Back in September fellow player BenGoZen returned to the world of baduk with version 3.0 of his (highly readable) blog. Since Ben’s site was one of the reasons I got serious about baduk, his return to the game was quite exciting. I was even more thrilled when, a few weeks ago, Ben asked readers a question: What is go to you? For Ben go “represents self-improvement and clarity.”
As I considered this answer, I recognized that the question was the same one I’ve been asking myself implicitly for the past three months. Since August my progress has really stalled. My play has been sporadic and my performance inconsistent; in many cases I would lose to players whom I’d previously beaten. Even so, this wasn’t a losing streak (I’ve had those and overcome worse!). Something else was getting me down. There were games when I’d play some bad moves and lose my confidence. My whole game felt fragile.
Since I consider one’s game a reflection of the person, it seemed like the real issue lay within me and not the game. And there was a lot going on! Work was very difficult and home life quite demanding. I am certain I was falling short in both. So I pretty much stopped playing and tried to put my mind at ease in order to tackle those areas where I needed to improve. The experience has been illuminating but not in the ways I expected.
In my work there is considerable activity at the end of the fiscal year and I found myself making the same small (and not small) mistakes time and again. This annoyed my coworkers and left me feeling terrible each time errors were brought to my attention. As I took stock of the situation I realized that the areas where I was misfiring were really like reading mistakes in go. Had I taken a few more minutes to review a product before hitting SEND I could have avoided a lot of my trouble. In the same way, many problems in my games resulted from me thoughtlessly plopping stones down on the board with only cursory analysis. OK, this is easy to fix, right? Not so much, but I’ve made headway. I’ve doubled down on quality assurance and tried to devote my full attention to each task before moving onto another. That’s all easier said than done.
I’m not going to say much about home life for privacy’s sake, except that I was letting emotions dictate my responses to certain stimuli. I was irritable and thin-skinned. Taking a breath would alleviate 100% of this situation, but in the interest of trying to “do” or “fix” things, I often would just react. Not a good thing for household wa (和)!
Upon further examination I recognized that my feelings and experiences were the effects of disorder. And, to paraphrase Russell Kirk, order is the first need of the soul. It seems that right order lies at the root of my struggle, and that my resistance to achieving this points the way to my solution. So achieving right order has become my mission.
As I put these words down I feel an enormous weight lifting off of my shoulders. Readers, I have just had an epiphany.
As I consider the matter further I realize that when I think of my predicament from the standpoint of order everything falls into place. In some ways I can already see the fruits of my effort. Recently I declined several commitments in the interest of devoting myself to my home and family. I tell you it felt great. Strolling through Union Station one morning I felt at ease because I knew I’d put my relationships in their place. Yes it’s good to engage with friends and colleagues, but these events can eat into my time and money. In the past I’ve let such things get away from me, and I was amazed at the difference making this simple change made to my well being.
Thinking back on the past few weeks, the time I’ve spent with my wife, son, and extended family has been fantastic. It’s really improved my appreciation of them and also of the other social contacts we have, including friends and colleagues. Another area where I’ve been working is on getting more sleep and waking on time. This is still a struggle but I’m progressing. It’s great to wake feeling rested, do some kettlebell exercises, and eat a good breakfast before starting my commute. I haven’t done this nearly as much as I ought to, but will keep at it.
I used to drink a beer with dinner nearly every night. Although there’s nothing wrong with this (and I wasn’t gaining any beer weight either) I still felt the need to cut back here, so I stopped buying beer at the grocery store. Instead my wife and I have enjoyed filling a growler with the brew from our local breweries. Not only is the beer fresher, it’s also a more enriching experience to drink it together with a hearty meal. I’ve also cut back on my coffee intake, substituting tea instead. The rank office coffee helps my motivation! I’ve enjoyed the focused feeling I get from drinking several cups of tea throughout the day as compared with the jittery, dehydrated feeling I get from too much coffee.
Social media and internet rabbit holes have also been cut back substantially, as as my reading list.
At the bottom of everything, however, is the soul. As I indicated above, order is the first need of the soul. What am I doing for myself in this respect? Well for certain making more time for prayer and meditation. There’s a Catholic church only a few blocks from my work that I’ve made more effort to get to during the work week. The fresh air and walk do me well but, more importantly, it’s being in a sacred space and quieting my mind that has had the most positive effect to date.
A lot of this might seem like negative adjustment. Cutting things out, etc. It might also sound like every other self-improvement regime you’ve read about online. This might be the case, but I wasn’t prompted by anything other than my sense of what things were out of proportion in my life and have adjusted accordingly. So what’s the positive takeaway?
Well, for starters, by paring down my social media, internet use, and reading list I’ve made more space for studying baduk. I’ve got 1001 Life and Death Problems in my bag and haul it out on the train instead of trawling through Twitter. If I’m tired of that I’ll play some 9×9 on my phone. Digital tsumego are still a no go for me because I can’t shake the ‘bash’ reflex when it comes to solutions, and this isn’t good for my reading ability! I’ve restarted regular work in Guo Juan’s Internet Go School. I’m also re-reading Hikaru no Go. I plan on purchasing one issue per month and to take things slowly. That way the expense of purchasing all 23 volumes is spread out, and my enjoyment of the series can be taken at length. Of note: I purchased the first volume of Hikaru no Go in Japanese with an eye towards teaching myself Japanese at some point. I’m still working through Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi because of the insights it offers for those seeking continuous improvement. Musashi, after all, is Japan’s greatest swordsman.
One of the things I’ve learned in subtracting and adding media is that I’m not simply getting rid of bad things. There are many good things too. In order to focus on baduk I have to sacrifice other interests, such as reading more fiction or history, and also learning Japanese (at least for now). There are many worthy things that I cannot do for the sake of my pursuit! This is an important lesson worth contemplating.
Another development has been my joining a group of other DC-based players for regular lunches. This has been a great support. We’ve played some 9×9 games and talked about baduk, but we talk about a lot more than just the game. In fact, I’d say the majority of our conversation is not about baduk at all. I will file this in the category of “finding people who are interested in the same things as you are” and starting your relationship from there. The encouragement I’ve received in my pursuit of baduk from this group is something I’m still coming to understand, but I know it’s been a powerful help!
The only thing I need to really restart is regular play online. I will try other servers, such as KGS and Tygem, in addition to my regular OGS play. The importance of actual play is not lost on me.
Alright, so how can I answer Ben’s question. What does go mean to me?
For me, go is the pursuit of right order. This encompass everything about the game: the harmonious relationship of stones, the relationship between the players, respect for past players and their games, respect for the game itself. From the pursuit of right order will emerge the divine move.
NB: Do yourself a favor sometime and check out his archives.