Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
You been out ridin’ fences for so long now
Oh, you’re a hard one
I know that you got your reasons
These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow
The other day, I was playing a game of baduk (I’ll start calling it that instead of ‘go’ for the purposes of this blog, because it’s too easily confused with the english word) against [SiB]. And I learned something really important.
I haven’t really explained my recent obsession with baduk yet, so maybe I’ll start there?
Aside from SiB, my girlfriend, [CM], is the only other person I know in person who I’ve played Baduk with.
Naturally, my relationship with them and baduk is more important than with any stranger I meet on the internet. CM first introduced me to the idea of baduk somewhere over a year ago, when she was still attending the McGill University’s Go club. From then on, it’s been a little side thing to play every now and then– I’d play against CM and she’d teach me as she’d destroy me.
It’s been uphill work trying to get better at baduk, but I’m extremely humbled by the strong ‘teaching’ culture of baduk players, which is something I never really experienced or heard of in the chess community back when I used to play competitively. People play games at clubs and have their moves reviewed by teachers.
There’s an official ranking system of kyu and dans that really makes figuring out where you stand a lot easier, which is a huge thing: it makes quantifying your improovement much easier. The world of baduk players is divided into ranks. At the basic level, there are “kyu” ranks, ranging from 30 (weakest) to 1 (strongest). After you surpass the 1 kyu level, you move on to “dan” ranks. It’s akin to the various belt systems in asian martial arts.
Like in the world of martial arts, higher ranks are’t just higher because they can kick around their juniors. Higher ranks are almost expected to guide the lower ranks, and teach them how to advance. People who play at baduk clubs often know who is stronger, but thanks to the handicap system, things get evened out a bit so that, with some limits, any social player can be a challenge to anyone else. Roughly, for every 1 rank of difference, there is 1 stone of handicap start. So, for example, if a 25kyu player takes on a 30kyu player, the 30kyu player starts off 5 stones ahead.
Learning to play baduk is really an intereting process, because although has an extremely technical aspect, it also has a largely philosophical one.
SiB and CM have been helping learn the basics of baduk shapes, that is to say, patterns which occur in the game, for the last month or so. That about when I started more seriously playing this game online on the KGS Go server ( http://www.gokgs.com
). The KGS system is great for this kinda thing because the system is designed such that there’s teaching integrated into it. Every game you play is recorded on the servers– an old game can be loaded up so that it can be replayed, discussed, and alternate moves can be played out to do branches of alternate plays where “what if I played this instead?” questions could be answered.
Thanks to what they’ve taught me, I’ve climbed from the bottom of the fish barrel (somewhere around 30l-28k to 19k in less than two months! KGS is also so kind to provide daily updated ranking charts based on your game stats. It may seem like a small thing, but I think it’s actually very helpful. It’s a lot easier to stay motivated if you have some empirical way of measuring your progress.
Anyway, back to the begining of this message. Why am I quoting Desperado?
It’s the Eagles’ song that comes to mind with the last bit of advice I got from SiB, regarding my baduk play. I’m at about the 20k rank (although at the time of this posting, I’m 19k, I don’t know if that will actually last. SiB is ranked between 2k and 4k. So… if you want to understand what that means theoretically in terms of a handicap, his measured skill level is such that at the begining of a game, I should be allowed to make about 16-18 free moves before he gets to put down his first stone.
In reality, no more than a 6-9 stone handicap is given, but just to illustrate: I palyed SiB with a 6 stone handicap, and he raped me. I mean, raped. He beat me by 134 points. (For those of you with the KGS Client, you can take a look at the game here: http://files.gokgs.com/games/2010/6/24/smallseed-Jinryu.sgf
. SiB’s KGS name is Smallseed.)
Anyway, his advice– “settle first”.
As in, when given the choice between being aggresive versus first getting a stable foothold, get that stability first. I’d imagine that at the advanced levels, one does both at the same time, but the point is, don’t attack when you’re incapable of deffending.
It’s a lot like real life, when you think about it. Where have you heard before, you need to love yourself before you love others? Clean your own backyard before trying to rebuild Central Park? Don’t throw stones in a house of glass? That’s like a kettle telling a pot that it’s black?
All these things relate to overextending one’s limits, floudering about for action, but not really paying attention to one’s foundations.
I don’t use the word as often nowadays, but I used to call it ‘substace.’ Substance is what makes people feel ‘solid’ or ‘substantial’ in the sense that– well, how shall we put this?
Maybe it’s easier to describe what substance is not.
Substance is not what you see when someone is just bullshitting through their teeth. It is not what you see when someone cowers because they’re afraid of being hurt. Yet– substance is not recklessness or a willingness to to risk pain in exchange for bit returns– it is, on the contrary, an understanding, or an analytical ability, leading calculated risks, leading to experience, resulting in cofidence.
I guess if you needed to summarize, substance is probably anything you could respect in a person.
In the real world, you don’t get too far with assholery. I mean, assholes do get far– but that’s in large part because the qi blasting that they do is overwhelming the qi deffenses of the weak people they prey on– basically, it’s not that assholes are actually all that powerful, it’s just that the people they pick on don’t necessarily know how to deffend themselves.
People of real substance don’t react to those sorts of inconsequential attacks, and aren’t at all opressed by all the bravado. People of substance, in face of such things, simply go about their business.
It’s a lot like that in that baduk match I had with SiB. I was going about the map, doing what I thought was best– but for every attack I attempted, he evaluated the situations in ways that I couldn’t even see. His judgement? That this attack, or that attack, or that formation, was weak. He didn’t have to worry about that. He could go about his business of building his own bases up and spreading his influence over the board. And then when it came down to the real fighting? Then we’d see who meant business.
I did mention that I lost by over 130 points right?
The thing about substance, in whatever the context, is that it’s a relative scale. There’s always someone better than you, someone who is, in the real sense of the word, bigger and more immovable than you are.
The importance is to keep on trying.
I think if there’s anything that’s reinforced by this, it’s that one needs to get the basics first. One can’t just be going about for kicks all the time, stirring shit up– there needs to be some anchor, some sense of stability, like a respect for classics before attempting to jazz it up.
The importance I suppose isn’t how much substance you have though… it’s that you continue to build it.
If I can quote an idea that is well illustrated in Bleach, it’s one of the older episodes where we first meet the Captain, Zakarai Kenpachi. Many people in the world of bleach are capable of kido (magic spells?) and special techniques… but not Kenpachi. He’s only good at using his sword, and fighting with pure willpower.
In face of him, his reiatsu (life energy / battle aura) is so strong that most people are simply crushed by his presence, without him even having to cut them down. People can break their own swords just trying to hit him. Going too close to him without sufficient purpose is enough to knock you senseless.
That is what you want to build.
Not necessarily so you can kick the asses of anyone who wants to just say hello to you– but it has other applications in life.
CM and I have been doing our long distance relationship for almost 2 months now. It really hasn’t been easy. But what gets us through?
It’s everything that’s good about her, and everything that’s good about me– it’s our substance– the things that we learned through experiences, good and bad, that build us into the characters we are now. Those things let us resist the hardships, overcome the obstacles… and there are plenty of times where we just wish that things were easier. Always, actually.
I think we manage though because in both our separate lives, we’ve always bitten off quite a bit, and now this is how it’s paying off. We’re surviving situations and levels of uncertainty that most couples would break up over.
Survival doesn’t sound all that great– it makes it sound like we’re on the deffensive.
But like I said in a previous post– sometimes, you just have to dig in, and wait until what turns out to be a weak (if not constant) attack starts to make more sense, and then you can take sente back. Rout it all.
It all starts though from the base.