wrestling. But the more I study the business the more I realize how multifaceted and layered it is. You never stop learning, and you can always get better!”
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
From Queensland, Australia comes Taylor Thompson. Thompson is the second female and the first Indigenous Australian to train at the Dojo. Proudly representing her tribe, Bundjalung, Thompson, descends from a long bloodline of survivors and athletes that have made their mark in sports such as boxing, cross-country running, basketball, baseball, and rugby. In October 2017, Thompson added professional wrestling to her lineage. Throughout her seven-year career, Thompson has upskilled her craft by attending multiple seminars. The most notable was hosted by Robbie Eagles, Rionne Fujiwara, Tony Storm & Juice Robinson, Chavo Guerrero, and PJ Black. In addition, Thompson travelled to the United States to train under Tyler Breeze and Shawn Spears before training with Venom Pro Wrestling back in Queensland. With the help of Fale Dojo graduate and fellow Queenslander, Alex Shepard, Thompson made her way to Fale Dojo.
“Alex Shepard advised me how beneficial it may be for my career to come to Fale Dojo. Looking into it and what the Dojo expected and the standard it holds, I knew coming here would be the right choice for my professional career, especially in helping me grow as an in-ring talent.
“Admittedly I was a little intimidated and thought that I was way over my head when I arrived. However, once I found a groove in training, I started to thoroughly enjoy it.
“I had a prior knee injury where I had torn a ligament, so working around that and training through the pain, especially on days where it flared up was a challenge. But just being consistent in working, training, strengthening, and conditioning my knee, I eventually managed to get to a point where I could just ignore the aches and finish the task I was given that day.
“My biggest accomplishment would be growing my confidence and being able to work comfortably in a ring again with people of various experiences.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the coaches and trainers here and having the opportunity to pick their brains and understand their perspective on wrestling.
“My perspective on the wrestling business has changed, from how I work in the ring, to how I present myself in front of an audience. To be confident and take pride in everything I do and accomplish.”