This post is part of The Poomsae Series, which discusses life lessons gained from taekwondo forms or “poomsae.” Forms, typically practiced to hone technique, have also been for me a type of moving meditation that quiets my mind and helps me stay present.

[A Note for Taekwondo Folks: In this post I’m discussing the common first dan black belt form Koryo. In my school we refer to it as “Koryo Two” because we also do a rarely-used, older form at the bo dan level we call “Koryo One.” Bo dan is the final color belt level before first degree black belt. Reader Jon Karlsen was kind enough to post a video of “Koryo One” in the comments of this post. To avoid confusion among readers from different schools, in this post I will refer what my school calls “Koryo Two” by its universal name, Koryo.]

In case I’ve needlessly confused anyone with that introduction, I’m talking about THIS ONE:

koryo ready stance


Even though it’s not a mind-melt like the primitive, creepy, and confusing other first dan form Keumgang (don’t tell me that mountain block/horseback stomping thing isn’t unnerving), Koryo gave me a run for my money when I was first learning it. While it follows the familiar sideways H pattern of the color belt Palgwe forms, Koryo is complex and full of intricate pieces, much like the blue belt form Oh Jang or the black tip form Pal Jang.

Not only is Koryo complicated, it is downright nasty, incorporating double side kicks, throat grabs, knee breaks, and a move that a teenage classmate so eloquently refers to as “mining the family jewels.” Even the ready stance at the very beginning is threatening. There’s a lot going on in this form.

As I do whenever I’m learning a new form, I’ve been waiting for the lesson of Koryo to emerge. It hit me during a recent staff meeting that Koryo can teach me how to manage change in a confident and mature way. Guess what we were talking about in the staff meeting? Hint: it wasn’t knee breaks, although that would have been fun.

My team recently experienced a major change that we’re just now figuring out how to maneuver around. For some of my teammates the change is a profound shift in their identity and focus. For me, it’s narrowing the scope of what I do. I still report to the same person and will hang onto the major projects, so it’s not as big a change for me as it is for others. As with Koryo, I’m still following the same foundational “pattern,” but some of the details will be new and different. I see this as an opportunity to help my coworkers who are experiencing a greater change than I am. If I’m expected as a black belt to guide less experienced students, I can also help the teammates who are going through greater change navigate the unfamiliar.

Like most employees in the corporate world, I’m no stranger to change. As a long-time employee in the corporate headquarters of a large multi-hospital healthcare organization, I’m VERY used to experiencing change. Notice I said “used to” change, but not necessarily “comfortable” with change. I’ve had to learn how to adapt along with everyone else.

Whether you’re a martial artist, a couch potato, a corporate employee, entrepreneur, a new parent, or a college student, there are some things you can do to manage change with black belt confidence:

1. Trust your past experience.
You know more than you think you do. Everyone has transferrable skills they can use to help them adapt to new situation. Koryo is a complicated form, but much of it is comprised of strikes, stances, and blocks that I already know. I’ve also developed enough skill and body awareness to pick up on new things more quickly than I could when I was a lower ranking student, so I know I’ll get it down eventually. Are you changing careers? Beginning an internship? Starting a business? Trust your past experience.

2. Ask for help.
I learned early in my career (and my taekwondo journey) that it’s better to ask for clarification up front rather than pretend I understand and then have to go back and ask for help later. Asking for help does not mean you are stupid, lazy, or incompetent. Asking for help shows humility, thoughtfulness, and dedication. If someone has a problem with you asking for help, that’s on them, not you.

3. Surround yourself with smart allies.
This goes hand-in-hand with asking for help. You don’t have to be an expert at everything. Seeking out those with different experiences and skills will help you deal with areas that are out of your comfort zone.

4. Ask for the “why.”
The biggest complaint I hear about change is the feeling of being kept in the dark. If you’re not given the reason why behind a change, ask for it! You’re not being insolent or difficult. Explain that understanding why things are changing will help you be better prepared to adapt quickly and contribute to the change process. On the taekwondo front, when I was learning the black tip form Pal Jang, things finally started to click for me when my Grandmaster explained the purpose of each of the blocks and strikes. Koryo has a logical flow and rhythm to it as well. (Keumgang still makes no sense.)

Incidentally, if someone has a problem with you asking “why” then they are probably the same type of jerk who gets huffy when you ask for help.

5. Learn!
Learn from your failures as well as your triumphs. One of my coworkers has a saying: “Don’t be frustrated; be fascinated.” When presented with a challenge, view it as a puzzle to solve rather than a hardship to endure. The willingness to learn (and APPLY what you learn) gives you your power back when you may be feeling helpless in a volatile, changing situation.

….or just break someone’s knee if that’s easier.

13 thoughts on “The Poomsae Series Part 11: Koryo, or Managing Change Like a Black Belt

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