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The game of Go: Stars on the goban

The game of Go: Stars on the goban

By Konstantin Bayraktarov

Trans.: Tsvetomir Varbanov

The Chinese game weiqi, also known in the world as “Go” is invented, according to some sources, by the legendary emperor Yao. The same emperor is cited also as the creator of the calendar. And the system of chronology in China is traditionally started in the year 2357 BC – the year of the enthroning of Yao. The Chinese sources give credit for the game’s invention also to other mythological persons of Chinese origins. For example, the successor to Yao – emperor Shun, also known as the Encircling Shun – directly corresponds to the essence of the game itself – the process of surrounding and encircling of territories. One can only be certain that weiqi (Go) or “the game of encircling” bears the honorary age of three to four thousand years, making it the oldest known intellectual game.

Considered to be of “heavenly” origin, according to an old Japanese proverb, Go is said to be a game of Gods, while chess is the game of heroes. The elements of the sky like the ghosts of Great Bear (Ursa Major,Beydou) and Little Bear (Ursa Minor,Niendou) are known Go players in the Chinese folklore. This comes as no surprise, as long as the game is a metaphor of Life itself and these two ghosts are responsible for life and death. This ancient game has connections in the Chinese astronomy. The science of the skies played an important role in the life of the old civilizations.

The first lunar and solar calendars stem from observations of the skies. Knowledge of astronomy is essential to astrology, as well as to intellectual games. This connection of Go to astronomy is hinted by the naming of the nine marked points on the board, known as “star points”. They correspond to the nine stellar palaces from where the Heavens are ruled, according to Chinese mythology. The central point or “tengen” is the Northern star – the star of the Yellow Emperor Huang Di. This heavenly model is the one to be abided by the Earthly government. The Chinese Emperor is the reincarnation of Huang Di himself. Confucius (551-479 BC) in his famous Analects explains:

“He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the North Polar star, which keeps its place and all stars turn towards it.”(Lun Yu, 2:1)

The ancient authors confirm the embedded astro-calendar symbolism in Go. Zhang Ni in Quijing Shisanpian (The classic of weiqi in thirteen chapters) writes:

“There are 360 plus one intersections and One is the beginning of all numbers. It occupies the Tengen (center point) and drives the whole board. There are 360 days in a year. The four corners represent the four seasons and the 90 intersections in each quadrant correspond to the days in every season.”

The Go board has 19 horizontal and 19 vertical lines and signifies the Universe, that the Chinese call “yuzhou” and stands for “transverse and longitudinal beams (lines)”. The intersections of these lines are 361, a number that is running closely to the real count of the days in a year. Actually it is almost the mean arithmetic of the lunar (354 days) and the solar (365 days) years.

The Chinese historian Ban Gu (32-92 AD) wrote: “The board must be square, for it represents Earth’s laws. The lines must be straight for they embody the spirit of pure virtue. The pieces are white and black, and so are divided into the Yin and the Yang. Paired and set out in order, they represent the patterns of the Heavens.” The idea of Heavenly order provided some support for the elemental nature of chaos. The existence of Heavenly order where everything is moving according to its own laws was obvious to the ancient. Therefore it was up to Man to provide such order down on Earth, mirroring the Heavenly one. Such cosmological vision is manifested in a poem by the Vietnamese King Le Than Tong (1442-1497):

High summits are drawn up as a crowd

in the sea like many jewels.

bluish tops are dispersed like falling stars

and the pieces in the Go board of waves.

Fish and salt, abundant like sand,

offer a rapid gain to people

Inspired by the natural beauty of Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam, the Poet-King conveys the image of a settled and orderly country. The game of Go is a metaphore for the Cosmic or Heavenly harmony that is the example to be creatively and willingully represented on Earth. The desired harmony in the country and the society correlates with the ideal of virtue and the rule of justice that should be conducted by the enlightened King. The Neo-Confucian Yu Jie (1272-1348) of Hanlin Academy recommends to emperor Wen Di the game of Go as mandatory for the Son of Heaven (Tienzi). If Huandi is the ruler of the Heavenly Cosmos, then his reincarnation on Earth – the Son of Heaven – rules the social cosmos.

