|"The hostile countries are without morals. They are like wolves and tigers, disturbing our frontiers, plundering, and hardly a year goes by in which we are left in peace. I am but one insignificant subject, devoid of special talents or strength, but I am determined to put an end to this disorder."|
The history of Asia is, generally speaking, the history of one dude coming into a land filled with tiny, pointless kingdoms, beating the shit out of everyone in sight, and unifying the country under a single ruler. It's filled with badass stories of head-crushing warrior-kings who ride into an age of chaos and lawlessness brutal lands filled with unpronounceable kingdoms and more warlords than you can shake a scimitar at and use their own force of will and powers of neck-cleaving to forge powerful, united empires so awesome it made everyone suddenly forget how annoying it was when you couldn't go three weeks without having to remember the name of some new king or prince or overlord or something. To that end, Korea's version of Qin Shi Huang or Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a larger-than-life military asswhipper named Kim Yushin and his story is no less awesome than either of those afore-mentioned badasses.
The most famous hero to come from Korea's Three Kingdoms period, Yushin was the Commander of the military forces of the Kingdom of Silla and the man responsible for unifying the Korea peninsula into one cohesive empire that would span a couple centuries. He's a guy who has grown legendary for his bravery and mastery of military strategy and if you've ever tried to play Starcraft on a Korean Battle.net server, you know that large-scale military strategy is something the Koreans take really fucking seriously. Yushin is also such a ridiculously popular and beloved hero in Korean history that over the last 1,500 years quite a few utterly over-the-top myths have arose regarding the crazy shit that he did during his life. We can only assume that most (if not all) of these legendary stories have some degree of truth to them, though history and folklore have firmly integrated themselves like an alien face-hugger of fictional awesomeness clinging to the gourd of an already-badass space marine to the point where it's often times difficult to decipher fact from fiction. We're pretty sure the dude didn't actually go into a super-scary cave and learn the secrets of military success by talking a Mountain God that could spontaneously morph itself into a prism of five different colors, and that he didn't honestly thwart an assassination attempt on his life after being warned at the last second by three hot nymph goddesses that materialized out of nowhere, but those are episodes included in the guy's official government-sanctioned biography nonetheless. Somewhat amusingly, Kim was a mega-pimpmaster when it came to using superstition and religion to make himself look awesome to his subjects, so these are quite possibly rumors that he himself invented to convince people to follow him. It worked.
Korea at the beginning of the Three Kingdoms Period.
Yushin was born in 595 after an alleged twenty-month gestation period which, if true, would easily have made his poor mother a candidate for Badass of the Week in her own right. He was a member of the royal family in the southern Korean Kingdom of Kaya, though his funeral stele claims he was descended from the Yellow Emperor a godlike mythical Chinese ruler who is credited with taming wild bears, crushing 80 barbarian tribes in a single battle by swinging a dog around like a baseball bat, and inventing cereal, herbal medicinal supplements, and the Chinese government. Yushin's father's Kingdom of Kaya was annexed by the Kingdom of Silla while Yushin was still young, and the royal youth entered into intense training in warfare, horsemanship, and martial arts with the greatest military masters in all of Korea. At 15 Kim joined the hwarang, a chivalrous group of holy Buddhist warriors known as "The Shining Knights of the Silla Dynasty" because of how awesome and shiny they were. The hwarang were expert soldiers, archers, and strategists who devoted their lives to Confucianist principles of chivalry, devotion, dedication, and cool-dudery, and all the people of Silla thought they were totally dreamy. Each member of the hwarang commanded a regiment-sized unit on the battlefield, was revered and respected by the populace, and they presumably made every effort to take advantage of the fact that the name of their organization could be used as an onomatopoeia for the sound it makes when you clang a huge-ass sword off of your enemies' helmets with enough force to explode their brains.
It didn't take long for Kim Yushin to stand out from his already-badass peers and prove himself as being one of the most seriously hardcore men to ever huck a broadsword. In an early battle, Kim's forces were facing off against the armies of the Kingdom of Koguryo and the Silla knights were seriously getting their faces worked over by an unstoppable wave of screaming Koguryo warrior-psychopaths. When the outcome of the battle was looking bleak, Yushin did what all good battlefield commanders would have done in his situation he flipped the fuck out, galloped towards the enemy lines at a dead sprint, jumped his horse over some fortified battlements, trampled some soldiers, blitzed into the middle of the enemy camp, killed the Koguryo general's bodyguard, and personally decapitated the commander. Kim then grabbed the dude's now-disembodied head and raced back, evading spears and arrows along the way. When he returned to allied lines, Kim nonchalantly dropped the severed General's head at the feet of his army and made some hilarious offhand comment about the battlefield not being a good place to lose one's head. The Silla got pumped up like a quadruple shot of espresso had just been injected into their jugulars, crushed the leaderless Koguryo, and won the battle.
With stories like these (and there are many stories like these), it shouldn't be any surprise that by the age of 34 Kim Yushin was promoted to overall commander of Silla forces. Known as the "Seven-Star General" (thereby making him at least two to three stars better that any military commander the modern world has to offer) Kim was the dude responsible for realizing that it would be totally fucking awesome to unify the Korean Peninsula under one banner. For those of you who aren't incredibly fluent in ancient Korean history (or are for some reason utterly incapable of deciphering the fairly straightforward map I posted above), the land at this time was divided into three realms the Kingdoms of Silla, Koguryo, and Paekche. Like any good conqueror, Kim knew that this was bullshit. Before charging headlong into a few hundred spear hedges, however, Kim got his diplomacy on, forged a very unsteady military alliance between Silla and the ultra-massive T'ang Empire of China, and immediately started coordinating Korean land and Chinese naval operations against his enemies.
