I just found a copy of his "War Diary" and have been reading everything I can on the net and from different books. In many of the articles and some of the books they claim he was a champion archer. Is this just because of the military exam where all officer would be "champion" caliber or becuse he actually won archery "competitions?"
There are a couple things I really find interesting about him the first is the fact he took up military service "late" in life and the second his use of steppe warfare tactics at sea i.e. the feign retreat. He also died in battle at Noryang his last words reportedly were, "We are at the height of battle do not let anyone know of my death." He said this because he did not want his sailors demoralized knowing their commander had died.
He was an amazing Admiral to me it is amazing that we in the West do not know more about him. In the Battle of Myongnyang his fleet of 13 ships defeated 330 Japanes ships. That was not a typo that was 13 vs 330. Just amazing. He was not Korea's Admiral Nelson but Admiral Nelson was England's Admiral Yi. When Japenese Admiral Togo defeated the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905 and was heaped with the praise: "your great victory is so remarkable that it desreves an everlasting place in history. You can be regarded the equal of Admiral Nelson, who defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Trafalgar; you are indeed a god of war." Admiral Togo replied "I appreciate your compliment. But,...if there ever were an Admiral worthy of the name "god of war", that one is Yi Sun-sin. Next to him, I am little more than a petty officer."
I know this is an archery forum but for me much of the enjoyment I get out of my obssession with the Asian recurves is the history that these bows have influenced. During the Imjin War (1592-1598)the bow was a primary weapon of many of the Korean defenders.
Yeah, I've long been a fan of the admiral. Exactly what archery competitions he may have won, I'm not sure, but down at "his club" (at Hansan, near Busan) archers can get in for free if they bring their bows and arrows. You shoot from the shooting line--over water--to the target. I have never had the chance to shoot there (yet), but a good friend of mine told me about it.
One thing that always impressed me about the admiral was his humble tenacity. Because of palace intrigues, he was time and time again broken in rank to a common soldier and, each time, he rose back up. The king of Korea at that time, Seonjo, started out as a benevolent ruler, but eventually became a bit of a despot. His self-involvement and inattention to the affairs of state helped lead to the easy conquering of the Korean peninsula. Despite that, and despite his getting kicked time and again, Admiral Yi stayed loyal.
Here is some info I teach about him in my Korean history class and the fight against the Japanese in the late 16th century:
Inefficiency of the Korean bureaucratic system formed another reason that prevented quick mobilization of the Korean Army. Admiral Yi Sun-sin learned about the war the third day after it began. It took him another fifteen days to get the king’s mandate allowing the commencement of military action against the Japanese. Nevertheless, during the early months of the war, Admiral Yi managed to achieve plausible success at sea in sharp contrast with the devastating defeat of Korea’s army on shore. Why was the Korean fleet so successful?
The strong personality of Admiral Yi Sun-sin inspired his subordinates and sailors to resist the invasion
The southern provinces of Korea, which had been suffering for centuries from Japanese pirates, were better prepared for naval confrontation than to deal with the foe’s infantry.
Admiral Yi also enjoyed the support of the local population that supplied his fleet with food, weaponry, and intelligence
Admiral Yi not only protected the shores and population from the enemy but also mobilized the production and delivery of supplies for his fleet and stimulated the local economy
He was born in Seoul in 1545, the son of a government official who was falsely accused of a crime and was imprisoned. The family moved to Asan some time after that. In 1567, his father’s name was cleared by King Seonjo.
In 1576, Yi Sun-sin passed the mugwa (military exam) and was posted to Korea’s northern border for the following ten years. In 1583, he defeated a Jurchen chief in battle and captured him; he led many battles against the Jurchens.
His successes caused his superiors a great deal of jealousy, so they accused him of desertion, and he was arrested and put in prison. When he was released, he was made a common soldier and he worked his way back up the ranks. Eventually, he was appointed a county magistrate.
In 1591, he was assigned command of the naval forces of Jeolla (a southwestern province), where he built up a sizeable navy.
In 1597, more court rivalries again sent Admiral Yi to prison. The king wanted him put to death, but Yi’s supporters convinced him to spare the admiral’s life. Yi was released and demoted to common infantry soldier. He took his lower position with humility.
While Yi was imprisoned, his successor, Won Kyun, battled the Japanese fleet using 133 ships; in the end, only thirteen Korean ships were left. Won Kyun ran away, but was captured by the Japanese and beheaded.
Yi was restored to his former high rank. He took the twelve ships remaining (one ship abandoned the fleet) and destroyed the Japanese fleet, which was ten times as large.
Admiral Yi was struck by a stray bullet on November 19, 1598 and died. Before he died, he gave one last order that the news of his death not be given to the crew until after the battle.
About his battles:
Admiral Yi selected eight of his best naval officers to be commandants at several ports. He also brought in four government magistrates to act as commanders of the Left Wing, Front Forward, Central Forward, and Right Forward.
Japanese troop and supply ships were sighted by Admiral Yi near Okpo, off Geoje Island. His commanders vowed to fight to the death, if necessary.
Admiral Yi’s ships sailed down into the midst of the Japanese anchorage, firing their cannons and arrows. The Korean forces maneuvered their ships, so that the Japanese could not board. Admiral Yi’s sailors shot fire arrows at the Japanese ships, setting them ablaze.
In the end, twenty-six Japanese ships were sunk, without the loss of a single Korean ship. One minor arm wound was the only damage the Korean side suffered. For most of the Korean combatants, it was the first battle they were in.
Later, the Koreans attacked a smaller Japanese squadron, sinking every ship. The next morning, they ran across a massive Japanese fleet. Even though they were greatly outnumbered, the Koreans took them on; in the end, the entire Japanese fleet was either captured, ablaze, or on the bottom of the sea.
The funny thing being, the admiral used the same tactic a few times and the Japanese fell for it each time.