New Japan Pro Wrestling is known for having one of the toughest wrestling training programs in the world known as the NJPW Dojo. They have trained stars such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito and Yuji Nagata. The list can go on and on. For many wrestlers, the chance to get trained at the NJPW Dojo is an opportunity of a lifetime.
Last year, NJPW announced that they would be expanding into the U.S. After their sold-out two night G1 Special shows in Long Beach, the promotion said they would not only be holding more events in the U.S but they would also be opening up a training facility.
This would mark the second time NJPW has tested out a training camp here in Southern California. They had one back in the early 2000s in Santa Monica that included guys such as Daniel Bryan, Finn Bálor, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura and TJ Perkins. However, it ended up closing up.
Flash forward to March 2018, NJPW opened up the Dojo in Los Angeles. They announced Katsuyori Shibata and Scorpio Sky as trainers. A five-day camp taught by some of the best wrestlers in the world.
We got a chance to talk to Sarah Rodriguez who goes by Sarah Wolfe, 30, of Los Angeles, CA. Sarah was the only woman and non-wrestler who trained during the first round of classes at the new New Japan Dojo. Sarah has been working as a manager since 2017 and has been training at Santino’s Bros. Wrestling in Bell Gardens, CA. She has worked for promotions such as Wrestling Pro Wrestling, Amped Up Wrestling and Fist Combat. She currently manages Pro Wrestler Tyler Bateman, whom also trained at the NJPW Dojo in LA.
So when the opportunity came about to join the program, Sarah, jumped at the opportunity. “It seemed like a fun challenge for myself. Also, I’m always interested in learning and expanding my horizons.” said Sarah.
However, Sarah was surprised when she showed up the first day to discover that she was the only woman in the program. “I was the only woman and the only non-wrestler there. From the application, it seemed like they were open to non-wrestlers, in the same way that WWE’s tryouts are.” she said.
Being the only girl, Sarah wondered why they picked her for the camp if she was going to be the only one. But Mima Shimoda, a Japanese female wrestler and coach, who even though only speaks Spanish and Japanese made it clear to Sarah that she was rooting for her and that she felt she had a strong heart. Sarah said, “I couldn’t give up with her there to inspire me.”
And unbeknownst to Sarah, she in turn inspired some of the guys in her class. Because the training is much more intense compared to others and a lot longer it can be challenging for many to keep up.
“I didn’t want anyone to think ‘Oh she can’t hang because she’s a girl.’ I found out near the end that I helped inspire a few of the guys to keep going when they wanted to quit. They said they’d look over at me and say ‘Is she still going? Dammit she is! Okay I can’t stop.’ ” – Sarah
The training began at ten in the morning and wrapped until three p.m. The class featured a lot of body weight and cardio workouts. In order, to prepare for this high-level of training Sarah did a lot push-ups, squats, cardio and Pilates prior to entering the camp. One thing she wish she would have done differently was add more weight-lifting. “They didn’t change any weights for me, so on circuit days I had to lift the same weights as the guys. It was very challenging. I also don’t think I could have ever prepared for the number of jump squats they had us do.”
The camp featured a few different coaches which aside from the key trainers Scorpio Sky and Shibata included Rocky Romero and Kushida. This was beneficial because each coach brought something different to the table due to their different in-ring styles.
“Shibata watched every single person do every single thing. He always wore a helmet when demonstrating anything, and ensured that we understood what he was trying to explain.” said Sarah. Some of the additional tips Shibata gave us was to sell more, not to slap yourself and to do small things really well.
After, the camp ended. New Japan put on a show that featured some of the students on the card. One of which was, Tyler Bateman. “Seeing my boyfriend getting to wrestle for New Japan during the Saturday show was amazing.” The following day the students were able to work behind the scenes of New Japan’s Strong Style Evolved show in Long Beach. “They fed us a bento lunch which was awesome.” mentioned Sarah.
Sarah hopes to continue working as Tyler Bateman’s manager and says she will continue to take on any opportunity that comes her way.