The Games of August

Of late I’ve been contemplating this quote from Miyamoto Musashi, the famed Japanese swordsman:

The purpose of today’s training is to defeat yesterday’s understanding.

With these words Musashi captures the essence of continuous improvement, of deliberate practice. These are qualities for which the Japanese are famous — their pursuit of perfection is legendary. It’s this approach to training that I strive for in baduk as well is other areas of life.

This ideal, however, is difficult to realize, and that has been particularly true this past month. In August I was out for two weeks from work, first for beach vacation and then for my brother’s wedding. Both of these were wonderful occasions that offered some respite from the day-to-day and gave me a chance to experience life differently. At work, I’ve been either preparing to depart or catching up upon my return — suffice to say it’s been a real challenge to find the time and energy to play serious games. Then there’s the frustrations I experienced on a pretty bad losing streak. While I was able to play many games on certain days, the quality of my play was quite poor, and this vexed me. I don’t know if readers have had this experience, but I made mistakes that I thought were well behind me. The games of August were certainly a rude awakening to my flaws as a baduk player.

What I’ve found most interesting about this past month is the way in which baduk reflects my life and shows me where I need to improve. What do I mean? Well I mentioned when I first started this blog that my wife and I had gone through a very hectic period: new job, new baby, new house. All of these are great things, but we had them all within a month! The intensity of that period has finally subsided and we’ve gotten into a quieter period, but we’re learning about the need to grow as a couple and not just as parents.

What is remarkable is how this was manifested on the goban. My wife and I both noticed games taking an emotional toll on me. Games were stressful, and losing provoked serious anxiety. I would lose my peace whenever I perceived my abilities as poor, and I found myself getting snappy. Upon reflection, I can see how my sensitivity was evident in the games I’d been playing for weeks, and how I already recognized a need to address this imbalance but had not yet taken the steps to do so. Seeing that my irascibility was not just isolated to the game made me stop and take a step back and look for the root cause and how to address this. The interplay between life and baduk is fascinating. It truly is life in 19×19 😉

It’s difficult to face one’s struggles head on. Oftentimes we can rationalize our behavior and feelings, explain them away as something they’re not. But when they are laid bare before us in our actions — in this case the quality of my baduk games — it’s more difficult to look away, and for someone like me that’s a good thing, because it gives me a concrete way to analyze myself.

That’s probably more amateur psychology than any reader came here for, but I wanted to share the experience because it has really helped improve my appreciation not only of baduk but also of the ways in which it’s helping me grow as a player, husband, and father. Baduk is a game of balance where every move we make counts and cannot be taken back. So, too, life. We cannot take back anything we’ve done and balance is an imperative if we’re to flourish. Let’s make every stone count!

Training Update

I have begun studying a pro games in order to shake up my training and see the game from new perspectives. Already I’ve memorized one game and am on my way to memorizing a second. With some effort I hope to commit more games to memory before long. I’m thinking of Dwyrin here who memorized a game per day for a year. Pro games are great because every move is worthwhile and playing them through gives me a sense of appreciation for the intangibles of baduk, such as timing and direction.

Tsumego remain the foundation of my study, and I’ve re-completed Graded Go Problems For Beginners #3. Now I’m working on the third volume of the Jump Level Up! series, which is exceptional. Life & death problems are like the wax on, wax off of baduk — the real importance lies not in the activity itself but in the underlying skill it develops, namely reading ability. So do tsumego, and do them correctly: without the solutions!

I was really pleased with my performance in a recent game. When I realized I was behind I managed to start and win a ko fight. Wow! Very exciting to actually succeed in that endeavor because I usually try to avoid such battles. In the event, however, it was satisfying to turn a loss into a victory. This is further evidence to me of the need to dig in during games and trust myself. This resilience was in marked contrast to the fragility I’d demonstrated in previous games during August. A welcome change.


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