The Official Home of Professional Muay Thai fighter Justin Greskiewicz
I want to inform everyone- my family, friends, fans, students, and even the people who don't like me- what actually happened to myself and Cool Hearts Muay Thai recently. I will try to remove all embellishment or exasperations of truth and give solely the facts. This will be difficult. But many people already are clear about my feelings, and not many know the facts.
So, not long ago, I had someone turn my life on its head. I resent what happened, but even more so the distasteful way it was handled.
For the last 3 years, my coach Kru Rigel Balsamico and I built an awesome place to train and an entire community at a space at 926 N. 2nd St. in Philadlephia, PA. We came there after leaving a situation in South Philadelphia that was not beneficial for either of us, working at an MMA gym and running their Muay Thai program. We left there with no plans of where to go or even a place to train for my fights.
When we were "homeless" as a camp, we were put in touch with a man named Angel Cartegena, who had run a Muay Thai gym at 926 N. 2nd St. called "Body Arts Gym". Angel is a man of many different hats. He owns several businesses and likes Muay Thai quite a bit, but expressed to us that his desire to run a Muay Thai gym had dwindled. He told us that he was looking for someone to take over his gym because he was no longer interested in it. It seemed the perfect match. We were looking for a place to train and teach, and he was looking for someone to set up a new program at his place.
Body Arts had only a handful of current members, most of whom were infrequently attending class and to the best of my memory, there were probably less than a dozen paying members.
Rigel and I were in it together. He was my coach, and I was his flagship. We had both done Muay Thai for years, it was our lives. He had been doing it for much longer than I had, but it was the only thing that I did for work. It was my life. However, neither of us had really owned a business before, always working for someone else. Now, we were working for Angel.
Angel was eager to show us the ropes of the business. It was a slow process, but students began to follow us to our new location. In the next few months, Angel began pushing the idea of us taking over the business. There were things we needed to do in order for this to happen, and it wouldn't be overnight. Over the next few months, we made slow progress in taking more responsibility for the business, and Angel became more of the landlord. However, at the end of each month, Angel paid us the difference of the income from students, minus the rent and utilities via check. Everything was still in his name.
We continued to work towards autonomy and then, surprisingly to me, Angel expressed that he didn't want to go that route any longer, that he thought it would be better for everyone if he maintained to be a part of the business. After all, he was the business man. At our best months, we had over 100 paying members.
Business began to slow, and we had an average of 75-80 students for a few months. Angel was a voice for us to listen to about business matters and was an ear for many people to vent to about what was going on with the gym. You see, Angel owns a cafe just up the street from the gym. It was a place for people to go and talk, vent, gossip. People felt comfortable just making small talk about the gym. There were little issues with many different things, as there are in any community. When people would get to chatting, they'd talk about the things that were exciting, and then a lot about the things that weren't perfect. Angel evidently perceived problems to be bigger than they were in reality.
So, when Rigel came to Angel to vent about the business being down, and his concerns, Angel was an ear. But then it gave him the idea that he should step back into the business. He thought that he could help out. So he offered to jump back in and be a big part of the business. He wanted to be all hands-on again. This was a polar opposite change of the original idea of myself and Rigel taking complete control of the business. But Angel wanted back in.
His offer was to be back in, invested in the business and helping out in as many ways as possible, with advice, financially, and putting things in place to make the business thrive. Here was his idea. He wanted the business to be restructured to include only himself and Rigel. He no longer wanted me to be a part of the business, but be purely a "rockstar", concentrating on fighting and being the best embodiment of our camp as possible. I would no longer have any business responsibility, such as making sure the students were enrolled or other managerial duties.
The way he handled this was to bring up every one of what he perceived as my shortcomings to Rigel and ask him to "handle me". Rigel and I have had a very tight relationship for years, like family. He and I have had our share of ups and downs, but always work our differences out. When Angel got in his ear about all the things he perceived I had been doing in opposition to Cool Hearts' best interested and the interest of Rigel himself, it created a huge rift in our relationship. We had a few rough weeks where things were very different in our relationship. It was uncharacteristic of our relationship as a whole and it was an incredibly tough time for me. But I tried to make the best of it and do what was asked of me.
In the meantime, Angel had another person that he wanted in charge of those things, Jeremie. Jeremie had been a student of Angel's in the old days of Body Arts and had spent some time in Thailand, where he had life-changing experiences and Muay Thai was at the heart of the things dear to him. He wanted to help and work for the business.
The way I felt about this was that I was in essence having something taken from me. I had worked hard to build the business, and now I was being demoted from a business owner to an employee. Of course I hadn't been perfect, but I tried hard to do what was best. Now it was taken from me. I was heartbroken. But, I tried to roll with the punches if it was what was best for the business.
Though many people would immediately have a guard about this person now taking his position, I felt very open to Jeremie. I saw that he and I were in a similar situation and I felt an immediate kinship with him. I tried to understand him and have a good dialogue with him as we moved forward.
8 weeks went by of this new format, where Angel and Rigel were the heads of the business and I essentially worked for Rigel and Jeremie essentially worked for Angel. For 8 weeks, Angel and Rigel butted heads, disagreeing on the best way to handle the gym. I could always have an easy conversation with Angel, Jeremie, and of course Rigel. Jeremie could always have an easy conversation with me, Rigel, and of course Angel. Angel could always have an easy conversation with me, or Jeremie. And Rigel could always have an easy conversation with me, or Jeremy. But Angel and Rigel would not often see eye to eye. Their conversations were labored. They had fundamental differences of opinion. This would have not been a problem except for the fact that Angel set up the terms of the business the way that he did, where he and Rigel were the figureheads.
So, one day at our business meeting, 8 weeks after jumping fully back into the business, Angel walked in and says "How's it going guys? So, I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news...but, I'm just really clear that I am not interested in doing any sort of business with Rigel whatsoever."
The 3 of us were stunned. Apparently, no one had any warning of this polar opposite decision that manifested in, at longest, the week since we had met last. Jeremie claimed to have no prior knowledge. Rigel was dumbfounded. And I was confused, and growing furious.
We left the meeting, Jeremie and I grabbed coffee. Rigel, who I had been recently having a disagreement with tried to ask me a "what the fuck is going on?' kind of question. I had no answer.
Immediately following our meeting, as Jeremie and I walked to get coffee, Angel called me. He tried to reassure me that he knew I must be in shock. He then promptly offered me a head coaching position at Body Arts gym, as he was sure that he wanted to continue to build his own Muay Thai school in that space. I informed him that I needed to think long and hard about things, especially because of the rift currently going on between myself and Rigel.
I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was caught in the middle of something entirely outside of my design, trying to play catch up with a continuously changing situation.
I took some time and talked with people close to me. The uncertainty faded away as my friends and family asked me questions that I could not answer when asking myself and I had clear answers for them. It was clear to me what i wanted to do.
It took me a couple days to decline Angel's offer and decide to build something separate and new with Rigel. It didn't feel right to do anything without him. He had been the one who had given me my knowledge of Muay Thai and a giant reason for my success in the sport.
We were approached by Fight Firm, owned by Tuan Pham. He wanted us to head his Muay Thai program and give us a place to train and for our loyal students to work with us. So far, it has worked out great. It's been really tough to try to make ends meet, building all over again at a new space.
But there are big plans in the making, and we're trying to do the best we can.
So, in closing---This, I hope serves for a good fact-only version of what happened. If anyone would like to know more about how I feel about the situation, and more specifically, all the individual things that I am upset with as to how it was handled, I'm sure I will provide them, if I haven't already.
Stay tuned, more to come.
And if you get a moment, try to enjoy the weather today, it's beautiful.