Shaping up

Written by John B Will

Every martial artist is shaped by the influence of others. In turn, we help shape others’ lives.

 Bruce Lee statue by Chinese sculptor Cao Chongn, photo credit: AFP/ GETTY 

Whether you are a student of martial arts or an instructor, or both, you influence and are influenced by fellow students. It is very easy to overlook this fact, but it is nevertheless a truth. That is why I am particular about who I spend time with (both on and off the mat); for the influence of others is often a subtle and overlooked thing.

Through the course of our lives, most of us are exposed to hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of other human beings, each one adding something to the incredible mosaic that underpins who we are.

Our parents are the first to leave their mark upon us, along with our siblings; and so we are ‘roughed out’ and given shape enough to make our way into the world. It is then, as we walk among others, we begin to take a proactive role in choosing those we spend our time with. Sometimes by chance, others times by choice, we meet people who have deep, profound and lasting effects on who we are; on how we see the world, on how we distinguish ourselves from others. Upon the martial arts landscape, this phenomenon is both powerful and prevalent.

In my own case, I can think of many people who have left their mark on me and who contributed significantly to the person I am today, but only a small few who shifted my world view, whose influence was both profound and dramatic. I have just recently reconnected with someone who influenced me in my early twenties, someone who inspired, educated and amazed me at every turn. I feel so privileged to have spent so much time in his company; I can ‘feel’ more than ‘remember’ how strongly I wanted to be like him when I grew up. This particular person came to visit me recently and I came to the realisation that perhaps my early aspirations had actually come to pass. His wife (a beautiful and highly talented human being) commented that we were like two peas in a pod; I have to admit, unknowingly, she had given me one of the best compliments I have ever had.

For those of us who have the privilege of meeting and spending time with such ‘shapers’, take the time to let them know how meaningful they are to you. Life is short and stuff gets in the way, but such people deserve to know.

None of us should forget, though, that we in turn affect and shape other people. The eyes of other people are upon us, perhaps more so today than at any other time in history. With the evolution of social media, our actions, words and identity (for most of us) are fully exposed to public view. What we do and what we say paints a picture of us that is difficult to deny; others are influenced by that picture, as we in turn are influenced by those we admire and care about.

Each and every one of us, to some extent, perhaps even unknowingly, leaves our mark upon others. Martial arts instructors should be especially mindful of this and carry themselves accordingly; sadly, many seem unaware (or do not care). But as students, we also leave our mark upon our fellow students, so, in effect, none of us are immune from the forces of this phenomenon.

As Kramer in Seinfeld once remarked, “I’m out there, Jerry, and lovin’ every minute of it!” — and if you think about it, each of us in indeed ‘out there’, exposed to the scrutiny of those who cast their gaze in our direction. So, what do you want to stand for? How do you want to be thought of and remembered by others? These are questions worth answering.

We are both shaped and shapers. Be mindful of this on the mats, and as you walk your path through life.

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