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My playing has been extremely inconsistent, and my KGS rating graph has been sliding down. Yet I`m sure I am getting stronger. I think I have identified my weakness: my concentration can be patchy. Last night I got a boost, though. By resolutely ignoring all the distractions at my go lesson last night (noisy kids and their parents), I finally managed to beat my teacher on three stones. So, now my path is clear: I must learn to focus and stop being such a ditz.
I still haven`t got around to writing about Seoul, but this weekend was absolutely great too. On Saturday I went to see the NEC Cup, a round of which was played in the NTT Cred Hall in Hiroshima City. The first match was Cho Chikun against Yamashita Keigo, while the second was Kono Rin against Iyama Yuta. It was my first time attending a pro match, and it was a fascinating spectacle. On the stage there was a mockup of a Japanese tea room, with a goban and seats in the middle, while to the right there was a giant display board (a really impressive size - I`d guess at least the size of a snooker table). After some speeches (this being Japan, after all, long preambles are de rigeur) Rin Kaiho was introduced, along with a young woman professional who is on the NHK go show every week as a record-keeper. Then, Yamashita and Cho, and the officials walked in from the back, lit up by a following spotlight, as though they were boxers entering the arena.
I brought along binoculars to get a better look at the stage, and because I wanted to know what these famous people looked like up close and personal. I was amazed at Yamashita`s appearance - he is such a dandy! His clothes were so tasteful and elegant: a pinstripe suit with subtle reflective threads woven in, an unusually shaped tie with jewelled tiepin, and jewelled collar buttons and a very pretty ornament of some kind on his buttonhole. Cho, on the other hand, looked every bit the eccentric genius. I wonder if a comb has ever touched his head - his hair seems to go in all directions, and he really has the look of somebody who gets his breakfast by sticking his fingers into the mains rather than eating as ordinary folks do. He shuffles and stumbles about, and he seemed a bit unsure where to sit - he looked bemused when directed to sit in the seat of honour for the nigiri.
The game was great. Although I was cheering for Yamashita, I thought Cho was on top form. He made one of his groups live at the last moment, and then killed a large group in ko to secure an unassailable lead. Yamashita had to resign. Rin Kaiho`s commentary was very helpful, as he and the other professional pointed out various alternative continuations. I was suprised at how light-hearted their commentary was, and how they often made the audience laugh, even while the board was on fire. It was very interesting that no attempt was made to shield the players from hearing the commentary, and yet they seemed completely immersed, oblivious to what was going on around them. Of course, the commentators could show variations, and without naming the coordinates it was doubtful that the players would have been able to follow the commentary exactly, and besides, they were doubtless seeing a great deal more than Rin was able to show anyway.
Towards the end, although he was clearly leading, Cho gave himself a good slap on the cheek. And he really hit himself hard, too - the crack was quite audible! I wonder what he was castigating himself for.
Afterwards, Yamashita and Cho gave their thoughts on the game. I had always thought that Cho must be a really intense, sombre kind of person, but actually he is very charismatic and entertaining. Yamashita was understandably more subdued but, silly detail to notice as it is, I was surprised at how deep his voice is. He is smaller than Cho, and Cho is not very tall, but his voice is a booming bass! It`s always funny to find out how well known people are always completely different to what you expected when you either meet them or see them from close quarters. Not that I am well known, but I wonder if people are surprised when they meet me, and in what ways...
The next game was very interesting, although it was less easy to understand than the game between Cho and Yamashita. It seemed to me that Iyama played an influence-based strategy, but that Kono Rin was able to hang in there for long enough to preserve a winning lead.
On Sunday I took part in a connected event, another children`s go tournament, which was held up at the Chugoko Shimbun offices across the river from the A-Bomb Dome. Although it was a kids` event, adults can also participate, and I do love playing with children because their enthusiasm and spirit has a rejuvenating effect on my own game. To begin with, however, I received a teaching game from the female pro from the NHK programme. I took five stones, and lost by four points after an all-out fighting game of the kind I absolutely love. She showed me how I might have won, and gave me some very useful general pointers for my improvement (I think she hit the nail on the head when she pointed out what she thought was my big weakness, not that I`m going to tell the whole world about it here). I said that I had seen her on TV, and very cheekily said that she should smile more because she always looks so serious there, and because she is so pretty! Fortunately she was not offended by that, and we had a good laugh looking at the game together.
