Girlie, tough ain’t enough.
Water is the softest and most yielding substance,
Yet nothing is better than water for overcoming
the hard and the rigid because nothing can compete with it.
Everyone knows that the soft and yielding
overcomes the rigid and hard,
but few can put this knowledge into practice.
Prophetically, Eastwood’s Frankie Dunn barks this one at Maggie Fitzgerald early in the movie, as she desperately tries to convince Frankie she can fight. He knows, however, that physical toughness only gets you so far. It’s your inner strength that separates you from the rest.
In the beginning of this film, every character is tough and stubborn. A world of struggling, small time boxers, with few skills and less smarts. A world of old been-there- done-that trainers, like Dunn, who are carrying the weight of way too many past defeats. No force, it would appear, would cause any of them to ever change.
Yet Lao Tzu says that it is not a blunt force that dissolves the rigid front but the ever present, constant flow of patience and love. Few, he says, can put it into practice, because it at first appears as a weakness. Those of strong ego cannot endure it.
In the end, after Maggie is fatally injured during a match, her inner strength is revealed. Not in the ring, but in her resolve; her unapologetic acceptance of what needs to be done and the ability to let go. Fated forever to a hospital bed breathing through a respirator, with a hateful, uncaring family, Maggie asks her only friend to end the misery.
This act dissolves Frankie’s bitter, hardened shell and reveals the true compassion he has tried to avoid, or had never found, most of his life.
One of the Tao Te Ching’s greatest lessons.—