rkyen thub

by Jinryu

(a tibeten word that translates, roughly to endurance, fortitude, or willpower)

Last night I was watching some friends learn to play baduk. It was pretty fun to help [CM] show them the ropes, for the same reason I think that it was interesting to teach children in Korea. I’m not saying that these people are as dumb as children, not in the least– they actually were quite clever considering that it was their first time playing.

I’m saying that I find it insightful to observe the developmental stages of the logics that we’ll be using for the rest of our lives.

(For those of you interested, you can check out the game briefly at Wikipedia. If any of you play on KGS, let me know and we can play some day!)

In a game of baduk, you play on any intersection of a 19×19 grid. That’s pretty huge, considering a chess board is 8×8.

There’s a lot of space for everyone.

But one of the things I find present in a game of baduk that isn’t in most board games is strong emphasis on the need to balance agressiveness with deffensiveness. When two players of similar strength play eachother, and one person opts for all out agression while the other plays a bit more conservatively, the conservative player is likely to take the lead. Mathematically, the game somewhat favours a deffender because any invasion you attempt is in enemy territory.

I guess what I’m getting at is that when people start off at a lot of things, they tend to think that strong, forward movement is the path to victory. I watched my friends play go for the first time and they were going after all the little battles– they wouldn’t give up an inch of territory. Every little corner was a bloodbath, and by the end of the quarter-board game, there were more dead pieces than there were spaces on the board. Teaching in Korea revealed a similar mentality– chidlren tend to associate with the strongest of the children. They want to dominate the others and climb the heirarchy, rather than function cooperatively.

I daresay the same mentality is starting to emerge in law school as well.

It’s hard to put my finger on the idea, but what I’m getting at is that there’s this impression I’m getting that people are going after the flashy battles. I’m not sure if it’s the thrill of winning high profile fights (whatever fights they may be) or if it’s just a natural tendency for agression… but isn’t it easier to win where there is no resistence?

In class for example, the system in Australia for grades goes from P (pass), to C (credit), to D (distinction) to HD (high distinction). That’s roughly equivalent to getting a D, C, B or A grade in classes back in North America. In our law school classes, we get grades for class participation– basically, you get marks for arguing your points well, and participating in discussions effectively. It’s obvious that there are some classes that are more controversial than others– but sometimes, people get into shouting matches about who is right and who is wrong. Meanwhile, in more boring classes, almost no discussion goes on at all, even though we’re still graded for participation.

So, what’s the smarter strategy? And, indeed, what promotes the most learning? Should everybody duke it out in the classes where the subject matter is interesting?

My strategy has been to save my energy for the classes that are a bit less boring– if I put in a lot of energy in that one class where there is constant debate, I’ll just be one among 20 other people who gets a few words in. In order to get the HD in that class, I’d really have to climb up an exponentially more difficult hill. Whereas, if I target the other 4 classes where nothing much is going on, the same amount of effort on my part gets me way more results– I don’t have to fight, there’s less competition, and my chances of being noticed by the teacher are much higher. Thus, I’m trading a glorious (but in effect, ineffectual) battle in 1 class for easy pickings in 4 others.

The truth is, humans have limitations. We have limited money, we have limited energy. Somehow, we’ve not gotten into the habit though of picking a fight with whatever gets in our face.

I’m not sure how it develops, but I think that the change that occurs somewhere is that as we get to understand things more, we learn to put things in perspective. We learn to endure the little things, and transfer our energy more efficiently. We learn about short term sacrifices.

I’m not saying that we should only fight the battles that we can win– there are times where we need to fight the battles that need winning. I am, however, saying that we need to really, deeply look at a situation, and figure out what battles need winning. To the extent that that says anything, it blurs the lines between objectivity and subjectivity, I think– because when we decide what we want to win, and take responsibility for it, that’s when our subjectivity and the objectivity of our environments meld. It’s a tao, really.

I think the word sacrifice is important. In both chess and go, and, indeed, even a game of Marvel versus Capcom 3, an understanding of sacrifice is essential to the upper levels of play– same goes for real life.

But we won’t learn sacrifice if we don’t develop any endurance, fortitude, or willpower– so perhaps we start there?