The way the Chinese see the Sky has a lot in common with the imagination of the wise men, that created the game of Go. The process of identifying and naming certain star groups is both intuitive and governed by semantic associations. The imagination kicks in to compare the group to some real or abstract object. The configuration of stones in Go is the main structural object in the game. The same principles can be applied to constellations on the sky. So the names of some basic constructions in Go and some of the constellations owe their origins to the associative and mytho-poetical thinking.

Since ancient times, the stars are grouped in constellations for easier recognition on the sky. Different cultures grouped them differently. For example, the configuration known in the Western world as the Great Bear (Big Dipper) is perceived as belonging to other constellations in the east. Still the ancient Chinese saw eye to eye with the modern westerners, but generally they were prone to dissect the sky into numerous smaller groups. The Chinese astronomers were able to “draw” in the sky the figures of exotic creatures by using as little as 2 or 3 stars. The analogy in Go are groups known as a “horse”, a “big horse”, a “tiger” (or “tiger mouth”, “tiger eye”), “an empty triangle”, “bamboos” (or “bamboo joint”), “a wall and a shadow” (the higher the wall, the higher the shadow it casts), “a diamond” (ponnuki) or “a ladder”.

The same principles guided the Chinese in naming the constellations. Two or three elements and some imagination is enough to “draw” whatever you want. The mentioned groups and their names are known to every beginner in the game. These constructions have some very tactical sense in the game and their combinations form the strategical view on the board. The board for Go itself is a coordinated grid work, upon which the different stars can be positioned precisely by means of stones. Probably using the same method, the Chinese of 2500 years ago created the first star catalogue with over 800 static stars.

The Man is gazing at the Sky for millennia. This impulse has provided the necessary elements for the foundation of the science of the stars. And the understanding of the world finds its interpretation in logic games. Man gradually discovers the Universe within, stepping over from ontos to gnosis. In the words of Immanuel Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. ” The universe of the Mind is also stunningly colossal. An ancient Japanese verse (senryu) turns the Universe into a game of Go in the mind of a player:

In the depth of night

even the ceiling

becomes a Go board

Lying in bed, writes William Pinckard (1927-1989), he replays the game far into the night. A strange and interesting metaphore is here: the Go stones move from the board to the ceiling and beyond the ceiling to the sky where they become again the stars from which they were born thousands of years ago.

Everyone is aware of the collossal number of possible combinations in chess, yet the game of Go trumps it. The approximate calculations point that the number, corresponding to the possible variations in Go is about three times as long as the one about chess and twice as long as the number that currently stands in science as the quantity of the atoms in the known Universe and the latter itself boasts a hudred-digits magnitude! Bearing in mind that the endless possibilities in Go mirror the countless events in nature, the saying goes that Go encloses the Universe itself.


1. Fairbairn J., Go in Ancient China, Mind Sports Worldwide

2. History of Weiqi, Yutopian Enterprises 1999

3. Luo Guanzhong, Sanguo Yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms)

4. Confucius, Lun Yu, Confucius Publishing Co.Ltd.

See also sites like 5. Zhang Ni, Qijing Shisanpian (The Classic of Weiqi in Thirteen Chapters), Its History and Translation by Paolo Zanon, 1996

6. Fairbairn J., The essence of Go, Mind Sports Worldwide

7. HALONG BAY (Now this site not respondet!)

8. Pinckard W., Some Senryu about Go

9. Trost W./ Трост В., САМАЯ ПРИВЛЕКАТЕЛЬНАЯ ИГРА В МИРЕ (The Most Attractiveness Game of the World, Най-привлекателната игра на света), Ukrainian Go Federation, 1995

В-к “Телескоп”, бр.12 (254), Астрономическа асоциация София (ААС), 21.03.2006

Ма Rong – Poet

Ма Жун. Учен и поет

Йони Лазаров, БГА


От далечната епоха на Източна династия Хан (25-220) изниква фигурата на Ма Жун (79-166). Конфуцианският учен, написал прочутата поема “Weiqi fu” – “Вейци рапсодия”.

