This is a follow-up to one of my favorite blog posts I’ve ever written. It’s understandable why defense is seen as lame and boring, while self-sacrificial offense is seen as valiant and entertaining. We can have idiots who deliberately put themselves in harm’s way and get people cheering their lungs off while downing gallons of Bud Light, then not be given even an ounce of shit about when they can barely remember their own names years down the line. That’s especially true for combat sports, but we can also look at other fields as well and see how the fundamentally sound are also given the short end of the stick, even in hindsight.
Outliers exist in just about any field, especially in competition and warfare. When victory over opposition is the goal, there will likely be an orthodoxy that follows fundamentals established through many years of practice. Practitioners who stray from it for various reasons, both personal and philosophical. While the outliers who get celebrated are those who showcase a mix of eccentricity and a unique style of competing, the ones discussed here are the opposite.
Many of these figures are known for being relatively obscure and have a style that can be described as boring, sedate, and anticlimactic. They opt to do things in a way that works better for them by guaranteeing a worse outcome for their competition without any regard for public opinion. That last part is the crucial part here as most of the competitors who would garner popularity are those who showcase a more crowd-pleasing style that satisfied bloodthirsty fans.
However, most of the these examples would only be talked about by the most staunch pundits of their respective fields. I write about them here to honor their dedication to craft and their unwavering will to win.
As usual with me, I start off with this. This is where the public hostility towards a predominantly defensive approach is most evident. However, while fighters who go with pure offense through brawling can be quite entertaining, they usually don’t have a long enough career to be able to entertain a big enough crowd for a big enough payday. For a pro to get that far up the ladder, they need to be defensively sound in some way.
What I want to focus on here are those competitors who end up making defense a main focus of their style. Take note that I’m limiting this section to combat sports with standup fighting. I don’t know enough about grappling arts to understand what constitutes “pure defense” in those competitions. The four layers of defense in standup fighting are as follows:
- Head and body movement
There will be a separate blog post in the near future about this to make it clear that it’s not a hierarchy. It doesn’t mean footwork is better than the other three, or vice versa. They’re all equal sides of the same structure that need to be built up and maintained to have good defense. It’s like being not only literate, but actually proficient enough in language to read complex documentation, write sophisticated literature, and speak eloquently.
I’ve stated in the previous blog post that I don’t necessarily count those who have the first two in spades since that would include the likes of Muhammad Ali, Pernell Whitaker, and so on who were certainly entertaining in their own right. I’m looking for those who are said to be drop dead boring — they just stand there, take shots, and don’t get hurt.
As I’ve discussed in the previous blog post, defense can be entertaining in boxing. If it’s more about dodging and countering, you’re in for a treat. It’s weird how most casuals say Floyd Mayweather is boring and a runner, but you can force your asshole friend to sit down for a bunch of money and watch a Floyd Mayweather highlight video to then ask him (maybe even at gunpoint) whether he’s boring, and you may be able to eke out a “He’s not boring after all.”
As mentioned above, you can master using all four layers of defense as a whole package to be defensively sound, and that would just result in you becoming a good boxer. Anyone worth their salt and able to make a living in the professional ranks has all four of these. For instance, one of the best defensive boxers was Wilfred Benitez, who won his first world title at 17 due to his talent and defensive acumen that earned him the nicknames “Bible of Boxing” and “El Radar” due to his seemingly preternatural ability to see punches come before they’re even thrown.
For “boring” defense, you have to look at tanks who take and take while giving barely anything back. It’s not to say that the high guard defense, something you can learn in the boxing gym on day one, is not entertaining at all, but it can make drunk patrons start hurling beer bottles if that’s the only thing you do. Also, if you’re really good at it, you actually lower your prospects and hurt your career as barely anyone would ever want to fight you.
This is exactly what happened to Ronald “Winky” Wright, one of the best middleweights of the 2000s. I mentioned him in the previous blog post, but didn’t emphasize on what made him “lame.” While you’d think he doesn’t have much difference from Bernard Hopkins, another fundamentally sound middleweight whose defense brought him longevity in the sport, he wasn’t as ostentatious with his presentation.
