‘Legacy,’ a word thrown around far too often today. I come across it mainly via combat athletes on Twitter, “I’m the GOAT…….the best ever……the legacy I want to leave behind”. The lack of competition in lockdown taking the competitiveness even more so online. I mean, I do get some of it, from a professional athlete’s perspective; the more vocal the more followers, the more opportunity to make more money. Still, I switch off instantly when someone wants to tell me about their own legacy. I cringe a little. I cringe because there is a group of people that truly deserve such substantial denominations and, they, 99.9% of the time aren’t under the bright lights, widely known or, their bank accounts filled from the work that they put in. They are in the leaky youth centres, church halls, scout huts and sport centres.
I was on the Original Judo Podcast a short while back, run by my friend, James Austin. James and I discussed how much we applaud the club coaches, and volunteers, that have been giving up their evenings and weekends for decades to guide youngsters (and adults) along their path in Judo. Some earn money from the sport, some operate on a voluntary basis. Sadly, those individuals are regularly overlooked and not credited enough. From the minor standpoint of high performance, those people and places will provide the next crop of British athletes that will go out and fly the flag on the international stage. From a major and more important view point, those coaches and volunteers give young (and old) so much more than just skills in Judo; discipline, respect, confidence and an understanding of the work ethic to outcome relationship.
I’ve been heading up the kids section of Camberley Judo Club for the past couple of years. Gradually, we’ve been getting the kids back out to tournaments after a period of inactivity on the competitive front. The youth comp scene is great. I came through that scene, my mum driving me all over the country each weekend to competitions for years. It’s amazing to see so many of the old coaches faces still on the circuit, 20 something years later. Still giving up their evenings and weekends. Still travelling all over Britain and Europe to get kids to tournaments and training camps. Still passing on their knowledge and giving their players valuable time. Basil Dawkins is someone I see still at it. I fought loads of Basil’s players on the way through and, knowing some of them, Moberly Stars Judo Club and Basil’s time literally kept a lot of those young people from going off track in life. My friend and team mate, Ashley Mckenzie, being one of them. Moberly is where Ash began what has been, to date, a very successful Judo career. There are hundreds of coaches and clubs all over the country doing the same. Me, personally, I never knew my father growing up. The men that taught me at Judo most nights helped shape my idea of what a man should be and, most invaluably, they gave me and the others, their time.
Ryan Holiday, in Ego is the Enemy, asks his readers a question, can you name a gold medallist from the last Winter Olympics? (I couldn’t.) Nope? Now name your favourite teacher from school. (Mr Jones & Mr McKenzie). Holiday points out that it is the people that you work with personally, at an intimate level, that you have a lasting effect on, that will remember you.
The self promoted ‘legacy’ is a fallacy, virtually always being constructed to prop up an already inflated ego or delusion of self importance, something of which history repeatedly reminds us.
Ancient Athens was a vain imperial city, obsessed with sophistry, self image, its own empire and place in history. Her rival, and eventual conquerer, Sparta however, wrote little to nothing down and built no lasting great palaces or monuments to their own greatness.
The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was regarded as one of the 5 good emperors. To prevent his ego puffing up from the constant praise that he would receive from others he reminded himself in his Meditations that, “Alexander the Great and his mule driver were now buried in the same earth” and that he too would soon be there. Marcus’ Stoicism drove him to be as good of a person as he could be, in the time that he had. He discusses Alexander the Great multiple times in the Meditations, basically concluding that Alexander was a man obsessed on his own greatness and leaving a legacy but is now dead, all his hell bent atrocities and efforts, equalised in death, mean nothing.
So often as well, as I have delved a bit further into the people that have inspired me during my life there are, like we all have, many skeletons in the closet. Sparta enslaved an entire population of people to enable their militarised utopia. Marcus Aurelius had thousands of Christians executed simply for their beliefs. Muhammad Ali had countless affairs and treated women horribly. John Lennon used to hit his wife. Jigaro Kano was so driven in his pursuit of spreading the message of Judo that he didn’t spend enough time with his children, John Stevens in his biography of Kano paints a very clear picture of that. That is not a judge on those people, I’ve no where near touched the heights that those individuals reached and I have still done plenty of things that I’m not proud of, acts that, in isolation, may paint the picture of me being a bad person. Knowing the full story very often helps me to not put people on pedestals, to grasp a better concept of what ‘greatness’ really is, of what my idea of ‘legacy’ really is. Socrates implored his pupils to first be a good person and to protect their souls before doing anything else. Machiavelli believed that you started at home, first you look after yourself, then your family, then your friends, then your community, then your country. In that order.
For me, today, I enjoy learning from the stories and writing of others but greatness and legacy are not in pages of text or in the sporting arena. Legacy, for me, lies in the time that those close to me, in that moment, were there for me when I was desperate. Gave me their time and showed me enough patience to teach me. Put their arms around me when I was upset or afraid. Stuck by me although they might not have agreed with what I was doing and, showed me kindness even when they themselves may have been struggling.
We all have those people in our lives that have left their mark on us in a positive way and helped shape us. They were there, at touching distance, not from another time or on the other side of a TV screen.
I wonder, today, who those people were that shaped you?