Поемата е включена в известната поетична антология “Ши дзин”, в подраздела “Малките оди”. Всъщност, в основата на каноническия вариант на “Ши дзин” лежи “Списъка на Мао” и коментариите към него направени именно от Ма Жун и обнародвани под заглавието “Стихове в списъка на учения Мао с коментарии на Ма Жун” (“Ма Жун ши джу”)[1]. ”.

Преводът на поемата на английски е на Джон Фейрберн, а на български от Константин Байрактаров.



Weiqi Fu by Ma Jun
First the four corners are occupied
To protect them and influence the sides,
Then along the sides the lines are blocked
So that the scattered stones gaze at one another from afar.
Then come knight’s moves large and small,
Now far apart, now one on one,
As groups jump out in leaps and bounds
And make their way into the centre.
Having escaped they stop and prepare to move:
To fly to left or right?
Where the way is narrow and the enemy more numerous
They will be unable to go far.
But if themselves more numerous yet lacking plans,
They will bunch aimlessly like a flock of sheep
And will forever be on the defensive
As the opponent snaps at them on all sides.
Instead attack where the enemy is overstretched, seek out his defects
And send thunderbolts crashing in to his vital points.
If there is profit, you will then have time to take it;
If there is opportunity, you can make yourself strong.
But if you are too greedy to capture his stones,
He will break down your walls
And when the dyke bursts it will not be stopped
But will overflow and the flood reach far and wide.


За нас ще е интересно да погледнем на поемата от ъгъла на вейци теорията. Поемата говори сама за себе си. От нея си личи високото изкуство на игра в тези далечни времена. Още по-интересно е, че към обяснението на вейци теорията са привлечени метафори. Оттук се вижда как произтичат някои известни по-късно поговорки във вейци, станали почти аксиоми. Например: “Първо обръщай внимание на ъглите, след това на страните, и последно на центъра”;”Използвай ходовете на коня за атака”; “Не се увличай само по пленяването на противниковите камъни”. По този начин се вижда как вейци теория – метафори – поезия са органично свързани.

Има твърде малко информация да се твърди, че именно Ма Жун е измислил тези метафори. Но е ясно едно – вейци теорията по това време се е намирала на голяма висота, нещо невиждано относно други игри на други географски точки. Такова е мнението и на двамата преводачи на поемата.

Оттук нашият интерес се прехвърля към Ма Жун. Действително, какво е известно за него? Не много на пръв поглед – обикновено изследователите му отделят по няколко реда. Търсенето на информация за него се затруднява от, че името му се изписва по различни начини – Ма Жун, Ма Хун, Ма Юн, Ма Ронг, а иначе става въпрос за един и същи човек.

Ученият е живял в турбулентна епоха, време на голям кризис на Ханската империя. Времето, отчасти е интересно с главното политическо противопоставяне на евнусите и конфуцианците в императорското обкръжение. Не е известно Ма Жун да е взел отношение към тези нелеки и опасни политически борби, където “направилият погрешен ход”, често заплаща с живота си. Но е възможно да е имал ученици в императорското обкръжение. Защото много от императорите са известни с увлечението си към вейци.

Основал е конфуцианска академия. В книгата на известния историк Фан Е от епоха Тан, се показва, че около двадесет учени са основали собствени школи в средата на ІІ век. Тези частни академии са били в известна идеологическа опозиция на Императорската Академия. Последната се занимава с така наречените “нови текстове” или конструиране на ханските митове, имащи важно значение за управлението на империята.

