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  • War drums

  • The year is 1572 -

  • 26 years earlier.

  • A 28 year old man rides across an open plain.

  • A group of military men stand quietly.

  • Observing.

  • His horse stumbles. He's thrown!

  • At first everybody watching thinks he's dead.

  • His leg is horribly bent.

  • Broken.

  • But, after a moment.

  • He gets up dragging one leg behind him and pulls himself to a willow tree.

  • He binds his leg with its branches,

  • remounts his horse, and finishes the military examination.

  • He fails the exam anyway; but four years later he'll be back.

  • He'll pass, and so will begin the career of one of the most glorious admirals of all time.

  • It's strange that this man even decided to join the military.

  • Korea had know 200 years of relative peace,

  • threatened only by the occasional raids from the Jurchen tribes on the northern border

  • and pirate crews plying the nearby sea.

  • The military was not a highly respected career choice for a man of noble birth.

  • Taking the civil service exams and joining the ranks of the Confucian court

  • was a much better way to receive power and success.

  • And yet this man, Yi Sun-Shin [alt. Yi Soon Shin and Yi Sun-Sin],

  • though he was schooled in the Confucian texts,

  • had dreamed of being a soldier ever since he was a little boy.

  • And so, at last, when he had passed the military exam,

  • he was appointed to a desolate fort along the northern border.

  • While most of the border forts were pits of corruption,

  • seen simply as a place to dump individuals who had fallen out of favor with the court,

  • Yi drilled his men rigorously,

  • and re-fortified his post,

  • bringing it up to true readiness in case of an attack.

  • One day, the provincial governor came by to inspect the post.

  • This was a man all of the fort commanders dreaded,

  • known for his harsh punishments and brutal discipline.

  • But when he came to Yi, he simply said:

  • "Hm."

  • "Hm. Well done!"

  • And moved on.

  • Shortly thereafter, Yi was moved back to Seoul,

  • a sign of growing favor,

  • and he was given a post at the military academy there,

  • training new recruits.

  • He was, by all accounts, rigorous,

  • diligent, and incorruptible.

  • And this was exactly the problem.

  • At this time, the military academy was actually a tool for younger noble sons to jump up the ranks quickly,

  • and for courtiers to channel their favorite people into the cushiest of assignments.

  • And Yi was not cooperating.

  • So, after a short stay in Seoul,

  • he was booted back to a provincial assignment.

  • By July though,

  • he had secured a position running a naval garrison

  • and was rapidly rising up the ranks again.

  • But here too, he was schemed against by corrupt officials.

  • Many attempts were made to have Yi removed,

  • but each one he parried expertly,

  • until one day, one of his previous superiors from the military academy

  • One who Yi had rebuked for corruption,

  • was called to his province to do an inspection.

  • Seeing an oppotunity for revenge,

  • the inspector wrote a report castigating Yi,

  • saying he was 'completely negligent'.

  • When the report got to Seoul,

  • Yi found himself dismissed from the military entirely.

  • Four months later, though,

  • he was vindicated.

  • Found innocent of the charges against him,

  • he was returned to service,

  • but demoted to the lowest possible officer grade.

  • He might have languished at this menial post,

  • but at last his diligence was finally rewarded

  • when he was brought back to meaningful duty by none other than one of his former rivals.

  • One of the fleet commanders who Yi had served under while maintaining the naval garrison,

  • had been transferred to the northern frontier,

  • and knowing that he'd need good, capable officers,

  • he requested Yi be sent with him.

  • Soon though, it became clear that Yi was needed to garrison a fort on the Tumen River

  • which was one of the demarcation lines between Jurchen and Korean territory.

  • Jurchen Raiders roamed far south of the Korean border looting and pillaging at will

  • raids had nearly overrun the nearby Frontier Province

  • and so, Yi took up the post.

  • He drilled his troops until they were in top shape

  • and knowing that simply shoring up the defenses wouldn't be enough,

  • he laid his troops out for an ambush

  • and then lured the Raiders into Korean territory.

  • He fell on them with a ferocity and a swiftness they had never seen in Korea.

  • Within hours the tribes were smashed

  • and their power shattered.

  • They would never again be such a threat to the province.

  • But here, too, Yi was stymied by a jealous superior

  • and while the court was jubilant about his success,

  • the official record reads:

  • "although the Court recognized Yi Sun-Shin emeritus service to the king

  • it nevertheless decided against awarding him a prize"

  • Shortly after this,

  • Yi's father died and being deeply rooted in Confucian ideals,

  • Yi retired home for three years in accordance with the traditional mourning period.

  • When he at last returned to service

  • he was put in charge of transportation for the court,

  • but a mere 16 days later

  • it was decided that Yi was needed too badly at the border,

  • and once again he was sent North.

  • He was to man a small island fortress:

  • undermanned,

  • crumbling, beyond disrepair.

  • He once again drilled its garrison,

  • shored up its defenses,

  • and week after week sent out a request to the district commander for reinforcements.

  • Then one morning,

  • as the mists rolled in and most of the men were out harvesting rice

  • because the military was in such a state that men on the border had to harvest their own food,

  • the Jurchen attacked,

  • pouring out of the mist on horseback.

  • Yi Sun-Shin only had a dozen men to defend with.

  • He and his handful of soldiers fought desperately

  • cutting their way to one group of captives and escaping with 50 people the Jurchen would have taken prisoner

  • but by this time you know the story

  • in order to avoid blame Yi superior,

  • a man named Yi Ill,

  • blamed the entire defeat on yi sun-shin.

  • He had him brought back to the capital,

  • tortured, and put on trial in an attempt to have him condemned

  • so that Yi Ill could avoid any of the blame.

  • But Yi Sun-Shin did not crack under torture,

  • and when it came time to take the stand

  • he said this to Yi Ill

  • "My Lord you are asking me to assume the whole responsibility for the misfortune.

  • But you are wrong.

  • May I remind you that you have always refused my frequent request for reinforcement.

  • The defeat was not a result of my negligence of duty but in large part

  • your fault.

  • Therefore it is not I,

  • but you,

  • who should be held responsible for the defeat."

  • The court was stunned.

  • Many of them knew of Yi's record and were inclined to believe him.

  • So in the end,

  • he was allowed to live,

  • but he was stripped of his rank,

  • again, and returned to the army as a common enlisted man,

  • starting over at the very bottom

  • as if he'd never taken the military examinations.

  • He was once again placed on the northern border,

  • and asked to fight the invading tribes.

  • And once again,

  • he did so with distinction.

  • Until, finally in 1588,

  • he asked that he be allowed to retire.

  • But storm clouds were gathering over Korea

  • and some, especially his longtime friend,

  • a man named Ryu Song Nyong,

  • recognized that soon the country would have need of good military men.

  • While Yi had struggled through his career in the military,

  • Ryu, his childhood compatriot, who had been his companion in games of war,

  • had risen to be prime minister of Korea.

  • It was actually through Ryu influence, and because of his subtle aid,

  • that Yi had time and again survived the machinations held against him.

  • now Ryu planned to see that Yi would take his rightful place for the war he feared was coming.

  • On the next episode of extra history;

  • remember how in the Sengoku Jidai episodes

  • we talked about that messy Japanese invasion of Korea?

  • Well that's about to happen.

  • Join us as Yi and Ryu take on the Japanese forces.

  • As we delve into the differences in government, technology, and arms between these two nations,

  • and as we explore the first few disastrous weeks of this war.

  • Music

War drums

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Korea: Admiral Yi - Keep Beating the Drum - Extra History - #1(Korea: Admiral Yi - Keep Beating the Drum - Extra History - #1)