The first Kingdom to taste Kim's pain was the land of Paekche. Despite fierce resistance, Kim plowed through his enemies like a killdozer of awesome moustaches, finally encircling and laying siege to the Paekche capital in 661. On the morning of the final battle for control of the realm, right as Kim Yushin and his fellow commanders were giving pump-up speeches to the men, this fucking psychotic water fowl all of a sudden came zooming in out of nowhere and started flying around some random General's head in a circle. One of the men came out and started screaming hysterically about how this was an omen of impending doom or some other such bullshittery, but Kim wasn't going to be one-upped by a creature with the brain the size of a goddamned wingnut. He instead got pissed off, drew his double-edged longsword, and sliced the bird in half with one swing. Everybody froze. Kim slowly looked around at his men and calmly said, "a small grotesque bird cannot interfere with our great expedition against a bad king."
In the ensuing battle the Paekche king and the Crown Prince were driven out of his castle, captured, and shipped off to China.
With Paekche subdued, it was time to move on to kicking some Koguryo ass. Kim wasn't part of the force that captured the Koguryo capital at Pyongyang (that was a massive Chinese invasion force from the North) but he did continue to prove his awesomeness to everyone at every possible turn for instance, when he was leading his army through an impenetrable mountain range leading into the Koguryo lands, a bunch of his men started bitching about being cold and tired. This guy told them to shut their stupid faces, ripped his shirt off Hulkamania-style, and started sprinting through the snow without registering any kind of pain, thereby making everyone else look like total wussbags. They stopped complaining immediately. Koguryo's army was defeated, and the once-proud kingdom was carved up and divided between the Silla Kingdom and the T'ang Empire. For his services kicking balls for the crown, Kim was made Prime Minister of Silla in 668. He put his skills to the test almost immediately, when he thwarted a revolt against the famous Queen Seondeok by setting a kite on fire and flying it up above his army. Ok, well, flying a fire-kite didn't win the war by itself, but it was so fucking awesome that it made his men pumped up enough to win the ensuing war. It sounds weird, but trust me, I'm not making this shit up.
Unfortunately, even after Korea was more-or-less united thanks to Kim Yushin's uncanny ability to crush all who opposed him with an endless barrage of siege tanks and/or Hydralisks, it still wasn't all good in the hood. T'ang China had been at odds with Silla throughout the war, and now they were getting ready to fuck with them once again (just because that's the way the T'ang rolled). No sooner had the war ended than the T'ang Emperor came out and magnanimously offered to allow Silla to be a province of the T'ang Empire, but when Kim Yushin told them to get bent like a pipe cleaner, the war was on with the realness. You'd think the T'ang would have known better than to mess with Kim there's an old legend that Kim and his buddies were late to meet the T'ang General in his camp one night, and in response to their perceived insolence the Chinese commander took the local Korean governor hostage and threatened to execute him. Despite being completely surrounded by Chinese warriors, Kim stood there, got super fucking pissed (as he typically did right before doing something over-the-top insane), and told the General that if one hair on the governor's head was damaged he was going to single-handedly slaughter the entire T'ang army by himself. According to the tale, immediately after saying this, Kim's sword spontaneously flew out of its scabbard and landed in his hands Jedi telekinesis style. The T'ang general understandably got a little freaked out and absolved the governor on the spot.
Despite having some a priori knowledge that this was going to be a seriously bad idea. T'ang invaded Korea, looking to crush Kim Yushin now that his overwhelming military successes had made him expendable. But Kim wasn't some dumbshit who was going to sit around letting himself get slaughtered by a kingdom that had a population that outnumbered his army about a hundred thousand to one he went around to the leaders of the other two Korean kingdoms (you know, the guys he'd spent the last decade crushing in battle) and convinced the entire peninsula to team up against the invading Chinese. It should probably be a testament to Yushin's awesomeness that the entirety of Korea decided to say fuck China go along with him everyone teamed up, fought hard, and Korea won a number of crucial battles against the Chinese invasion.
Kim Yushin didn't survive to see his final victory. He died an old man in 673, during the middle of this defensive war, and it wasn't until three years after that his sons led the army that threw the T'ang Empire out of Korea once and for all . Nevertheless, his role as the great unifier and ultimate badass of the Korean army was cemented the Kingdom of Silla would rule the peninsula for over two hundred years, and would serve as the political borders that still stand to this day.
New World Encyclopedia
General Kim's Tomb
Bennett, Matthew. The Hutchinson Dictionary of Ancient & Medieval Warfare. Taylor & Francis, 1998.
Breuker, Remco E. Establishing a Pluralist Society in Medieval Korea. BRILL, 2010.
Green, Thomas A. Martial Arts of the World. ABC-CLIO, 2001.
Harmon, R. Barry. 5,000 Years of Korean Martial Arts. Dog Ear, 2008.
Sandler, Stanley. Ground Warfare. ABC-CLIO, 2002.
Seth, Michael J. A Concise History of Korea. Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.
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