Академиите подобни на Ма Жун се занимават със “старите текстове” или нещата, които по-късно преминават като “апокрифни материали”. Академията на Ма Жун обаче, е достатъчно авторитетна и влиятелна. Така Ма Жун имал около 400 обикновени ученици и 50 особено напреднали, такива които имали право да ходят в “главната зала” за среща с него. Интересно е, че неговият ученик, забележителният учен Чжен Сюан[2], за три години пребиваване в академията на Ма Жун, така и не се срещнал с него[3].

Всъщност, какво се изучава в тези академии? Без съмнение петокнижието – петте основни конфуциански книги. Примерът на Ма Жун показва, че са на път да се оформят и “4-те изкуства”: калиграфия, музика, поезия и вейци. Това се потвърждава от факта, че Ма Жун е написъл още поемите “Ода за флейтата” (“Чан ди фу”) и “Ода за цин” (“Цин фу”). Но деятелността и живота на Ма Жун показва, че сред просветените и ерудирани хора, вейци се е ползвала със заслужен авторитет.

Ма Жун е изследовател на “старите текстове”. Както днес добре се знае: “Новото е добре забравеното старо”. Което е показва, че е безкомпромисен изследовател на истината, а не се интересува от модите на времето.

Ма Жун е оставил също следа в изследванията за Идзин ~ Книгата на промените, макар и не толкова ярка като неговия ученик Чжен Сюан (Чжэн Сюань). Но и двамата прокарват нишката на “старите текстове” там. И е възможно Чжен Сюан да наследява проблематиката на Ма Жун.

Ма Жун е първият конфуциански учен правещ коментар на даоския трактат на Лао-дзъ “Дао де дзин”[4]. И с това проправя пътя на изключителния Ван Би (226-249) да изследва “Дао де дзин” от същата гледна точка[5]. Ван Би също продължава изследванията си върху “старите и апокрифни текстове” и се достига до естествения завършек – образуването на “сюан сюе” или “тайната и съкровената наука”. Оттук “сюан сюе” без предразсъдъци борави с религиите и подготвя тяхното сближаване. Конфуцианството и даосизма по този начин, заедно с будизма оформят фундамента на “трите религии” характерни за китайците. Тази хармония между религиите прави възможно възхода на Тански Китай (618-907), когато той става водещата културна държава в света.

Ван Би, уви, умира твърде млад – на 23 години, но без съмнение изпълнява думите Конфуций: “Разбереш ли истината сутринта, можеш да умреш вечерта”. Ван Би живее и твори през “троецарствието” в дома Вей. Или при три поколения забележителни стратези и вейци играчи – прочутия генерал Цао Цао, неговият дядо и неговият син Цао Пи, станал по-късно император.

И така, какво е посланието на Ма Жун за бъдещите поколения? Един от възможните отговори е: хармония и толерантност, основани на широката ерудиция.

Какво е посланието на Ма Жун за бъдещите вейци-играчи? Ма Жун е свързваща фигура на само на пръв поглед отдалечени неща. Безспорно ученият показва чрез живота си, че тези неща могат да бъдат свързани. Учеността дава много широка рамка за развитието и жизнения път на вейци-играча. Конфуцианството дава етичността в състезателната практика. Вглеждането в миналото и “старинните текстове” дава свеж поглед върху съвременността. Поезията ни дава свобода в изразяването и полет на въображението. Даосизмът дава дълбочина в търсенето и работа с парадоксите, а вейци е парадокс от началото до края. Идзин търси скритата връзка между явленията и начина, по който те се преобразуват. Преподаването дава нов импулс в разбирането на вейци теорията. Не са ли всички тези неща важни за усъвършенстването?


[1] М.Е.Кравцова “Поэзия Древнего Китая”, Санкт-Петербург, 1994, с.49.

[2] Чжен Сюан е оставил ярка следа с проникновените си изследвания върху Идзин или “Книга на промените”. Повече за него може да се прочете в Шуцкий,

[3] В.В.Малявин “Гибель древней империи”, Москва, 1983, с.47.