My first game was against another Japanese amateur 3-dan, a girl of about 14. Unfortunately for her, she seemed too intent on taking territory, and she ended up giving me a very thick moyo, and she came to grief when she tried to live in it. But it was the next game that I shall remember: it was against the 16-year-old boy who had beaten me at the last tournament. I got the better of the opening, and seemed to be about to kill a group, but maybe I misplayed or perhaps I was being over-optimistic, and he turned the tables, putting my group in dire peril with some skilful plays. Having entered the Last Chance Saloon, I went all out to attack the group that was cutting me off, and he responded by counter-attacking my virtually alive corner. Well, I shall not bore everybody to tears trying to describe all the details, but eventually we reached a triple ko, which had to keep going because neither of us could afford to give it up. We called for our go teacher, and he confirmed that it was a no result, and we caused quite a stir, with photographs being taken of the final position. I don`t know about my opponent, but this was the first time I have ever had a game end like this.
My final game was against one of my teacher`s younger pupils, and I had to give this young shodan two stones. Even though he couldn`t sit still or look at the board for more than three seconds at a time he played a really solid and thoughtful game. Although I had good chances here and there I wasted them, and I ended up losing by quite a margin. I was really sorry the tournament had to end so soon, but I got to meet some more players and made a useful contact (a four dan who attends the university in Hiroshima East).
I can`t wait until next time!
The trip to Seoul and the International Baduk Academy was absolutely marvellous. Among other delights, I had dinner with Lee Ha Jin 3p and got to sit in Yi Chang Ho`s chair in the special match room at the Hankuk Kiwon. I also came back with a bagload of Korean tesuji and tsumego problem books, which I`m thoroughly enjoying. Unfortunately, though, I also picked up a stomach flu virus and I`ve been feeling pretty sick all through the last week, so I`m afraid I won`t be writing more and posting pics until I feel better. But, for now, I recommend the IBA very strongly. Professor Lee Ki Bong is exceptionally kind and helpful, and the students are young, ambitious and good fun to hang out with.
I improved a bit between 2003 and this summer, but not very much really. So why am I hopeful of making serious progress now? The answer is in attitude and approach. Before this summer I was always looking for shortcuts and quick fixes. Hence, things like my compass and checklists. But I think getting strong at go is, as I have probably said before, like learning a language. I first dabbled in Japanese in 2001, but it was only in 2006 that I began systematically crunching my way through grammar and kanji, and looking for people to practice with, and it`s one year since I began to live in Japan. Now, I`m getting there with Japanese. There`s much I need to improve, but I really can speak Japanese, which means the last two years have paid off.
How to get good at go? Well, the things all the pros say seem to boil down to improving your understanding and greatly enriching your store of usable knowledge. I read `The Expert Mind`, which is about chess but still seems very relevant, and it too said that the thing that sets grandmasters apart from wannabes is acquiring a vast amount of knowledge and understanding. Even the much-derided `Rapid Chess Improvement`, for all its dubious promises and hype, at least tells you that much. So, you do lots and lots of tsumego, you study (that is try to understand) joseki, and your read books about go strategy.
But it`s not quite so simple. I fully agree with ilan`s page about a period of transition. Building up a new go mind sometimes means tearing down the old one and starting up again. It takes time. In Japanese I know many more words and kanji than I can currently use in conversation or write (even Japanese people can often read, but not write difficult kanji). It takes time and repetition to master new material.
There`s no point either in trying to do things that are way too difficult. You can`t play a Beethoven Piano Concerto if you can`t play finger exercises and studies. According to `The Expert Mind`, the effective way is too keep pushing just beyond your comfort zone. That means studying joseki that you used to avoid, it means accepting wallopings from stronger players, and it means trying out things. You cannot improve if you are afraid to give it a go!
