Coach, foundation graduate, and Co-Director Mark Tui trained directly under Toks Fale. As Co-Directors, Tui and Fale set the vision for the NZ Dojo / Fale Dojo. Tui has helped steer the Dojo through its initial challenges and has been a key member of the team that has overseen the Dojo’s expansion into a world-class training facility.
“The 2023 June intake was a great group. The communication and teamwork between the young lions were on point,” Tui elaborated on the cohesiveness of the intake. “Our eight Senior Senpai set an excellent pace for the rest of the group that was consistent to the end. As a result of their leadership, the lions emerged together from a world-class system that was designed to push them physically and mentally.”
“The culture and protocols of our training can be daunting to those experiencing it for the first time,” Tui added. “I applaud them for coming with an open mind and taking everything on board.”
“This was also the first time for a Fale Dojo intake to wrestle on a NJPW show,” Tui spoke of the opportunities that Lion’s Den presented to the 2023 June Intake. “Most of the 19 strong made their NJPW debuts, with a few stepping in the ring for the first time. To wrestle on an official NJPW show and have their matches as part of NJPW World programming is a massive achievement. The June 2023 lions have gotten the ball rolling for future intakes. I am absolutely proud of their achievements.”
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Gaining his initial training at Adelaide Championship Wrestling, Branden Richter competed in his first match in January of this year. Richter would then heed the call for the first New Japan Tamashii seminar/tryout. Richter’s potential was noted by Toks Fale who oversaw the process. Impressed by what he saw, Fale invited Richter to further his training at Fale Dojo.
“I came to Fale Dojo with an open mind to whatever was ahead of me. I had done some research and watched the Lion’s Roar docu-series, so I had an idea of what was to come. The initial weeks were intense with the training being exactly what I was hoping for, a way to test myself.
“There was a challenging period, adjusting to soreness after the first week while grinding through those little niggles. But after getting through that I knew I could face any challenge.
“Competing at Tamashii Lion’s Den was a great highlight. The most important thing I gained from this experience was that consistency and discipline are extremely rewarding.
“Looking back over the last three months brought a lot of good memories and growth. I’ve made some new friends, learned more about professional wrestling, more about myself and what I’m capable of, and have a newfound appreciation for life after graduating from Fale Dojo.”
VINCENT DI MARIA
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Vincent Di Maria began his wrestling training in 2021 at Adelaide-based Riot City Wrestling (RCW), before having his first match in October of 2022 wrestling to the name, Vinny! Di Maria too answered the call to be at the NJPW Tamashii seminar/tryout. Along with Branden Richter, Di Maria accepted Toks Fale’s invitation to train at the Fale Dojo 2023 June Intake.
“When I arrived at the Dojo house, I experienced what I can only explain as a big culture shock. To be greeted in a foreign language on night one and having to share a house with a bunch of people that I didn’t know, was very tough, initially. Before starting the training, it was intimidating as we did not have an idea of what the training would entail. My confidence grew, however, which settled me a lot more, as being away from home had left me quite unsettled.
“My first three weeks were riddled with an ear infection, which completely blocked out all hearing in my left ear and was really painful. I had fevers and colds that were challenging, but nothing stopped me from coming to training every day. Cian-San was somebody in particular who held me accountable. When I would say I wouldn’t miss training, Cian-San held me to that commitment. This was very helpful in overcoming obstacles that stood in the way.
“Being able to make my NJPW Tamashii debut on Lion’s Den was a huge highlight for me this intake. To be able to put all the work we had done in those hard weeks, was a very gratifying feeling. Being at the Dojo house while not knowing anybody was very tough, but it allowed me as a 21-year-old to mature and make some lifestyle changes that will help me for the rest of my life. This is something that I am proud of, as the people I lived with were crucial, for better or for worse, in finding out more about myself and the life of an adult in a professional environment.”
Portland, Oregon, USA
Fearless and determined, these words best describe Joe Flowers. Flowers and Malcolm Evans were both proteges of Derrick Shaw in Portland, Oregon, leading to their training at Fale Dojo. A small biopic from the Fale Dojo official YouTube channel titled ‘Joe’s Story,’ followed Flowers’ first month at the Dojo. The interview revealed that Flowers was living with type 1 diabetes. In spite of his severe challenges, Flowers persevered through the entire three months which culminated in wrestling on Lion’s Den 1 and 2. A week after graduating from the Dojo, Flowers returned back to Portland, Oregon where he wrestled before receiving a thunderous reception from the local crowd.
“I trained at the Oregon Pro Wrestling school back at home and had been wrestling for six months before Derrick Shaw spoke with me about coming to the Dojo with Malcolm Evans.
“The Fale Dojo training was much more intense than I realised and being type 1 diabetic while going through the training was incredibly difficult. But Fale-San and Tony-San were very understanding.
