Koryo’s Soundtrack

By the year 935, the Silla Dynasty was destroying itself.  The Three Kingdoms, once united, were now at war with each other. Internal conflicts weakening a battered infrastructure allowed ever encroaching outsiders opportunities to conquer.  And the Mongols were waiting for an opening.

Trying to find some good music for practice.

Something dramatic to bring meaning to the movements.  Something loud to drown out competing thoughts.

It’s been harder to get a feel for the black belt forms due in part to lack of repetition.  But it is also learning to find your own way – assimilating lessons from all of the instructors.

This could have been the end, before they had a history, their traditions trampled and overrun, because the foreign campaigns meant to subjugate and eradicate cultural identity.  But out of the civil wars came an insightful and talented officer, Taejo Wang Geon, who with some powerful friends overthrew an increasingly oppressive king (Gung Ye – who had begun to believe he was the Buddha incarnate).  Under the Taejo, the Later Three Kingdoms were forcefully unified as the Kingdom of Goryeo (Koryo).  He strengthened the fledgling state through astute political maneuverings – welcoming the defeated into the new government, grants of land and titles, and marrying well and often – a daughter from most lords in the Kingdom.

As we learn the movements of a new form, we are exposed to a little of Korean culture.  They are all named for someone or something important.  But when we reached Koryo there was a break in the pattern – no definition.  It is the first WTF form we learn, so perhaps the omission is a deliberate attempt to not take more from the competing style than absolutely necessary.  No one seems overly concerned by its absence – one less thing to memorize – but of course, there is meaning…

The dynasty repeatedly struggled with Mongolian invaders. Powers pushed and pulled.  Territories lost, regained and lost again, but more importantly, through it all they began to establish a national identity.  

Koryo’s most obvious legacy was the name taken by the new county, Korea, which was derived through pronunciation.  The WTF sites contain similar variations of the following definition:

The people from the Goryeo defeated the Mongolian aggressors. It is intended that their spirit is reflected in the movements of the pumsae Koryo. Each movement of this pumsae represents the strength and energy needed to control the Mongols.

The stories behind the names connect us with a time and place, which we would otherwise never know.  Every time we practice we honor them, what they sacrificed and celebrated, what they lost and loved.

Now I need to find some fighting music.


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