Now, at least with force feeding I think I was on broadly the right track. Feed your mind lots of ideas and repeat: it is bound to help you at anything. However, I did not know back then about `staggered repetition`, among other things. Simply repeating the same things over and over again without pausing is not going to motivate you very well. If anything, it will make you sick and unwilling to put in any more effort in the future - that`s the effect it had on me. You need to give the mind time to digest, that is to process new ideas and rebuild its understanding. Therefore, repetition should come at progressively longer intervals to allow for this, while reinforcing what you have learned.
As for the compass and checklists and similar ideas, I shan`t throw them out completely. I think they could be very useful applied properly. When there are some new ideas I want to get into my game, the compass idea helps a lot. I shall consider such things as tools to help me use new ideas and to help me apply what I already know more efficiently.
At the moment I am reading Yoda Note, which is very interesting, and reviewing Go Strategy, especially whenever I think I have lost a game through forgetting or disregarding one of Sonoda`s guidelines. I`ve hit on a good way to study joseki, too. When I encounter something new, I look it up and then try it out myself. I look at reasons I lose games, and then I look for the information to fix specific problems - for instance, I am looking at tenuki joseki because I was not taking sente enough in the opening.
And, on Wednesday, I am going to Seoul!! I am going to train at the International Baduk Academy for a few days. How exciting is that! I expect to make some new friends, to eat some fine food and see some interesting sights, to play some fiery games of go, and come away with lots of food for thought.
Sadly, in each of the last three games I`ve managed to win on KGS, my opponent left without saying thank you. We all feel disappointed when we lose, but to not say thank you is like telling them that they have no right to win sometimes. Okay, it`s the other person`s problem and not mine, but it does leave a sour taste behind.
I finally finished reading Go Strategy and now I have lots of ideas bubbling around in my mind. I`m playing truly horrible games both on the internet and in person, but I think it`s all part of the learning process, and preferable to steadily going nowhere. I dream about go, too, which suggests that my brain is slowly sorting things out. I remember too when I learned to drive. When I graduated stage one, I was very good at controlling a car on an enclosed course. But, when I got out onto real roads, I found my car control got worse and that I made a lot of silly errors that had the instructor slamming on the brakes. This lasted for a few weeks, but then everything began to gel, and I passed my road test first time, despite the examiner being a grumpy so-and-so who resented my lack of fluency in Japanese.
Still, I am happy that when I have won, I have played what felt like a strongly, tightly controlled game in which I was able to apply what I have been reading about.
I think review is very important, and so I go back to old books and skim through them to consolidate my learning.
Since finishing Go Strategy I`ve been at a slight loss as to what to read next. I`m enjoying one of Ishikura`s books, but I wanted something a bit different to get me thinking. I saw FHayashi`s review of Yoda Note and decided it was a must-read, so I went and bought it. I like it so far: its short chapters and variety are very good for me because reading Japanese is still quite an effort for me.
FredK Hi, Tamsin: Sonoda's other NHK book, Good Points and Bad Points to Play is also full of good ideas with novel twists; and since it's the same author, you'll find it's largely the same vocabulary. So you'll get a payoff for having made the linguistic effort of going through the first book. Tamsin: Thanks Fred! I actually have that book already, but I`ve not been able to `get into` it yet, although I found the first chapter about stone preponderance illuminating. I buy way too many books, and put many of them down, but sometimes the right time comes to pick a book up again.
I took a teaching game last Saturday from Iwakubo-sensei, the strong player at the local branch of the Kiin. I made a bad mistake early on and could not recover my composure, and got slaughtered. His teaching style was a bit intimidating, too: he was very kind, but also somewhat shouty - I felt a bit like the kid in `Enter the Dragon` who kept getting rapped on the head with Bruce Lee`s fan. Still, a couple of things he said stick out in my mind. First, he doesn`t recommend memorising joseki, but suggests the best way to learn them is to see them somewhere and then to try them out - you can look up mistakes later. Second, he said I should not bother with difficult tsumego (of which I`ve been doing a lot lately), but instead do lots of easy ones repeatedly, in order to master the patterns completely.
So, I went back to some little problem books I bought some time ago, which I had put down too soon because many of the problems seemed too basic. Working my way through them, I am finding a treasure trove of shapes and suji that crop up frequently, that are not difficult in themselves, but are easy to misplay or misread in a real game situation.
