A discussion at twitter evolved after i shared the first part, up to the word „war“, of this quote :
Go is really a interesting game, because even if you win in all battles, you may lose your game, because go is like a war, you should control the game, not only one part.“
by Hwang In-Seong, teacher at Yunguseng Dojang
I got the reply:
#GO is more than just a struggle for dominance; it is an iterative mechanism for self-development, like other #MartialArts IMHO
There is no contradiction… because you need to dominate the board in order to become a strong player = play good moves = develop
And another answer to this was:
I disagree, because you cannot improve without failing; winning games is not as helpful to your development as losing them. #zen
This discussion was inspiring me, to write this short text about the different ways people like to approach go, and maybe how to conciliate some points of view, which first may apear very contradictory. First let`s look at the quote again… it might be a good thing to compare this with a kind of random statement about houses. Let`s say somebody says somthing like:
„Houses are objects made out of stone and wood (etc.) so people don`t get cold or wett.“
… and somebody would reply something like:
„Houses are much more than this, they are a home for people, a place were their heart lives … houeses are not only stone and wood, they are not only for our body, the should be a home for our soul as well.“
So, the first statement is more a factual one, the second is more on a meta level, it focuses more on what are houses to you not what are houses in general.
To come back to „go“ it is true: for me personally, it is not mainly about fighting a war, it`s deeper meaning (for me) is not that i just like to fight wars 🙂 … it is actually indeed a way of self development, yet even a form of meditation. But the practice of this meditation is, on a basic level: fighting a war. Try to make more territory (=“dominate the board“) than my opponent. But i think the quote of Hwang In-Seong was never about this „meta level“, about what „go“ means to you in terms of why it is important to you, in the first place. It was stated during a lecture and this lecture was about „taking the initiative“, of course, in order to win the game. And now with the word „winning“ we arrive at a crucial point regarding this kind of discussion.
And let me first say, that i feel like there are kind of two differnt main player types. Of course a lot of us are a bit of both, but maybe in the end you are at least 1% more type 1 than type 2 or vis versa.
Type 1: people who like asian philsophy , arts, zen etc. They most often see „go“ a bit as meditation and they like to read about go history and they think about the symbolic aspects of „go“ a lot: how it correlate with buddhist philosphy of emptiness for example. Maybe they like the elegant play of Japanese masters more than the sometimes brutal looking „all in fighting style“ of some Koreans. For „type1“ players „go“ is not a sport, it is a form of „art“.
Type 2: people who like games and or sports. They approach go like other people approach chess or other „mind games“. Maybe they played chess before and just found somehow they like go more. They like competition and they like the challenge to get good at go, just like other people like to get good at football or chess… or at building houses, whatever. They maybe don`t care much about go history, Japan, China, Korea or Zen etc. They are computer scientist and they love the Korean fighting masters 😀 They like to think a lot and to study hard. „Type2“ players don`t care about the beauty of the game, they care of winning it!
Please take this two categorys with humor, i don`t mean this 100% serious… and keep in mind, as i said before… i think allmost every one has something from type 1 or type 2 at the same time…
When i said: „you need to dominate the board in order to become a strong player = play good moves = develop“ it this actually a contradiction to this „go“ as a way of self-development“?
What does it mean to „dominate the board“ … did for example „Lee Changho“ dominate the board? Let`s remember: in the end it`s about making more territory… more than the other player… so yes, Lee Changho allways, in every game, did his best to dominate the board. But in his case he did that not with aggressivity, but vis versa, with a territorial and very much peacefull style. Of course Lee Changho`s way of dominating the board is different compared with Lee Sedol, who is striving for dominance as well, but his dominance is more about attacking power, not directly taking territory, he takes territorry while killing big groups or try to chase them arround the board. But let`s go to the point here: even if we try to use „go“ as a way of self development, we can`t ever allow ourself not to play the best move… that would be a huge betrayal of the basic foundation of go! Because „go“ is not like drawing a picture together, go is, like all martial arts, in it`s present form, a way of competition! And especially if you want to use „go“ as a way of self development, or as a kind of „zen way“, a way of „overcomming“ your „self“ you should play it serious. And seriousness means, allways give 100%, because that, giving all you can, is, as far as my understanding goes, essential when you want to „develop“ yourself in any kind of art form.
