I don’t play much physical sports, actually I don’t. But like all men I must satisfy a desire to beat other men in some measures of strength, agility or intelligence. I play Go. My latest game appears at the end of this post. It seems as if I was mismatched here, I am definitely not a 25 kyu, the final score does seem to indicate I am around 10 kyu or even better.
I actually felt bad for the guy because I see this sort of thing a lot in real life. The Japanese have a concept aptly named Shuhari which has found currency in Agile Software Development lingo. The avid reader will notice the same concept from a Martin Fowler article where he articulates it as follows:
Shu: In this beginning stage the student follows the teachings of one master precisely. He concentrates on how to do the task, without worrying too much about the underlying theory. If there are multiple variations on how to do the task, he concentrates on just the one way his master teaches him.
Ha: At this point the student begins to branch out. With the basic practices working he now starts to learn the underlying principles and theory behind the technique. He also starts learning from other masters and integrates that learning into his practice.
Ri: Now the student isn’t learning from other people, but from his own practice. He creates his own approaches and adapts what he’s learned to his own particular circumstances.
Playing this 25kyu reminded me of the context I learned about the Shuhari concept myself. I too was a beginner. And as a beginner one is often preoccupied with not breaking the rules of the game. You try and make really really sure you don’t lose any stones and your focus is on capturing the stones of your opponent.
As you become more comfortable with the game you might even learn about Joseki which is basically a pattern of play in response to a common situation — which I suppose is a fair progression given that you’re probably trying to draw on the experiences of what the expert before you has, on average, gone through. At this stage you’re probably still having occasional headaches while playing because you’re really concentrating very very hard.
In the final stage, as Fowler says, the student is no longer learning from other people but from what he himself has observed in the field and he adopts his approach based on his own particular set of circumstances. In fact a famous Go Proverb intimates that you should no longer be relying on Joseki. Also, you realise that Go is more about encircling unoccupied board area than capturing stones. Capturing stones does actually count for a lot, but it’s considered vulgar to actually capture the group (you waste a move) and as an expert you’re supposed to be able read a few moves ahead that a group is in fact dead.
Of course this is all very similar to the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition which Fowler also makes mention of.
Some food for thought perhaps?
Anyway what I wanted to say in today’s post is that at one point my skill level was ranked at 6 kyu in competitive play, but after some years of absence I can barely win against a 16 kyu. But in trying to remind myself of the first principles I clung to as an acolyte Go player it’s all coming back to me albeit slower than I want to as I kick some beginner ass.
It’s often said that to be sharp you have to do some teaching. By being in the company of those trying to learn you get an appreciation (some would say a reminder) of your own level of awareness.
I very much predict that in my next game I shall be able to beat at least a 15 kyu.
Enough talking, here’s the game. As you can see I totally crushed this guy.