[4] Ан Чън “История на китайската мисъл”, Рива, 2001, с.328.

[5] И също Ван Би в изследванията върху Идзин, в много голяма степен следва Чжен Сюан. Виж Шуцкий “Китайская классическая Книга Перемен”, с.139.

Heliocentric System in Japan

Heliocentric System in Japan

Ioni Lazarov, BGA


The determinant perception/concept in the feudal Japan at this time has been the Neo-Confucianism of the Chinese scientists Ju Si (1130 – 1200) and Van Yanmin (1472 – 1529), that is presented and popularized by the works of the Japanese scientists Yamadzaku Ansay (1618 – 1682), Kaybara Ekken (1630 – 1714), Nakea Todzhu (1608 – 1648), Kumajawa Banjan (1619 – 1691). It consisted of a special frame of metaphysical and scientific principles, opened to new ideas and hypothesis. In addition, Yamaga Soko (1622 -1685) and Ito Jinsai (1627 – 1705) form the so-called ancient science.

When the Western ideas made their way to the Eastern culture, the so-called Dutch science (rangaku) that at the beginning reflected the Neo-Confucianism categories, has been formed. The heliocentric theory falls within its scope and starts to consolidate its position. The performance of the Dutch science provokes lots of critics towards the Neo-Confucianism, the ancient science and the Buddhism itself.

The full understanding of the Western ideas happens during the Meiji Restoration (1868 – 1912), that falls outside our scope of interest as the adoption of the heliocentric system happens at the time of Tokugawa period. After the initial popularization of the Western science and later in the early Meiji period the enthusiasm towards natural science begins to grow.

During Tokugawa period (1600 – 1867) Japan closes itself for the external world. That was the time when the united nation has been formed. Only certain places had the possibility to trade with China, Korea and Holland as a representative of the western countries. The Western culture gains popularity in the feudal Japan with the military technique and surgery at first and astronomy later on.

The different conceptualization of the world reflects in the atheistic view of Ando Shyoeki in his book “The real acting laws of Nature” in 1751. Ando represents in a pacific way his discontent towards the feudal ideology: “My principles do not require military force” (Vaga michi-wa hey-o kataraju). His idea of “self-motion” (”self-movement”) and “mutuality” (gonsei) emphasizes in the mobility and mutability of the Nature the relativity of all things and phenomena. Ando also says: “God conducts the delicate way of the five elements. He constantly calculates”. The resources, where Ando gets inspiration from, are Neo-Confucianism. He did not regard God, being the Creator of the world, but a guarantee by the calculations he does.

In 1720 Shogun Yoshimune canceled the abolition of books import, except the religious type of literature. In 1740 started the intensive learning and translating in Dutch as well as the presentation of the western natural facts – the Dutch science. Greater attention has been paid to surgery, pharmacy, mapping, navigation and last but not least to astronomy.

A real excitement in the Natural Sciences caused the heliocentric system of Copernicus. The theory has been presented for the first time by the translator Motoku Inoshin in his work “Explanations about the Solar Theory” in 1794. The translator Shidzhuku Tadao published in 1798 the “Book of the new Calendar”, where the heliocentric theory has also been presented. In the annexes of the book, the theory of the luminous bodies’ origin has been presented. Kant’s cosmogony hypothesis for solar system’s origin from the initial cosmic cloud carried out in 1755 and later developed by Laplace in 1796 served as a basis for his book.

In 1778 the pamphlet “Story of the western countries” written by the famous mathematician Honda Toshiaku has been published. It witnesses the Copernicus’s theory. Honda insists on the development of astronomy, geography, navigation in the country as a main prerequisite for the Japan’s development as a naval country/force.

