Aikido and Go – Part 3

by Anne Beardsley

Aikido and Go – Part 2

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.

Aftermath of a battleAftermath of a battle

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.

Two monks playing Go - KoreaTwo monks playing Go – Korea

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”.

-Anne Beardsley

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Aikido and Go – Part 2

by Anne Beardsley

Aikido and Go – Part 1

Maai is a word that is common in both disciplines; and for the same reasons. In Go as in Aikido, one should confront the adversary from a safe distance – close enough to act and react, but out of the metaphorical kicking distance. In Go one learns to intuitively sense the proper opening distance for each situation. I’m sure if I continue to work at it, one day I will be able to sense the right maai in Aikido, too.

Two skilled Go playersTwo skilled players

A very old Go proverb states, “The enemy’s key point is also yours”, and it is true in Aikido as well. The opponent’s point of balance is very often where the Aikidoka wishes to be, moving uke into an uncomfortable position.

A graceful deflection of an attackA graceful deflection of an attack

Timing is essential. (I recognize that “speed” of play, which has nothing to do with the time a player spends considering a move, will not be very comprehensible to anyone who is not a Go player, but it is important and should be included.) It is a good thing to be slightly swifter than your opponent, but you should never attempt to leave him behind altogether. The word for such behavior is “pride”, and in Go as in life, pride is a fatal flaw. You must match your opponent’s speed, attempting to shape the flow of his play. In chess, it is possible for one player to separate himself from his opponent somewhat and act upon him. In Go almost all actions will be completed together. No matter how fierce the combat, both players must be aware of and merging with the opposing play at all times.

Samurai tying his shoe on an up-turned Go boardSamurai tying his shoe on an up-turned Go board

Go is a battlefield, but like Aikido, many games look to an observer more like a dance as the two opponents slide around and through the other’s positions, responding immediately to changes in direction, thickness, speed, or intent. A Go player must learn to focus on his opponent at all times, but not loose himself in a single problem, a single knot of stones. He must see the entire board at all times or risk winning the battle only to lose the war. Aikidoka also are taught to be aware of the entire situation, not merely the point of conflict nearest their face.

Continued—Aikido and Go – part 3

Aikido and Go

Part 1

by Anne Beardsley

Go, (called Igo in Japan), was invented at least 3,000 years ago in China. It is a board game where two players take turns placing white or black stones upon a 19 by 19 grid. The rules are simple, but the complexity of the play is such that even today no computer in the world can match a human opponent. Confucius spoke highly of it, monks of many different sects played it to school and purify their minds, and at one point promotion in the Japanese army was largely dependent upon the ability to play this game. The Chinese called it the spirit-refining game; the Koreans named it Hand-talk (a conversation without words), and the Japanese described it as the thousand year passion. Considered the martial art of the mind, Go is the only intellectual pursuit in the world where strength is measured in terms of kyu and dan. As such, it may be the oldest still existing martial art in the world.

Training for Chinese generalsTraining for Chinese generals

I have now played Go for two and a half years. As a beginning Aikidoka, I have often been struck by some of the similarities between the two disciplines; more than once I have felt that I was simply playing Go with my body instead of with my mind. Like Go, I can tell that although the principles are simple, I could practice for sixty years and still have much to learn. Or as the ancient Go proverb puts it: “A few moments to learn, a lifetime to master”.

In these two years I have somehow taught quite a number of people from several different countries to play Go. Advanced players are without cultural boundaries, but in beginners there is a large difference between easterners and westerners…not in strength, but in style.

Western beginners usually try to meet force with force. Focusing on the attacking and capturing aspects of the game, they focus on sternly protecting their stones by force while trying to hammer their opponents into yielding territory. They tend not to know when to give up and play in another corner of the board. Any more advanced player will smile, give them the few stones or points they want to capture so desperately, and quietly play elsewhere….taking possession of the entire rest of the board, and winning by a landslide.

Women playing in the mist - JapanWomen playing in the mist – Japan

Easterners generally try not to meet force at all. Focusing on the territory-gaining aspects of the game, they ignore their opponent as long as possible. When attacked, they will retreat…but leaving already placed stones undefended. They will forget to protect themselves as they try to expand, and quickly abandon anything that is threatened. Any more advanced player will smile, pressure them till they fall apart, and then claim the rest of the board, winning by a landslide.

In between the two lies the true path. Great Go masters, like great Aikido masters, understand the harmony of accepting force without losing one’s own position. They know how to redirect and shape a threat without running from it or clashing with it. A great game of Go is, in its very essence, much as Aikido appears to many observers – a dance between two partners as much as a battle between two adversaries.

In Aikido, the Aikidoka does not throw himself recklessly against the strength of his uke. Instead, he seeks to isolate a piece of the body and use it to shape his partner’s motions. A key strategy in Go is to separate the stones of your opponent. If large groups of your opponents stones are working together, it will be not only impossible to take them, it will be impossible to shape their growth to your advantage. If you can isolate small parts of them, you can control the flow of your opponent’s play.

Lady defending with Naginata and Go boardLady defending with Naginata and Go board

As in Aikido, objectives in Go are gained not by a clash of strength but by focusing on your strength and bringing it to bear on weakness. You attempt to induce your opponent to run his weakness against your strength, to pit his small formations against the balanced and secure bulk of your stones.

About the author

Anne Beardsley is the mother of 3 children and a student of Aikido, Go, and Toyama Ryu iaido.

Continued—Aikido and Go – part 2

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