Thursday, January 19, 2006

The goban becomes the world

I tried playing three rated games on my wife's laptop while watching American Idol in the living room. I was also bothered that evening by a series of batch jobs that had failed at work. I figured that I would play to get my mind off things.

The result was three consecutive resignations and a frustration about not thinking even two stones deep.

In any endeavour, the ability to focus and to have the mind fully connect with the current activity is important. I recall a particularly bad practice day in my first year of kendo. Things had not gone well at the office and my troubled mind couldn't let go of all the issues I would need to face the following morning. Our senseis saw that I was performing very poorly.

"You can't practice kendo when your mind isn't on kendo," said one of the teachers. "When you step into the dojo or go into a competition match, you must leave everything behind. Munen Muso. No mind, no thought. You will learn faster and perform better."

Modern sports psychology has translated some of this into the concept of "flow". It is a state that is most easily achieved when:
  • You perceive that your skills are good enough to match the perceived difficulty of the contest.
  • The competition is not so easy that you become bored and do not concentrate.
  • You have distraction under control
  • You are paying full attention to the performance, with no analysis of errors or technique
  • You are relaxed and alert
  • You are thinking positively, and have eliminated all negative thoughts
  • It is allowed to develop, and not forced
  • You have practised and trained attention
My understanding is that, among top performing athletes, musicians and dancers, entering a state of flow has been practiced so much that it can become almost as easy as flicking on a switch; one simply enters the state. On the other hand, beginners and amateurs have to develop the art of entering flow. In traditional martial arts, this development is part of one's training.

Kendoka sitting in seiza

Before and after each practice session in kendo, we would all sit in a classic seiza and meditate silently. This ritual served many purposes but it also heightened awareness of the entry into and exit from the state of flow. By this ritual, you were leaving the outside world behind and entering the dojo both in body and mind. One of the meta-messages of this ritual was that, for an hour and thirty minutes, the dojo was the world.

Flow applies to Go as well. I doubt that we need any such rituals, but it can only improve the quality of our play when we take the time to settle our minds and fully commit them to the game.

Snakeeater receives his replacement goban from YMI

Image courtesy of Snakeeater On Go

Back on December 15th, I had blogged an overall assessment of my purchase experience of a kaya table goban from Yellow Mountain Imports. Snakeeater provided some of the late input and an image for that analysis. He had bought a shin-kaya set from them.

Well, it looks like he finally received a goban with no dings or warping. You can read about his consumer experience in his latest post.

In Memoriam

My grandmother in an undated photograph

I learned this morning that my grandmother had passed away. She would have been 101 years old next month. She had four sons and one daughter. She is survived by her two remaining sons (one of whom is my father) and her many descendants.

Contrary to her demure appearance, my grandmother was remarkably hardy; chopping wood all the way up into her 80's until her vision began to fade. It was only a few years ago that I heard she even needed a cane or a walker. She was strong in her Catholic faith but never proselytized. I recall her being such an even-keeled and practical woman; a character befitting one that had seen much joy and hardship.

She had lived through interesting times with my grandfather who passed-away in 1969. He was also a Catholic, a Mason since his younger years (something I recently learned), and a self-made and successful businessman. He was a descendant of the house of Que Bue Ching in Fujian, China (the birth province of Go Seigen, aka Wu Qingyuan).

She is at peace and they are together again. Those of us who remain will miss them both but shall always thank them for the gifts of their lives and their legacies.


At 10:43 AM, January 20, 2006, Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

I have found the book Basketball FundaMENTALs to be useful for tips on getting into flow. The author talks about the mind as if it has a dial which can point to one and only one method of perception at a time, at least if you want to really pay attention to it. For shooting baskets, for example, you need to switch your mind to the visual system and focus narrowly on the basket. For playing defence, you also use the visual system, but keep your focus softer.

I've found that using vision is a shortcut to get to flow. One can't focus well on vision and be wrapped up in thought at the same time, so focusing on the stones is a good way to get out of your head and into the game. (Perhaps this works so well because "thinking" in go is usually some combination of visualization and intuition. I might even go so far as to say that if you're using words when thinking during a game, you aren't doing it right.)

At 11:44 AM, January 23, 2006, Blogger O_Scientist said...

Sorry about the loss of your grandmother. She sounds like a wonderful person.

I need to learn to get that "flow" in my go games, I feel that I am still lacking in that aspect.

A few months ago, I started martial arts (after a break of 20 years or so) and I have to say that it seems easier for me to empty my mind there and focus, than it is when I play go.

Guess this is yet another thing for me to work on.

Excellent post, I enjoyed reading your perspective, there is a lot to be learned from it.



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