Not only had the translators started popularizing the heliocentric theory, but also the famous friends – the astronomer and the mathematician Miura Baen (1723 – 1789) and Asada Goryu (1734 – 1799). “It’s been considered for a hundred years in the west that the Sun is static and the Earth knows no peace; all the bodies go round the Sun.”, says Miura. Asada combines both the facts from the Chinese and the western astronomy and starts an individual research with the self-made telescope and soon after that creates a new calendar, based on the heliocentric system. Asada has also worked on the metaphysical system, which he named jori – “the logic of things”, that was accepted by Miura himself. Asada notes that the observation and the experiment itself also have some limits and should be interpreted on a larger scale in compliance with the metaphysical system: only the overall vision guarantees the right knowledge. For instance, “it seems the Sun and the Moon go West, but actually they go East”.

Yamagata Banto publishes the “Instead of Dreams” in 1817, where could be found a chapter dedicated to astronomy. Yamagata manages to combine both the principles of Neo-Confucianism with the Dutch Science and to explain it through Chu Hsi’s categories, where the Natural Science is called clarifying the essence of all things (kyurigaku) or Nature-introduction (rigaku); the physics they called “the science for all things”. Yamagata also said: “the knowledge of things through enlightenment in its wider sense – this is a science for the Universe”, and “it is necessary that enlightenment for all things is achieved, as it happens in the Western countries”.

Sato Nabuhiro (1769 – 1850), influenced by the Shintoist Hirata Itzutane, claimed that as the Sun is in the “center of the Universe”, and Japan is the land of the Gods of the Sun, logically Japan is in the centre of all countries on the Earth.


The most significant fact about the popularization and the recognition of the heliocentric system in Japan is the one that it has never been forbidden or persecuted. Actually it is approved quickly and convincingly, compared to Europe, where it originates from and is been victimized by the Vatican. There is a tolerance established in Japan for all the theories and philosophies – they have never been enforced upon or obstructed. Moreover the astronomy has proved its potential in elaboration of a precise calendar and theory of navigation.

The recognition of the heliocentric system is also bind together with the politics, although in a manner, different from the one in Europe. The consolidation of the heliocentric system in Japan does not lack the dramatics of the ideological clash between the Neo-Confucianism and Dutch science.


In two centuries time the Japanese, in return, with the help of Iwamoto Kaoru, Honinbo Kunwa in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1992 establish the European Go Cultural Center. That Center initiates the popularization of the heliocentric game Go, which is played on 361 crossed points, corresponding to the Sun’s Year.



Forget all sorrows!

Forget all sorrows!

© Ioni Lazarov, Bulgarian Go Association

When we play, we have the ability to transport ourselves into other worlds. When we play Go, we transport to the best possible world – if we paraphrase the words of the philosopher Leibniz (1646 – 1716). Leibniz is pursuing the theological goal – to show that we live in the best possible world. Volter (1694 – 1778) ironically opposes him and as a result the question remains largely unsolved. And this is so wonderful – to live with unsolved problems – this way every generation has to think with its head and to take up a position on the new-old problems. One of the things that helps us think are “logic games” – and isn’t Go the best of them, which we are hinted at, no matter how incredibly it might sound, by Leibniz himself[1]?

Games are so essential to human society that the Holland philosopher Huizinga brings in the term homo ludens – “the playing man”. In his book of the same name he shows convincingly that games and the process of play are at the root of culture and civilizations. Here we can recall the words of the mathematician Martin Gardner: “These games are so old, as civilization itself, and are so divers as butterfly wings. If we are to consider that not too long ago logic games have been used for “resting” and refreshing of the mind, we can’t help but acknowledge that humanity has used up fantastic quantities of mental energy on them.” From this we can see how important is the intelligent practice of logic games.

Games take up the whole range between “escape from reality” to meditation. In other words in fact we transport and find ourselves in different worlds. It is no accident that there are so many grades and stages in Go – they hint at the various worlds where players reside. Luckily everything is up to the specific person and his choice – what game he has chosen and the way he plays it. So applicable is the proverb: “Tell me what game you play, so I could tell you what kind of man you are”. But after all games are too different to be compared, every game has its own charm.

