Friday, December 28, 2007

Learning to Play Go

My first experience of Go was in high school in Hawaii. My social studies teacher was of Hawaiian/Japanese ancestry and she kept a Go set in the classroom. It was a really large, heavy floor goban and a set of stones that (if memory serves) were of some really nice intermediate grade material like marble. I seem to remember the goban as having incised lines, but I may be mistaken about that. Unfortunately, Go was not in the revival that it now experiences, so none of us took the opportunity to learn how to play.

Later in life, I decided I wanted to learn to play, but I kept putting it off. I don’t know exactly why I chose this time in my life to start playing Go, but I think it has a lot to do with my interest in the aesthetic of wabi-sabi. Of all the games I’ve encountered, Go seems to best embody the concept of wabi-sabi. This is certainly true of the equipment, but it is also true of the game itself.

About a six weeks ago, I decided to take the plunge. Being a computer programmer (and living in a very small town), it was natural that I should decide to use my computer to help me learn. So I made a promise to myself: “When I can learn to beat Igowin freeware, I’ll buy a nice software learning package.” It took about two weeks to beat Igowin, and – after looking around – I decided to try the 15-day trial of SmartGo. After 15 days with SmartGo, I decided that I liked it enough to pay and register it, so I did. It’s not perfect, but it seems to be a great learning tool and I am enjoying it.

My next goal is to beat SmartGo at least once. When I can do that, I’ve promised myself, I will buy a nice goban and some stones. In honor of my high school memory of Go, I have decided on a Japanese size goban and biconvex stones in the size 33 range.

Also, as part of my pursuit of wabi-sabi, I have decided to make my own goban someday. It may be a while, though, since I want to wait for just the right piece of lumber. I’m not sure running down to the local “wood-r-us” store and picking up lumber by the board-foot will give me the aesthetic I desire, lol. I want the goban to mean something to me as a work of art and a personal process. In art and craft, as in Go, the first and last moyos to be claimed lie within. As the Zen saying goes: "The skilled archer aims not at the target but at himself."


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