Finally, I have started using Kogo to look through joseki, but without trying to memorise them. It seems better for me to pick up ideas and to learn, especially, what bad moves and good moves look life so that I can reject the former and choose the latter.
And definitely finally for now. I am finding some fun in playing through pro games. I have stopped trying so hard interpret them within the frame my own limited understanding, but instead stop and consider whenever something stands out as particularly interesting. This way I believe I can pick up useful suji and correct shapes, without confounding myself with erroneous interpretation.
This is why we should let go of trivial concerns and learn to love and forgive each other:
Whether you agree with the Hiroshima bombing or not is of no consequence. The truth is that, necessary or not, it was a horrible tragedy with a horrible aftermath that is still hurting people to this day. What are you going to do to make sure there are no more Hiroshimas?
Last weekend I found a tiny branch of the Nihon Kiin in West Hiroshima ward. It`s basically a room in a top amateur player`s house. The atmosphere is nice, though, and I am excited about the chance to take teaching games from that player (I didn`t get his name, unfortunately - everybody just referred to him as `sensei). I also took part in a go `tournament` at the Kanayama salon on Sunday. The Kanayama salon is on Aioi-dori, which is the `main drag` of central Hiroshima. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed because it was more like a regular club meet, except that your results were recorded. But, there were no rounds, and I didn`t even have a match card. I felt frustrated with my game, too. I won 2 and lost 2, but the ones I won were not very good games, and I felt despondent about my shortcomings in the games I lost. I get the impression that Kanayama is the place where most of the strongest players here hang out - I only played even in one game, and received either 2 or 3 stones in the others. I certainly learned a lot, but...I really have a problem with the place because it seems everbody chain smokes. I absolutely loathe the smell of stale tobacco, and spending seven or eight hours getting filthy and suffering passive smoking is a discouraging price to pay for playing against strong players. Afterwards, I took the fast train back to Itsukaichi, checked my cat was okay, and headed straight to a bath house where I immediately made for the salt sauna. Wow! That felt so good! I think in future I shall take lessons at the small branch of the Kiin, and see what`s happening at the main branch, which at least has a sealed room for the smokers to smoke themselves to death in.
It`s a pity about the tobacco at the Kanayama. Given a lick of fresh paint, a good clean-up of the stones and boards and a no-smoking policy, it could be a really fantastic venue. The place is very large, they have a big TV and lots of books, and a big comfy sofa set, plus great views over Hiroshima. Admittedly there is a no-smoking section, but unfortunately nobody was using it on Sunday.
One day I`ll open up a Go Salon Tammy, and I`ll make it a really pleasant environment to study and play, so that lots of women and children will come and enjoy. My feeling is eventually a really good ambience will attract more customers than allowing smoking. My dream club would have a bright, sunny playing room with comfy rest areas where people can read or review NHK DVDs, coffee and snacks would be served free or for a token fee, and equipment would be regularly washed and repaired.
As for my go progress. Recently, my KGS graph has been going up again, and I hold my own at the go salons as a 3d (I was 3d in Tokyo five years ago, but they say Hiroshima ranks are strict compared with Tokyo ones). I lament the last five years when I`ve been only sporadically active, and I especially lament the time I have wasted trying to get better without putting in the serious effort required. But I think serious study pays dividends if you keep it up and don`t get discouraged by the days when nothing seems to make sense.
The most important thing I learned at Kanayama the other day was that I have at least three bad habits that are holding me back. I notice that on the improvement page it says that you need to eradicate faults. Now, I have been a bit reluctant to say `don`t do this` or `don`t do that` because it sounds so negative, and the more you think about a potential mistake, the more likely you are to make it. But, I guess there has to be a way to get around this. For starters, one thing I do hear being said about me is that my game is very powerful, and when I do play well, I do feel somewhat like a tank rolling over my opponent, but unfortunately I get impatient and make overplays. Overplays, however, cost you many points. But if I said to myself, `don`t make overplays, don`t make overplays` then I`d probably find myself seeing nothing but overplays. So, from now on, I am going to `reject overplays`, which is a positive action, something that I can do when the situation arises. I know how to do this too: you probably know deep down that your move is going too far or is trying to accomplish too much, but you do it anyway because you think you can bully the opponent. That`s when I intend to say `right, this looks like an overplay - it doesn`t work when I read it, so I shall reject it and look for another move`.
