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Greed and Hypocrisy in Jiu-JItsu

I started teaching Jiu-Jitsu in Mexico City under Itzel at Promahorse BJJ. At the time she was a Purple Belt and she was very dedicated to her students and the art of Jiu-Jitsu. She was talented, technical, and had demonstrated strong perseverence to get to where she was. That was inspiring and motivating and most of us wanted to do all that we could to help her.

Rank Equals Power Equals Ego

But a curious thing happened when she got her Black Belt. She changed. One day she told me that not everyone had the right stuff to be a Black Belt. The implication was that she was going to be the gate-keeper and deny Black Belt promotions to anyone she deemed unworthy.

I need not have worried about it because over the space of just a couple of years she lost all of her senior belts and instructors. What happened? She became everything she had criticised in others. Training was no longer about the Jiu-Jitsu; instead it was all about empire building and making money. And damn anyone that got in her way! Students were no longer friends. Now they were just “cash cows” to fund her Jiu-JItsu lifestyle and her frequent training trips to the US.

Franchises Invite Greed

Itzel was given the rights by Robert Drysdale to set up Zenith Mexico however she wanted. The transformation of our academy to a for-profit franchise was the beginning of the end for many of us. The focus shifted from Jiu-itsu and sharing knowledge to monetising everything. Want a belt promotion? Fine, but pay your examination fee first. And don’t forget annual membership fees for individuals and satellite schools.

Branded Gis and the Beginning of the End

The next step was to force everyone into franchise branded gis. Drysdale had rushed to sign a contract with Kingz. Under the deal the top instructors would get a new top quality gi every month. But what he didn’t do was check whether Kingz would actually be able to deliver on their promises. For at least the next year onwards they were unable to supply many of the styles, sizes, and colours that they’d promised. Many students paid for a new uniform and were still waiting six months later. Worse still, the quality was attrocious. Who cares if a gi looks nice if it rips easily when your opponent grabs it. The gis were also badly designed and had a very uncomfortable fit.

The subject of uniforms became a problem for many of us. We had enjoyed the freedom of buying any brand we liked. But now we were expected to buy Zenith gis only. You’d think they would be competitively priced given the low quality of the basic styles but, again, no. They were expensive junk and that was assuming yoru choice was even available.

 

For instructors it was even more frustrating. Teaching in a white franchise gi was going to be mandatory. Normally, when you are required to wear a uniform in an official capacity you would expect to be given a new gi every year. Not so with Itzel. She expected her instructors to buy them. Her pathetic discount didn’t make them competitive against the normal retail of other brands either. So now students and instructors were cash cows to be milked for as much money as possible.

 

The final straw with franchise gis was that our teaching salary was so small that we’d effectively be working just to buy the gis from her. I tried to explain this to her more than once but Itzel’s greed and arrogance meant that anyone questioning her risked getting fired. In my case she went a step further and kicked me out of the team!

But Wait, There's More...

Then there were the countless issues related to working conditions. I am not sure about workers’ rights in Mexico but in most countries Itzel would have been breaking the law.

Holidays

None. Not even annual vacations. If the academy was open you were expected to teach. If you were in Itzel’s good books and managed to plan time off you did so without pay. And if the building was closed because it was a public holiday you would also miss out on wages.

Sick Days

None. Itzel expected us to teach even when we were sick. She always said if we were sick we shouldn’t come to the gym to share our germs. But clearly that advice was for the students, not her instructors.

If you were genuinely too sick to work it was your responsibility to find cover for your class. This created a very toxic and stressful environment.

It goes without saying–if you don’t teach you don’t get paid.

Pay Rates

Unfair and Inconsistent. As part of Itzel’s vision she introduced a graduated pay scale. She told me that the higher your rank the more your pay would be, up to 150 pesos per hour for Black Belts. But when I got my Brown Belt the pay rise was only 10 pesos. And it took them a month to decide on that increase.

Guest Instructors

Itzel liked to bring guest instructors to teach. She’d offer them flights and accommodation and teaching remuneration. This was great for the students but very unfair for her instructors. They had to give up teaching their regular classes and–you guessed it–no teaching, no pay. To add insult, Itzel also expected her instructors to attend those sessions. So not only did you lose your income but you were expected to train with the instructors who were the cause of your loss of wages. That created a lot of resentment amongst the instructors who relied on their salary as part of their weekly income.

Volunteer Work Equals Exploitation

Itzel was very good at letting people do things for her. In the planning phase she would always talk about payment but in reality it never happened, at least not unless you were one of her close friends. I spent countless hours developing several websites for her without seeing any hint of payment. She continually exploited everyone she could.

The Final Straw

The end for me was when I discovered they’d been underpaying me by 50% for six months. They knew they were doing it but they didn’t think to tell me. I calculated what they owed me but there was no effort on their part to repay pay. Effectively, Itzel had stolen wages from me.

At this point my disillusionment with Itzel began to turn to anger. I told the students in my classes that I would be taking a much needed holiday at the end of the year and I wasn’t sure I would return to teaching. I was burned out and Itzel wasn’t mature enough to resolve any of the problems I’d raised with her. Her response was to kick me out of the team. She announced it online and I learned about it from my students. Rather than demonstrate the maturity of a good employer she instead chose to fire me.   

And that really sums up the kind of person she is. She created a very toxic environment but instead of recognising her own role in it, she instead blamed others. She failed to support those who were doing all of the real work keeping her school running. During my time at Promahorse, I saw many good students and instructors get exploited until they quit. She had become a hypocrite and a disgrace to her Black Belt but she was also so arrogant that she couldn’t even accept responsibility. The old saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely” really couldn’t be further from the truth.

Post Script

I tried very hard to repair things with her. I accepted responsibility for my role in how things turned out and eventually she gave me three of those bad-fitting Kingz gis to make up for the wages she’d stolen. But despite several efforts she refused to accept responsibility for her own role. She never apologised. In fact, she kept insisting that it was all my fault.

My advice for anyone looking for a place to train in Mexico City is avoid Promahorse like it is the plague. Itzel comes across as mature and stable but behind the scenes she is a very selfish, arrogant, and greedy person. Eventually, she will stab you in the back.

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