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Q&A with Spark Joshi, on their Orlando dojo and mindset of the company

5 months ago M. Ish | Monthly Puroresu

M. Ish | Monthly Puroresu

Q&A with Spark Joshi, on their Orlando dojo and mindset of the company

Spark Joshi talks about forming a joshi puroresu company in the United States, their new dojo, and more

By: James Carlin

With the rising popularity of Japanese women’s pro-wrestling in the West since the middle of the 2010’s, Spark Joshi Puroresu of America burst onto the scene in June of last year with Ignite East in New Jersey, then Ignite West in Los Angeles – where the company was founded. Since then, the promotion has periodically held shows over the year, with their next event set to take place during WrestleMania weekend as Trailblaze sees Spark Joshi return to New Jersey on April 7th, with tickets available here.

Recently, the company established the Spark Pro Wrestling Dojo with head trainer Sumie Sakai in Orlando, the first Japanese wrestling dojo in the country. Spark Joshi’s founder C.B Liffer and producer Francis speak to Monthly Puroresu about the new dojo, why Spark Joshi was created, and the mindset and goals for the organization.

c/o Spark Joshi Puroresu of America

Monthly Puroresu:
You recently announced the opening of the Spark Pro Wrestling Dojo, how did this come about?

C.B:
From the beginning, we hoped to be able to develop homegrown talent eventually. After working with Sumie Sakai in our first LA show, we found that Sumie shared our vision for a Japanese style training program in the US.

She feels honored to have had the opportunity to begin her wrestling experience in Japan, which has helped her throughout her career, and hopes to share that experience with her students. So we’re starting with a mats-only Japanese style training program that will be a unique opportunity to grow for anyone looking to eventually work in Japan, or even just gain this kind of experience to wrestle in the US or elsewhere.

Francis:
It started as something we had hoped might fall into place at some point in the distant future, but everything came together a lot sooner and we felt the timing was right.

Monthly Puroresu:
You named it the Spark Pro Wrestling Dojo without including joshi in the name, what was the thought process behind this?

C.B:
We wanted to emphasize that this was a Japanese style pro wrestling training program without a gender restriction. In fact, we welcome trainees of any and all levels and genders because it’s such a rare opportunity for Americans to access Japanese style training without flying overseas.

Francis:
Right after the initial announcement, we already received interest from experienced wrestlers who wanted to train in a Japanese style but hadn’t had the opportunity yet.

Monthly Puroresu:
Why did you choose Orlando as the location for the dojo?

C.B:
It’s already a major region where many wrestlers and aspiring wrestlers live. We also set out to start the first Japanese wrestling school on the east coast.

Monthly Puroresu:
Where can prospective students find out more about getting involved?

C.B:
Students can sign up for a free account at dojo.sparkjoshi.com and use the code “FREESTART101” to register for a free trial of Sumie Sakai’s training from Jan 29 to Feb 4. After that, classes will begin with a very affordable pricing plan compared to most training programs in the US.

Francis:
The calendar on the website keeps classes as organized as possible so Sumie will know who is coming to each class. We ask that everyone must register online in advance for each class.

Monthly Puroresu:
As veterans in the entertainment scene in Los Angeles, what drove you to wanting to run wrestling shows featuring joshi talent? When did the idea first start, and how did that come to fruition leading up to your first show, Ignite East, in New Jersey?

C.B:
We’ve always felt there was so much potential to the concept of a company that is founded specifically to bring joshi wrestling to America. It’s such a unique and amazing part of Japanese culture that more people should have a chance to witness live.

The indie wrestling scene in the US had already branched out to focus on so many different styles like lucha, comedy, hardcore, and strong style. Joshi is some of the highest standard of wrestling, and we love it, so we felt like importing many of the unique aspects of joshi should have happened a long time ago. Yet no one had done it this way before, so we felt it was important.

Francis:
We both felt that it should have happened a long time ago. We felt like it wasn’t a huge leap for us to take, but we also knew that even in film and other live events, every project comes with its own unique challenges and that’s definitely true for Spark Joshi too. In fact, Ignite East in Newark was originally planned as the second show, with the LA show being the first, but scheduling and logistical challenges flipped things around.

That was the sort of thing that could be challenging even though we were used to dealing with similar issues in other projects. But we always believed in the goal of expanding joshi in America and that’s what drove us to keep going.

