There are a number of ways to make your name in the world of professional wrestling, but few (and perhaps none) are harder than working your way up through New Japan Pro Wrestling's fabled dojo system.
That goes even more so for foreigners, so when New Zealand's Jay White, now 24, found his way in, the pressure to succeed and the lofty expectations could have been overwhelming.
But White kept his head down, did things the right way and eventually started working his way up the card. He has continued to raise his profile since beginning his traditional foreign excursion in the United States with Ring of Honor, having memorable matches against Jay Briscoe, Adam Cole and Marty Scurll; he even owns a win over current ROH world champion Christopher Daniels. But none made a bigger impression than his Hammerstein Ballroom thriller with Will Ospreay in mid-May.
For the moment, his attention has turned to Friday and Saturday in Lowell, Massachusetts, as ROH holds a pay-per-view event and TV tapings that carry a few more big opportunities for the fast-rising star. White sat down for a call in the lead-up to Friday's "Best in the World" PPV.
ESPN.com: For our readers who are wrestling fans but might not know how Japanese wrestling training works, would you be able to explain how the dojo/young lion system sort of works and how that relates to your journey and your wrestling career?
Jay White: Yes, it's probably, in terms of places to get into, it's gotta be the hardest. There's so many people that email myself and others asking about, "Hey, how do I get a tryout or how do I get in this." A lot of it comes down to who you know, basically. I got in through Prince Devitt -- or Finn Bálor -- however you want to refer to him. I met him in England, and he was impressed with my work ethic. He went back and put a word in, and then from there, Bad Luck Fale, being a fellow New Zealander, got in touch with me.
ESPN: So take me through that dojo experience and what goes into your daily life from day one.
JW: I had no idea what I was gonna be doing there, and I didn't even know how long I was gonna be there, at first. I managed to find out just before I went there that it was going to be four months. I had no idea if I was going to be training, if I was going to have any matches ... didn't think I'd get paid or anything. But I turned up there and shaved my head.
You're up at 8 o'clock, you clean the dojo and clean the bathrooms and the floors -- outside, as well -- you sweep the road outside the house. Then, once you've done that, you've got between then and about 9:30, 9:45 to have some food if you want. But then at 10 o'clock, you're gonna start training for three hours at least, usually sometimes longer. The training is horrible, especially at the start; it's just such a shock to anything you've done before. Five hundred squats every morning, sometimes a thousand. Normal squats, that is, and then you'll have jumping squats on top of that. Hundreds of press-ups, just grinding you into the ground in the training there.
Once that's done you'll finish up, go shower, and then you'll go and wait in the kitchen to look after the Senpai, the older wrestlers who are gonna obviously be eating and stuff. So you do their dishes for them.
When they're training, you're going to do their laundry, keeping an eye out for them putting their laundry baskets out. Wash, dry, fold it. Once it quiets down in the kitchen, you'll get a chance to go and have lunch yourself. Once that's done, clean up and you've kind of just got to hang around to keep an eye on the older guys, really anyone that's coming in, just make sure you're around to help them out.
In the evening, if you have time, it's up to each person; I would go in and do more weights, seeing as in the morning it would be a lot more body weight-based.
ESPN: How do things go on match days? And how did that ultimately lead to your first match?
JW: For example, Korakuen Hall shows are the easiest, because they're the closest to the dojo. We get there, and we would have to go get all the water and put it in all the water bottles, and then [to the] changing rooms, where we'd get changed. Make sure if anything else needs to be sorted out, we'd do that. Most of the time, the young boys would be training before every match, as well, even if they're not wrestling that day.
So I did that for about maybe one tour I think, and a month into the dojo, I had my first match, which I wasn't expecting. That was against Alex Shelley, which was a pretty good match for me. It was meant to be against one of the other young boys, but because of flights or because someone couldn't be flown over, I got changed around and my first one was against him.
Once you have that match, you've got to go back, get changed, and then you go ringside for all the other matches to help out, or to put the stairs against the ring for the guys to enter. You take their costume to the back, as well. So you're constantly on call to do any jobs.
ESPN: OK, so, I'm curious -- that obviously goes on for a few additional months ...
JW: Longer than that.
ESPN: How long?
JW: You do it the whole time until you graduate the dojo. So I did a year and a half of that, which I was pretty fortunate, that was quite a short time. Especially the Japanese guys that start fresh, they could do it from two to three years.
ESPN: That's pretty intense. After graduating, you can get sent out to do more learning in another region for another company. What was that experience like for you?