I’ve mentioned that “logic games” assist the development of thinking and the art of decision-making. But there is more about Go, it is not only logical but intuitive as well. And intuition begins where logic ends. A way to develop intuition is silence and non-thinking (One of the names of Go is shudan – silent communication):

“A monk asked Ye-Shan:

  • What does one thinks about when absorbed in himself ?
  • Thinks of non-thinking – the master replied.
  • How does one thinks of non-thinking? – the monk asked.
  • By not putting his mind on it – the master said.”

            The saying “forget all sorrows”, become one of the synonyms of Go, comes from the treatise “The Essence of Go” by the famous Chinese historian Ban-Gu[2] (32 – 92). There is also said: “As far as it concerns the elegance of playing Go, if you train intelligently you will reach a state when you forget to eat and you’ll be so happy that you’ll forget all your worries and sorrows. If you have such intelligent attitude then Go is right for you and we will value your persistence, because that’s what Confucius thinks of himself.” Ban-Gu means that Confucius (551 – 479) in “Lectures and ratiocinations” explains his behaviour like this: “… he is such a man who puts in so much passion in his studying and research that he forgets to eat, who is so much filled with joy and bliss that he forgets his worries and the signs of the old age.”

            The fragment above and the whole treatise by Ban-Go illustrate wonderfully the research nature of Go, which itself is a Model of the Universe, and the joy of being involved in this vast search. But let’s not fly too high – let’s just recall Woody Allen’s words: “I am fascinated by the desire people of people who want to “get to know” the Universe, when it is hard enough to find your way in Chinatown.”

            Cho Chikun, in “Complete Go introduction”, notes the depth of concentration, achievable when playing Go. An example illustrating this is the surgical operation by the well-known Chinese doctor Hua To (141 – 208). He operates on general Kuan Yu’s shoulder, a historical hero from the “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, while he plays Go. And as a painkiller – the general plays Go.

Here are some of the ancient Chinese treatises on Go: “The gate to all wonders”, “Collection of harmless and recreational games”, “Mystical and amazing Go manual”, “Ode to Go”. 35 poems about Go has been written through Tan epoch alone (618 – 907). At that time China has been the leading country in the world in science, culture, with harmonious relationships between the “three religions” – Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism[3].

In the past Go has been a target of attack from the Confucian scholars, namely because the carefree look of the players, sometimes righteously, sometimes not. There is fundamental criticism in the face of Wei Yao (around 255), three of his arguments are: Go wastes too much time, that could be used for creation of material valuables; Go causes chaos and destabilization in the country; he criticizes that players often start playing in the day and continue on candles[4]. How can we respond to these critics? A society cannot live simply for manufacturing material valuables – we don’t live just for the food; Go is symbolic and ritual game, carrying a whole cultural layer. Go is not a tool for chaos and destabilization. Just the opposite in a stable country it is a means of supporting order and stability – as Tokugava Ieyasu realized it perfectly through the Edo period in Japan, creating the National Go Academy in 1603, and the example of Tan China[5]. What about the “gone with the wind” – that we do not recommend to anyone. Go is not a tool for “killing time”, unlike many others which civilization invented.

There is a Japanese senryu (humorous and ironical verse)[6]:

Saying “just one game”,

            they started playing…

                       That was yesterday.

            Where does the Japanese proverb come from: “The playing Go are late for their parents’ funereal.”? Although there is an anti-Confucian tease in the proverb, maybe it is an answer to the criticism of the strict Confucian scholars, often not seeing further than their hat. Actually the proverb comes from the practice o-shiro go – “the games in the palace”. Each year in the Edo epoch two of the best players have played a game in the shogun’s presence. They had absolutely no right to leave the palace before the game and the related ritual are over. Later the o-shiro go practice has been suspended but the proverb has remained as an expression of the Go passion.

