March 30: Day 5: Waking up was bittersweet, knowing the possible opportunity today presented, but also knowing that it was the last day not just at dojo but with the group as well. Once we got to the dojo, all of the trainees agreed to sing happy birthday to Sky when the coaches arrived. His birthday wasn’t until that next Monday, but this was our last day with him so we serenaded him a few days early. Today’s training was the culmination of everything we learned all week. Circuit training was back, and we all left everything we had in the gym that day. We then ran through everything we worked on all week. Even over the span of 5 days, the level of improvement I noticed not just in the other trainees, but in myself was astonishing. Everyone started off the week struggling with certain things, but by this last day we ran through everything like we had been there for months. Training in the dojo is truly like nothing else I can think of. When the final training was done, everybody lined up to get some personal advice and reflections from the coaches. We all also used this time to add each other on various social media platforms, as this camp was an amazing networking experience as well. After many thank you’s and ありがとうございます’s it was time to head out. I said my goodbyes to my new friends, Shibata-San, Coach Sky and Tire-San. I returned the rental car, ubered to the airport, got on a plane back home, and have slowly been returning back to reality over the past few weeks.
Final thoughts: It may have been the most work I’ve ever done in my life, but it was also one of the best experiences of said life. I found where my limits were and blasted through them multiple times each day. I left everything I had in that dojo to the point that my tank is still empty. I also met some people that I’m just as close with after knowing for a few weeks as I am with some people I know from high school. While it was surreal to train with Sky, Shibata-San and even Okada-San (whom I consider to be the single best wrestler on the planet), the connections I made with people from all over the world were the main things that made going to this camp a once in a lifetime experience. Beyond learning a new style of Pro Wrestling, this camp was a test to see how much everyone was willing to push themselves and each other. These 5 days in L.A. were legitimately life changing as I got to train with some of the best wrestlers on the planet, make connections with people from all over the world, got to spend a week in one of my favorite places, got to bask in the glory of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles one more time, and got to have the experience of a lifetime that only 29 other people on the planet got to experience. I know this travelogue was light on the actual details of the camp, and that’s because the week was spent doing many squats and drilling basics. This wasn’t a seminar, it was a small taste of what the actual New Japan Dojo in Tokyo would be like. And I can say that after the small taste I got, I’m eagerly preparing myself for seconds. Thanks for reading.
March 29: Day 4 was the first time I had slept in an actual bed all week. I woke up sore as hell again, to the point where walking up and down the stairs was an adventure in its own right. Ric and I went to Walmart and subway for food that day, then headed to training. Training was mostly more workouts, and continuing to build on what we did the previous days. Rolls, bumps, running ropes, lockups, headlocks, and things of that nature were the agenda for the whole week. After yet another intense training session, all the students and coaches sat down and had Chanko (a traditional Japanese stew served over rice) together at the dojo as a bonding experience. The food was great and the experience was about what you would expect from gathering 40 people in a room for a meal, only this room was full of wrestlers. A few hours after chanko, Ric wanted to try some more American cuisine and eventually we decided to go to a Chick-Fil-A. On the way, we had some conversations about differences between our two homelands. This was my first real interaction with someone from another country so during our conversation, I kept using American measurements like an idiot. Once we got there I enjoyed my usual Chick-Fil-A order but Ric fell in love with it and bought 2 more sandwiches. On the way back to the motel, we talked some more about the differences between Australia and the United States. Eventually, the conversation ended up on the political events happening in the world. Getting the perspective of someone looking at this country from the outside was a cool experience in and of itself. After we got back, we both went to sleep for the night.
