Youth train in mixed martial arts to avoid trouble

Group of men organized free program through church

By Kristin Longley

FLINT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — The letters inked across Ryan LoRee’s knuckles are a reminder of his new life free from hate — unlike the red swastika on his upper arm that a cover-up tattoo can’t completely hide.

The 27-year-old Flint native looks back on the year he belonged to a neo-Nazi, white supremacist group as a “stupid and ignorant mistake,” but says he doesn’t regret his troubled past.

Without it, LoRee might never have strengthened his faith or found new friends with whom he’s pursuing his goal of helping kids of all backgrounds recover from their own mistakes or avoid making them in the first place.

“I know that everybody makes mistakes in life and that doesn’t mean you have to be like that your whole life,” said the 27-year-old LoRee. “You make mistakes and you bounce back. That’s what I tell these kids all the time.”

Through the church he attends, LoRee and a group of area men, some also with troubled pasts, have started Team Revelation MMA and Extreme Martial Arts Gym.
“Team Rev” is tattooed across LoRee’s knuckles.

The free program is aimed at getting troubled youth off the streets. It teaches martial arts, self-control, respect and discipline in a safe environment. It grew from one small class of four to having 75 children and adults registered for boxing, jiu jitsu, wrestling and other sports.

LoRee’s criminal history includes juvenile reform school and a felony larceny conviction.

He said he’s been open and honest with everyone at the gym and the church about his criminal history. He knows he will face cynicism and criticism from those who doubt a person can make such a radical change.

“We’re going to deal with the skeptics,” he said.

The mixed martial arts gym is under the nonprofit umbrella of The Bridge, an interdenominational church in Flint Township.

Eric Bennett, a 16-year-old Durand High School student, works out in the church gym. His transformation under the influence of Team Revelation is being examined by the Shiawassee County family court system.

Earlier this year, while he was supposed to be under house arrest for an assault charge, Eric left home and his dad called the police, he said.

When authorities caught up with him, Eric got into an altercation with an officer.

He was court-ordered into a facility in Indiana, where he says he found God. He came back to Shiawassee County and avoided jail time with a plea deal.

Looking for a new purpose, he started training in jiu jitsu in Burton and eventually found his way to Team Revelation.

Ever since then, it’s like he’s a completely different teenager, said his probation officer, Scott Eickholt.

“It’s been night and day,” Eickholt said. “It seems now, that they’ve helped him see the light, so to speak. We’re real happy with him and proud of him.”

Eric said he owes his new attitude to Team Revelation. He wants to be a professional fighter.

“My parents have found a great change in me,” he said. “This place gives me a purpose. I wanted out of that lifestyle and you gotta have something that drives you. For me, there’s no drug that gets me higher (than training).”