Winky Wright was simply a defensively responsible boxer who used the high guard to an effect so great that he became perhaps the most avoided boxer of his day. He was a two-time light middleweight champion and was the last undisputed middleweight champion until Jermell Charlo in 2022.
EDIT(21DEC2022@6:20AM): I added this analysis video on Winky Wright by an up-and-coming channel called Surgical Boxing, which was promoted by The Modern Martial Artist on his channel. He has some excellent videos that are a must-watch for boxing fans.
As explained here, he actually wasn’t a defense-first fighter — he was a pressure fighter by nature. It’s just that his excellent high guard helped him be able to walk down his opponents and hit back.
Other boxers known for the high guard include “The Magic Man” Marlon Starling, Arthur Abraham, and Joshua Clottey. Only hardcore fans likely heard of the former two, while the last one is best known for being one of Manny Pacquiao’s victims.
However, I don’t think most people, including those who actually watched the fight when it happened, would remember if the Ghanaian actually did any good against Pacquiao. Clottey actually did admirably for someone who was so outgunned. He wasn’t the faster, stronger, or more talented boxer, but he survived twelve rounds against Pacquiao, who was at the peak of his powers that time.
He had previously lost to Miguel Cotto, who was also at his physical peak. He has also previously lost to Antonio Margarito, whose performance against Pacquiao was actually worse than Clottey’s. While he may have not been a pound-for-pound great, he had never lost a fight via knockout thanks to his high guard. While most would think it’s just putting your hands up to block punches, what makes it truly work is knowing how to block and when to punch back.
While most would want to be like Manny Pacquiao, he’s a unique specimen whose style, athleticism, and generational talent can never be fully replicated by anyone else. However, Winky Wright and Joshua Clottey are examples that most boxing aficionados can model themselves after. After all, boxing is the art of hitting and not getting hit, and the latter is actually 80% of the game.
Of course, that’s not the only thing they’re good at as they also have to have good footwork and head and body movement as well — they can’t just stand there and block punches. However, they use those skills in order to enhance their high guard, making for a nigh impregnable defense.
As I mentioned in the previous blog post, during the peak of K-1, the president of the company (likely Sadaharu Tanigawa) was vocal about his dislike for Giorgio Petrosyan. Many fans echoed that sentiment as the Armenian-born Italian fighter was seen as someone who just edges his opponents out by decision. However, if you ever watched his fights, you know he didn’t just barely win by the skin of his teeth — he dominated and made his opponents look like fools.
Like Winky Wright, I mentioned Giorgio Petrosyan before, but didn’t go into detail on why. The thing about kickboxing and Muay Thai is that you cannot just block due to kicks, which hurt a whole lot more. You can’t absorb most strikes like in boxing, so evasion becomes a bigger deal once kicks are involved.
Clinching is perhaps the most lame thing you can do in Muay Thai, so knee fighters are perhaps the most lame by definition of controlling the pace and limiting the opponent’s options. However, you rarely see clinching without elbows and knees. Muay Khao — knee fighters — are known to have the most physically arduous training due to the style being reliant on power and stamina. If you’re tall, you’ll be forced to work harder than everyone else in Muay Thai.
Perhaps you can say the Doctor doesn’t have that kind of power, not having knocked out a majority of his opponents not because he didn’t want to but because he couldn’t. A common theme among fighters born with pillows for hands is that they would be forced to develop their defensive skills in order to survive and keep up with killers.
A good example of that is the legendary Argentinian boxer Niccolino Locche, who was a chain-smoker, looked like a taxi driver, seemingly aged twenty years older than he really was, and couldn’t hurt a fly with even a loaded right hand. I don’t classify him as “lame” because his ability to dodge punches was so amazing that it’s like watching a circus act.
However, he was likely lame for his opponents since they couldn’t feel his punches anyway whenever he actually felt like countering. He likely became that good at defense because he had no sting in his punches, so he could’ve either quit boxing or gotten so good at not getting hit that he could win fights by frustrating his opponents into quitting on their own.