JW: So the style is usually to send the young boys away once they graduate the dojo for a learning excursion. Usually to America, England or Mexico. It's pretty rare for any of the foreigners to get sent away. If they send you way, they're really considering you one of the Japanese-style guys, so that's really fortunate for me. I was pretty happy that they looked at me that way -- the fact they sent me away means they look at me as one of their own New Japan guys, which is cool. So they sent me away to, obviously, the States, working for Ring of Honor over here.
It was pretty daunting at first, again, just the massive lifestyle change -- you get so used to the dojo in Japan... It's just a massive shock to pack up your bags and move to New Jersey. Our schedule isn't nearly as busy as the New Japan one, so you've got more free time on your hands, as well. It was also nice to be back in an English-speaking country and eat Western food again. I still see a lot of the guys who I'd met in Japan from Ring of Honor and stuff, so it's cool to go to work with them in the States.
ESPN: You've been away from New Japan for just about a year now. So what have you been up to?
JW: I started off in New Jersey, but I went back to England for quite a bit of time, where I was living before. I did a couple of shows over there, and it was cool to be able to have time off over there, too. Around Christmas, I had a month back home in New Zealand, which is the longest time I've had there since I left in 2012, so that was cool.
The time off is really nice, especially on the body, as well. You're not wrestling 10 times in two weeks, so you can stay a bit healthier. I'm living in Detroit now, as well, and it's kind of a nice area here, so I've got a good little thing going for me here at the moment. I enjoy it here in the States, and I'd probably like to live here if I could -- it's just a case of, obviously, being allowed to.
ESPN: In that time, you've had some interesting confrontations and some great matches, but in terms of hype, the one that stands out is your match in Manhattan against Will Ospreay in May.
JW: Yeah, Will is a great guy -- me and him get on well, so I was very excited for that one. He's a guy that I'd heard quite a bit about, especially when I started New Japan, I started hearing about this guy Ospreay being another young guy out there who was doing well. And I'd never met him, didn't really watch his stuff before, and then he came out to Japan, and he did great there from the start.
We'd never really worked with each other, maybe one or two tags, really short ones anyway. So I was very excited to have my first singles match with him. And of course of all places, on pay-per-view at the Hammerstein Ballroom -- you can't really ask for a better setting for that.
I was excited for that. People seemed really surprised [at the quality of the match], but it's just a case of having the chance for that time and place. I don't know if I can speak for him, as well -- I was kind of surprised at everyone's reaction from it. I knew it was a good match, I just didn't expect everyone to kind of lose their minds like they did, but I mean, I'm happy they did.
It was fun, I enjoyed it. It was really cool to have that reaction like that in a building where I've seen so many of my heroes wrestle. To have a match that a lot of people were saying was the match of the night was pretty cool, too. But at the same time, it's just another match, and I'm sure there's gonna be plenty more coming.
- ROH Wrestling (@ringofhonor) June 11, 2017
ESPN: Coming up this weekend, there's a few of those kinds of opportunities, as well. It's never really safe to assume in wrestling, but assuming Kushida wins against Marty Scurll on Friday, that sets you up for another pretty spectacular matchup.
JW: Man, I'm very excited for that. No matter who comes out of that match. Personally, I'd prefer Kushida, because I haven't worked with him one-on-one before. Me and Marty go back ... he's probably my oldest friend in wrestling. We met maybe within a month of me starting training, and then he was one of my first couple of matches. I mean, that's always special when I get with him, I've always enjoyed that.
But for Kushida, as well, he was one of those guys in the dojo who was always around, as well. He speaks pretty good English, so he'd be the guy who always helps you out. I consider him a friend, as well, so that'd be awesome if I can have a chance to have that match against him. Boston's a great crowd, as well.
Every single match Kushida has is amazing, but he probably had one of my favorite matches, him versus Carlo Riley in the Super Junior Finals in 2015. Since then, I've just been relishing the opportunity to get in there with him. I would love for it to be against him, and especially for that ROH TV title.
ESPN: You've obviously had a pretty good time of it in Ring of Honor. Do you allow yourself sort of the luxury of looking forward and thinking about when or how you'd like things to go when you return to New Japan, or is it about enjoying this point in your career right now?
JW: A bit of both. It is in the back of your mind, it's good to always think about it, but at the same time, you don't want to waste too much time, because you've no idea what it could be. It could be that in one weeks' time they could say, "Hey, we need you back now." It could be in a year, it could be two years' time.
I think if I'm living in the moment and I'm just enjoying my time here at ROH. I'm always working towards getting back to New Japan, it's something I'm very much looking forward to. I keep telling the guys who ask if I'm looking forward to going back, "Of course I am." I feel like it's home there. I miss it -- it isn't too bad, but at the same time, I do also love it here. I'm just going to enjoy this while I can.