Known as the art of the eight limbs, for its incorporation of many parts of the body, including the elbows and knees, muay Thai has the reputation of being more brutal and less restricted than many of its rival martial arts.
My interest is in testing my limits, Mr Connell says. It’s tough physically and mentally – you have to wear some pain. But thats part of the mental conditioning.
Whats really driving him since coming to Thailand, however, is a perception that the pastime is an in to Thai culture. From his Thai-language education days at Chiang Mai University, required as orientation for his role at the embassy, he has found a connection with Buddhist principles. Mr Connell stops short of saying hes a fully fledged Buddhist using muay Thai as a form of expression, but he admits the religious and spiritual nature of the sport, through its various rites and rituals, instils a deep admiration.
The intermeshing makes it interesting, he said.
He smiles when asked about his own version of the wai khru, the pre-fight dance, performed as a symbolic homage to a fighters ancestors and mentor. Given that he doesnt engage in professional bouts, he doesnt have one. I still pay respects to Stephen, he points out.
For Mr Connell, work and muay Thai mutually coexist. Its an activity that continues to help him relate more closely with his colleagues and immerse himself in his surroundings.
I love my job, its interesting work and great people to work with it [muay Thai] gives a very good understanding of the underpinnings of Thai culture, he explains.