March 28: Day 3: Day 3 didn’t start as interestingly as day 2. The most interesting thing that happened was driving to a nearby Walmart for the day’s food. Training itself went mostly well. Sky lead stretching again and this was followed by another intense workout, where a few more people passed out. I even found myself feeling rather light headed at times, but everyone kept pushing through it. After lunch, training was spent drilling more basics. For this day’s training, Shibata-San even busted out the padded helmet so he could get in the ring and teach us all how to lock up properly. Although I was too preoccupied with training and learning, the fact that I got to lock up with Katsuyori Shibata a few times wasn’t lost on me. He even taught us a fantastic trick for how to position our hands in the collar & elbow for what we’ll call “maximum efficiency”. After training, I was chosen to stay and help clean the dojo. This mostly consisted of wiping down the ropes, canvas, and outside mats with the same rubbing alcohol solution we used on our training shoes each morning. As we finished up cleaning, I noticed that Shibata and Sky were in the ring working on stomps by practicing on the the much beloved Tire-San. Over the course of the camp, the tire became popular because of the tire stretch, where you lay your back over the upright tire, and have two people lightly push your shoulders and thighs. It was a saving grace from all of the punishment we had endured each of the days, so a trainee gave it the nickname “Tire-San”, which got a hearty laugh out of both Shibata and Sky. As they were working on stomps, a few of the other trainees who cleaned hopped in to get some reps as well. I figured why not, and rolled in also. The next hour or so was spent practicing jumping stomps on the tire and a medicine ball, adding other items to the pile, until eventually we had made a rather accurate representation of a person. This greatly helped with placement of the stomp itself as well as the follow through after the stomp. All week there were 28 other people trying to get their reps in, so this small, impromptu session of maybe 5 people was a fantastic way to get more hands on training from the coaches. At the risk of tooting my own horn, my jumping stomps are mostly Shibata approved. After training, a fellow trainee, a guy from Australia named Ric, asked where I was staying. I told him of my sick sleeping in rental car strats, and he offered to let me share his room in a motel just down the road from the dojo. This moment was kind of the catalyst for what was to come the rest of the week. I intended to basically do my own thing all week and interact with the other trainees at the dojo and maybe a little outside of it. But this offer wasn’t just to share a motel room, it was also an offer to join a crew of trainees that had formed over the previous days. Since that crew was headed to the same Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles that I was going to, I said yes to the offer of sharing the motel room, and then eagerly said yes to joining them at the restaurant. After a quick shower and change of clothes at the motel, Ric and myself headed to the Long Beach location where we would meet up with the rest of the group. The meal and the night that followed are what elevated this from being a 5 day wrestling camp, to a once in a lifetime experience.
After another fantastic meal at my favorite restaurant in the world (seriously if you’re in L.A. GO TO ROSCOE'S AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE so they can make more money and open up a restaurant in Denver), the group decided to head to Manhattan Beach to hang out and see what we could find to do.
(Here’s where I start rapid-fire throwing names at you). Upon our arrival, Ric, Stephon, and myself discovered the rest of the crew taking pictures of Sean in his speedo on the beach. After Sean got redressed, they joined the three of us on the pier and we began formulating a plan of what to do with the rest of our night. After asking a passerby to take a group photo, we began walking up the absurdly steep hill and seeing what was around.
(Pictures left to right; Ric, Sammy, Alex, Kiko, Sean, myself, Stephon)
After 3 days of Shibata-San’s workouts, walking on flat ground was an adventure, so I can’t even begin describing how I felt looking at the hill before us. At this time of night pretty much everything was closed, but I did learn what crossing a street “New York style, as Kiko (the guy who gave tire-san its name) literally ran into the street and held up multiple cars so the rest of us idiots could run across the street. We walked up to the top of the hill and walked back down stopping at a local ice cream parlor. Earlier in the week, one of the trainees talked about a place called “After’s” where you could get a donut-like thing with ice cream inside of it. This ice cream parlor had their own version of it called a beach bun. I bought one of these and it was alright but fell well below expectations. After everyone got some ice cream, we all hung out on the street corner talking about camp until it was time to turn in and prepare for the next day of training.
March 27: Day 2 started early as I woke up at 1 in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I decided to drive to a nearby gas station for some snacks. On my way to the gas station, nature was calling but I thought nothing of it. I was heading to a gas station after all, and what kind of gas station doesn’t have restrooms. Well in this part of L.A, it turns out that most of them don’t. I drove to 4 different gas station before finally finding one that actually a restroom. Relieved and no longer hungry, I headed back to the 24 hour to try to get a little more sleep and a shower before training. Training on this day was more intense than the day before, as the coaches introduced a circuit training routine. The group of about 30 trainees was split and half went to the outside for circuit training, while the other half were in the ring for body weight workouts. The workout was meant for high intensity as the circuit consisted of 20 seconds at a station, then 5 to get to the next. Once the group outside finished, the two groups switched. Everybody went through the circuit twice, although someone had to go through it a third time because their phone went off during training the day before. This day is where the dynamic of the entire camp really began standing out. While this one person went through the circuit, every other trainee was either cheering them on or doing it with them. The major theme of the week was that we were all there to help push each other and ourselves beyond our limits and show that much lauded fighting spirit that drives Japanese pro wrestling (or プロレス for short). On this day, there were a few people who passed out, but got back up, collected themselves and got back to it. I played sports all throughout high school, and sometimes it took months to get the team together the way the trainees came together on the second day of knowing each other. The rest of the day was spent drilling more basics, such as the stuff Okada taught us the day before and a lot of running the ropes the way Shibata wanted us to. After training, I needed some more relaxation and more importantly a ton of beef. When asked a question about diet, Shibata-San had said, “Beef is power”, and I knew a place that had a lot of it. I drove to Santa Monica to a restaurant called Hiho Cheeseburger, located a few blocks from the iconic Santa Monica pier. Naturally, I missed one turn and ended up 30 minutes but only 4 miles out of the way because of traffic on the PCH, but I didn’t mind as it was a beautiful day and the views from the highway were jaw-dropping. Finally, I got to the parking lot next to the Santa Monica pier and walked over the highway I had caused so much destruction on in GTA V.
