This question was put to me during a Muay Thai seminar at Charlie McShane's school last week, and it actually caught me a little off guard. Not because I hadn't thought about it, but because I felt like there were so many answers, it was hard to know where to start.
Probably the single biggest influence on my thinking about martial arts, mostly because he's one of the biggest influences on the way I think in general. He was the one who looked at the Tae Kwon Do I was studying when I was twelve and said "I don't know...I think a good Judo player might just grab your leg and throw you on the ground. What good is all that fancy kicking then?"
I could write a whole post about my Father's influence on my thinking, and I think I have one drafted somewhere. Suffice it to say, it's pretty big.
Mark Dellagrotte (Sityodtong Muay Thai) has been a friend, mentor, and guide in my study of the art of Muay Thai. He has been one of the two single biggest influences on my martial arts training and thinking over the last decade, and I quite literally would not be the coach I am today without having trained under him. Sometimes I learn directly from him. Sometimes I learn just by watching him teach (coaching is it's own separate skill).
Tony Blauer (Blauer Tactical Systems) is the other single big influence. Tony's teachings were largely responsible for a near complete turn-around in my thinking on the martial arts and self-defense when I first found his material back in 2000. His example inspired me to seek out my own truths, to change and experiment with my training, and to grow in ways I never dreamed as a martial artist and trainer.
Kru Toy (Sityodtong Muay Thai)--I've not spent nearly as much time with Kru Toy as I have with the other two coaches, but ever visit he's ever paid to Sityodtong has influenced me as a Muay Thai practitioner and coach.
As much as I learn from my coaches, I learn as much from my peers. The other coaches and fighters at Sityodtong, who serve as guides, coaches, occasional victims of insane experiments, and ego control systems if I'm getting to big for my britches. These are the guys who help me take the stuff I think I understand and pressure test it. Very often, they're the ones who show me how I'm screwing something up (and what the negative consequences of those screw ups are...).
Similarly, without the aid of my fellow PDR coaches, I would not have the understanding or appreciation of the PDR Program that I do now. When Coach Blauer has one of his wild epiphanies, these are the guys I work with to make sense of how that epiphany works. They are the ones who put me through my paces at every PDR so that I know I'm doing this stuff right...or when I'm doing it wrong. They serve as a check on my thought processes, and give me a sounding board if I feel like I'm off track.
Part of this is the whole "I learn through teaching" canard, which is certainly true. The students who help me learn are the ones who push me. They ask questions, they look for explanations, and they force me to think more deeply about how and what I'm teaching. I love those kinds of students.
Beyond that though, I've learned a bit about facing challenges, bouncing back, and persevering from my students just as much as I have from anyone else.
Rory Miller has added a tremendous amount to my understanding of the realities of self-defense (and gave me some awesome clinch/in-fighting drills to boot!). He's also good at just making me think about life in general, which is really cool. More people need to do that.
Recently, I've been looking more seriously at some of Rodney King's material. I'm not necessarily so concerned with his physical curriculum (though it looks interesting), but I really like some of his ideas about the kind of environment he's trying to create through his teaching.
I study. Books, DVDs, whatever I can get my hands on. There's a lot out there, and it would take me forever to list it all.
Honestly, the longer I think about this, the more people I can find who have taught me, or are still teaching me. This might have to get broken into a few more posts than I thought...