On March 25, IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada rocked Los Angeles’ Walter Pyramid at Strong Style Evolved. The next day, he visited NJPW’s new LA Dojo. Okada had actually been to the original LA Dojo before, but what were his thoughts on the new facility?
— We’re one day removed from the historical Strong Style Evolved event and now here we are in the dojo. First of all, how did you feel when you first heard that New Japan was going to start operating a dojo here in Los Angeles?
Okada: Well, to tell the truth, at first I wasn’t sure about it. I actually went to the first LA Dojo, you know.
— New Japan did operate a dojo in LA, opening in April 2002. It ran for five years. And you went..?
Okada: Yeah. It was before I joined New Japan. I was training with Toryumon in Mexico, and they told me to go visit, like an exchange student, I guess. I was there about a week.
— In that case, how do the two compare?
Okada: It’s a larger space, and the equipment’s more modern. I think as more people come and put the work in here, it’s going to become a great place to train.
— As New Japan expands worldwide, the goal is to bring a Japanese methodology to these different countries. How do you feel about bringing that New Japan spirit to an American dojo?
Okada: I think it’s a good thing to do. The key word here is ‘dojo’. We aren’t calling it a ‘school’
— There might be a lot of ‘wrestling schools’ but this is something very different?
Okada: Right. To not just teach pro wrestling, but to teach discipline, the spirit and intent of New Japan, that’s something really special. There’s always been wrestlers that came up in New Japan and went on to become active worldwide, right?
— Looking back there’s been Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and more recently Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) and Karl Anderson.
Okada: Shinsuke Nakamura now, of course. And Samoa Joe and Daniel Bryan both trained at the original LA Dojo. A lot of wrestlers have dojo experience, and have used what they learned to become worldwide names. So the new people that come through here should remember that and know what a huge opportunity it is to come here.
— New stars could be born right here.
Okada: Absolutely. And for us, the dojo opening is letting us see new talent, people with strong potential that we might be able to nurture. So it’s win win all around.
— You came through Toryumon initially, before heading to New Japan. Having trained in Toryumon Mexico, what’s it like to walk into a foreign dojo again?
Okada: I’m feeling a bit of nostalgia for sure. Of course, I didn’t just learn in the Toryumon Dojo, I had to do a lot of learning in the ring in Arena Mexico. But to get back to this place, it’s just so exciting. To me, it’s a new home. I’m excited to see all sorts of wrestlers come through here.
— What kind of talent are you hoping to see get their start here?
Okada: (laughs) Hmm, well (Katsuyori) Shibata is the Head Coach.. somebody could turn out like him. No doubt they’d represent the Japanese mindset pretty well.
— The Strong Style tradition definitely runs deep with Shibata. His father Katsuhisa was one of the original members of the NJPW roster, too.
Okada: Right, with Shibata in charge there’s no doubt that the dojo spirit and the New Japan spirit will be protected. He’s obsessed with them.
— This is a new front for NJPW. It’s a huge duty.
Okada: Absolutely. And I think it’ll be great to have a lot of different New Japan wrestlers come by here to teach. Rocky (Romero) will be leading classes when he can.
— Rocky is the director for Roppongi 3K right now. He definitely has an eye for talent and the ability to lead.
Okada: And now these contacts are opening up all over the world of wrestling. Chris Jericho could come and teach a seminar here. Rey Mysterio maybe. This place is full of hidden possibilities.
— That you want to see uncovered?
Okada: Right. I want this to be a place that remembers the history and legacy of the Japanese NJPW Dojo, but starts a new legacy all its own.