The Obstacle Is The Path

All week I’ve been in a running battle with myself, facing an almost existential despair over my (in)ability to play baduk. I’m becoming discouraged by my apparent lack of progress. While it sucks to admit this, it’s the truth, so it must be faced.

On Tuesday I fell 0-5. Although not my worst streak, it stung in a particular way because my play was rubbish. Time and again I put good money in after bad, and the result was consistent: Resignation. The aspersions I cast on myself intensified as the board situation worsened. I know. How could I win with such an attitude?

But I don’t think it boils down to attitude. My frustrations, my anger, my disappointment were all justified by an abysmal performance, or so I feel. They did not spring from nothingness, but were born out of a genuine dissatisfaction with my abilities, which it is safe to say are not what I’d imagined them to be.

Are my expectations out of line? Perhaps. I know that investing in this effort would be costly. It is natural to expect rewards from hard work, yet I know that when it comes to baduk these positive effects are non-linear – that is, I can’t expect a 1:1 relationship between input and output. So, yes, in a certain sense, I have misled myself.

If only it were that simple though. If only I could tell myself that it’s only transitory, so shrug it off and move on, but I can’t, at least not right away. The temptation to despair is stalking me. I know what is right but I struggle to do it.

So I distracted myself all Wednesday and I barely did anything Thursday. Sure I played a game, but it was work! I’ve been procrastinating. Heck, writing this post is part of my procrastination.

In my reflections, though, I’ve come to some preliminary conclusions:

  1. The obstacle is the path: Leo Babuta explains, “[W]hen there’s an obstacle, don’t go around it. Don’t run from it. Go into it. Work with it. Explore it. Learn how to be with it and deal with it, and you’ll have a skill for life.” If I want to get stronger at baduk the only choice I have is to advance. Resistance points the way to go, march to the sound of the guns. Pick whichever expression you like, this feeling leads to an inescapable conclusion: I must work or otherwise abandon my pursuit, there is no alternative. Reflection: In exploring the obstacle I must question my method. How do I study? Can I do something better, or different? What are the feelings or thoughts that inhibit me. What should I add, what should I subtract?
  2. Strength is earned, not given: You could slap a 1-dan rank next to my profile name but I wouldn’t feel accomplished. Why not? Because I didn’t earn it. I revisit this thought constantly while reviewing my games and solving life & death problems. I cannot check the answer key while playing a game. The end result is my answer key! The only abilities I have are those which I can utilize while playing against my three opponents: myself, the clock, and the opponent. Reading means nothing if it cannot be done in an accurate and timely fashion. The same is true with my resilience. If I hate on myself mid-game that is a sort of mental capitulation, which has in-game effects. Sun Tzu advises the successful general to encourage the arrogance of his opponent. What he means is to use the psychological weakness of the enemy against him. Well, I do that very successfully against myself. If I want to get stronger – authentically better – I have to earn it through my own effort.
  3. Strength cannot be earned like money: Effort is not proportional with result. The relationship between my passion/effort/devotion and my rank (as a measure of strength) is not linear, it may not even be positive. Lately I’ve been thrown back almost to the starting point of Project Dan. It sucks. I’ve got to go back over the same ground again. There is some evidence that my effort will help me get ahead, but I cannot think of this as a truth or a sure thing. Strength is a mystery to be contemplated, not a paycheck to be earned.
  4. Flexibility is key: When I started Project Dan I adhered to a strict regimen. This worked until it didn’t. Like the Constitution, my program isn’t a suicide pact. If I’m breaking down something’s got to give, and I should adjust accordingly. Benjamin Teuber recommends two things: (1) Playing, playing, playing and (2) Tsumego done right. He leaves out lectures and ‘book learnin’ almost entirely (although he does make some allowance for these). Lately I’ve gotten more value out of playing/reviewing and life & death problems than Guo Juan’s lessons. I think I’ll give the Internet Go School a break for the time being and see what happens. It’s good to have discipline, but my focus should be on getting the most value for my effort, and my reasoning has led me to put a higher value on playing/reviewing games and tsumego than on lectures. I also find that doing tsumego in books is more conducive to reading than digital alternatives, because I have to think about the solutions rather than ‘bash’ my way to the answer. Watching YouTube streams like Dwyrin, Lightvolty, and Haylee is also conducive to my learning, so I’ll rely on these more.
  5. Perspective is necessary: I’m 29 with (I hope) many years ahead of me. That means I can enjoy baduk for decades and it is not necessary to rush myself. This doesn’t mean slackening my effort, rather it puts it in the context of my whole life. I’d love to teach my son to play baduk, but he won’t be able to learn for another three or four years at least. Project Dan is one year, it’s a step along the path, not the destination.

Don’t run from the obstacle, go into it. Work with it. Explore it. I’m learning how to do this, how to deal with my obstacle. I know the path, now just have to walk it!

Review: Guo Juan’s Internet Go School

Learning baduk is difficult, that is why it is vital to train efficiently! My own regime has evolved with both time and experience. I started with books – Kageyama’s Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go and Ishida’s Attack and Defense, for example – and later incorporated problem sets, such as the Level Up! series and Graded Go Problems. I also watched many games and lectures on YouTube. For a time I worked with a teacher but that proved both too expensive and time intensive to continue. Lately, I have been training with Guo Juan’s Internet Go School (IGS).

IGS’ combination of lectures and problem sets is a one-two punch. Conceived and designed by Guo Juan (5P), the Internet Go School uses spaced repetition to instruct students. I would describe this as a very effective flash card system: Students rate problems from “easy” to “hard” or “forgotten” and, in turn, these ratings dictate when that problem will reappear in your learning queue. Although this is strictly anecdotal, I find that this way of combining instruction and practice quite effective. Guo Juan recommends that students watch the lectures before attempting their accompanying problem sets, but there is no forcing mechanism for this, which contributes to the flexibility of IGS.

I find the spaced repetition especially good at teaching joseki, a practical area that I have struggled with in previous training. Other players, I am sure, will find there are a range of lectures and problems suited to their needs – these cover everything from elementary play to professional game reviews. Again, the flexibility of IGS enables students to pick and choose their subjects.

Guo Juan devised IGS as a means of reaching avid but geographically removed students. I think it is a good model and I hope other professional players will emulate it. While some would argue that such competition would drive down prices and increase offerings, I think that the Internet Go School is already competitive in both respects. I’ve already remarked on the breadth of material available, so I’ll keep to price here. Compared to paying for individual or even group tutoring, IGS is a bargain at €49 for a year’s access to the training system and €99 to access Guo Juan’s complete lectures. Students have access to a 30 day trial on the training system with €5 loaded onto their account for lectures, which cost €1 apiece unless one chooses the €99/year option. For €149/year students get complete access to Guo Juan’s library of lectures and problems. Again, I think when this is compared to the cost of books and other training materials, the cost is quite reasonable.

Some players might have difficulty understanding Guo Juan because her accent is rather thick, but I have no such difficulty. Her instruction is clear and precise, and the lectures always have examples presented on a digital goban. The SGFs for these lectures are downloadable but those for the problem sets are not.

Becoming a stronger player requires considerable effort and, at some level, we must always embrace the suck. Guo Juan’s training system, however, goes a long way towards reducing the ‘friction’ associated with studying by combining lecture with practical examples. In terms of price, content, and flexibility I have been completely satisfied with the Internet Go School, and I heartily recommend it to players of all abilities who are looking to gain strength. Just remember to play baduk every day and I am confident we can all reach shodan and beyond!