“Tony-San told me that his student Kyle O’Reilly was also diabetic. Finding out that a world-class wrestler like Kyle O’Reilly had the same condition gave me hope that I could have a career in the ring. The support from my coaches and having Malcolm alongside reassured me that everything would be okay, and I’d be able to get through the Dojo’s training.
“Completing the three-month intake and getting to wrestle at two Lion’s Den shows was my mark of achievement. I’m extremely grateful for the experience of training at Fale Dojo.”
Kohlberg, Bayern, Germany
Daniel Kallmeier gained his formal training in 2022 at the Wright Stuff Pro Wrestling School in Nuremberg, trained by former WCW competitor, Alex Wright. The experience laid a solid foundation for the basics. However, pushing himself at a New Japan Dojo was what his heart desired.
“I wanted to train on a regular basis and not just to improve my skills. I wanted to find out if I liked wrestling and if I was made for it. I also wanted to train at an official New Japan Dojo and complete it as a challenge to myself.
“When I came to New Zealand, It was a big culture shock in the beginning to be in a foreign country which was so far away from my family and friends. it was also unfamiliar for me to share a house with so many other people from around the world. I expected that the training would be that way, but in the beginning, it was hard to train multiple hours every day and do exercises that I had never done before.
“The Dojo life got me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to try new things that I normally wouldn’t do. I’m proud to have finished every training and done everything that was demanded of me, despite pain and injuries.
“As a beginner, I learned a lot about wrestling in general and it really changed my view about it; especially looking at the little details of it and understanding them.
“I was also proud to make my NJPW Tamashii debut at Lion’s Den 2 and to graduate from this intake. I learned that good things take time and that it’s normal if some things don’t work when you do them for the first time. It taught me that you should always keep your head up and keep working hard. Then good things will come, and you’ll improve.”
Woodbridge, Virginia, USA
Pursuing your formal training at Fale Dojo is a huge feat to undertake. This was the case for young Frank Tchoukouani from Woodbridge, Virginia. Coming to the Dojo was the first and most important step. As Tchoukouani discovered from his boldness, everything fell into place.
“What brought me to Fale Dojo was peace of mind, I wanted to start from scratch with a good base of knowledge. I knew that if I trained at a New Japan Dojo and made enough progress, I could work my way into wrestling with New Japan.
“This was my second time going out of my home state, and the thought of coming to New Zealand was mind-boggling, but I needed to push forward. The training at the Dojo was tough, the workouts were hard to do at first, but it was one of many challenges that I overcame.
“My biggest highlights were helping to set up the ring for Lion’s Den, and helping out around the venue as well as seeing how well the show went. I didn’t get to wrestle on the first show, but I finally got to have a match at Lion’s Den 2, and of course, I graduated from the June intake.
“I made lots of new friends and learned many new things. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I think coming here solely with my goal in mind has made me appreciate Fale Dojo more. Since I came off the deep end of this journey; I’m glad that I took the risk and made the effort to Fale Dojo. I’ve come out a stronger person. I can’t wait to learn more.”
Mangere Bridge, South Auckland, New Zealand
Known affectionately as ‘Junior’ by his fellow lions (so as not to be confused with his elder Cameron McCallum), Kam Ah-Hing is the youngest member of the 19-strong intake, at age 17. Ah-Hing has been part of the Dojo’s General Community Classes since the age of 11. Ah-Hing who has proud Maori, Samoan, and Chinese roots, reflected the Dojo’s mission statement of presenting pro wrestling as a pathway to young Maori and Pasifika from South Auckland. Ah-Hing was too young at the time to pursue this aspiration. Yet his passion did not fizzle as he aged. When the time was right, Ah-Hing acted.
“In 2017 I was learning more about pro wrestling and began watching NJPW. My Mum told me about Fale Dojo, so I came here and started doing the 6 p.m. community classes for six years.
“Hearing about the three-month intakes at the Dojo made me wonder if I could do the training. I always wanted to be a wrestler, so I made a deal with my parents that when I turned 16 and finished my NCEA level 2, that I could do the intake.
“On day one of training, I was a bit scared and nervous because most of the people in this intake had done wrestling for a while, I was 17 and out of my depth. After the first day of training, I was lying in bed with my whole body in pain. I couldn’t believe that I would have to do this almost every day for three months.
“On July 29, I had my debut match at Lion’s Den. Even though I lost, it was still an amazing experience. Throughout the day I was nervous right up to my match. As the crowd got louder, my nerves began to disappear. I dreamed about that moment; it was the proudest I’ve ever been. I’m thankful to Fale-San, Tony-San, and Mark-San for letting me have that match. I thank them and all the Senpai for teaching me so much about pro wrestling.
“My time at Fale Dojo has been rewarding. All the training, strict rules, and personal issues were all worth it. I got to have my first match at 17, and I’m probably the youngest person to compete at a NJPW show. I met so many amazing people throughout my time in these past three months. I’m forever grateful and will treasure being part of the June 2023 intake. I can’t wait to get back in the ring and continue my training.”
Cover Graphic: Blackstorm Creative