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This feeling is one of the driving forces that keeps me reaching my limits in learning and teaching Muay Boran – lifting them higher and higher every single time I surpass myself. I am talking about the feeling that this year’s IMBA Summer Gathering has left inside me once again.
But what happens when teachers and students of Muay Boran from all over the world are brought together for a week to train under the teaching of our Grand Master, Marco De Cesaris? What is the meaning of this annual event? Does this have an effect on other members of IMBA who are not able to take part in the event? Despite the training, what happens outside the training grounds? Why do the same persons go back there over and over again?

In order to answer these questions that may arise to those who haven’t taken part in the IMBA Summer Gathering, I have to go five years back. Back then I was a total beginner eagerly looking for development in my khan level. That was when I first took part in the Summer Gathering.
My first experience of this Kai Muay was overwhelming. In Finland, we have always been a relatively small group of Nak Muays (Muay Boran practitioner). Therefore, it felt amazing to see so many fellow Nak Muays in Rome, gathered in the same place from various different cultures and continents: Australia, South America and Europe. In addition, the level of these Nak Muays and their dedication to our art was admirable, like my Master’s back then; truly something to look up to and want to achieve.
However, every one of them was willing to kindly help me progress. Even then you could realize that learning to teach others was a commonly shared value of every seasoned member of IMBA; in spite of the demanding program and the amount to be learned for the advanced levels, not once did I feel like disturbing someone when I sought for help with my own matters – and I always felt given more than I even asked for. Even our free time was largely spent around Muay Boran – either practicing or discussing it. We did spend some great leisure time together as well, though. On top of all else, I made some long lasting friendships, which I noticed this year.

I hadn’t been able to take part in the Summer Gathering for quite a while because of my studies. Still, because of my last experience and responsibility to provide my students with high quality teaching and training, I felt an ever growing desire to participate again. Fortunately, I had a chance to take part in the event this year. And most importantly, I was able to bring my family there with me; my brother, my father and my partner, with whom I have trained and taught Muay Boran for some years now. In addition, for our pleasure, a very talented student of mine was also able to join us and show his best at the Summer Gathering.

The IMBA Summer Gathering is an event of teamwork and mutual training. It begins with a reunion, which for me, was meeting my old friends from five years ago just to notice how easy it was to continue from where everything was left at. It was empowering to meet the friends who work extremely hard for the same cause, have a mindset similar to my own and are just as eager to meet me as I am to meet them. This year we had plenty of time to catch up over the bus ride to Costacciaro where the camp was located. Not to mention that a couple of hours of green mountain landscapes really sets your focus on what is ahead. To my experience, this is the phase before the actual event where a lot of positive energy and expectations emerge, which actually sets up a very rousing atmosphere beforehand for the whole event.
In general, the actual event, the training camp – Kai Muay in Thai – consisted of alternating periods of training and resting. They alternated in order to provide just enough resting between the training sessions. The first was in the morning and the second in the afternoon. The length of a training session or a class varies from two to three hours. The first part of the training is naturally warmup and cardio training. Although, for us Finns, the climate would already provide us with some sweaty warmup. However, the first part of the warmup was running up and downhill in an absolutely beautiful environment. The second part was training and rehearsing the basic Muay Thai forms in order to learn and to deepen our skills in the basics: learning to use our bodies as weapons. As a basic training, this allowed us Nak Muays to develop our cardio and the economy of our movement. This phase took usually place in a field surrounded by lots of greenery and of course, the mountains.
After the warmup we had short lessons about the theories behind the techniques we would begin to learn and train next. This year the main subject on the program was Combat Muay Boran; Chern Muay. Therefore, the program was combat oriented, meaning as GM Marco De Cesaris put it that compared to the ever common flashy show fighting seen in martial arts movies and demonstrations, Combat Muay Boran puts an emphasis on preparing men and women ready for all-out fighting. This means training and respecting the original purpose of the use of our art.

On the one hand, we had intensive classes. On the other hand, there was a sufficient amount of resting time between the classes in order for us to recover just enough, prepare for the next class and memorize what we had just learnt. During the resting periods there would be a tranquil and relaxed atmosphere in the camp. We would rest by our bungalows or by the poolside enjoying our time there, discussing a wide range of subjects and helping each other with the training program. Instructors would be able to have important conversations with our GM Marco De Cesaris without any hurry. On the evenings we would dine together, enjoy the Italian food and have some great quality time.

In the end of the week we had formal Khan grade examinations. However, the whole Kai Muay was an examination. Our progress so far, the ability to learn and the instructors’ ability to teach were examined through the whole event. This allowed GM Marco De Cesaris to get a deeper understanding of each Nak Muay’s skills, level and capabilities compared to solely using a relatively short, formal grade examination. In addition, it allowed him to evaluate two important factors which would most certainly be left out of evaluation in the latter examination process: effort and dedication.
In conclusion, it can be said that at the same time the IMBA Summer Gathering is a very intensive, teaching and developing Kai Muay, as well as a sanctuary for us – the members of IMBA – where bonds and fellowships are born and enforced making IMBA stronger than ever. I am delighted to tell that our members will get even better teaching and more fulfilling experiences year after year.