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Self-defense instructor gives bullied people confidence

Free classes aim to build inner strength via outer strength

March 15, 2013

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Fitness expert Ryan Spiteri, of Madison Heights, is looking to give bullied individuals a confidence boost by helping them build muscle mass and learn self-defense techniques, cultivating an inner strength that should deter bullies from picking on them. The free classes are held once a week at Snap Fitness on Birmingham.
Want to help?
Ryan Spiteri’s SPEAK campaign is funded 100 percent out of pocket. Snap Fitness does not cover the expenses for any equipment or accessories used, so Spiteri is trying to raise $2,000 in donations through his website,, to pay for gymnastic mats, boxing headgear, mini-trampolines, field cones/markers, and so on. For more information, call (248) 808-9514. Spiteri would also like to thank Birmingham resident Joseph Battaglia, owner of FC Fitness Academy in Waterford, for donating several mats to the program.

— Andy Kozlowski

METRO DETROIT — Ryan Spiteri, of Madison Heights, a certified personal fitness trainer with ties to the mixed martial arts industry, does not condone violence.

However, he knows bullies are cowards who pick on easy prey. Give a kid confidence, the kind that comes with a bit of muscle and knowledge of self-defense, and the bullies will back off. 

As a father of three who has witnessed bullying in his own neighborhood, Spiteri wants to help those being abused. That’s why he’s launching his anti-bullying campaign, SPEAK, or Spreading Positive Energy Among Kids. 

“You hear about bullies making kids feel their lives are worthless, like they have nothing to live for, when in reality they have everything to live for, and just one person who knows how to push their buttons, bringing them down, maybe even leading them to kill themselves,” Spiteri said. “That’s why I’m stepping in. Somebody needs to step up to the plate, take some responsibility and dedicate some time.”

The approach is simple: Take an individual who is picked on, and work with him or her in private one-on-one sessions, or group sessions with other bullied individuals, building muscle mass and teaching them how to defend themselves.

The sessions are free, once a week at Snap Fitness, 108 Willits St. in Birmingham. The time and day each week is determined by the trainees. Sessions run about an hour.

The main goal, Spiteri said, is to keep the atmosphere fun and positive.

Trainees will engage in basic boxing techniques, using focus mitts and weight-appropriate heavy bags. The training will also incorporate jump roping, hula hooping, weight training, aerobic drills and other level-appropriate methods.

In group sessions, the trainees — both children and adults — will share their struggles, forge new friendships and regain their confidence to trust people, overcoming their fears and finding a new sense of purpose moving forward.

Spiteri said he’s also willing to work with bullies, helping them to break bad habits and redirect their energy in more positive ways.

He knows what it’s like to be bullied, having faced adversity as a student when he transferred to a new school. He’d dodge eye contact in the halls and skip bus rides in favor of walking home, simply to avoid conflict with bullies.

“I was the kid who, at lunch, ate outside of my next hour classroom,” Spiteri said. “The cafeteria was terrifying to me, since there were so many people in there.”

Turning his life around
His troubles with bullies aside, Spiteri had a complicated childhood, with numerous run-ins with the law all the way through high school.

After graduating from Dondero High in Royal Oak in 2000, Spiteri attended Oakland Community College, drinking at parties and working long hours at the bar.

By age 22, he got his first DUI, followed by another one mere months later. He lost his driver’s license and then violated the terms of his 12-month probation by having a glass of wine at lunch, landing him in jail, followed by boot camp.

His girlfriend, now wife, was also pregnant with their first child. His world crashing around him, Spiteri realized he needed to change his ways. This led him to follow his passion for fitness and start a career as a personal trainer.

Spiteri’s company, Garage Muscle, was born in a garage in 2007. With no car at the time, he couldn’t reach a gym to work as a personal trainer. So, he created his own training facility instead, bartering a bit and purchasing some equipment off Craigslist to assemble a gym at home.