Monthly Puroresu:
What does your experience bring that allows Spark to differentiate itself and separate itself from similar companies within America? The market is becoming competitive so fast, why should people check out Spark and give it a chance over other companies that are beginning to show up and make themselves known in the same sphere and areas?

C.B:
Being a female director in film and live events was already something that is both rare and allows for a different perspective. Right now, I think the wrestling scene, especially here in the US, needed more womens wrestling companies run by women. A lot of women we’ve worked with have expressed how much they appreciate that. Besides that, I think everyone has a different idea of what’s at the heart of joshi wrestling.

For us, it’s a combination of the style of wrestling you find in some of the top joshi companies and a certain sense of humor that’s unique. And I think it helps that we’ve dealt with the challenges of production for a long time now, so it feels natural to adapt to the challenges we face along the way.

Francis:
As fast as all this is happening, it’s also still only the beginning. I think it’s a bit like looking at the indie scene immediately after the peak of ECW and seeing how each company approached it, and how hardcore promotions in the US are similar today. We set out to give fans an experience that’s true to the aspects of joshi that inspired us in the first place. Sometimes, that inspiration comes from STARDOM and TJPW. Other times, it’s something as far back as AJW or Arsion.

Monthly Puroresu:
Your experience in entertainment makes me wonder, would pre-recorded promos be in the future for Spark Joshi? I believe it was C.B who featured in a short-film with Kidd Bandit last year; it would be interesting to see something like that used to create hype videos like AEW and WWE do.

C.B:
That’s something we’ve considered but haven’t pursued just yet. If the right pieces fall into place, though, you may see something along those lines in the near future.

Monthly Puroresu:
Your first champions were Miyu Yamashita (Spark World Champion) and Ram Kaichow (Spark Pacific champion). Yamashita’s drive to wrestle in the United States has clearly shown, as she became World Champion, but with Kaichow’s Pacific Championship — how will championship matches in Japan be sanctioned? Will matches need prior approval to take place, or can Ram, as champion, decide on them individually?

C.B:
Title defenses in Japan will be on a case by case basis because it comes down to what works best for everyone involved, not only for us but for companies we work with. It will definitely happen though.

Monthly Puroresu:
What do you think made Yamashita and Kaichow good first champions for Spark to establish itself with, and how do you believe their personalities and in-ring presentation accomplish the goal of highlighting Spark’s mission?

C.B:
Miyu Yamashita has been a great first champion in so many ways. She’s always been somewhat of a parent or older sister to her peers in Tokyo Joshi and has had a similar role with many of the Japanese wrestlers in our shows. We’re proud to have had her as the first world champion in Spark Joshi, there’s no doubt that she deserved to be the first.

Ram Kaichow represents a certain rebellious and defiant presence that we always felt would work well internationally. We wanted to bring out her full potential. Ram is often known for her comedy work, and she gets to do some of that in Spark Joshi too because it’s also a big part of many joshi promotions in Japan, but we both felt that there was a lot of untapped potential with Ram — potential than others may not have entirely given her credit for in the past.

So giving her that spotlight, main eventing Ignite West to crown the first Pacific Champion, was part of us letting her shine. With the huge line of fans wrapping around the venue for her meet and greet at Ignite West, she was so happy to see how many people had come to see her US debut. It was amazing, considering what we set out to do. Her being the first name on our Pacific Championship lineage should also diversify the ways Ram could be booked elsewhere.

Ram Kaichow has represented Spark Joshi in Japan. c/o @norihon on Twitter

Monthly Puroresu:
On your website, Spark mentions its belief of wanting to emulate the presentation of joshi — something that is evident with the use of paper tapes/streamers during ring introductions. What other things have been put in place to accurately emulate this style for an American audience to allow authenticity?

C.B:
We try to include those aspects of the presentation whenever we can because we feel it’s a big part of giving the fans an authentic joshi experience. And we try to do that as much as possible. Things like the 20 count rule, paper streamers, the announcements of time elapsed during the match; these were always part of what we felt would set the experience apart from non-joshi companies in the US. Fans caught on from day one and did their part too, of course.

The Japanese-style clapping for kickouts after two-counts, you don’t often see that in companies that aren’t specifically importing the Japanese style presentation. In fact, our fans did the two-count claps from the first show without being prompted in any way, so fans attending our shows are also doing their part in giving each other the most authentic experience possible.

