Loyalty Inspired by The Venerable Korean Admiral: A Path to Achievement, Dutifulness, and Betterment
By: Jiwon Park
The following statement from one of the greatest and most respected Admiral in Korean history, Yi Sun Shin, well captures his leadership, courage, and charisma: “Those who seek death shall live. Those who seek life shall die.” Not only Koreans, but also the people around the world respect Admiral Yi’s unbelievable achievements as a navy commander along with his upright nature. So, what aspects make admiral Yi incredibly outstanding and special? Admiral Yi’s character does not show much difference from that of most ordinary people in today’s world; people uphold many of the same values as Admiral Yi. The difference, however, seems to come from the extent to which people embody these values. Many history books reveal Yi’s courage and confidence; not only did he never back off from unfavorable battles, but also from many injustices and ordeals that undermined him. Amongst countless attributes that Yi had possessed and been admired for, I believe his Loyalty provides me with the greatest degree of inspiration and an example that I would like to emulate.
Aside from Admiral Yi’s loyalty, he gained fame and respect for his innovative and outstanding actions. For example, he invented a battleship named “Turtle Ship.” It was named so because it looked like a turtle with a dragon’s head. The dragon’s head emitted sulfur smoke to effectively hide its movement from the enemy in short distance combat. The hull, which looked like a turtle shell, effectively blocked the invasion of enemies. Led by Admiral Yi, his navy and the Turtle Ship significantly helped Joseon to overcome the Japanese invasion in 1592, establishing the unbelievable record of 62 victories without losing a single battle. Furthermore, Admiral Yi exhibited his confidence and intelligence in the battles. “Hak Ik Jin” is one of Yi’s most distinguished naval tactics. “Hak Ik Jin” was originally used only in land battles. Yi’s excellent understanding of both naval and land tactics eventually resulted in a momentous victory that changed the course of Japanese Invasion of Korea. However, these remarkable features that Yi possessed stemmed from his loyalty.
Admiral Yi’s loyalty can be distinguished into three categories: loyalty to his country, loyalty to his parents, and loyalty to himself. Yi’s loyalty towards the country is well demonstrated from his numerous battles. Admiral Yi led 62 battles in his career into victories, and this achievement deserves even greater appreciation due to the fact that Yi’s army was greatly outnumbered in every battle, to which he did not let his confidence dwindle. The Battle of Myeongryang aptly exemplifies such fact; with only 12 ships remaining from Admiral Won Gyun's disastrous defeat at the Battle of Chilchonryang, Yi had gone to the battle against Japanese army which possessed more than 130 ships. The king and many generals believed that it was impossible to stop the Japanese advance. Yi, however, stated, "Your Highness, I still have twelve battleships,” and demonstrated his loyalty to the king and the country. The loyalty then allowed him to overcome the fear of unfavorable condition. He did not leave any room for fear and agitation. Rather, he remained rational and calm. He came up with incredible tactics during the battle and it also demonstrated his intelligence and his confidence as a general. Without his deep sense of loyalty to the king and the country, Admiral Yi’s military and strategic successes would not have been possible.
Secondly, Yi demonstrated utmost loyalty to his parents. In Korea, filial duty is regarded as one of the most important aspects that people should possess. In Joseon Dynasty, many principles regarding filial duties were made mandatory for everyone to acquire and embody. For example, “Samgang Oryun” emphasized the intimacy between parents and children. Also, it highlighted the importance of revering one’s parents. Yi perfectly embodied these principles and practiced throughout his life. The biography of Yi Sun Shin states that Yi once resigned his position as a general because of his father’s death. After giving up his rank and honor, he fulfilled his filial duty as a mourner, during which he held the funeral of his parents for three years. This would have been a difficult decision for him since giving up his position as an admiral meant that he was giving up his honor and dignity. He, however, believed that filial responsibilities outweighed the personal honor, and Admiral Yi’s such decision sharply contrasts the decisions that many people in today’s world make, for they tend to emphasize personal successes. Moreover, Admiral Yi’s incredible triumphs in 62 battles could have been aided from his loyalty to the parents. He often stated that, “Parents are god(heaven).” He understood the inability to protect his country meant his inability to protect the lives of his parents. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suspect that his effort to protect the country from foreign invasions was derived from his loyalty to his parents.
Moreover, Admiral Yi had proved that loyalty to himself constitutes a crucial aspect for success. Not only did he fight against the enemies to protect his country and the people he loved, but also for his honor and responsibilities. Honor was one of the most important aspect that one can possess in Joseon Dynasty, and Yi was respected throughout the country due to his leadership and courage. However, there were some instances where Yi was falsely accused of desertion or treachery and consequently lost his rank, dignity, and honor all at once. For instance, General Kim falsely accused Yi of his betrayal against the king. Yi was tortured almost to the point of death through simple torture techniques such as whipping, flogging, burning, and such. Admiral Yi was demoted to the rank of common soldier under General Gwon Yul; the penalty was worse than death for Joseon generals at that time, since they lived by honor. Yi, however, followed the penalty obediently and officers treated him with respect because they knew that Yi did nothing wrong. Despite these adversities, Yi never gave up his loyalty to himself and tried to restore his rank and dignity. People soon realized his effort and eventually restored his position as a commander of the navy.
As a student, Admiral Yi’s embodiment of loyalty inspires me in a couple of ways. First, this attribute motivates me to establish a certain set of goals and demonstrate my loyalty to them. For example, as a high school student, I seek improvements with regards to my grades across various subjects. And, if I do improve my grades, I would like to maintain them. Likewise, building up good relationships with my friends and maintaining them would depend on my loyalty to the goals that I have established as well. Ernest Hemingway once said: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Many people throughout the history emphasized the importance of trust in relationships, and the common element of these teachings seem to be that they emphasize the virtue of loyalty.
To extend my analysis to how Admiral Yi’s demonstration of loyalty could benefit me in a longer term, I believe it could motivate me to seek and achieve success. The goals that I establish, and to which I will remain loyal assist me to broaden my perspective towards my future. Of course, as a student, my goals to succeed academically are essential. However, demonstrating loyalty could lead me to set longer-term oriented goals, such as college selection, the career that I wish to pursue, and the ways in which I could develop as a well-respected individual. To illustrate further, I personally received much inspiration from Admiral Yi’s embodiment of loyalty to his parents. Even though I am not in a position where I must protect my country and parents from foreign enemies, Admiral Yi’s demonstration of filial piety motivates me to respect my parents and do not let them disappointed. I am aware that my parents invests in my future and success. Therefore, I believe demonstrating loyalty to the short and long-term oriented goals pertains to a way of expressing the loyalty to my parents.
Admiral Yi’s inspirational demonstration of loyalty directs me to embody the sense of loyalty. The loyalty to myself and to my parents will assist me to develop into a better person, since they motivate me to establish short and long term goals, and propels me to exert best efforts in order to successfully accomplish them. Through this journey to the betterment of myself as a respectable individual, there could be some moments of difficulties. However, as Admiral Yi had never pushed aside his objectives and goals, I must demonstrate my utmost and unyielding loyalty to my goals. In a short term, I must seek to excel academically. I must establish my dream college, and study accordingly. In a long term, I must establish what kind of person that I would like to become, and devise specific and concrete plans. Last but not least, I must express my loyalty to my parents, so that they could be proud of their son. It remains uncertain that I could become a person as venerated as Admiral Yi. However, I am confident that emulating his loyalty to the country, parents, and to himself will motivate me to constantly seek and pursue improvements and advancements, and ultimately help me become a better person.