If you are prepared to fight to death, you will live. If you avoid battles to preserve your life, you wil die.” Nanjungilgi (The War Diary of Yi Sunshin) Sept 15, 1597
Inspiring leaders and great people are part of the reason why world travel has held an interest for me. I would read about amazing human beings and I wanted to see where they lived, fought, fucked, or made amazing sacrifices.
That’s why, when I was in Seoul, I didn’t visit a lot of museums but I did take the time to go underground and see the Admiral Yi Sunshin Museum. I first read about Admiral Yi Sunshin back in college when I took a course on Asian history. He is best known for repelling the Japanese invaders in the late 1500’s. While he was obviously a brilliant military commander (he fought in 23 naval battles and won them all), it wasn’t this that made me admire him. It was the wisdom of his words which he placed in his journals.
Further Reading About Admiral Yi Sunshin
Admiral Yi Sunshin and his Armada of Turtleboats
Battle At Sea: 3000 Years of Naval Warfare
Admiral Yi Sunshin – His Life and Achievments
War Journal of Admiral Yi Sunshin
Born in Geonchundong to the Deoksu family clan, Sunshin was known to be honest and as a result, he was hated by many. His forthrightness was met with demotions, conspiracies against his life, imprisonment, and torture. You can’t keep a strong minded brother down though and he got free of prison, rose from a common soldier to Admiral, and when everyone else was shaking in their boots as the Japanese came in to hand them an asswhipping…he said “I still have 12 battleships” and proceeded to clean the Japanese clocks. In another battle he used 13 ships to defeat 333 Japanese ships!
His wisdom is embodied in 12 values. They are:
1) Give yourself ceaseless challenge
2) Prepare for crisis with a keen eye
3) Always remain loyal to those who deserve it
4) Creativity leads to victory
5) Responsiblility is the key to success
6) True Courage comes during a crisis
7) It’s lonely at the top
8) Love for the people is the greatest love
9) One must respect those above them
10) Don’t sacrifice until the last moment
11) Communication is essential
12) One must have a character the whole world can respect
Pretty good advice. At the museum, I learned that he liked to eat kimchi and kelbi beef. Not a big surprise, he was, after all , Korean.
There were several reasons for Yi’s success in fighting the Japanese fleets. First, Yi had prepared for the war that he saw as inevitable by checking the status of his soldiers, granaries, and supplies, replacing them when it was necessary. As part of this preparation, Yi resurrected and built the turtle ship, which was a considerable factor in his victories. Second, Yi had a secure knowledge of the southern coast and he planned his battles using the sea tides and narrow straits to his advantage. He also demonstrated his loyalty to the people by treating them with respect and fighting amongst them even when endangered. In some records, it stated that he showed deep regret and fulfilled his dying soldiers’ requests. This was one of the reasons he came to be loved by the people. Furthermore, Yi showed strength of character as a leader, keeping his soldiers’ morale up even when news of losses on land came.
Admiral Yi was killed by a stray bullet when victory was all but secure and forbid his aid to reveal his death for fear of destroying morale. His last words were “The battle is at its height; do not announce my death…” His orders were followed and the Japanese were repelled.
This musuem was surprising in a number of ways. It was a high tech playground and there were plenty of kids firing electornic cannons, rifles, and rockets. There was a multimedia presentation on massive screens of the seven years of naval battles, a lifesize Geobukseon (turtle ship). There was a 4D film that actually had scents of the sea and I swear I was hit by sea spray.
It was a cool couple of hours in a museum that was like no other I’ve visited. The cost? Nada. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and is located in the Sejong Center for Performing Arts in Seoul.