Tenuki

by Jinryu

The concept of tenuki in go/baduk means simply to “play somewhere else.” Considering that a game of baduk is pretty evenly matched by design (you have one turn each, and no amount of pre-training will change this fact, and if you and your opponent are both ranked, you’re more than likely playing a pretty well-calibrated handicap game), there isn’t a lot of opportunity to “play somewhere else.” The opponent makes a purposeful move, and likely, you’ll have to respond to it.

It’s not something I’ve often been able to do. It parallels a lot of what happens in martial arts. It even ties over to video gaming.

Okay, so maybe that doesn’t make much sense, because I”m getting too jargony or something.

I like to think of “tenuki” as being synonymous with “ignore.” Basically, something comes up from the evironment, and your normal response would be to react to it– but that’s a mistake in many cases. The danger is that if we allow external forces to set the pace of the fight, we get caught in their agenda rather than imposing our own. While adaptability is an important skill, the very definition of adaptability means fitting yourself to an existing scenario. Wouldn’t it be better, in an adversarial system, instead of adapting, but to take initiative and to dictate the scenario?

In order to use tenuki, there’s a few things that one needs. The concepts aren’t entirely distinct from one another, and their functions are somewhat interrelated– but it all comes down to having substance.

One way of looking at it is a coincidence of self and environment. That is to say, you need to have enough self-confidence in your own agenda to follow through with your own idea; and you need a sufficient understanding of your environment to see how your move will interact with it to your benefit.

This concept seems foreign if I talk about it theoretically, but it’s present in various degrees all over the place.

It’s is easily translated into gaming. Supposing your opponent throws a hadoken (a fireball). You could spend all day jumping over fireballs– or matching them with your own– but what you really need to do is play a move that gains you sente (initiative). One possibility is throwing out a shinkuhadoken (a bigass, super fireball, which will not only eat up your opponent’s fireball, but if done quickly enough, will also eat his face).

A more simple situation is when people try to get on our nerves or try to get a rise out of us. This is where the whole “be the bigger man thing” comes from, but what the expression omits is that you don’t just ignore the actions of someone or something bothering you– you ought to play such that the external force is instead subjected to your willpower.

When I was in elementary school, I got bullied a lot. My parents told me to ignore it and not get into any trouble. In high school, I ignored all the attempts at bullying and, to take it a step further, became a loan shark so that for the most part, I was squeezing others, rather than the other way around.

The real skill of tenuki though is the break the cycle of reaction, with an instance of endurance or dismissal, followed up by a decisive act of un-ignorable initiative.

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