This may sound quaint, but my role models in the martial arts are my master and grandmaster. Both are life-loving, easy to smile or laugh, and literally life-saving people who have dedicated their lives to training, systematizing, and spreading their arts to the public.
That they both have ridiculous fighting ability and knowledge of the underlying philosophy are also points in their favor; exactly what I expect of great martial arts masters. That’s why I follow them; they have what I want, they understand what they have, and they teach what they have.
In terms of historical role models, the top one is probably Yang Lu Chan for his humility despite the public lauding him as “Yang the Invincible” for his incredible fighting skills. His training ethic was a little extreme, though, what with almost driving his son Yang Banhou to suicide…yikes. This man had the discipline, dedication, and insight to “steal” a martial art (Chen family Taijiquan) whilst working as a servant in the Chen family household and was said to have practiced “Cloud Hands” (also known as Silk Reeling exercises) thousands of times per day to develop his unbeatable skills.
More modern and famous ones are Jet Li and Jackie Chan; their agility and control over their movements were always amazing to me. Watching some documentaries about them in their younger years and how hard they worked to achieve skill, fame, and distinction was very inspiring for me.