by Anne Beardsley
Greed is another cardinal sin. As the old Go proverb states, “He who tries to take everything will end with nothing.” You must allow your opponent to take some ground…quite a bit of ground, unless the difference in you respective strengths is truly massive. Not only must you allow your opponent to take some ground, you ought to give him what he tries hardest to get. Another proverb advises: “Give the opponent what he wants.” Does he want the northwest corner? Let him have the northwest corner, and wall him into it, or engulf an entire side while he takes his corner.
You must allow him to have whatever he wants most, and turn that to be his downfall. In Aikido, too, we move where the opponent wishes to go…at least initially. A famous Aikido quote says “Always give the attacker what he wants, with a little bit more. Does uke want the hand? Then give him the hand; that is his battlefield. Let him have his battle field–now you move the Earth.” I think that every beginning Go player in the world should be taught that quote. Although it was written about Aikido, it contains much of the essence of the game of Go.
For this reason Go players are also taught, “Do not attach when attacking.” In Aikido we would say, “Do not reach out and grab your opponent.” In both disciplines, such an attack gives your opponent resources to work with. Instead, avoiding direct points of conflict and shaping your opponent’s play is much more powerful.
Go centers on the principles of going where your opponent is not, undercutting his support, causing him to run himself against barriers or collapse under his own weight. Good Go shapes are described as light, fluid, flexible, balanced, and as having lots of liberties. Go players concentrate on finding a balance between needless and destructive clashes of power and simple submission. Those who become too passive in play are reminded that Go is the martial art of the mind and that a focused “warrior spirit” is necessary for victory. Those who become overly aggressive are reminded that in Go, softness is strength and that greed for the win takes the win away. It is a game where ultimately influence matters more than strength.
Last of all, but never least, Go and Aikido are both spiritual disciplines. Enthusiasts of both will insist that they study not only to become a better player or martial artist, but to become a better person. Go is considered, like chess, a high intellectual pursuit; but it is more. Go was one of the four great courtly arts of China and Japan, along with poetry, painting, and calligraphy, and it is still considered an art form by those who love it. Players speak of the grace or intrinsic beauty of moves. An experienced observer can see not only the logic but the ascetics of every move, and a poorly played stone jars the heart like a clashing loud note in a symphony. When played by two experienced players, a game of Go is a window into the soul.
My study of each of the two martial arts, Aikido and Go, has enriched my experience of the other. Perhaps the twentieth century’s greatest player, Go Seigen, said it best: “Go is aiki”.