I think here The Game of Go: An Unexpected Path to Enlightenment i found a good quote about this…
“It is like when you and I are playing Go. If you do not respond to my move, I’ll swallow you up. Only when you penetrate this will you understand the meaning of Dongshan’s words.” Dogen comments on this along with an additional explanation in terms of his own notion of “dropping off body and mind” (shinjin datsuraku), pointing out that Go players experience a profound overcoming of the sense of separation from each other and from the process of the game.
Understanding Go as a path to enlightenment begins with four fundamental Buddhist principles, usually denoted by the Sanskrit terms: sunyata (emptiness), pratityasamutpada (dependent co-arising, or interconnectedness), anitya (impermanence), and anatman (no-self). Each of these is present in a straightforward way in Go, and by playing the game one can experience being in a world that is quite different from that normally inhabited by most Westerners.
The most important aspect is this: „a profound overcoming of the sense of separation from each other and from the process of the game.“ Dogen sais that the two players, wehen they fully concentrate of the game, are no longer seperate … they did overcome their ego. But does that mean, that they played peacefull moves, moving away from the aspect of competition?!? No. The trick here, and maybe the most important thought in this text, is to to think these two things toghether:
- „Go, is a meditation, it is not about winning, i play because i want to use it as a way of self develeopment, maybe even as a way of overcomming „my self“. I don`t care about winning, or loosing, it is good when i lose, because it gives me the chance to learn.“
- „I will give allways my best to win my games, i will allways try to play the best move, no matter if i`m a agressive player or a territorial one, i will try to do my best in order to win the game – to, in the end, dominate the board.“
I think it is not impossible at all to think 1. and 2. together (maybe you allready see things like this) … like in that storry of the „go sages“… where they just look on the board watching how the best possible sequences of moves are evolving.
Because if we not play go with the intention to win, we harm what we love, we harm the basic foundation of go. But the clue is, we should, on the other hand, not value a won game more than a lost game (of course most of us, will do that, and it is not easy to do). Of course we will lose games, we will lose a lot, and that is – of course – part of the way, but we don`t lose because we wanted to lose in the first place, we lost becaue our opponent played better moves… and that is were we should cherish that! It teaches us, and helps us to develop. But we don`t have to plan to lose games, it will happen automatically, and if it does, we should feel thankfull, no matter if we are more type 1. or type 2., if we play a agressive style or not, because we can now understand „why“ we lost, and finally again: learn something.
This circle of winning and loosing, learning and developing could go on endless.
Leave your feedback please to discuss, ask or to correct mistakes, thnx!
Links much related to this topic:
- „Zen and the Art of Go“ (google books)
- Ideas on improvement (SL) (I highly recomend that article!)
- A Zen Way to Joseki (SL)
- Philosophy of Go (SL)
- http://www.tricycle.com/feature/the-game-go (The Game of Go: An Unexpected Path to Enlightenment)
- http://www.numenware.com/article/407 ( Dogen & Go)
- GuideToBecomeStrong by Benjamin Teuber (SL)
I want to finish with a quote from the „Magic of Go“ collomu by Richard Bozulich
In 1715, the playwright Chikamatsu made use of this legend in a scene in his play «The Battles of Coxinga.» Coxinga, called Go Sankei in Chikamatsu’s play, notices two old men with shaggy eyebrows and white hair absorbed in a game of go, seemingly in perfect harmony with nature. Fascinated, Go Sankei muses, «Can this be the pure world of enlightenment?» Carried away with curiosity he cries out. «Old gentlemen, I am interested to see you playing go. Is there some special pleasure to be found in this contest?»
One old man, without seeming to answer, speaks. «If it looks like a go board to you, it is a go board, and for the eye that sees go stones, they are merely go stones. But the go board is like the world. For those who see with their minds, the center of the universe is here. From the vantage point of this board, nothing will cloud our view of mountains, rivers, grasses, or trees of all China. The 90 intersections of each quarter of the board represent the 90 days of each of the four seasons. Together they come to 360. How foolish of you not to realize that we spend one day on each intersection!»
«Extraordinary!» says Go Sankei. «But why should you two oppose each other as your sole pleasure?»
«If there were not both yin and yang,» the old man replies, «there would be no order in creation.»
Go Sankei: «And the result of your contest?»
Old Man: «Does not the good and bad fortune of mankind depend on the chance of the moment?»
Go Sankei: «And the black and the white?»
Old Man: «The night and the day.»
Go Sankei: «What are the rules?»
Old Man: «The stratagems of war.»