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Semi-Professional Go Players in Japan

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Visitors to GoWizardry know that go is the national game of Japan, but they probably do not realize the breadth and depth of the presence of the game in that country. Virtually every city of any metropolitan size has at least one go club, and usually several. I have played in a half a dozen clubs in Tokyo, without making any special effort to find them. I surely could have discovered many more if I wished, not to mention go cafes.

But there is another phenomenon in the Japanese go world that will surely come as a surprise to people here, and that is the existence of semi-professional go players. Understand: these are true professionals. They make their living at go. However, they were not good enough to play at a level that would enable them to make a living on the tournament scene, or they live far away from the major go centers of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, etc., and commuting would be an unacceptable hardship, or else for one eccentric reason or another they just did not fit in with the conventional go world.

Probably the most famous semi-professional go player was Yasunaga Hajime (12-3-1901~2-2-2002). He would give young professional low dan players handicaps and beat them handily. He also made significant contributions to the go world. Yasunaga founded Igo Shunju magazine and worked as its editor after doing the same at the Nihon Ki-in (Japanese Go Association) earlier for other publications. He also worked tirelessly promoting relations between Japan and China through go. On one friendship excursion to China, Yasunaga introduced a new opening, employing it extensively on the trip. The opening came to be known as the Chinese Opening due to that trip.

Eventually the Nihon Ki-in had to recognize Yasunaga’s merits, and in a special ceremony he was awarded the professional rank of 6 dan. Some thought that it was about time, but he had already proven his worth many times over.

The following article was written by another semi-professional go player. He describes his life along with his advice as to how to get strong at go.

Self-Portrait, Self-Satisfaction

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Ishii Yasuo

(Regional Semi-Professional, 5 dan)

From Kido, March 1977

Six Conditions of My Method to Get Strong at Go

In my case, I run a dojo [training facility for students of go], but I only go there once or twice a month to meet guests.

This year, as usual, starting on New Year Day I have been flying around from place to place. In January alone, I played teaching games and gave lectures, oversaw tournaments, etc., coming in contact with more than 1,500 go fans. Just tallying up the teaching games, I played about 350 of them.

Of course, there were many times when I played five or ten boards simultaneously, which is the usual way I work. I absolutely never play teaching games one on one. It is said that even someone with no talent at go, after playing 3,000 game, will reach the level of amateur shodan. According to that calculation, it would be expected that someone like myself would have already achieved the rank of 10 something dan, but the fact is that I do nothing but make the rounds again and again to the same places.

In different places I come in contact with various kinds of go fans. Even when going to remote places, in my experience the go fans are all the same, but it seems to me that the level of enthusiasm differs. It may be imagined that there are few other kinds of amusement available in those areas, but for a typical professional player like myself, the most important service to perform is to determine how best to meet the needs of these kinds of fans.

For tournament professionals, the focus of their passion is on thinking about the best moves, while from my perspective it is to create the most suitable environment for increasing amateur players’ strength at go, as well as making efforts to explain clearly my advice concerning methods to get strong at go. While making these efforts, one thing that has become clear is that it is "difficult." And yet, since at the present time my course is set on this path, in go what cannot be allowed are the words, "I take that back" ["Matta" = "Wait"].When considering the matter of no recourse to, "I take that back," rather than a source of self-satisfaction, there are many more stories of failure.

I have many numbers of students, but in general these people have much richer human experiences than I do, and there are many times when I wonder which of us is giving instruction to the other. I often think that this kind of thing represents the height of happiness for me.

It is that type of aspect of myself that comes to understand the experiences that make up a method for getting strong at go. The process of getting strong at go differs according to the characteristics of each individual player. If those elements can be combined effectively, strength is achieved. There is a problem involved as to which way is the best method of study. There are any number of paths that can be mounted to get to the summit of a mountain. It is the same with go.

The essential thing is that the suitable way of studying depends on the person. All players have to try out various methods and see what happens in order to find out what is most suitable.

"Study with a professional player." "Play with many different opponents." "Look carefully at others’ games." "Listen to the words of strong players." "Participate in various events, such as tournaments." "Examine closely game records, and enjoyably experience the details of those games. Repeat the process often."

At this kind of time, these are the six conditions that I choose for getting strong, but other than this there can be effort that I make on my own that enhance my self-confidence. When, no matter what one does, one does not get stronger, there is a tendency to conclude that it is due to a lack of ability. But, after all, many times that is not the reason.

I am away from my dojo much of the time and I can offer no excuse to the guests who come, but representatives offer teaching games in my stead, and there is a chance that my only daughter will be there to play. I will be flying around and walking around, and I hope that this will be the source of my self-portrait and self-confidence.

Editor’s Note: Ishii 5 dan’s only daughter, Mari san, was the winner of the 1976 All Japan High School Championship, Girls Individual Section.

Those who wish to comment on the opinions expressed here may send their thoughts to info@GoWizardry.com. The most interesting responses will be addressed in future postings.

Robert J. Terry

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