After my last diary, me mam rang me and corrected me saying I got a C grade in English, not a D grade. Not that it really matters, but I thought I’d keep you updated.
I’ll pick up exactly where I left off.
I was on vacation in Greece early October 2018 when I got a message from Shibata san. We share a mutual friend who had put me forward to go and train in the LA dojo, but I hadn’t heard anything for a while so it’s safe to say I wasn’t expecting it.
Shibata san messaged me and said I could come and train with him and the LA Dojo boys for as long as I wanted in November. Ideally, I would have stayed the whole month! But I was a full-time professional wrestler and had commitments I had to honour, so working around the UK shows I had booked in the diary, I worked out I would go 12th November – 24th November. 12 days. As soon as I had finished speaking to Shibata San, I booked my flights to LA.
I was a lot bigger at that time than I am now. The day I left England I was 250lbs. My training then was very powerlifting based. 4 days a week of heavy bench, deadlift, squat & military press, as I just wanted to add as much mass as possible and be huge. I was very familiar with the Japanese Dojo style training at this point. When I found out I was going to LA I added in squats and push ups at the end of each session, but in hindsight I should have done much more.
November 12th 2018 I flew from Gatwick to LAX. I remember downloading all the LA Dojo documentaries on my phone so I could watch them on the plane. I was so excited. I got an Uber from the airport and was a bit star struck driving through LA. I’d seen this place on a bunch of TV shows, movies & video games. And now I was here.
I arrive at the Dojo house, where I meet Karl, Clark, Alex, and of course Shibata San. He went out that night, but told me that we were starting training tomorrow so be ready. I was.
We walk into the Dojo and then it really hit me where I was and what I was doing. I can still picture it perfectly in my head. A memory that will last a lifetime.
Remember where I said in hindsight, I should have done more squats and push-ups to prepare? I’m about to explain exactly what I mean.
We start training with 500 squats. I felt good with these and although they were tiring I got through them pretty easy. Straight after Shibata san said “100 frog squats” and showed us what a frog squat was. I had never felt a burn like that in my life. Frog squats are when you squat down and put your hands between your legs like a frog and then jump up as high as you can. I think I got to 15 before my legs turned to complete jelly, but I pushed through and got them done. I can’t remember everything we did in that first week of training, but I know it was the most intense training I’d ever experienced.
We would do push-ups and I’d be pushed to the point when I physically couldn’t push anymore. When that happened Shibata san would smack his kendo stick a few inches from my head and shout at me to keep going, and the LA dojo boys would do the same thing. One exercise we did was: jump forward, Hindu squat, burpee, lion push up, jump backwards.
That’s one rep. We did 20 reps on those for 10 sets and I genuinely thought whilst doing them I was going to die. That was the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point.
We’d get back to the Dojo house after training everyday and my body would ache all over, even with powerlifting I’d never experienced anything like it. But we couldn’t just go to our rooms and rest. We’d have to prepare and make the chanko. I went in with the attitude that I wanted to join this Dojo, so I volunteered every day to help out with that.
Everyday we would do tumbling drills. Forward rolls, backwards rolls, handstand rolls etc.
One of the rolls was the split leg roll. The roll forward and instead of planting your feet and standing up, you split your legs as wide as you can and roll over your heels. I had attempted all the previous days, but I could never get this one. This day, Shibata san said I’d do it until I got it.
I’d try, fail, get up and try again. Every time I didn’t get it, I’d be more determined to get it the next time. I remember slapping myself and saying “come on Gabe” before I did it, which probably looked pretty daft to the other guys, but I thought it would help at the time haha.
We got about an hour in and Shibata san said I could get a drink, I said thank you but I’m not having a drink until I get this roll. I rolled for an hour and a half before I finally got it. I was so happy and so was everyone else. Shibata san clicked his beeper uncontrollably for what felt like 2 minutes.
Looking back, I believe that drill played a big part in why Shibata san took to me and why I am a Young Lion now. Even though at the time, My physical fitness wasn’t at the level it needed to be at, I never gave up. I’d push until I couldn’t push anymore. That’s all you can do, give it 100%. Try your best!
That weekend it was Shibata san’s birthday. He took us all out to a Japanese restaurant called Takuma’s in Santa Monica. I love that place. The food is some of the nicest I’ve ever eaten. I’m really craving some of it whilst writing this!
When we had finished practice on my last day of training. I spoke to Shibata san and told him that I wanted to be part of the team and I wanted to be his student. I wanted more than anything to be LA Dojo.
He looks at me with a stern look on his face, grabs my belly fat and shouts:
“YOU SEE THIS? NO STRENGTH, NO POWER, PLEASE LOSE! THEN YOU CAN COME BACK LA DOJO”
As soon as we got back to the house I messaged my friend Iestyn who is a bodybuilder and wrestler. I asked him if he could sort me a diet plan and he said no problem. I knew exactly what I had to do when Shibata san said those words. I could either go back to England, stay big and not progress. Or I could lose the weight like he asked me to and become a member of LA Dojo. It was a no brainer to me. On the flight home I didn’t eat the sandwich provided as the airline meal because I didn’t want to eat the carbs.
I lost 50lbs in 2 and a half months, sending Shibata san regular updates. I kept up with all the training I did in LA, along with lifting weights. I didn’t cheat on my diet for months. I was so determined to go back and become a member of the team.
The day after Wrestle Kingdom 13, I get a FaceTime at 6:30am from Shibata san. He said to me to keep training, and be ready because I was joining LA Dojo later that year. I was so excited and happy. All the hard work in the last few months had paid off. But I knew the real hard work was just beginning.
The rest is history.
I cannot thank Shibata san enough for what he has done for me. He changed my life for the better. My health is better, my wrestling is better and my quality of life in general is so much better. Thank you so much!
Thank you for reading.
This diary’s track of the day:
The Sweetest Victory – Touch.