Meanwhile, the gifted tend to completely lean on their blessings, while the meek look to mitigate their weaknesses. It’s not to say that Giorgio Petrosyan is a weak striker — far from it — but he certainly is one of the smartest in turn.
What makes him “boring” isn’t necessarily his defense per se. There are defensive savants like Saenchai and Lerdsila who are incredibly entertaining as they love making their opponents look like simpletons with two left feet. They both trained in the legendary Jocky Gym, which gave them incredibly high fight IQs that their opponents hate to fight against and audiences love to watch with their entertaining style. Meanwhile, Petrosyan’s defense is more about nullifying his opponent’s offense before they even get to think about attacking.
You can’t put it up to one thing, unlike in the previous section. You could say those boxers were really good at blocking punches by keeping their hands up. With Petrosyan, he does several things, both overt and subtle, that stack up to make him one of the hardest kickboxers to beat in the whole world (until he met Superbon on 15 October 2021). He has all four layers of defense covered, having mastered each one and became transcendent in putting them all together. He dissects every part of his opponent’s offense, earning him the nickname of “The Doctor”.
Jack Slack wrote about Petrosyan in this brief article from nine years ago on how he controls his opponents. The key word is control. He’s not just shelling up to not get hit; that’s actually what his opponents tend to do once he gets going. He does in kickboxing what Vasyl Lomachenko does in boxing, although kickboxers have more ways to defend compared to boxers.
Therefore, Petrosyan’s lack of knockouts is simply due to his opponents shelling up while being overwhelmed by the Doctor. For hardcore fight fans and martial artists, he is a genius. For casuals and meatheads, he’s boring. That includes the former K-1 president.
Mixed Martial Arts
It’s difficult to find another MMA fighter who can be considered lame other than Jon Fitch, a successful fighter whose style made both opponents and fans wish for death. There’s no helping it since wrestling really is the most fundamental style for MMA as it lets you nullify strikes while also letting you control the pace of the fight.
If you’re a hard-nosed wrestler with boundless stamina and the ability to defend against both explosive strikers and pesky jiu jitsu stylists, you’ll do well in MMA.
The easy answers would be Khabib Nurmagomedov and Georges St-Pierre, but they were offensive wrestlers who constantly looked to finish. What made Jon Fitch lame was his strategy of clinching up, pressing his opponent against the fence, and tiring them out by attrition. He wasn’t explosive and powerful enough to finish consistently, with 62.5% decision win rate. His signature grinding style made him both a one-time UFC title challenger and a target of constant criticism.
They say if you want to fall asleep, you can either take melatonin or watch a Jon Fitch highlight video, if there actually is such a thing.
To be fair, if you wish to get good in MMA, you should actually work on the skills that made Jon Fitch successful. But once you have that covered, you should also work on finishing skills like striking power and submissions. I’m not saying that Jon Fitch never worked on them as he still did have some good finishes. Hopefully, you know what I mean.
Former UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is close. He does get derided for being a clincher. He also has that peculiar habit of foot-stomping, which can be annoying but doesn’t do significant damage since MMA is fought barefoot. However, while he was criticized for being boring as a contender, he continued to improve and became an exciting fighter as a champion, netting 3 knockouts in his 4 title defenses. He used to be lame, but is no longer.
When talking about defensive wrestling, the man Usman beat for the title springs to mind. Tyron Woodley was a counter-wrestler who fought with his back to the fence and waited for his opponent to overextend. He would then either throw a right hand or shoot a takedown. That double threat and his willingness to wait for his opponent to make a mistake, along with his Division I wrestling pedigree, made him a UFC welterweight champion in his prime.
Unfortunately, he is now best known for being the best ever face-down advertisement for Dude Wipes.