Some of the Confucian[7] scholars want to make games, and Go in particular, look useless[8]. And here comes the koan invented by Huang Zu (around 370 – 300): “What’s the use of the useless?” One never knows – two solution threads come to me.

By the game we are connected with our opponent and thus the game cultivates the sense of humanness – jen (term introduced by Confucius). The sign jen is made of the root “man” and the sign “two”: which means that man is a man, only if connected to another man. The other thread sounds astoundingly modern: by the game of Go we cultivate the “art of decision making in uncertain situations”, which teem in real life.

When we play, we stumble across many other problems. Although noticed in the past they have present-day dimensions. Anatoly Kaprov[9] point out: “Chess is my life, but my life is not just Chess.” To play Go well, being symbolic and associative game, requiring rich imagination it is necessary to pay special attention to life and taking the good and inspiring things from it[10]. Korean master, Cho Hun Hyun, says: “Instead of trying to win every game, I think, that the player has to give his best to make a good game, which he could be proud of. In our life we constantly meet opportunities to take the right path. The same is with Go – opportunities to take the right path are met every move. Life is beautiful, and so is Go”[11]

            The continuous playing is apparent not only when we play but even when we think about the game before or after an actual game. Thoughts about a Go game before and after it are very good and recommended thing, an important stage of the player’s perfection. But when we cross over the reasonable limits the following koan is indicative:

“Two monks were walking on a muddy road. It was raining heavily. When they got to the turn they saw a beautiful girl in silk kimono, who couldn’t get over a big puddle on the road. One of the monks called her and carried her with his hands to the other side. The other monk remained silent all the way to the temple, where they stayed for the night. Then we couldn’t hold it anymore:

  • As monks we don’t get close to women – he said – It is dangerous. Why did you do it?
  • I left the girl on road – said the first monk. – Do you still carry her?”

It can be said that one of the things unifying the examples given in here is the relation to the tensility of time. There is a paradoxical race with time – this is when you sit and meditate and “observe the growth of the rocks”. The process of playing Go is very similar to the observation of rocks’ growth, which is one of the synonyms of meditation.

The situations where we find ourselves in Go are countless – we cannot go through them even in ten thousand lifetimes. That’s why we are left to orientate with some of the Go-proverbs: “In an implausible situation, the implausible move is plausible!”; “Before playing to the left, first play to the right”; “Often the simplest move is the best move”… But there principles are true for life as well and their understanding is a part of the intelligent approach to Go.

Play Go and successfully solve the puzzle and the tangle of problems, until everything comes in place. And then you will feel the realism of the koan: “Wonderful snow – and the snowflakes do not fall just anyplace else!”




[1]Leibniz explicitly refers to Go and his hypothesis that it was created by wise men for softening the temperament.

[2]Has also written “Hisroty of the Han dynasty” (206 BC – 220 AD)

[3]“San Jiao” – “the three teachings” is the ideology of the integration of the three religions, emerged in the Han epoch and officially accepted in Tan.

[4]In other words inactive and deranged spending of time.

[5]According to Dao Ge Hong (284 – 363) there was a battle “all against all” before the creating of the state. The invention of Go is being related to the creating of the state organization according to popular legends.

[6]William Pinckard, “Some Senryu about Go”, from

[7]I mention Confucians because they are perfect for the opposition seriousness-game. But most of the Confucian scholars are very nice, like: Ma Jun (79 – 166), Yan Sun (53 BC – 18 AD) and Ouyang Xiu (1007 – 1072) with great contribution to the development of Go-theory.

[8]“If Dao was not laughed at, it would not be Dao.” Citations from “Tao Te Ching”

[9]A. Karpov is the twelved world chess champion. Here is mentioned a Go article because the realities of Chess and Go are not that different and he himself can play Go.

[10]As it is said in the ancient treatise “Si Qi” (4th century BC): “The totally wise were carefully observing nature. And from what they were seeing they were judging of what they couldn’t see.”

[11]From Malinovski, “Go and human life”