[FOUNTAIN]The game of the sinseon

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[FOUNTAIN]The game of the sinseon

The game of baduk (go) is called an amusement of the sinseon, an immortal half-god, half-human who is usually depicted as an old man with a long white beard and long white robe living deep in the mountains. Taoism considered sinseon an ideal goal that only those who transcended worldly desires could achieve. Baduk is widely enjoyed in China, Japan and Korea. A Chinese legend has it that more than 4,000 years ago, the mythical King Yao visited his friend the sinseon to get advice on who should inherit his throne. The sinseon made two suggestions. First, he said, let a wise man named Shun inherit his crown. Second, teach baduk to Yao's own dull son. Then the sinseon taught King Yao how to play baduk, which is the source of the folktale that baduk is the game of those creatures.

Korea has its own myths involving sinseon and baduk. In the late Shilla Dynasty (57 BC - 935 AD), a woodcutter went up to Mount Jiri with an axe in his hand. On his way, he saw an old scholar playing baduk with an old Buddhist monk. They were Choi Chi-won, a renowned scholar of the era, and Zen Master Jingam. After watching one round of play, the woodcutter picked up his axe to continue on, but found that the haft of his axe had crumbled to ashes in his hand. When he arrived back home, he found that his wife had just completed three years of mourning his death.

At Shosoin, a treasure storage house of the Japanese monarchy, are baduk stones made of ivory. History books say King Euija of Korea's Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C.-660 A.D.) gave the stones to the Japanese emperor. A contemporary lacquerware baduk board is also thought to have been imported from the Korean Peninsula, suggesting that baduk was transmitted to Japan from China through Korea.

Though the last to start playing the game, Japan once was the leader in the world in baduk. Cho Chi-hoon, a Korean-born professional baduk player, went to Japan to study baduk in 1962 at the age of 6. At that time, the top player of the world was Sakata Eio, who set many records for tournament wins. Forty years after he went to Japan, Mr. Cho tied the record of Mr. Eio when he won a competition on Aug. 17, his 64th victory.

I still remember his bright smile when Mr. Cho visited Korea in 1980 after earning the title of baduk master. In 1986, he competed in a cast after having been injured in an automobile accident. He lost, but then rebounded to win three more titles. His legend lives on.

The writer is the pop culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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