Martial Arts Inspires 3 Life Lessons for Latter-day Saint Teens & Young Adults

When Australian author Sean Kikkert was a teenager, he loved to work out while listening to the soundtrack for the movie Rocky. A passionate martial artist, Sean loved the Rocky movies and would watch them over and over again. Sean was convinced that the music made him train harder.

Sean competing at the Australian Taekwondo Championships.

In 2020, Sean wanted to write a book for teens and young adults, but he wasn’t sure what topic would be of most value to them. While he was pondering, the Rocky theme song started playing from one of Sean’s playlists. The words “getting strong now” inspired him to focus his new book on strengthening young people to face the troubles of our day. Stronger: How the Lord Can Strengthen You to Meet Any Challenge features a variety of illustrative stories and examples, but the following are three lessons Sean learned from Taekwondo.

Lesson 1: True Strength Comes Only When You Fully Commit Yourself to the Gospel.

One day while working for a large legal department, Sean returned to his desk to find a sticky note on his computer. Another legal area needed his urgent help, and he concluded that they must need his legal advice. He was surprised to find his colleagues waiting for him with cameras ready and a giant block of Hersey’s chocolate. Sean’s colleagues were celebrating a legal milestone with a giant block of chocolate but found the block was too hard for them to break so they could share it. They asked Sean to use his martial arts skills to break the block of chocolate. You can see the video of him breaking it here:


Breaking things (usually boards or tiles rather than chocolate) is a pretty standard skill for a martial artist, and Sean learned an important gospel lesson when his instructor taught him to punch through boards. The instructor explained that the trick was to fully commit to the punch and hold nothing back. The reason people often injured themselves when they tried to break a board was that they didn’t have the willpower to hit it with full force, but rather held back part of their strength. Not only did they not end up breaking the board, but they hurt themselves in the process. Similarly, true strength comes only when we fully commit ourselves to the gospel. A half-hearted commitment is not enough.

Lesson 2: “The More You Sweat in Training, the Less You Bleed in Battle”

A common military saying goes like this: “The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.” In fact, the U.S. Navy Seals have adopted this saying as their motto. Sean saw the importance of preparation as a young man as he prepared for the Taekwondo championships. Each Saturday he would spar with four different people so that when he entered the ring, sparring would be second nature. The idea was to make training as similar as possible to an actual competition, so he would be ready when it really counted. Likewise, young people must prepare for their future. Every prayer they say builds up their spiritual muscles, every scripture that they read nourishes their soul, and every act of service and kindness builds their spiritual fitness. As young people make the Church an important part of their life, and as they turn to the Savior in faith, they will grow in spiritual strength.

Lesson 3: Repetition Brings Spiritual Muscle Memory

When Sean was learning Taekwondo, his instructor had him to practice self-defense techniques over and over again until they became part of Sean’s muscle memory. For example, he learned how to defend himself if someone grabbed him. With enough repetitions, Sean could perform the technique automatically, without conscious thought. This was essential since speed and surprise are vital in order to break free if someone grabs us with a sinister intention. Sean admits it could be boring to practice the same technique over and over again, often for years. But the more he practiced, the more the technique became part of who he was. He recalls a day in high school when an older boy aggressively grabbed his wrist. Without even thinking, Sean broke the boy’s grip and was out of his reach before the boy even had time to react. In the same way, repetitions of scripture reading, prayer, church attendance, and service will build our spiritual muscle memory and help keep us safe from temptation and despair.

In Stronger: How the Lord Can Strengthen You to Meet Any Challenge, Sean illustrates gospel principles using a wide variety of examples from prophets and apostles, the scriptures, historical figures, youth, and personal acquaintances, as well as entertaining examples from his own life. Stronger is available for sale here.

Sean Kikkert was born in Adelaide, South Australia. He spent the early part of his childhood in the Netherlands, where his father worked as a scientist before the family returned to Australia. Sean served in the Australia Sydney South Mission. He then earned a bachelor’s degree before completing a law degree at the University of Adelaide. Sean worked as a government lawyer before opening his own law practice. He has served as a seminary teacher and in many leadership positions in the Church. His other published works include Home Evenings for Families, three young-adult thrillers—Dark Past, Night of the Wolf, and The Trek—and a Regency novel, The Highwayman’s Confession. Learn more about Sean and his books at https://www.seankikkert.com/.

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