When I got to Hiho, I splurged and paid $20 for a burger, fries, and shake. As fantastic as Hiho is, this trip may be the last time I go there as I’m not a big burger guy, and McDonald’s will get the job done just the same as any higher scale restaurant. After enjoying my meal, I slowly headed back, soaking in my surroundings. If I had to pick a favorite area that I’ve ever been to, it would be this area of Santa Monica. The combination of the iconic pier, the architecture of the buildings, and the view of both the ocean and the mountains of Malibu, all come together to form an area that is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been to. After I returned to the parking lot, I took in the picturesque sunset while taking a short stroll along both the beach and the pier itself. I headed back to my car, but the parking lot was a complete mess so I just watched part of Strong Style Evolved on my phone. After it cleared, I drove back to 24 hour and went to bed.
Part 3 Coming Soon
Hi there! For those who don’t know, I am “The Snowflake” C.J. Pricefield. A few weeks ago, I had the distinct honor of being able to attend a 5 day training camp at the newly opened New Japan Pro Wrestling Dojo in Los Angeles, California. Join me over the next few days as I recount the soreness, expensive food, rental car strats, and of course 5 days of training with the great Katsuyori Shibata.
March 26: Day 1: It was 2:30 in the morning when I woke up this day thus completing 15 hours of sleep over the course of 3 days. Between two Rocky Mountain Pro shows, and the excitement about the events of the upcoming week, I was totally fine with missing a little bit of sleep. After getting ready and running one last check of my bags, I headed to D.I.A, more ready to take on the day than I had been in a long while. I had little issue with TSA at 4 in the morning. As I waited to board, I was running through every possible scenario I could think of about how the next week at the New Japan Pro Wrestling L.A. Dojo would go. Questions of what we would be doing, ways I could stand out, and if I was physically prepared enough for it were all running through my thoughts as I boarded my flight. The mental preparation ceased as I was able to fully calm myself once I sat in my seat and took a deep breath. I felt ready to take on anything. The flight itself went great as the amount of leg room combined with the complimentary breakfast made it clear that the $60 upgrade to business class was absolutely worth it. The one issue with the flight was when attempting to land at LAX, the plane couldn’t land because another plane hadn’t taken off in time, meaning the pilot had to make a fairly long u-turn to get back to runway.
But, we landed safely. L.A. gets a lot of hate for some reason, but stepping outside on the clear California morning only reinforced my love of that city. After walking a short distance to a less crowded area, I ubered to a shopping center near the dojo to change and get ready for camp. After some final introspection, I walked literally down the street because the dojo lies in a land where sidewalks are few and far between. When I got to the dojo, there was a crowd of other participants gathered, introducing themselves to one another. I went around and did the same. This was a diverse group of people not just from all over the country, but from all over the world as well. People came from as close as Hollywood, and as far away as Finland and Australia for this camp. There were people who had been doing this for 10+ years, people who had been doing this for 6 months, people who had been on NXT multiple times, and people who maybe, sort of implied that Vince Russo might be showing patterned of racist behavior on TV. After introductions, I began mentally preparing for training. One thing that immediately stood out was the mystique of the dojo. Not just the fact that it is the official U.S. training center for the second biggest wrestling company in the world, but the way it was treated by the people who worked there. Before being allowed in the dojo, you are required to wipe down the bottoms of your training shoes with a rubbing alcohol solution. You are then required to remove your outside shoes at the door and put them in cubbies just inside. There is a level of respect for the facility itself that I haven’t seen anywhere I’ve been yet. Once we were all ready in the training area, the coaches introduced themselves.
