NAMTA AND THE NAL.... THE BEGINING....
I Ric Sniffen, have been involved with the martial arts since 1967 and also hold a high honor for my Native American heritage. With this in mind I wanted to build an association or group that would benefit both. I can still remember when I spoke to my little brother about my thoughts and he called it a "dream" telling me that nobody really cared about seeing a combination of Martial Arts and native American beliefs come together. He would say to me, "Hell bro! The government doesn't give a crap about the Native American peoples or the Martial Arts, and you want to start an association for both? And then try to get support for them? Well Good Luck he said. I told him, “that's just what I'm going to do, and you are going to help make this ‘dream’ a reality". Well that was back in 1990….. We both started looking at which Martial Arts were already recognized by our native peoples and found that there were a few Martial Arts that had some recognition among them, mainly Shotokan Karate and Tae Kwon Do. Then we started looking at which of the Asian nations seemed to have the greatest respect for our native peoples.
Strangely enough, the Southeast Asian nations had the greatest respect and gave the greatest honor to our native people, and of these the Thai, Cambodian, and Laotian People had the most respect and interest in our native peoples and nations. They always seemed to want to know more on the cultures and history of the Native American people. I knew from my training in both Muay Thai and Cambodian Boxing that both of these arts held a great respect in religion and spiritual beliefs much like our Native People. My next step was to see if the Thai and Cambodian Nations who agree to accept a Native people and Native nation into their rankings. So I sat down and wrote out a letter describing what I was doing and asking if the teachers in Thailand and Cambodia would recognize our new association for Native People.
Both accepted us and wrote back offering their support and assistance in building the association and having the new association name spread among all the schools and camps. We called the association exactly what it was the ‘Native American Muay Thai Association’ and with that, our association was started. But we all new we had a lot of work that still needed to be done.
Our next step was to make the association a “Not For Profit Organization” or a 501(c) (3) Tax Exempt Organization, I mean we didn't create the association to make money that was the furthest thing from our mind, we created an association to give recognition to both the native people who trained, competed and taught the art and to the art itself. This art which has given us an ability to practice and teach that which was shown and taught to us by the Asian instructors, which we have come to know as ‘Brothers’ to our nations.
Many people had asked us why we started holding classes for free!, I tried to explain to them that in Thailand students enter camps with the blessing from their families at a very young age and taught Thai boxing. When they begin to compete they earn a prize or prize money for winning which these students will share with their teachers and also send home to their families to help support the families. These youngsters become a part of the camp which cares for them and provide for the daily need. In some instances the young student’s families have even sought out particular Muay Thai camps to take their children to and raise them as Thai boxers. Thai Boxers are well respected in Thailand and families encourage their children to take up the sport much in the same way children in America are encouraged to become a doctor or lawyer. The reason I begun teaching Muay Thai (the sport) and Muay Chao Cherk (the martial art) was to spread the arts and its beliefs. I was afraid that if the ‘true art’ of Muay Thai and Muay Chao Cherk were not taught that the arts may die.
Many Muay Thai Schools and Camps in the US as elsewhere in the western world, have done away with the Ram Muay and the Wai Kru, yet these are a very important part of the Thai Arts and should be a daily part of a students training. I myself have heard many instructors tell their students just to walk around the ring and bow at each corner post and that will work for the Ram Muay. If your not going to teach the important rituals of Muay Thai, why then do you teach the art of Muay Thai at all? Muay Thai and Muay Chao Cherk are meant to be instructed in a certain way to make the art complete if we continue to take small pieces out of the Art soon there won't be anything left. Not to pick on any one art, but the not so old world of Kickboxing taught many Muay Thai groups the art of “how to corrupt another ones art” and call it progress or under-lined (stealing). We offer our students a place to go, we offer them a home, somewhere they know they will be taken care of and we provide this to them for free. This is provided through donations and sponsorship support. This type of support included equipping students with Thai shorts, gloves, mouthpiece, cup hand wraps and all other training equipment.