One evening, Spiteri was talking with his wife about his business aspirations, explaining how, in the world of fitness, there are “Powerhouse guys,” “Gold’s Gym guys” and himself, a “garage muscle guy” — which is when the company name struck him.

A quick search online revealed the domain name for Garage Muscle was available for purchase, so he snatched it up right then and there. After buying the domain, a year passed before he did anything with it.

Finally, he decided to attach the name to a logo and sell athletic and workout apparel. The company currently offers T-shirts, tank tops, knit caps, polo shirts, sweatshirts, sunglasses, dog tags and more — but it was a slow journey getting there. With only $200 at the start and no knowledge of making T-shirts, Spiteri quickly found he would need to know how to use graphic design programs like Photoshop.

Luckily, a coworker at a local coney island gifted him the programs he required. Now it was a matter of learning the trade of graphic design. Spiteri claims he watched YouTube tutorials on the subject up to 10 hours a day for six months until he had enough knowledge to design his first T-shirt graphic.

Next up was finding a printer or person who could apply the art to a shirt. He found that screen-printing was the most popular process, so he thoroughly researched it and negotiated with more than 60 different printing companies over a two-week period.

He then ordered his first 12 T-shirts, a $125 total. He was ready to sell.

The MMA connection
His first show was a mixed martial arts match (MMA), which cost him the remaining $75 for booth space. At this point, he literally had no money left.

He went in and was able to sell all 12 T-shirts at $25 apiece, turning a profit that was promptly re-invested in the business. 

It was his company’s first success — and so it began to grow.

His products are now sold online at his website, as well as at local sporting events he sponsors, many of them MMA venues. Everything is made by small businesses in Michigan, he said: the garments purchased from a local distributor, and the print and embroidery work done in state.

In 2011, his brand received a boost when Lions Gate Entertainment teamed up with Garage Muscle to help promote the Hollywood film “Warrior,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. Two screenings — one VIP and one for the general public — were held at the newly constructed Emagine Theater in downtown Royal Oak.

In January 2012, Spiteri unveiled his “Trained In Detroit” brand, part of Garage Muscle LLC. The idea struck him while he was on vacation, driving his family to Mackinac City. The brand, inspired by Chrysler’s hit “Imported from Detroit” campaign, leverages people’s pride in the Motor City and can apply to anyone in metro Detroit.  

The brand made its debut at the Palace of Auburn Hills during a pro MMA match. In the future, Spiteri hopes to wholesale his “Trained In Detroit” line, selling locally at retail stores. He said he’s been in discussions about such.

Presentation is important to Spiteri. When he sets up at venues, the clothes are all folded and wrapped to keep them neat. He also brings a red carpet like the kind used to roll out celebrities in Hollywood, complete with high-end photography lighting.

People are invited to model the clothing, and pro athletes have made appearances wearing Spiteri’s product, such as Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters Daron Cruickshank and James Lee, Bellator Fighting Championship fighters Jason Fischer and Dom O’Grady, pro bodybuilder Peter Nielsen, and Kronk pro boxer Leandre White.  

The “Trained in Detroit” line is targeted at all sports, not just fighting. Now Spiteri is building his empire, slowly but surely — and he’s looking to give back.

Giving the kids strength
Rebecca Orow went to school with Spiteri up through high school, and worked with him in the bar business. As a group fitness instructor at the Farmington Hills YMCA, she’s a supporter of Spiteri’s SPEAK campaign.

“I think it’s absolutely fabulous,” Orow said. “When I was a kid, bullying wasn’t nearly as extreme. Nowadays, kids are taking their lives because they feel it’s their only option, and I think what Ryan has to offer gives them another way out, another way to express themselves and not be judged. It makes them able to deal with what’s going on.

“Parents can only do so much,” she said. “Bullying is awful. We tend to turn an eye. But here is a man who won’t.”

For more information about Garage Muscle LLC and the “Trained in Detroit” line, visit www.garagemus

For more information about Ryan Spiteri’s self-defense classes at Snap Fitness, 108 Willits St. in Birmingham, call (248) 808-9514.


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