Francis:
There were other things we wanted to do from the start that weren’t necessarily practical for our first shows, like a musical performance to open the show like you would see in TJPW. We made that work for the Rising Heat shows, thanks to C.B and SAKI, who both did a great job of that.

But we did always plan to go further on things like that as the company grows. The most important part for us was for fans to feel as much like they’re seeing a show in Japan as we could deliver, and we hope to add to that in any way we can.

Monthly Puroresu:
Something that I noticed is that a lot of new startups are beginning to have mascots alongside logos. Spark Joshi, for example, has one. Why use a mascot, and how does that help your brand identity as a wrestling organisation?

C.B:
I always felt it was a big part of representing the feel of a promotion, like the way you might immediately get the tone of the movie based on a teaser. It helps to give personality to the brand identity, I think. Especially with the kawaii culture associated with many joshi wrestlers.

Francis:
It lets fans know the presentation style to expect, the same way a barbed wire wrapped logo worked for ECW, in a way. Especially for a joshi promotion in America, it’s a great way to differentiate the brand from other companies who may book one or two joshi names in an otherwise very American-style show. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, of course — many non-joshi American promotions are great at giving added exposure to joshi wrestlers.

A kawaii mascot is one of the ways we try to communicate what our brand is all about and how we’re different. It’s a lot like the way a character showing up in Marvel’s Avengers is very different from the same character appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool. We do many things to set the tone of the show apart, even if some of the same people may appear and do undeniably great work elsewhere. I think the mascot is just one of the many ways to do that.

Spark Joshi’s Mascot. c/o Spark Joshi Puroresu of America

Monthly Puroresu:
With Spark being focused around joshi puroresu, what benefits are there to also having local wrestling talent on shows, as opposed to joshi vs. joshi?

C.B:
We prefer to mix things up and have at least one or more joshi vs. joshi match but also involve local talent at each show. Sometimes, that results in dream matches that many fans have wanted to see for a long time. Other times, it’s just a surprise that delivers variety. Either way, I always felt that it made sense for the company, and also for the talent. So many of the American, and other non-Japanese, wrestlers have been able to get a lot better when they worked as foreigners in Japanese companies.

We like to give local talent a similar experience, whether they’re working directly with Japanese wrestlers or just gaining the experience of working in a show that aims to reach the Japanese standard of wrestling.

Monthly Puroresu:
Although your branding is currently Spark Joshi of America, would the future forsee holding shows in Japan, or will it always be intentional to not run shows abroad?

C.B:
For now, we feel we have the most to offer by being a brand that centers around bringing Japanese talent, as well as a Japanese-style fan experience, to American fans. We don’t have any immediate plans to run shows in Japan, but if the right pieces fall into place, only time will tell if that may change…

Monthly Puroresu:
As of right now, you would’ve ran four shows since the company’s establishment by the end of 2023. Are there plans to run shows more frequently, or would it be better to assume that four shows a year (or six, if it’s every four months) is the expected number of yearly events?

C.B:
When the company launched, we hoped to test out different cities and different times of day. Surprisingly, each of our choices came with plusses and minuses that we didn’t necessarily expect from day one. For now, we plan to continue running shows every few months but we’re also in talks with other companies for potential collaborations, and that may bring about more shows in between.

So it’s possible we will end up running more frequently than we originally planned.

Monthly Puroresu:
What do you think lies in the future not only for joshi as a whole in America, but for Spark Joshi as a company?

Francis:
I think it’s long overdue for joshi to grow the fandom internationally. Growing up in the 90s, discovering companies like AJW and Arsion was like finding an entirely different tier of an artform that most of our peers didn’t know existed. We hope new fans today experience that same sense of discovery.

C.B:
We’ve gotten a lot of wonderful feedback from many very supportive fans, so there are things we just want to continue doing the way we do it. In other ways, we also plan to challenge ourselves and do things that maybe not everyone will expect, but still fit into our vision for what Spark Joshi is all about. Joshi in America will continue to grow, as more and more audiences discover everything that goes into an authentic Japanese experience. It’s a bright future for joshi in America. We’re just happy to be in a time and place where we can be a part of that future.

Written by:

Initially hired for social media management and Joshi coverage, I lead the coverage of joshi between May 2023 and March 2024, and worked behind the scenes in multiple roles since August 2022 that allowed Monthly Puroresu to smoothly operate.