The LA Dojo coach talks NJPW STRONG
As NJPW STRONG gets started on Friday August 7, Katsuyori Shibata has a vested interest in everything that’s going on. Not only are his charges in the LA Dojo heavily involved, he’ll also be providing Japanese commentary on the events alongside Hiroshi Tanahashi. Shibata sat down with us to give his thoughts on STRONG with his typical candour.
It put me at ease, watching them. They haven’t lapsed, they haven’t screwed up.
–So with the global situation surrounding the pandemic, you’ve been in Japan for a while now.
Shibata: Right. I haven’t had the chance to go to LA in what three, four… No, five months now.
–So Lion’s Break Collision must have been exciting for you, to see how your LA Dojo boys have been progressing.
Shibata: Yeah. It was about three months between me being stuck in Japan and Collision happening, so I was really curious to see how they were doing.
–Were you worried at all?
Shibata: A little. No, mostly. Pretty much entirely worried (laughs).
–Oh dear (laughs).
Shibata: But actually seeing them wrestle really put me at ease. They haven’t lapsed, haven’t screwed up, haven’t taken on bad habits. I think all of them, Alex (Coughlin), Clark (Connors), Karl (Fredericks), but especially Alex and Clark have taken what I’ve taught them and really made big strides. They’ve really come along.
Shibata: They’re not thinking about trying to hit flashy moves. They’ve taken what they’ve learned, done it to precision and added their own individuality in there along the way. They’ve done great. Take that powerslam of Clark’s. That had me and Tanahashi both amped up!
–On episode four when Clark and TJP faced Rocky Romero and Rust Taylor. (Watch on NJPW World!)
Shibata: That was awesome!
–You usually see wrestlers catch opponents on the run with a powerslam.
Shibata: Right. You usually see it as a counter, but he goes in for it himself. That’s his own expressiveness coming through. You’re seeing him put that little extra on stuff, even down to running the ropes.
–That made you happy as their coach.
Shibata: It put my mind at rest. The only thing that bothered me was Karl Fredericks’ kicks. We were working on them when he was in Japan, but I told him ‘it’s still a little early for you to use them in a match’, but then the situation became what it is. I want to work on those kicks more with him, I reckon.
I’m not a fan of the tassles
–Lion’s Break Collision saw Karl Fredericks debut his new look as he graduated from Young Lion status.
Shibata: Ah yeah. He was set to face KENTA in the New Japan Cup in March before it got cancelled. We got to talking about him making his new costume, and I suggested that after the Cup match maybe it would be a good time for him to move up and change. Of course then everything with Coronavirus happened and it kept slipping. In the end, it was as good a time as any to do it at Collision so I gave him the green light.
–What do you think of the new look?
Shibata: Hmm. I think everybody has their own tastes, I’m not going to tell him how to dress. But I’m not a fan of the tassles on the boots to be honest. I’d much rather just have some kickpads; heh.
–That’s Shibata all over.
Shibata: I mean I get that he wants to bring that Native American heritage with him, and that’s where that comes from, but he also wants to kick; it’s a little bit jumbled.
–And the earring?
Shibata: I mean that’s just dangerous. I’d advise his opponent to just rip it out at some point.
–Rip his earring out?!
Shibata: Perhaps then he’ll learn. It’s a dumb move, something as dangerous as that.
–Look aside, he certainly impressed against Jeff Cobb.
Shibata: They’ve wrestled a few times in the past, right? I think you definitely saw that process in the match. I watched their earlier matches, and at first it looked like Cobb was just throwing a baby around. With that match it looked like Karl had done some growing.
–But I feel like you had some one to one words for him.
Shibata: Oh yeah, remotely.
–So you do talk remotely?
Shibata: Oh yeah, we do video calls quite regularly, and I give them pointers, talk about their matches and whatnot. I talk to them about 1 or 2 AM my time, which is right when they’re about to train over there, so I tell them what to work on. But it is tough.
–You had a lot to say about Alex Coughlin on commentary.