In the MMA of the early 2020s, I can think of two fighters who truly fit the bill. There’s Belal Muhammad, a top 5 welterweight in the UFC, and deservedly so. However, perhaps his nickname “Remember the Name” implores you to not have amnesia because whenever you watch him fight, whether it’s live or on replay, you may forget what he did or even who he is once you’re done watching, which is likely with his low 28% finishing rate as of this writing.
When you watch him fight, you’ll see he’s a well-rounded fighter who doesn’t have any notable strength other than having a big gas tank. It’s like Jon Fitch all over again. They say he landed the most strikes without causing a knockdown in UFC history, although I’m not sure if that’s true. Dude looks yoked and is a good wrestler, but seems to have pillows for fists. But as long as he hits, it should still hurt, even just a bit.
At 34 years of age, it’s not likely he’ll make any dramatic improvements at this point. But I’ve been surprised before, like when Frank Mir put away Minotauro Nogueira long ago. I’d love to be surprised again.
Then there’s Carla Esparza, who became a two-time UFC women’s strawweight champion after beating Rose Namajunas once again, only to lose the title to Zhang Weili in her first title defense. Her fighting style specifically makes her a nightmare for Thug Rose due to her wrestling. There’s no kind way to say it, but she’s a lay-and-pray wrestler — she takes her opponents down, stays on top, and ekes out a decision.
When the Cookie Monster sees a cookie, she grabs it and gobbles it all up, with crumbs going all over the place. She’s not surgical; she has a couple of responses for everything at best. But with this particular fight against Rose, she was doing the equivalent of Fabian tactics in MMA — she shadowed Rose’s movements and didn’t let the champion gain any significant advantage. It worked so well that Rose thought she dominated the fight, only to be let down by the decision.
Carla Esparza is to Rose Namajunas like how Julianna Peña was to Amanda Nunes. I wrote about how Peña beat Nunes with the dipping jab, perplexing the Lioness with a technique that has a history of perplexing otherwise superior opponents. It’s a case of “you should know better,” which is exactly what happened with Esparza vs. Namajunas 2 — one of the most boring UFC title fights of all time.
It seems like as long as Thug Rose is the champ, Cookie Monster has a shot at becoming champ as well. Rose better watch out when she comes back.
This took a while for me to compile as I don’t know as much about other sports as I do with combat sports. But I do casually follow a few non-combat sports on the side, as well as one that is only starting to gain more global prominence.
Bear with me as I talk utter crap about basketball, a sport I’ve half-heartedly followed throughout my life as a Philippine resident (I’m not naturalized yet, but I will be soon). I couldn’t think of other sports with defense as a significant aspect, and I don’t know much about football (soccer). Besides, with the whole shitshow in Qatar this year, football is looking pretty bad lately.
The perennial defensive player in basketball is Dennis Rodman. He would even take pride in not scoring any points, but have 20 rebounds and even a few steals and blocks. He focuses on defense to help his team win by any means necessary. He first helped the Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” win back-to-back rings in 1989 and 1990, as well as antagonizing Michael Jordan enough to make him forever hold disdain for them with every fiber of his being.
But fortunately, MJ loved winning more than bearing contempt, so he later became teammates with Rodman and won three championships with him.
The “Bad Boys” were the quintessential defensive team. They were dogged and hard-nosed, exerting physical and psychological pressure upon stepping onto the court, even before the game officially started. During the age of incredibly physical play in the NBA, the Detroit Bad Boys were the most dreaded with their seek-and-destroy strategy.
The young and hungry Rodman was joined by middle-class bully Bill Laimbeer, enforcer Rick Mahorn, versatile Joe Dumars, and court general Isaiah Thomas to create a team that became an absolute nightmare for the Chicago Bulls in 1990. The Bulls were able to get their revenge in 1991 by nurturing their grudge with every rep in the gym, bulking up to better take the punishment and make the Bad Boys prematurely walk out as sore losers.
Perhaps there’s something in that Detroit water because they would win another championship with another defense-oriented team. The 2004 Detroit Pistons is one of my favorite teams because it was proof of basketball being truly a team sport. They had no superstars, but they had solid players who played well together and made sports bettors and fantasy basketball aficionados scratch their heads since they didn’t look that good on paper.
