Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, the Legacy of Choong Moo


Chinese Calligraphy

Chinese Calligraphy spelling of Choong Moo, and Admiral Yi,
pictured below

In Tae Kwon-Do, our forms are named after important people in Korean history. The form Choong Moo is named after Admiral Yi Sun-Shin. Choong Moo means, literally, loyalty-chivalry. Choong Moo is also the name of Korean's 3rd highest military award, the "Distinguished Military Service Medal of the People's Republic of Korea". There are books, statues, shrines, and museums all in honor of this man of ancient times. Why is Choong Moo so important today? What does this man of ancient times have to do with people of the new Millenium? The answer is easily understood when we look at the life of Yi Sun-Shin, the ancient admiral and modern role model.
Yi Sun-Shin Yi Sun-Shin was a man ahead of his time. His contributions to the world are many. Admiral Yi was a great military leader, who displayed high moral character. He was a great military tactician. He led Korea out from under the Japanese grip. His military strategies are admired and studied even today. One such military technique is known as the "fishnet". The fishnet is a formation of ships, designed to encase them and keep them entangled, and ultimately conquer them through this formation. He was also an inventor. He is mostly known for inventing the KOBUKSON, or "turtle boat", a precursor to our modern day submarine. This was an iron-plated vessel, covered almost completely to protect his men, and to keep the enemy from climbing aboard. This was done by placing long knives on the top, covered in grasses. Yi also invented a smoke generator that burned sulphur and saltpeter, which clouded the movement of his vessels.  This smoke bellowed out from the huge turtle "head" on the front of the boat. Imagine an ancient navy, superstitious as they may have been, encountering smoke screens like this. He also created a form of a flame thrower which helped destroy many enemy vessels. It is no wonder that he is compared, even today, to such prominent military heros such as Sir Francis Drake and Lord Nelson of England. 
Yi Sun-Shin and his navy defeated many Japanese warships for his time. In August, 1592, 100,000 Japanese troops were encountered at Pyongyang peninsula. Admiral Yi first pretended to flee, then turned and sank 71 enemy ships! When Japan sent reinforcements, Yi's navy sank 48 more. The Japanese commander, who knew not of the battle, sent a message to Korean King Son-Jo, that "100,000 men are coming to reinforce me. Where will you flee then?" The king was elated when he found out that Admiral Yi had destroyed them! Son-Jo bestowed upon Admiral Yi all possible honors and recognition for his heroic deeds and bravery in defense of his country.  
Japan, meanwhile, sent a spy named Yosira, to convince Korean general Kim Eung-Su, that he would help Korea by spying on the Japanese. General Kim believed Yosira when he told him that a great number of ships was coming to destroy Korea.  General Kim begged King Son-Jo to send Yi to defend Korea against this attack. However, Admiral Yi knew the area that Yosira said that he should wait for the Japanese, and knew the area to be dangerous, with many sunken rocks. Yi refused to go. Learning this, Yi was replaced, arrested, beaten and torutured. He was sentenced to death, but was saved because his supporters at court rallied to Son-Jo to spare his life based on his service record. The king demoted Yi to foot soldier. Yi performed his duties honorably and without complaint. He remained a loyal and honorable soldier even in the face of the humiliation wrongfully bestowed upon him. 
After the Japanese destroyed most of the Korean navy under General Kim's command, Yi was reinstated. By this time, he only had 12 shops left, but no shortage of men. His troops flocked back to Yi in service of their country under this great man. When the Japanese sent a fleet of 133 ships, Yi destroyed many of them, even though he had only 12 ships. The Japanese navy fled, only to return the next day with several hundred more ships. Surrounded, Yi and his navy managed to sink 30 boats, then chased and killed the Japanese commander Madasi. After this battle, and the somewhat peaceful time Korea enjoyed due to his victories, Yi was able to rebuild his navy.
When China sent Admiral Chil Lin to Korea to protect the western coast of Korea so that Japan could not invade China, Lin took credit for victories that Yi was responsible for. This made China feel successful, and they bestowed aid to Korea. Yi put aside his pride because of his love for Korea, and the realization that the most important thing should be his country's protection. He did not seek the esteem that these victories brought to Admiral Chil Lin, although it was certainly due to him. 
Admiral Yi died in battle in 1598. He died when he was hit by a stray bullet. Before he died, he said "Do not let the rest know I am dead, for it will spoil the fight". Even at death, Yi knew that what was important was protection of his country. In 1643, the title "CHOONG MOO" was bestowed upon Admiral Yi. The "sting" of Admiral Yi's navy hurt Japan so badly, that they did not attempt to return until 1904. Choong Moo literally means "loyalty-chivalry". Admiral Yi Sun-Shin was the embodiment of these qualities. 
In the world that we live in today, those qualities are very admirable and desired, indeed. As Tae Kwon-Do practitioners, they are our duty, and we should strive to be more loyal and chivalrous as was Admiral Yi. We should strive to set the kind of selfless example that Admiral Yi demonstrated. We should not be vain, nor seek glory for ourselves. We should not be scornful or seek retaliation, even in the face of injustice. This is the example set forth by Yi. He should be our role model, and we should set forth to be such a role model to our friends, families, children, co-workers, community, and lastly country.  When we do our forms, we should think about the person that we are supposed to be exemplifying. Yi's regrettable death, which came before Yi was able to reclaim the honor that was due him, is symbolized in the end of the form Choong Moo, by the left hand attack. When we perform the form named after Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, we should be thinking "loyalty-chivalry".


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This page was last updated May 2023


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