Tokyo Japan, home of technology. A culture steeped in tradition. A city deeply immersed in respect for the customs and heritage of years gone by. Yet even here in a city this alive, this lit up, this busy, there is a darkness. There are some traditions shrouded by history, protected from the eyes of a hyper judgmental world.
You may have heard, you may have shaken your head as your read about them, the stories of one of the most infamous places in Tokyo. The place isn't in a red light district. It isn't a Yakuza meeting. It's far more sadistic, it's far more demanding and brutal than any of that. It's the infamous Internet Wrestling Grand Prix dojo. The most celebrated hell on earth disguised as a wrestling dojo.
It was here when I worked for IWGP so many years ago, they sent me, even though I was a star and a name in the U.S. I had to come here and learn the Puroresu or strong style. I have my stories, you wouldn't believe some of them if I told you. I lived through all of it though, more important than that I survived it. I thrived from it and went on to become a celebrated star in a country I can't speak a word of the language.
We enter into what appears to be a traditional Tokyo dojo. There are posters from old cards adorning the dojo walls. There are weights and exercise mats strewn all about the floor. The Young Boys, most of them star eyed teenagers with dreams of one day making a living in this sport are circled around the ring. They are watching one of the sensei work out with a visitor who is obviously not a local.
They flow through the match as if it were a dance, holds and counters, openings and reversals coming as easily as ballet. A reversal leads to the foreigner going for a kick. The local teacher catches his foot but in a moment, he hesitates. He spins the foreigner around only to be clotheslined into a complete 360. Instead of pouncing, the foreigner stops, raises his hand to the students as if to say that the match has been stopped and helps the teacher up.
The look on the foreigner's face says that he's not happy with this decision.
The local who has now regained his bearings looks at his guest and looks slowly down at his right knee which is wrapped and in a brace. "You have a big match on Sunday. I didn't want to hurt you."
The guest replies with a laugh. "That's funny." He looks at the students around the ring and as if he's making casual conversation "I did that once, they made me run up and down the steps at a Buddhist temple three times without water for it!"
The teacher waves off the students and they go to their daily chores.
"Ron you really didn't need to tell the kids that."
"Why? It happened. It may have lightened up since you became head trainer Mr. Fujinami but that doesn't change anything."
Ron's eyes slowly lift up and take in the ceiling. The memories are still strong. Some feel like they just happened. His hands are on his hips as he looks at his sparring partner. His clothes have several noticeable wet spots from sweat and his hair is almost black from the humidity and moisture.
It's just another day of training for the UTA Hall of Famer, even though Sunday night, a ladder match and an opportunity at a championship, the Prodigy championship are on his mind.
"You're thinking about it now yes?"
"Of course I am. It's hard not to. It's a ladder match for a title that's been dormant for a few months."
The two men lean against the ropes and look over a near by wall. There's a promotional poster from 2002 for the Tokyo Dome in which the foreigner, the UTA Hall of Famer and at that time IWGP champion was to defend his title against some national hero by the name of Keji Fujinami.
The two just look at each other and smile. Almost fifteen years and a lot of memories later, life took them on divergent paths. Ron Hall despite the physical price he has paid, despite the toll the years in this sport have asked is still active and will be part of the UTA's International Affair show on Sunday night and look to add another title to his trophy case, another accolade to his long list of accomplishments, where as Keji had to retire after a series of injuries and instead of leaving the business, he became the promotion's most respected trainer.
"Ladder matches are dangerous enough Hall-san, aren't you worried that you could get hurt again? You can only rebuild your knee so many times. How many is too many?"
Ron looks at his friend, someone who shared the experience of the "Young Boy"with him. He glances down at his brace and allows himself to take a moment.
"Yeah, I could get hurt again but the risk, then, just like now is worth the reward."
"Many talented opponents are in this match. Amy Harrison has much spirit. She seems very determined."
"She may be, but she's also lost. She hasn't found her way in this business or in the UTA yet. She may find it one day but unless there is some help coming that no one expects," Ron's mind recalls the night she had to have someone help her beat him on Victory "Then I don't see it happening."
"Perhaps. There is Marie Van Claudio she seems to like you. She is ready to break through. She tries very hard, sometimes too hard..."
Ron smiles and shakes his head. His voice lets on that this is the last thing on his mind.
"We don't mix business and pleasure remember?" They both share a small laugh. "She plays to the level of her opponents. If she shows up like she did against La Flama Blanca for the World title then she may be ready to fulfill her promise. It would be a tough night. The question is can she put the consistency together and come up big in a big match?
Keji nods "What about Lew Smith? Many feel he is the uncrowned World Champion. He hasn't been the same since he almost won the title, only to have it taken away like he did."
Ron's face turns into a bit of confusion. His head nods slowly side to side. He thinks about that tag match on Victory not too long ago that didn't quite work out.
"There are people who think I should be World Champion right now but I'm not. There's that unresolved issue from our tag team match we still haven't addressed. The question isn't who should be what or how close did you come. The question should be can you, no will you make the most of the opportunity you're presented now?"
"The Prodigy championship isn't all that valued. Since..." Fujinami doesn't get to finish, Ron cuts him off.
"The title has been inactive since Alex got hurt. Why this way, and why now I'm not sure. The championship does still have value. All championships do."
Keji seems to almost be pleading with him. "That belt is nothing. You have been a star and done better even here. You should be going for bigger and better things."
Ron looks at Keji annoyed. You're forgetting a lesson you taught me. A title, even one like the Prodigy championship can be a springboard to great things. Don't forget Alex Beckman had a chance at the World title because of what she did with it. That's the important thing, and that's why on Sunday night with all the other circumstances and distractions, my goal is still the same, to regain the Prodigy Championship and start climbing the mountain once again. She won Ring King with it and nearly climbed the mountain. I plan on using it to get all the way up the mountain."
Keji stops for a moment and realizes that his old friend has a point. He smiles and bows politely out of respect as he remembers the lesson that his former training partner has now re imparted to him.
The two continue to talk about life, wrestling and other things as we fade out.