Shibata: Coughlin’s been the most worrying to me. You really can’t tell with him I think, it’s hard to predict which way he’ll go. That Tom Lawlor match…
–That Lawlor match was a fun watch.
Shibata: Well that’s because Lawlor is fun to watch. I’m interested in him. If we can use him well…
–He was a big test for Coughlin.
Shibata: It was a really good match. It wasn’t the kind of match you see with other young kids. It was good. But it’s all up on what he did to make it good. In my opinion, I was happy that he took what I taught him and put it to use. He did more grappling stuff. That was good in my book, but maybe some of the people watching might have a different opinion.
Everything I see is with the LA Dojo in mind.
–There were a lot of wrestlers on Lion’s Break Collision that you knew from the LA Dojo camps.
Shibata: Oh, let’s talk about The DKC! The DKC!
–You were a real DKC booster on commentary.
Shibata: He’s great!
–It was definitely interesting to get your assessment on these talents.
Shibata: Oh, and what’s his name? Something Taylor?
–Rust Taylor? He got results on collision, showed what he could do, but you were quite salty toward him on commentary.
Shibata: Well I think that comes down to having the LA Dojo filter the whole time. Everything I see, I have the Dojo in mind, I’m thinking about whether we need this guy, or whether we don’t need that guy. I’m not about to take that filter off.
Shibata: I think that my tastes are all… Look, LA Dojo started with four guys. We had one drop out and then there were three. But they’re all great. They understand what my philosophy on pro-wrestling is, and what we’re trying to do. They understand ‘Japanese wrestling is like this’, ‘New Japan is like this’, ‘we can bring the essence of NJPW to America’. We’re all in sync like that. Gabe Kidd as well. They know I’m teaching them the New Japan way and they take pride in that.
–You talked about the essentials you want on commentary.
Shibata: I said I want ‘heart, technique, body’. But I think actually it should be ‘heart, body, technique’, in that order.
–The ‘heart technique body’ order is quite a common Japanese saying.
Shibata: Yeah, but I think it’s wrong. Technique comes last. That’s how I see it. And you do see that when you see the LA Dojo guys.
–But a lot of wrestlers will put ‘technique’ at the top of their list.
Shibata: Rust Taylor is a clear example. He’s been around for a long time, he can go, but I think you put him in there with my guys and you’ll see what’s different. You’ll see guys who don’t want to lose at any cost.
It’s the talk of the tournament. How can it not be?
–Friday night, NJPW STRONG gets started as LEC Presents New Japan Cup 2020 in the USA. KENTA faces Karl Fredericks in the first round.
Shibata: He wanted it, and now he has it. I know Karl has a ton of respect for KENTA. He watched a lot of his matches coming up, I think he used Go2Sleep on the independents a few times.
–There’s a bit of drama there with your student facing the friend who betrayed you.
Shibata: Well, that’s what makes things interesting. I don’t think anyone could have predicted this match happening two years ago. And then last year, I bring KENTA into NJPW and it all snowballs into this match. And in America, no less!
–KENTA is certainly a very tough obstacle for Karl to try and overcome.
Shibata: Well, it’s all on Karl. I think we’ll just have to wait and see. But I have my guesses. He’s in trouble if he tries to kick him. Those kicks aren’t going to get better in the space of a month without me there to work on them.
–He doesn’t have the instincts for kicking?
Shibata: I wouldn’t say that. It’s like playing piano; you can’t sit down at a piano for the first time in your life and knock out some Chopin. Or be Jimi Hendrix the instant you pick up a guitar. He needs to live that, make it his daily routine and have it all forged into him. That and a sandbag. We don’t have a sandbag at the moment. Leave that in for (NJPW of America executives) Tezuka and Ohbari. (laughs)
–Either way, it’s certainly an intriguing matchup.
Shibata: Oh, it’s the talk of the tournament. How could it not be.
–You’ll be watching along, stern as ever.
Shibata: Haha. Well, maybe not a proud papa all the time, but I’ll be watching with the future of the LA Dojo in mind.