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Adaptability, Flexibility and Resilience in Taekwondo

Taekwondo lessons for adults

What is adaptability, flexibility and resilience?

Let us find some answers in the following videos:

Fisher College of Business video “The Importance of Adaptability”:

BBC Ideas video “The benefits of flexible thinking | BBC Ideas”:

Northeastern Alumni video “What is Resilience?”:

Hard & Soft skills

In any human endeavour, two kinds of skills are required, namely hard skills and soft skills. The combination of these two skills result in success. Taekwondo is a human endeavour for self-defence and hence, it also requires these two skills for success.

Hard skills in Taekwondo

In Taekwondo, hard skills are the fundamental movements like stances, punches, kicks and blocks. Each fundamental movement is perfected individually and collectively. Individually, the fundamental movements are perfected by practising each one of them thousands of times, every day. Collectively, the fundamental movements are perfected by practising them in different logical and sequential combinations as given in the 24 patterns.

After a reasonable level of perfection of the hard skills is achieved, then one proceeds to sparring. In sparring, besides hard skills, soft skills are also required.

Soft skills in Taekwondo

In Taekwondo, soft skills are adaptability, flexibility, and resilience. Normally, people use these terms interchangeably, nonetheless there is a subtle difference between them.

— Adaptability is the capacity to accept change.

— Flexibility is the capacity to implement change.

— Resilience is the capacity to persevere change.

For example, let us assume two Taekwondo athletes namely “X” and “Y”, who are sparring. In few moves only, X realises that Y is better in delivering kicks rather than punches. X accepts this realisation and adapts to further circumstantial changes accordingly. Thereafter, X implements a change, which is closing the gap sufficiently so that kicks cannot be delivered by Y. But Y exhibits nimble footwork and increases the gap every time and delivers kicks. Yet, X perseveres in closing the gap and ultimately succeeds. At this close range, X is able to overpower Y.

In this hypothetical sparring, X has shown adaptability because circumstantial changes were adapted; X has shown flexibility because the change of closing the gap was implemented; and X has also shown resilience because the implemented change was persevered until it succeeded.


Adaptability, flexibility and resilience is aptly demonstrated in the power of water. For example, a speech of Bruce Lee from the American TV series “Longstreet” (1971), featuring James Franciscus and Bruce Lee has become very famous. In the series Lee played martial arts expert Li Tsung and James Franciscus his blind pupil. The famous speech of Bruce Lee goes as follows: “… empty your mind … be formless … shapeless like water … now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup … you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle … put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot … water can flow … water can crash … be water, my friend.” [1].

Terry Lee McBride video “Bruce Lee Be As Water My Friend”:

Lao-Tzu, a renowned Chinese philosopher in his book Tao-Te-Ching (translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English) writes [2]:

“A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.”


1. SCMP Reporter (17 July 2018), “How Bruce Lee classic quote ‘be water’ from fictional US TV series came to be attributed to him”. South China Morning Post. Available at: https://www.scmp.com/culture/film-tv/article/2155586/how-bruce-lee-classic-quote-be-water-fictional-us-tv-series-came-be [Accessed on 19 March 2022].

2. Tao Te Ching-Lao Tzu-chapter 76, (translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English). Wussu.com. Available at: https://www.wussu.com/laotzu/laotzu76.html [Accessed on 19 March 2022].



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