I got this kind of thinking from Paul McKenna?, by the way. Now, I don`t believe NLP has all the answers, and I am well aware that it gets lashed in the academic scholarship, but I do agree with the principle of stating goals in a positive way, even if they are things you don`t want to do. The reason is straightforward: you can`t `not` smoke a cigarette, for example. The more you think `I must not smoke, I must not smoke`, the more filled your mind becomes with cigarettes. That must be torture for somebody addicted to them! However, if you can think `I will stop smoking` or `I will throw my cigarettes away`, then at least you have something that you can do: you can stub out a cigarette if you have lit one, and you can throw a cigarette or packet of cigarettes in the bin. Once you have done that, you can get on with the rest of your thoughts. To be sure, I don`t smoke and I have never smoked so I don`t really know what goes on inside a smoker`s head, but it seems a reasonable example in light of my rant above. Set as goals things that you can do, and don`t obsess about things that you can`t do.
I`ve had a particularly fun weekend, with a strong go theme running through it. On Friday, I decided to go straight to Tokyo after work, so I bundled some clothes into a bag and got on the bullet train. I arrived just in time to get the last subway train to Asakusa, where I stayed in a somewhat grotty capsule hotel (it was unusual in taking women, but was a bit rank with tobacco smoke). I`ve always wanted to try a capsule hotel at least once, and I have to say, it probably will be only once...unless I get stuck somewhere and there are absolutely no other options. Anyway, the next day I checked out Akihabara, where I resisted the urge to buy a Sony Mylo (if it had been able to connect to KGS, then I`d probably have bought it), and after that I made my way over to Ichigaya, where I found a very nice hotel very near to the Nihon Kiin.
It`s been five years since my last time at the Kiin, but they have really done a great job of sprucing it up for the new century. I mean, it was a great place to go last time, but now they have game broadcasts in the lounge, a study room, and in the basement there`s a beautifully arranged Hall of Fame and museum, not large, but fascinating, with various video clips on screens placed around the room. There is a memorial to Hans Pietsch, which was made by the German Go Association. It is a beautiful wooden plaque in, I think, four languages, and next to it are pictures and clippings about him. I am glad that he is being so honourably remembered.
Eventually, I went up to the second floor, and found at that the go salon was not open for playing because it was a Saturday, but that it was possible to have a teaching game with a pro. So, 5000 yen or so later, I found myself taking seven stones from Akiyama Jiro 8p. I made some pretty bad decisions, but I managed to win by a large margin, so perhaps the handicap was too large; but, I`m under no illusions, I don`t think he was exactly going for broke. Indeed, looking back on the game, he seemed almost to be asking me to attack a certain group rather than go lamely surrounding territory. I felt I learned a lot from the game, although I wish he had had time for me to ask him some questions, because there was one situation that I don`t know whether or not I played in the correct direction.
I`m now the proud owner of the Takemiya T-shirt. It shows a cartoon of the man himself grinning at a goban, inviting you to one more game, with an ominous-looking sign pointing to the cushion opposite, saying `you`re next!`. I got chatting with one of the staff, and she offered to meet me after her shift to help me find a nice place to take a bath (I absolutely love Japanese bath houses). So, the evening found me in Ochanomizu blissfully wallowing in hot water, before drinking some fine beer and eating a mixed fried seafood set.
The next day was not so great, though. I woke up with a chesty cough, and my stomach was upset too. Although I tried again to shop around Akihabara and around Tokyo station I eventually gave up and caught the bullet train home, suffering all the way.
