Friday, May 23, 2014

Learning the Ancient Arts

Sangay and Phuntsho Wangchuk locked in battle.
"Go," as it is known in the western world (weiqi in Chinese and baduk in Korean) is a 4,000 year old Chinese strategy game, originally designed as a war game, but refined and perfected by scholars and monks throughout Chinese history. Eventually it spread all over Asia, and its popularity has persisted in places like Japan and South Korea, and has made inroads in the west, famous as the only strategy game that computers can't beat humans at.

It also has its connections with Buddhism, and has long been thought to be a way for the astute to explore the Buddhist concepts of impermanence and interdepence. So when the monks started getting interested in learning what this game was that their teacher was always playing, it seemed like a natural fit.

We printed out enough paper boards for them all to be able to play, and taught them the basics. The age-old motto of the game is that it "Takes 5 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master."  Most purists, though, would tell you that it would take lifetimes to master, and it may have taken our class more than 5 minutes to learn, mainly because of the difficulties of translating from Japanese to ENglish to Sharchop!

The rules, however, are quite simple. Each player takes turns placing one stone of their own color on an intersection, and whoever has accumulated more territory at the end wins. There is even a possibility of practicing nonviolence: One can win the game without ever capturing an opponent's stone.

The students took to it quickly, but as the adage goes, it may be a few lifetimes before any of them are masters...