Then again, Ben Wallace should be seen as a superstar because he was a major reason why his Pistons became so good. His tenacious defense was supported by the toughness of his teammates — Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups.
Other defensive specialists in basketball I can recall include Bruce Bowen of the San Antonio Spurs from and Doug Christie of the Sacramento Kings from 2000 to 2005. Bowen in particular was notorious for being a bastard in the perimeter, and he would do whatever he could to lock down and take out his man, from sticking to them like glue to even unabashedly slipping his foot under them when they took a jumpshot — a notorious tactic for rolling ankles.
Currently, the best example of a defensive specialist in basketball is Draymond Green. A proponent of small ball basketball with which the Golden State Warriors won four NBA championships thus far, the “Death Lineup” they ran from 2014 to 2019 had the 6-foot-6 Draymond Green playing center. He wears Michael Jordan’s 23, but he plays more like a mix of Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley.
As an individual player, Draymond Green isn’t that extraordinary. Mind you, as one of the only 450 players in the world at the moment to play in the NBA, he’s still an elite basketball player. However, if you ever saw him play as an individual player, especially during the down years of the Warriors when they lost Kevin Durant and both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were away, he didn’t look that good at all. He looked borderline helpless, even.
But in a proper team, he is invaluable. Any team can benefit from having that one guy who does most of the dirty jobs, and Draymond Green and Patrick Beverley are the two guys well-known in this day and age for being the go-to cleanup guys in their respective teams, at least during their primes.
For some reason that’s mostly lost to me now, I wrote about arm wrestling in a blog post about Overwatch. I guess I was equating the game design with the anatomy of the arm, which I don’t find that compelling now that I’ve read it again. Not having written a separate blog post entirely about arm wrestling is something I’ll have to remedy sometime soon.
In that blog post, I talked about the King’s Move, a defensive technique that takes advantage of both angles and the musculoskeletal structure of the arm to make it as hard to pin for the opponent as possible. You stay in this position and tire your opponent out, then come back up and pin him once there’s an opening. It’s the most hated move in arm wrestling today.
“Monster” Michael Todd is the one guy best known for popularizing (and being vilified for) the King’s Move. He had to go for the technique after many years of wear and tear on both his arms, and it has kept him competitive. He had been a World Armwrestling League Super Heavyweight Right Hand champion, as well as a popular online figure.
Devon Larratt, perhaps the most popular arm wrestling competitor and ambassador in the world, has been known to use the King’s Move lately to keep up with the young guns. He isn’t the most explosive arm wrestler out there, preferring to hold onto his opponent and slowly stack the deck to his favor as he rises up and be as solid as possible.
Then there’s “Crazy” George Iszakouits, a Canadian legend who is credited as the innovator of the King’s Move. He’s now in his 70s and still pulling at a fairly high level by utilizing the King’s Move, bolstered by his enduring old man strength and decades of practice with the technique. This is a common theme in arm wrestling as many competitors are in their late 40s to their senior years. After all, power is the last thing to go out.
I’ll admit that I don’t have as much knowledge in this field as I may have a few years ago as I’m not able to follow esports as much as I used to. Then again, it wasn’t like I was able to follow it like a hawk before, but I don’t play online multiplayer games as much and watch tournaments even less these days. However, I was able to be made privy of some interesting players from following esports news from theScore esports and Dexerto.
I now follow esports the same way I do with basketball — I watch the news, not the games. I mention that as a caveat in case I get some things wrong in the following.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Jame rhymes with lame, and “Jame Time” is synonymous with hot AWP-saving action. Dzhami “Jame” Ali is best known for his anti-climactic playing style which prioritizes economic conservatism by making sure he doesn’t lose his team’s AWP. Due to his team’s defensive playstyle centered around his AWP-saving, their games tended to run longer than that of other teams. That’s pretty lame, even for CS:GO standards.
Whenever he’s the only player left alive in his team, which is usually the case with his lurking style, he would usually pull back and give up a point for the other team so that he doesn’t lose the AWP — the most powerful weapon in the game. They then try to do better in the next round, with Jame still holding the AWP.