When I got back in Hiroshima, I felt a little bit flat. It wasn`t so much that Hiroshima is rather small compared with Tokyo, but that so far I`ve not managed to find the `pulse` of the local go scene. So, I have decided to try much harder to find out when tournaments are held, and to locate the go clubs where the strongest and, I hate to sound ageist, the younger players hang out. Looking on the local Nihon Kiin`s page I found out that there was a tournament happening on Monday, and as it was a National Holiday, I was able to go along. It was advertised as a tournament for children alongside an adult championship, but when I got there, I was told that both children and adults were playing together in the same tournament. It was actually more like a big club meet than a tournament as Western players might know it - instead of rounds, you were simply paired up for as a many games as you could complete. I played three games, and won two and lost the third. My opponents were Elementary and Junior High students, but they had already been playing for several years, and played some really impressive go. It made me so happy to see so many children playing with great enthusiasm, and to play against young boys and girls of dan strength. Playing young people is very exciting and refreshing - my opponents would typically make some naive mistakes but balance them out with very bold and resolute play. The game I lost was a good example - I obtained a big advantage early on, only to misread a ladder and lose a lot of points, and then for my opponent to repay the compliment, but then complicate matters sufficiently for me to miss a killing move. In other words, it was a see-saw game, but, I have to be quite honest, he was stronger and more imaginative than me at that point in time. I definitely want to play again, though!
There is a branch of the Nihon Kiin here, but I have only visited once. It is more like a go salon, but at least it has a non-smoking room, and a computer and a selection of books. I suppose the thing that put me off last time I went was the exclusively elderly male atmosphere, but maybe, just maybe I can start to find out where the younger players meet up. I know there is some exciting go in Hiroshima - it may, however, take some finding. There are many layers to Japan, and maybe I gave up on Hiroshima go too early. 
I had another extended period without internet access, and I was busy taking up a new job and new apartment (apparently very near to the site of game of 2 of the 1945 Honinbo match, but I digress). There is a big go salon in Rakurakuen, but it`s a bit expensive (monthly membership 10000 yen, compared with 3000 yen in my last club).
So my game got rusty.
Anyway, I still think the best way to attack any project is `choose, plan, do`. So, I plan to get stronger by studying tsumego and reading as much as I can about go strategy, and by researching what I think are my own specific weaknesses. As I write, I`ve begun winning a lot of games again, and I got back to 1k on KGS. For sure, I was 1 dan last year, but I`m certain it was easier back then.
When you `choose, plan, do`, beware that you don`t run with a bad idea for too long. I have wasted a lot of time running with bad ideas. So for myself and others, I`m adding the caveat `abandon your losses`. An example, I thought that I could get stronger simply by applying the `ten golden rules` religiously - but I didn`t. While principles and checklist certainly have their good uses, I think you have to learn something more concrete. I suppose trying to improve by memorising principles only is a bit like a composer learning the rules of counterpoint, but not studying any specific examples. You can`t write a good counterpoint without looking at Josquin, Bach and other masters.
To put it another way, checklists are probably good for recalling what you already know, but you don`t get to know more without serious study. It is, I have to face it, a bit sobering to realise that, as far as my go is concerned, I`ve not really done very much serious study since 2003! Still, better late than never. In the same way, I actually first took up Japanese in 2001, but it was only in 2006 that I really got stuck into some determined and sustained work on it - and it`s only now that I`m reaping the fruits of it. I think that, compared with some people, I`m a slow learner but, at least I have this going for me, once I get on track I make a lot of progress over a long time. I am in no way denigrating myself - only recognising that this is the way I am: a bit slow, but I do get there in the end.
I have maybe fallen prey to book buying disease a little bit, but I have found some very good ones on the way. One of my current favourites is a little book of life and death fundamentals and problems by Rin Kaiho. It is called すぎに役立つ実戦死活の急所 or Immediately Helpful Vital Points of Life and Death. It goes through many shapes, with good, clear explanation, and then gives you lots of problems to practice with. I like it not only because of the easy writing style, but also the very transparent way the chapters are arranged. I also have the nihon kiin small dictionary of tesuji, and that has some excellent problems as well as a very handy `at a glance` chapter giving one example of every possible kind of tesuji.
