At least some of the people reading this won’t know who John Wayne Parr is. For those of you who aren’t into Muay Thai, here is a quick overview:
John Wayne Parr is one of Australia’s most famous and successful martial artists in the field of Muay Thai and ‘Western’ boxing. He has won 10 world titles in Muay Thai, has been an Australian middleweight champion in Western boxing, and has won all sorts of important accolades in his field, such as winning the King’s Cup and many others of this sort.
But, John Wayne Parr is also known for being very friendly and having a large amount of social intelligence. Unlike many other Westerners who go to Asia, he has always treated people well; he has always gotten along well with people; and he has always been able to make friends and win allies in his field (and outside it).
So, he’s not just a conspicuous achiever in his main field of martial arts, he’s also an achiever in the field of living outside one’s own cultural context.
Because he’s so friendly and open, he has done many interviews about Muay Thai and boxing with all sorts of people. However, to my way of thinking, his perspective on how to get along well outside one’s own culture, that being a consequence of what is formally called intercultural sensitivity, is just as valuable.
If you want to know more about John Wayne Parr’s career, there are all sorts of resources online: but for now, here’s DAVIDE MELIA’s interview with John Wayne Parr.
Hi, Dr. Parr: The first question I would like to ask is this: Which preparations did you do before you went to Thailand? Had you learned much Thai language, or was your preparation more to do with your training and discussing Thai culture with Richard Vell and others?
When I was 11, I started Taekwondo and had a few tournaments before moving to kickboxing at the age of 13. I had my first fight at 14 years old. I moved around a lot as a kid, and some states wouldn’t allow fighting until 18, so I had a few years of just training. I had to wait until I was 16, when we moved states again, to start fighting.
I had 13 fights in total in Australia before moving to Thailand at 19.
I had to be taught everything about how to live like a Thai. Sleeping on the wooden floor, going to the toilet with no toilet paper but only splashed water, eating cross-legged on the floor.
The longer I stayed, the easier it got. As soon as I could start speaking Thai, my life got a lot easier.
Second: when you’re doing interviews, talking to people, it seems to me like you’ve totally absorbed a lot of the body language and speech patterns of Thai people. Did you do this deliberately, or did it just happen through so much close proximity to Thai people while training and living there? And if others want to emulate this, how would you suggest they go about learning to do it?
Being around Thai people and having a language barrier, you soon learn the international sign language for basic things such as eating, showering, sleeping, and training. Then you learn only single words at a time, so you end up speaking pidgin.
<But> before I moved back to Australia, I was thinking in Thai, singing Thai songs and watching Thai TV.
When I got back to Australia, I would start my sentence in English, and finish in Thai, without even knowing. It would leave the person I was talking to very confused.
Third: you’re very well respected and liked, both in Thailand and here. As a young man learning your art in Thailand, how did you go about building up good relations and good ‘face’ in Thailand, with the people you lived and trained with, and everyone else as well? Was that process much different to how you do it here in Australia as a famous world champion and promoter and gym owner?
Because I moved a lot as a kid, going to Thailand was difficult, but was also what I was used to. I was so used to being the new kid in new surroundings.
I could easily entertain myself by watching, and learning, and seeing what the right etiquette was in a situation.
I saw how the Thais spoke to each other, and how to be polite. If you are in the habit of saying please, thank you, and sorry when you do something wrong, people appreciate it.
Being the only Westerner in my area at the time, it was best to be polite and humble instead of making a scene and making enemies.
Why is it that some people can do what you did, in a cultural sense, and most don’t seem to be able to? Just that basic humility, being willing to listen and learn …? For example: your trainer at Loomingkwan, Mornut Borbud, said that ‘I am Thai, I don’t like foreigners’ … but he said that as you’re sitting there like his son, and his family obviously like you a whole lot and are really proud of you like a son.
I guess that if you want respect from other people, you have to be willing to give it back.
So many Westerners believe they are more important than the Thais, because their country is a little more advanced, or they have a bit more money in the bank.
I treat the janitor like I would treat the King. I would much prefer to hang with the Thais when I lived there as Westerners annoyed me with their attitude.
Sometime the simple things in life are what make a happy life.
For people who might not have lived in another country, what’s the western expatriate attitude you don’t like? What’s that made up of, in your experience?
Racism. People that have never left their own shores, but have an attitude like they know how the rest of the world works.
Finally: a couple people have asked me to ask you a question about being a martial artist, fighting professionally. What is the least obvious thing about fighting, for a lay-person, someone who hasn’t done a lot or any fighting?
Hmm. Tough question. You have to be obsessed. Win or lose, you are going to get hurt. You have to have the mindset that you are willing to go to hospital before you even cross the ropes in the hopes of winning a trophy.
Thank you very much, JWP!