I have read that an insei must become a professional by age 18. However, the age is higher for westerners due to the difference in culture for western go. By what age must a western insei become a professional?
Bob McGuigan: There seem to be many loopholes in the age requirement. James Kerwin (1978, age 32), exceeded the age limit, as did Manfred Wimmer (1978, age 34), but actually many Japanese players became professionals though they were over the age limit. Sakai Hideyuki (2001, age 28), twice winner of the World Amateur Championship became a pro in the Kansai Ki-in by examination, playing a match against a high ranking pro, and started as 5p. Ishikura Noboru (1980, age 26) became a pro after graduating from Tokyo University, exceeding the age limit. Nakayama Noriyuki (1962, age 30) My guess is that there is virtually no age limit for becoming a professional if you are good enough.
Dave: Guidance for becoming insei and for becoming a pro via the pro qualifying tournament are posted on the Nihon Kiin website. At present it seems that you can not remain an insei beyond the age of 19 but there does not seem to be a hard rule on this (undoubtedly 'hard' enough for Japanese but adjustable for special cases). For 2007 you can not take the pro qualifying exam if you are over 26 as of April 1st. This limit will drop to 23 in 2008.
Bob: There might be some confusion over the meaning of the word "insei". For example does it mean an officially accepted student by the Nihon Ki-in, or does it mean simply a deshi of some sensei who aims at becoming a pro?
Hicham: What is the reasoning about the age limitations? Why not just have the best players become pro?
Hotcoffee: The reasoning is presumably that by accepting only reasonably young entrants to the insei college, the students are still mentally flexible enough to learn very rapidly. Furthermore, the number of years of experiance 7 to 9 professional dan level go requires, means that the top level of play would be inaccessible in the lifespan of most players who trained to be 1p beyond a certain age.
C0nfuseki: I'm thinking it's also because most adults need to earn a living outside of go. People also have expectations on finding natural Go geniuses as a quick way of ensuring that Go will continue to be deeply profound. It seems that society would prefer a handful of players to be extremely good as compared with everyone on earth to be of shodan level. I think we need to be realistic and admit that certain people want Go to be somewhat elitist.
So what does it mean to be good at Go? If many of the innermost mysteries of the game were pried open for easier public knowledge, would Go still be interesting to play? Where is the mystical challenge of tic-tac-toe (naughts and crosses)? The interest about Go is the journey of attaining strength, not simply having it. And in attaining skills: if they are commonly of a high level for everyone, then the struggle to get where everyone else is, isn't special anymore.
Learning Go is the art of attaining a skill for the purpose of being able to achieve something through effort. You get to meet people along the way, (and one of the things I like about Go is that) everyday people are actually happy for others to improve. In my mind, there is less competitiveness than chess as an encouragement tool. With that said, we need to remember that the difference between the person who does something because they like it and the person who does it for a living is simply dependant on how well they can impress others to pay them for it. With this goal of needing to impress, professional Go players are under serious pressure. They also aren't able to easily change professions.
So before we all get riled up about age limitations, please remember that it's the sponsors who place these systems upon aspiring individuals. You really don't have to conform to rules and regulations as long as you can impress people with your skills. Such expectations can ruin an otherwise positive experience. This is what ChoChikun was really meaning when he said that he hated Go.
Phelan: I think the reason the age limits are as low as they are, is to avoid having too many people at the tournaments. If everyone could try and keep trying all their life, they might waste a lot of time and resources for both the organizers and the entrants.