Inspired by FredK`s reviews, I have just bought books by Sonoda and Ishikura. They are quite engrossing, too. Much easier to read than O Meien`s book on attacking from the wider side, which I have, but which sends me to sleep every time I attempt to read it (that may be as much due to reading it late at night as to O`s writing style). I can`t say much for now, but I am enjoying the way Sonoda talks one through different lines of play, relating the results to whatever principle he is teaching (e.g., `playing near live stones is small`). Clearly delineated principles, lots of examples, and easy Japanese - three big reasons to like it.
Talking of proverbs, etc., being better for recalling what you know rather than substituting for serious study: it was only after I began reading Sonoda`s go strategy that I got any benefit from the maxim `playing near live stones is small`. If you read the book and study the examples, you will see that it`s mainly an issue of direction of play. You don`t, for instance, want to direct an attack towards a live group of your own because the fighting might unsettle it (that is, the maxim is not quite the same as the proverb about driving toward thickness). But, if you can make the opponent play where they have already got live stones, then you`re doing well. Another application: I see now that playing a pincer from a live position is not necessarily the right idea. It may be quite big in itself, but at least one of Sonoda`s examples illustrates how it is better simply to play in an open part of the board as far as possible from your live stones - when the opponent settles his approach stone, he is inevitably playing near your live stones, which is not very big. Ah, you really have to look at the examples to understand why the fundamentals are the fundamentals, and why the proverbs are what they are. Reading a review or digest is in no way an adequate substitute for reading the book!
Also, I have recently bought Cho U`s tsumego book. I`ve only had a quick glance, but it seems to have something for everyone in terms of difficulty, and I like to aim high...
Somebody dumped a kitten at school. Nobody else was able to take him in, so once again I`ve become a `mummy cat`. The tiger-looking creature in my user photo on KGS is Takeshi.
First up, although I've had many setbacks in life, I've succeeded in some very difficult things over the years, and I realise now that whenever I achieved something I did three things. One, I set my heart on a target. Two, I asked for information wherever I could get it, and worked out how I would achieve the goal, Three, I just got on with it. In short, choose, plan, do.
I suspect that many players worry about whether they can improve. I know I have done that. But what's the point? Who knows how far they can go when they try? And who honestly thinks that they're as good at what they're doing as they could be? When I study Japanese, I don't think 'can I become fluent and literate' - I simply keep on going. Whether I'll achieve my goal or not I don't know yet, but at least I'm a lot better at Japanese than I was 6 months ago.
Also, I think many people look for a 'silver bullet' or guaranteed way to get better. Many people, too, probably despair of improving because they've stayed the same for several years. But, probably the main reason for staying at a plateau is that you play all the time and don't study anymore. The thing is that this is a bit like reaching a survival level of a language, and then relying on it forever to get by, instead of actively seeking to make further steps. Playing at the same level all the time is not going to teach you anything new - it's just going around in circles.
But I'm starting to think that the only thing that really counts is to increase your knowledge, because knowledge is power, and to improve your practical skills. By knowledge I mean things like joseki, fuseki, shapes, tesuji, sabaki techniques and so on. By practical skills I mean everything from reading to learning to stay calm during a game. I'm certain that whatever you make a sincere effort to improve on will help you with your game.
At this point, I'd like to qualify my earlier statements about force feeding. Since that time I've earned a teacher's degree, and I've worked in several educational roles. I think sheer repetition is probably useful for burning the absolutely vital, must-not-forget-at-all-costs stuff into your brain, but now I think it's both inefficient and perilously unenjoyable as a technique for learning other things. From my experience with languages, I find it much more effective to study something and then try to use it, and to revise things from time to time, because, at least for me, it's the act of revising that seems to get things to stick in my long-term memory. So, I think with go the best thing is to read books carefully, taking notes and making mnemonics as you go, and then to revise from time to time to make sure that as much as possible enters the long-term memory. Reading in Japanese helps me because it forces me to read slowly and thoughtfully, and I find that thinking about what I see helps me to remember it.
Finally, reading Segoe Kensaku's book 囲碁の力を強くする本 has brought me to a realisation. Seeing tesuji is different from reading. I can usually spot the key move, the tesuji quite easily, because using force-feeding in the past has burned them into my brain BUT I've lost many games through not going beyond that. Reading is a practical skill, and is, I think, a lot like learning to read the alphabet or Greek or Japanese or music - the more you stretch yourself, the more you can cope with. Reading helps you to spot the tesuji beyond the tesuji, and to compare outcomes, and to make informed choices about your moves. I can be very slow, at times, to realise these things that are probably ovious to stronger players, but at least I've got there now.
