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For the women of Colombia

By Maritza Gamboa B.

One of the three technical pillars of the IMBA Muay Boran Program of Bramajarn Marco de Cesaris is IMBA Muay Lert Rit, a “traditional Martial Art” that is born from the ancestral precepts of the warriors of Siam and the study and research, understanding and experience of years by Master Marco who based much of his swork on the in-depth review of a short-range Siamese Combat manual; “This Art is a fighting system perfectly adapted to the self-protection demands of any person, regardless of their physical characteristics and the external conditions in which they are.” (1).
Here, it is essential to highlight this last phrase because due to the many erroneous gender stereotypes that continue to exist, it has been considered that martial arts are not for women, that women are weak by nature and, therefore, look like easy preys of violence. Nothing could be further from the truth than the fact that women cannot be practitioners of martial arts and the fact that they are weak, but nothing could be closer to the truth than the fact that if I feel and believe I am weak, I can be an easy victim of violence.

To deeply learn the Art of IMBA Muay Lert Rit, it is necessary to have a solid foundation of Muay Boran IMBA and its fundamentals in order to make the most of the technical study of it. Nevertheless, Master Marco created a System that is adapted to civilian use in such a way that through an accredited instructor the art can be taught to all types of people, with an easy-to-understand language, with the primary purpose of teaching self-protection techniques.
That is why the IMBA Warrior Ladies Colombia Group and the Fundación Para la Mujer Valiente were born in 2016: to bring women closer to the Art and give them basic self-protection tools based on Master Marco’s work plan and through the vision of a woman instructor. This vision is often essential for female students since many of them are still marked by erroneous stereotypes of gender weakness and by having a female instructor, they have an example of gender strength and credibility.

In my country, Colombia, sadly, violence continues to grow at all levels. It does not respect race, social class, or gender. The reality is that for women, the cost is a little higher because, although a violent act can be caused by a person of any gender towards another of any gender, in a country that is still essentially sexist like mine, violent acts towards women are still perpetrated mainly by men either for wanting to have dominance over women or for the simple fact of having a low self-esteem.

I have been aware of these situations during the seven years I have been working and teaching women. Still, during the year 2023, I became a little more aware of the crude reality of violence against women in my country, and, sadly, I know that this violence goes much beyond what I imagined. Supported by a governmental institution, I had the opportunity to travel together with Instructor Juan Carlos Durán, to different places in the country (several of them I would never have thought of visiting precisely because they were complicated in terms of security).

Lovely places in our Colombian geography but sadly significantly affected by the violence of our history. In these places, I learned very rough stories of violence perpetrated on women, women violated not only physically and psychologically but in many other ways. I learned sad stories of situations of vulnerability in which these women live, stories of abandonment by the government, stories of abandonment by institutions. But in contrast, I also learned stories of fighting women, women who get together and support each other to emerge in the face of so much injustice, women who despite the pain they experienced continue to fight in order to move forward for themselves and their families, women who became more assertive with their suffering, surviving women who do not want to go through these types of violent situations again and who don’t want their children to experience them, women who transformed their peaceful nature into a warring one and, sadly, also women who still think that they are weak or that they deserve to live in that kind of violence. But deep down, all the women I met in this experience aim at one basic goal: LIVING and, above all, living in peace.

When we reach these women with our teaching about the foundations of the Art, they are fascinated to see that it is not that difficult to understand (usually, the perception of learning a martial art is that it is not easy to understand or apply). They are shocked to see the results they can achieve with their strength, they realize that their body can function in a variety of ways, they understand that despite possible differences in strength and size it is possible to control and neutralize a potential aggressor. Most importantly, they know that they are mighty women who are not weak and should not depend on a third party to be protected; they understand that protecting themselves depends on themselves.

Master Marco says that “the main quality of an IMBA Lert Rit practitioner is summarized in resilience, the ability to face difficulties, to adapt to them in order to emerge victorious. This concept is the sum of 3 elements: conditioning (physical, mental, and spiritual), technique and the ability to always be present with ourselves (that is, aware of our surroundings and our motivation to act).” (2).
The women we have met do not have any martial arts background. However:
1. They have physical and spiritual strenght. Most of them are women who work in the fields and to work the land, you need to be very strong physically; they are just not convinced of it. They have a strong fighting spirit based on their suffering, and, on the mental side, we manage to strengthen the idea that they are not weak and that they deserve to live a dignified life without violence.
2. They have the motivation to act. They are alive because they have the motivation not to let themselves die, and they will continue to have the motivation to stay alive without being attacked again. As for being aware of your surroundings, we show them how to always be mindful of the surrounding environment.

3. As for the fighting techniques, we fully teach them the principles and foundations of the Art. That is why our training and evolution as instructors are so important: we are responsible for teaching them to protect their lives. It is not a game, nor is it a sporting event.

So, when Master Marco talks about the Art he teaches to be prepared for REAL combat, it is accurate and far from the choreographic shows or the sport applications commonly taught in academies. His Art is real; it is for the real world and to confront actual violence (many of us in our IMBA Academies in Colombia have verified this first hand). And when he says that IMBA Muay Lert Rit is a perfect martial art for women, I know it is also true. Not without reason, in one of our workshops a woman in a town very far from the Capital of the country told me with a broken voice but with all the strength in the world: “If I had known this technique before, my ex-husband would not have hanged me… I am alive because I lost consciousness, the coward thought he had killed me and fled” (powerful words, but it is the harsh reality of my country).
With our work as a Foundation, based on IMBA’s and GM Marco’s IMBA Muay Lert Rit work plan, in 2023, we did several workshops in Bogotá and seminars in 10 cities outside of Bogotá, the Capital. Workshops on self-protection techniques with a feminist approach aimed at specific groups of women victims of violence. These were great experiences that filled me with mixed emotions. Emotions that many times broke my heart, emotions that filled me with helplessness, anger and frustration, but also positive emotions thanks to the example of strength that all these women represent and their desire to live regardless of the adversity that surrounds them. As for the professional area, I have the great satisfaction of knowing that our knowledge as instructors does give a positive and real contribution to the community, that we are on the right path and that with our teaching of the Art we can help save lives.

That is why I thank Master Marco De Cesaris for teaching us his Art, trusting us members of IMBA Colombia and supporting the IMBA Warrior Ladies Colombia Group and the Foundation for Courageous Women in our work to support women.
In 2024, we will continue teaching and working “For the Women of Colombia” and for their safety.
Thank you, Master Marco!
P.S. I also thank Instructor Juan Carlos Durán, director of IMBA Colombia, for his support in my work with women and his support to the Foundation.

(1). Taken from the official IMBA Web Page
(2). Taken from the book: Muay Lert Rit Siamese Art of War by Bramajarn Marco De Cesaris