We also provide them with transportation to competitions and meals and motel rooms during travel. Many of our younger students cannot afford to train or to purchase the equipment needed to study, most of our students are from low income families, but that has never been one of our priorities, we treat each student the same. We treat them like family. We would rather have a students train with us and learn something that could benefit him or her in the future, than to loose them to the streets or to drugs.
All our students compete, this is how they earn their place in the camp and keep their place in the camp. We want to see what they have or have not learned. By showing us that they are willing to climb into the ring and face an opponent just as in Thailand and Cambodia, the students honor their coach, teachers and their camp by fighting for it. Those who compete as an Amateur do not win any form of monetary awards but may receive a medal, trophy, belt or award that will be displayed at the camp. Those who compete as a professional fighter will have a monetary award, as well as belts and trophies. Professional fighters give a small percentage of their winnings back to their camp and their corner people for assistance during the bout usually no more then 20% is given.
The association was finally starting to take form, the next thing would be to start letting others know and learn about the association, so we started to build our first website and design our association patch. Both of which were being done by my little brother and this turned out to almost be a nightmare. I now know why it is so very important to proof read anything and everything that others write about you, so many people think that they are doing a good thing when they try to upgrade your bio or history and I've learned through the building of this association that I will never let anyone know everything about me only that which needs to be known or that which is asked. More important ‘Never’ let anyone help you out by writing something about you without you first proof reading it, even your own brother. My little brother Shun did do a great job on our patch he took the items I wanted to see on the patch along with some Native signs and added that with the date when the Nations recognized us and the patch and website were done. In our first month of operation 12 Camps representing 12 different Nations join forces with us. The next month 16 new Camps and 6 new Nations joined in, and each following month showed us the same thing that there were Native American Muay Thai people that wanted and sought after the same thing we did an association that recognized each and everyone of them and the skills that they accomplished through many hours of training in Muay Thai and Muay Chao Cherk.
The next major step for the NAMTA came when my northern brother from Canada Kru Michael Martelle a proud Mohawk joined in with us and became the President of the Canadian branch of the NAMTA. (That is another story pending). Mike took his place as my brother among our native nations and people. In 2005 the NAMTA greatest accomplishment took place when while speaking to Clint Heyliger the founder and president for the United States Muay Thai Association (USMTA). Little known to us at the time, but we had both been moving in the same direction the USMTA had founded the NAL Native American League in 2002. We now believe this was the first league of its kind for sports. Clint Heyliger, of Cherokee decent, contacted the NAMTA and we spoke for a very long time on the subject of the first peoples, the sport and what we were both looking at for the future. We decided that we both were seeking the same thing for the Native People, who had trained in Muay Thai and Muay Chao Cherk and other Arts, a recognition that would be seen and given throughout the World.
But why do this as two groups? We wondered, why not become one association fighting as one for the native people? So the USMTA and the NAMTA after working on the draft that became the USMTA-NAL or the United States Muay Thai Association - Native American League. Clint Heyliger remained the president over the new association and he appointed Michael Martelle over the Canadian division as National Director and my self, Ric Sniffen as the National Director over the U.S. division. Two strong Associations became as One! We feel we have become an even stronger association with its members seeking one goal an understanding and belief in the Martial Arts.
In 2006 the USMTA-NAL went one step further when they decided that ‘native people’ should mean ‘all native peoples’ and the USMTA-NAL opened its membership up to include native people from South, Central America, and Mexico (which became part of the SAL,(South American League), the Caribbean islands, which became part of the (Amerindian Division) the Samoan Islands and all others who would ask for membership. Clint Heyliger, Ric Sniffen and Michael Martelle are today working hard to build and design the USMTA-NAL to welcome in more and more camps and nations through a much greater understanding among all the native people. Clint Heyliger stated in his words, “The shape of Things to Come Have Not Yet Been Seen of The NAL, but When They Are, They Will Be Seen All Over The World!” In 2008 the USMTA-NAL will hold its first Inter-tribal professional Heavyweight event, the Amateur All Native Nations Muay Thai Championship and the North American First Tribes Muay Thai Championships. We believe this is historic and hope to build it as such. For the first time in decades nations of the ‘First People’ will compete against each other in peace, rather than as enemies. Muay Thai the art for warriors, the warriors way….