Anyway, for myself and for others: don't worry about getting better, just study, play, enjoy and get on with it.
My Japanese is good enough now that I can read go books. It's killing two birds with one stone because it increases my vocabulary and comprehension skills while helping me improve my go game. There are some very good go books on the market here, too, although you have to choose carefully. I have the The Book to Increase Your Fighting Strength at Go, which is just what I've been looking for, in terms of taking my go reading abilityto the next level, but I've also found a book called The Invasions that Amateurs Don't Know (アマの知らない打ち込み), which explains all the common invading and reducing techniques applicable to many common corner and side formations. It's like the relevant chapter in Attack and Defense, but with much more material and more systematic organisation. I don't know why, but I find it more rewarding reading go books in Japanese. Maybe it's because I have to think carefully to understand the meaning: with English, it's very easy to skim without really thinking about it. Perhaps even I could be onto something with greater educational implications: to study in an acquired language may be beneficial because it forces you to pay attention and think. Also, it is a big thrill to be able to comprehend the author's 'voice' - I'm sure it's possible to get a lot out of 囲碁の力を強くする本 only knowing the kanji for 'black to move' etc., but it makes my studies feel all the more worthwhile now that I can begin to appreciate Segoe's dry, occasionally tart writing style.
Also, I think there's an interesting effect when you learn large quantities of data: the more you learn, the easier it gets to remember! For example, the more kanji you learn, the easier it becomes to remember new ones because you recognise 'spellings' based on different combinations of radicals, and because even individually obscure kanji can crop up in common compounds, so that its simple partner helps to draw the difficult one out of the recesses of your memory. Adding meaning to the study of kanji is very beneficial, too: I recommend Kenneth Henshall's book on this because he explains the historical processes that led to each of the present-day common-use kanji, and this gives you something to hang your memories on. In the same way, if you read a Japanese (or Korean or Chinese) go book without knowing the language, you can get a lot of out it, but if you have learned the language then you can read the author's explanations, and this helps it to stick strongly in the memory. E.g., 'this shape does not work because ...', and it's the 'because' that makes you remember the shape.
１）小目の定石を勉強する ２）力を強くする ３）気合を上げる。これは、相手の一手に従いのカワリに、できるだけ攻める。
I've not played much go recently. But, my Japanese is getting almost fluent. The thing that works well is to practice thinking in Japanese, as far as possible. Sometimes, though, my pronunciation is a problem, but I'm working very hard to get better. My accent is very strongly 'English', which sometimes makes it hard for Japanese people to understand me.
Now that I've gained a driver's license at long last, I'd like to study go once again. But, rust could be a real problem. I can hardly remember any joseki. My health has been poor too, so when I get home I often like to sleep instead of play go. Still, when the Spring comes I shall probably try my best.
One thing that drives me mad when speaking Japanese is register. In other words, I often use the polite form at inappropriate times. 'How can it be inappropriate to be polite?' I hear you ask. The problem comes from learning polite forms of verbs as a beginner - they become engraved on your mind. Japanese children, on the other hand, start off with plain forms. This makes sense, because the various inflexions that express tense, mood and politeness level are all built on top of the plain form. But for me, I sometimes think automatically of the polite verb, and when talking to a friend it can seem a bit cold. It's a bit like replying to 'Hey, Tammy, how about coming for a coffee?' with 'I would be most delighted to accompany you, Miss Okada', but without irony. Also, when you get into the habit, at last, of using plain forms, you then have to remember to switch to polite forms when talking to the Koucho-sensei.
When I play go my opponents are generally old guys. They use the plain form, and they chew their words a bit too. I could be girlie and use polite language, but to be honest slightly rough Japanese is much more fun. Anyway, to get to some kind of 趣意 (point), if you want to make friends you need to learn to talk a bit casual like, 'cos textbook Japanese is way too stiff.