One of the recurring pieces of advice I give practitioners who ask me how they could enhance their performance as a martial artist is this: find a role model.  I believe having a role model (or a few) is imperative to sustained drive and self-development.  What’s more, the role model doesn’t necessarily need to be a practitioner in your martial art – or even a martial artist for that matter.  It can be anyone who does anything, who has some qualities you can identify as transferrable towards your own goals, although it makes sense to have at least one role model in the similar area.  In fact, I have chosen four people as role models specifically for my own martial arts goals.  Three are martial artists – one of which I’ve never met.  In this article, I delve deeper into why you should have a role model and the criteria I use to find one.

Why have a role model?

Having a role model is like having a goal…the difference is that you can see the goal through the person.  Sometimes, just having a goal in itself is not enough to push you forward, especially during periods where motivation can be low.  Therefore, having a role model helps to visualise the goal: you know it’s possible because someone else has already achieved it.  Essentially, it focuses the mindset and gives you the drive to train consistently and with effort.  If you have some form of contact with your role model, you also have the added benefit of support and encouragement directly from them.

What’s more, using a role model as inspiration leads you to focus on a moving target – simply because they too are always working harder to better themselves.  Assuming that neither you nor your role model stop, you have on going inspiration and motivation towards self-development.

The criteria

Below are my criteria for selecting role models.  I apply these to anything I do where I search for a role model.  Feel free to apply any to your search (or use as reflection towards the role model(s) you have already):

  • Skill alignment: Does this person demonstrate the level of skill I aspire to achieve?
  • Value alignment: Does this person exemplify similar values and a personality that I respect and aspire to emulate?
  • External alignment: How do most people feel towards this person?  What are their other interests and attitudes?

Now, in more detail…

Skill alignment

This sounds straightforward, but I’ll urge a bit of caution.  It’s important to observe and analyse whether the potential role model is both knowledgeable at what they do and can do what you aspire to do, well.  Watch them several times, and ask them about details (if possible).  Observe how they do the simplest techniques because these are the techniques you would have some background understanding of anyway.  Use this as a gauge when watching them do more advanced techniques to determine role model suitability.  Granted, this approach assumes that the person would have similar background knowledge and high skill to demonstrate more complicated moves – and this may not necessarily be the case.  However, I believe that overall, it is likely they will.

Value alignment

Physical and mental development goes hand-in-hand.  There is much benefit to be had with finding a role model who you can respect, who has values aligned to your own, and perhaps even demonstrates characteristics of the type of person you would like to grow into.  This ultimately comes down to reflecting on yourself and identifying key areas you hold important and admirable.  A person can be technically proficient with regard to your goal, but can fundamentally clash with the type of person you are.  If you experience this, the person should be filtered out.  Alignment significantly helps your drive to self-development.

External alignment

This is an area I think many people miss.  A person could appear as an ideal role model, ticking the boxes one perceives for skill and value alignments, but have you got the full picture?  I make a judgement on the general external mood about the person.  For example, I think about how the majority feel towards them, and how this person behaves and treats others.  It’s not all about other people though (i.e. if you’re in this person’s presence): how this person behaves and treats you too.  In addition, the person’s other interests and attitudes greatly impacts whether I’ll choose them.  It’s here that I’ve seen misalignments between my values and theirs before, which lead me to filter them out.  At the end of the day, it’s important to be able to genuinely respect someone you choose as a role model for how they are overall.

Whilst this article has explained why you should consider finding a role model and suggestions on how to do this, it’s equally important to reflect that others could be considering you as their role model too.  You may think this is unlikely, but you may be surprised.  Many people don’t tell others they have them as role models – I certainly haven’t hinted this to most of mine!  This shows that you should always be somewhat mindful about how you conduct yourself, although always be authentic.

Do you have an example of how you gained value from having a role model that you’d like to share?  If so, drop a message!


Sabrina Mistry a health and fitness enthusiast, martial artist, hobby animator/arty person, educator, gamer, and the Founder of Beyond the Dojang. She transformed her life from being very unfit, unhealthy, and big back in 2007, to losing four stone in weight, built muscle mass, increased her flexibility, and achieved a black belt in Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan. Sabrina has learnt first-hand about the amazing benefits of adopting a fitness lifestyle. She's passionate to support others on their journey because with improved health and fitness, we all could make the most of what life has to offer. Get connected on Instagram and Facebook: @beyondthedojang

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