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of Scorpio Sky until I got the email revealing the coaches, but he seemed like a good dude right away. But all of the attention was on the other coach. It was surreal standing feet away from Katsuyori Shibata. For a while he has been one of my favorite wrestlers on the planet for his memorable battles with another favorite, Tomohiro Ishii, but his legendary match with Kazuchika Okada at Sakura Genesis 2017 cemented him as an all time favorite. Being star struck quickly faded away as it was time to get down to business. After some stretching, Shibata-San tasked all the students with 300 synchronous squats. Right off the bat, the infamous workouts of the New Japan Dojo took their toll, as near the middle of the set of squats, one of the trainees collapsed and later had to taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of a leg injury (there is a happy ending to this as they were okay and even returned on days 4&5). The intense 2 hour workout, consisting of many body weight exercises, gave even the most fit trainee the challenge of their lives. I prepared for this camp by working my way up to a total of 500 squats/push-ups/sit-ups, at altitude, over the course of a day. I was still wildly underprepared for what Shibata-San had in store for us on this first day. We had a quick lunch break and went back inside where we found Rocky Romero and Tiger Hattori familiarizing themselves with the dojo. We were all brought together to start the second half of our day, when Rocky introduced us to our super secret guest trainer. Immediately my mind jumped around from various New Japan stars, as their big show “Strong Style Evolved” was the night before. Would it be Kenny Omega? Could it be The Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi? I laughed to myself when my mind got to Kazuchika Okada, because that didn’t seem like that would be realistic.
Yet, almost as if it were a dream, Rocky Romero announced the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, my favorite wrestler, and someone I consider to not only be the best in the world right now but a possible best of all time performer when he finally hangs up those weird pants for good. As the Rainmaker himself stepped out from the coaches area, a stunned silence came over the trainees. As surreal as it was training with Shibata-San, that feeling was quintupled for the next 3 hours of training with the best wrestler on the planet. The rest of the training session was spent going over the basics with Okada and his manager Gedo. After the 5 hours of intense training, I was ready for some heavy relaxation until I could go pick up my rental car. With everything I brought with me to the City of Angels, I walked back down the road to 24 hour fitness in search of a hot tub. What I found was maybe the only 24 hour fitness I’ve ever seen that didn’t have one. In place of a hot tub, I took a long shower and headed to a nearby Target for some much needed food. I waited for my food, completely oblivious to the world around me. When I got up to go pick up my order, I walked near a familiar looking 6’4” Japanese man with blonde hair. It was Okada! But instead of stopping and having a conversation with the best wrestler in the world, my extreme social awkwardness took over as I said hello and kept walking as he excitedly responded.
It wasn’t until I got my food that I had worried, “Did I just accidentally big-time Okada”. By the time I could head back to my table, Gedo and another man were headed out, and Okada rushed to catch up with them. I cursed myself for the next hour or so for being a socially awkward idiot until it was time to go pick up my rental car/bed for the week. This trip was extremely expensive so one of my cost cutting measures was to sleep in the car and shower at the aforementioned 24 hour fitness so I wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel room. I took a lyft to a park by the Korean friendship bell in the San Pedro area of L.A. Once I got to the park I was blown away by both the high winds and the drop dead gorgeous view. After I got the car, I was so drawn in by the view that I went on a drive west down Palos Verdes Dr, a road that weaves through high end housing areas sandwiched between the steep hills and the ocean. I drove until I found a grocery store, where I bought some food for the night. While there, I was bored and decided to go on a drive. I eventually plotted a course to a Walmart in Burbank where I was going to pick up a few things that I couldn’t get at the grocery store. If you’ve never driven in L.A, it really isn’t that difficult until it becomes extremely difficult. As I neared my destination, I missed one turn because I was fighting off Mr. Sandman, who was trying to force sleep on me the way Minoru Suzuki forces his foot into the chests of the New Japan young boys. I somehow kept missing that same turn for 35 minutes until I finally ended up where I wanted to go. I got what I needed at Walmart and decided this was to be the end of my first night. I drove the 45 minutes back to the 24 hour fitness by the dojo, desperately trying not to fall asleep the whole way. I made it back safe, sound, sore, and sleepy. I pulled into a dark part of the parking lot and went to sleep.
Part 2 Coming Soon