However, it doesn’t mean he can’t go on the offensive if he really needs to. Recently, in the 2022 IEM Rio Major, he finally won a major with his team Outsiders. He would clutch it out in crucial situations, showing that he truly is one of the best CS:GO players today. It does redeem him from his rather lame reputation over the years, but he’s certainly far from bad.
I can’t believe I didn’t write about Smash in the previous post, so I’ll rectify it here. You can argue that Smash Bros. is also a fighting game franchise, yet many others will also argue against it. I put it in a different category to make sure I don’t make the grievous mistake of calling it a “fighting game”.
The obvious answer here is Hungrybox. He’s so lame in Smash Bros. Melee that he has endured years of hate and vitriol, even having a raw crab thrown at him on stage at a tournament in Maryland. But he has slowly but surely won over fans through his unwavering commitment to compete at the highest level with his main and style of play.
Jigglypuff has been known to be a viable character in the past, but most who experimented with the pink Pokemon would later drop it due to several weaknesses. Puff is pretty easy to kill, moves at a snail’s pace, has poor range and low knockback on most of its moves, and hits like a pillow. Players who couldn’t deal with those weaknesses would usually switch to Fox or Falco.
However, Puff has a floaty jump and fast air speed that can be taken advantage of, is pretty good at edgeguarding with aerial attacks, and has one ultra-powerful move that makes all the tradeoffs worth the hassle — its Down Special, Rest.
Rest is an all-or-nothing move. Jigglypuff goes to sleep right then and there and is made vulnerable for a significant amount of time. However, as it goes to sleep, it creates a vortex around it that instantly hits opponents in contact. This move is infamous for ridiculous damage with no startup lag and invincibility frames while Jigglypuff is closing its eyes.
Hungrybox worked hard for many years to master his playstyle with Jigglypuff. Since Melee is such a fast-paced game that rewards the quickest and most cracked, Hungrybox stands as an outlier with his use of Jigglypuff’s floaty jump and spacing tools to make his opponents play at his pace. He then brings them in and hits them with Rest to bring their stock down.
Whether it’s in video games or combat sports, pace or tempo is a major element. There are three ways to go about it — whether you match the pace of your opponent and catch them in half-beats, you play at a pace much faster than they could ever handle, or you force your opponent to slow down to your pace. Hungrybox is a great example of the third style.
In MMA, wrestling and jiu jitsu are used to slow the pace down. In standup fighting, that’s what clinching and shelling up does. In strategy games, that’s what turtling does. These defensive playstyles are meant to control the pace and make opponents fight your fight. When done well at the highest level, it’s a frustrating style to compete against and to watch as a spectator.
Hungrybox dominated Melee with this philosophy, whether fans and competitors liked it or not, and now stands as the last of the Five Gods to still be at the top.
Unfortunately, as I write this, the existence of Smash continues to be threatened by both bad actors and Nintendo itself. The publisher of the franchise has never been that comfortable with the esports scene of Smash, a title that was originally intended to be a party game. Many competitors have moved on with their lives, some like Leffen have transitioned to fighting games, and players like Hungrybox himself have turned to content creation.
In the previous blog post, I talked about Quintus Fabius Maximus, who innovated the Fabian strategy of shadowing and harassing the enemy army without actively engaging them over an extended period of time in order to whittle down their resources and will to fight. While derided for his seemingly cowardly wartime policy by the bloodthirsty Roman public, he would later be lauded for saving Rome from the Carthaginians, led by Hannibal Barca.
Let’s take a look at someone who saved a nation from similarly dire straits. Admiral Yi Sun-sin is seen as one of the greatest naval commanders of all time, but doesn’t get as much coverage in history classes as Admiral Horatio Nelson. However, according to Admiral Togo Heihachiro, who is seen as “The Nelson of the East,”
“It may be proper to compare me with Nelson, but not with Korea’s Yi Sun-sin, for he has no equal.”
