In the third volume of the Learn to Play Go Series by Janice Kim and Jeong Soo-hyun, we learn the proper and improper mindset in the game of Go. More than an intellectual game, I think Go is a spiritual and philosophical endeavor too for serious players. I want to be a serious player, amateur I may be, and I look at the game as a battle for my mental, spiritual, and psychological growth (Deep I know, but that is how I see the game).
On the downfall of a player, Kim and Soo-hyun lists seven dangers. These seven dangers remind me of the seven homunculi (named and inspired by the seven deadly sins) in my favorite anime Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. Indeed, as scary and menacing as the seven villains Ed and Al have to face, I also struggle against these seven nemesis every time I place or click a stone on the goban.
During my first three months of playing, I remember I lose often by more than 50 points. I had very small territories while my opponents would create big ones with big captures. I did not understand Go then as much as I did now, but I think a big factor why I always lose big was because of fear.
When I look over my first few games, I am astonished at how cowardice I was. My idea of an extension then would not be more than five or six points from a friendly stone. I also noticed that when an opponent approached my stone or a group of stones, my immediate reply would be to defend the small territory I had surrounded instead of playing a big move somewhere else. Even after my opponent shad surrounded a big area, I will not invade. Instead, I will help my opponents solidify the walls of their frameworks. Even with enough space to create a living group, I will not invade.
After more than a year, I have changed my cowardly ways. However, fear still overcomes my heart whenever big groups are at stake or big areas are in danger. Most of the time the fear forces me to defend rather than to counterattack, or to play passively rather than to invade and destroy the opponent’s territories.
Fear is a by-product of uncertainty, for most of the time, what we fear is not the capture of our stones, the destruction of our territories, or our defeat in the game. More often than not, we are afraid because we are uncertain. We do not know if that group will live. We do not know if that stone will live inside our territory and destroy all the profit we worked hard for. We do not know if our opponent can separate our weak groups. We do not know what our opponent is planning. All of these questions, all of these unknowns, burden our hearts and minds that we are scared to proceed. Worse, we reach a point where we place a stone and hope for the best, and sometimes the best that we aim for is the end of our suffering. We an end to the pain fear has caused in gripping our hearts and wringing it to the last drop of blood.
How did I overcome fear? I have not overcome fear. I still know very little about the game. My games will speak of it. However, the only weapon and shield to the fear of the unknown is knowledge. Thus, learning and practice is necessary.
I still fear many stones my opponents play on the goban, but as I learn a little each day, my fears become less and less. One step, one wisdom at a time, I am able to silence fear, the beast of uncertainty, little by little until I am brave enough to counterattack, invade, or even feed the fear lurking in my opponents’ hearts.
Fear resides in all our hearts. Maybe we could never defeat it. I assume even professional Go players struggle with the fear of uncertainty at least once in their matches, but their knowledge allows them to push aside this fear and tell it, “Step back Fear, you fowl beast. I have a move to play. I have a game to win”
What are your experiences about fear? Have you ever felt afraid invading an opponent framework or punishing an unreasonable attack? Share your thoughts in the comments. Let us conquer fear together.