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The Soul of a Warrior: The DKC

3 years ago

The Soul of a Warrior: The DKC

Dylan Kyle Cox Shares How Katsuyori Shibata’s LA Dojo is Creating Something Special

By: Nathan Sartain

Katsuyori Shibata’s legacy needs no introduction. The LA Dojo sensei was one of New Japan’s more unique performers in his prime. To belabor the point of his strong fundamentals, he never swapped out the plain black trunks of a Young Lion; his sometimes brutal moveset was punctuated by the sound of his PK, something fans came to enjoy worldwide. But while enjoying a long-term break from competition, Shibata keeps busy training the likes of The DKC at NJPW’s LA Dojo – the central station of the promotion’s U.S. expansion efforts.

“Heart, body, and technique! That’s what I want everyone to carry over [from] my philosophy,” Shibata-san said in California Dreamin’, a multi-part YouTube documentary about his journey to recreate the traditional Japanese dojo experience. “I have a feeling that guys here understand what I am saying by heart.”

Shibata’s LA Dojo experiment is a direct result of his IWGP Heavyweight Championship match versus “Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada in 2017. That night, Shibata promised to bring the very best out of Okada like no one could before – and the 30-minute affair was an ineffable bout reaching epic heights. It also pushed Shibata beyond his personal limits. He required an emergency hospital stay and subsequent surgery directly after the bell rang.

“I have no regrets. I don’t want to look back at the match. I am alive now,” says Shibata-san.
And he instills that sense of purpose in life into everyone he accepts into the LA Dojo.

The DKC is his latest project, and the bearded SoCal original spoke to Monthly Puroresu directly from the LA Dojo about what a privilege it is to train with Shibata-san.

“It’s definitely techniques,” The DKC said, protein shake in hand. “He’s helped me and then taught me. The spinning chop was definitely something we worked on and the new submission – the crucifix crank – we worked on that, and drilled it up. But he pounds it in just to never stop, you know, always, always keep it coming. And then when you’re in pain, you have to re-attack.”

The 30-year-old joined the LA Dojo through a direct, face-to-face request to Shibata in the year’s infancy, and has quickly become one to watch. Wrestling a technical, submission-style drawing from kickboxing and karate to create something which could easily veer towards hard-hitting, The DKC produces undeniable determination and showcases an irrefutable work ethic.

It’s just the sort of attitude familiar with Japanese fans, who invest heavily in the journeys of Young Lions, often cheering emphatically during their opening matches at Korakuen Hall – even when the outcome might seem predetermined.

Positioned halfway across the world from Korakuen and without some traditional rites of passage (like head shavings), the LA Dojo is still not for the faint of heart. As documented in California Dreamin’, the workouts are borderline insane.

But for those with the “guts,” as Shibata-san says, they’ll find a tidy, clean and welcoming atmosphere – a far cry from the backyard wrestling and deathmatches familiar on the indie circuit in backwoods America.

For DKC, he felt an immediate fit. Clark Connors was the first to reach out a hand and offer him support.

“I was going in and you know, working out hard. Like for a match, I always like to get a good sweat; I’m shadow boxing and whatever, and like the Young Lions do that too. Connors saw that, and we hit it off. Then we started tagging a little bit. So like, yeah, he was really cool and took me under [his wing], showing me how things are done.”

The DKC has also gone on to team with, as well as square up against, his roommate and fellow Young Lion Kevin Knight. “He’s a smart guy, he keeps a cool head,” says The DKC of his 24-year-old counterpart. “He’ll bring the fire and bring the pain, but he’s also really zoned in; he’ll get zoned in and attack with precision.“

It’s high praise, but warranted. Those who have seen Knight on New Japan STRONG can speak to his insane athleticism, which shines through his outstanding dropkick, a seemingly fundamental maneuver that he performs with majesty and deftness.

DKC vs Kevin Knight courtesy of NJPW

Photo Credit: New Japan Pro Wrestling

In addition to his dojo mates, The DKC aptly pays his dues to those who came before him. His first exposure to NJPW was the Super J Cup which included talent such as Chris Jericho (who wrestled under the name Lionheart), but rather than dwell on what came before him, he intends to make his own mark.

“I want my name out there, you know? I want people to be like, ‘oh, okay, The DKC is a formidable opponent for anybody, he’ll stand up.’ I want people to understand: I don’t care who it is across the ring, I want to bring it.”

In terms of future goals, The DKC intends to make them happen in short order – although Shibata-san will damn sure prepare him for the moment. For one, they are working in tandem to ensure a lineage begins of highly trained individuals who can leave their mark on the future of puroresu.

“A big goal is to make the LA Dojo a place where people want to come,” The DKC said. “They see what we’re doing, let’s bring in talent from all over the world. I want the reputation to be: Those guys know how to train, those guys are becoming stars and becoming better fighters.”

And with a Jr. Heavyweight division over in Japan in need of some fresh faces, the Californian may be Tokyo Dreamin’.

“I want to be a world champion – the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, that’s the ultimate goal. If you don’t want to be a champion in this business, what are you doing? I want to be on top.”

For whoever’s in his way, The DKC promises to outmaneuver them at every turn. Besides, he has The Wrestler in his corner, drilling the Young Lion on what he needs to succeed in Japan.

“This is a very meaningful experience for me to bring New Japan over to America,” Shibata said.

And in return, The DKC promises to bring Tokyo a taste of the future – courtesy of his unyielding resolve to prove why New Japan made a choice investment with him and the LA Dojo.

This article first appeared in Monthly Puroresu Issue #6

Written by:

Editor in Chief, Founder of Monthly Puroresu. Bylines published in more than 155+ newspapers and magazines including Dallas Morning News, SF Examiner and Columbus Dispatch. More recently I've worked across ad agencies and startups on content strategy discovering brand insights, while developing a strategic roadmap for Monthly Puroresu.