During the Imjin War, the conflict brought on by the Japanese invasions of Korea from 1592 to 1598, Admiral Yi defended Korea against Japanese invaders led by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who sought to make the peninsula their launching point for conquering China. While other commanders failed, Admiral Yi employed a way of fighting on water that minimized damage taken and maximized damage inflicted with their superior cannons to fight from long range against an opponent who was more reliant on boarding action.
He was a Korean commander who won a war by kiting the enemy. Kiting would become a Korean military tradition that was later mastered by Korean StarCraft pro players.
If they ever did get close enough, the enemy would find them impossible to board thanks to Korea’s vaunted turtle ships, which were designed to prevent boarding in the first place. With how Admiral Yi built the Korean fleet and drilled his soldiers, they went all-in with a long-range fighting style. With that, they would employ the crane wing formation, which is basically like the arc you’d see if you commanded a batch of marines to focus fire on something in StarCraft.
This form of naval warfare may not have been the norm during that time as Korea’s Chinese allies would charge in while Yi would advocate hanging back and staying at range. Cannons had already been used by the Chinese and Koreans during that time. Meanwhile, the Japanese had never seen a cannon until that time, although they did have arquebuses courtesy of the Portuguese. The Ming-Joseon coalition would use cannons extensively in land and naval engagements, but Admiral Yi maximized their use in defending Korea.
The only true obstacle in his military career was the Korean Confucian court rife with corruption and nepotism. Their most egregious fault against him was when he had the Japanese on the ropes, only for him to be framed for insubordination, tried for treason, and sentenced to death simply because they were looking for a way to get rid of him. His execution was ordered by King Seonjo himself, and what saved him was the reluctance of other officials who knew fully well that he was the only reason why Korea hadn’t been completely taken over yet by the Japanese.
His fleet was then handed over to Won Gyun, who proceeded to squander it in the Battle of Chilcheollyang — his first and last ever naval engagement. Out of around 200 ships that were painstakingly built up by Admiral Yi, only 12 were left. Won Gyun would lose his life, along with many other officers. King Seonjo’s court had no other choice but to bring Yi back in or have no kingdom to rule over. Yi’s saving grace was everyone else’s incompetence.
Despite almost being executed, Yi would reassume his post and engage the Japanese in the Battle of Myeongnyang with only a dozen ships. Aside from their cannons and tactics, Yi had another trump card in his sleeve, which is the unique currents of the Myeongnyang Strait.
Not only were the currents strong, but they also changed direction every three hours. By luring the Japanese in while the currents were still flowing in their favor, he could then keep them busy and wait until the currents then turned against them. It worked beautifully as the Japanese were unaware of this secret, thus their fleet of 133 ships couldn’t do anything against Yi’s fleet of 12, with 31 of them sunk. Yi lost not a single ship, even with odds of 10:1 against them.
Admiral Yi then rebuilt the Korean navy and brought in Chinese allies — who were reassured by his leadership — and led the Battle of Noryang Strait, which would be the last major battle of the war. While he would lose his life in this battle, his fleet and their Chinese allies would land the decisive blow that ultimately ends Japan’s ambitions of conquering Korea and China. Admiral Yi is seen today as Korea’s national hero and one of the greatest naval commanders of all time.
Since the previous blog post, which was published in May 2015, I’ve since learned so much about the histories and intricacies of various disciplines. Being able to connect all these dots to have a better look at the bigger picture is how I was able to write this blog post in the first place. I saw a connection between how different figures address problems in the field and realized that there are certain solutions that aren’t as “desirable,” yet end up being more effective in the long run. That’s what a defensive approach yields — effectiveness at the cost of initial derision.
If it were true that what other people think doesn’t matter, then we would have more sensible people doing sensible things to achieve sensible goals. However, we don’t live in a sensible world, so sensible strategies based on a defensive mindset that requires patience and steadfastness tend to fall by the wayside in favor of riskier strategies that set off fireworks in the short term, but may incur more damage — both avoidable and unavoidable — over time.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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