[VIEWPOINT]Exhilarating approach to ancient game

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[VIEWPOINT]Exhilarating approach to ancient game

Lee Se-dol, who has reached the highest rank of 9-dan, has quenched the Korean baduk community’s thirst for an international triumph by winning the Toyota-Denso Cup on Jan. 9. His victory came at a good time for Korea to regain its supremacy in baduk, despite less-than-convincing performances against rising Chinese players in recent years.
Se-dol, in many ways, has been regarded as the symbol of the new generation of Korean baduk, if not world baduk. The gradual decline of “the invincible” Lee Chang-ho, also a 9-dan, made Koreans anxious to see Lee Se-dol inherit the crown. This is because, in addition to his genius, which resulted in winning numerous international and domestic titles, his ways do not fit the traditional image of a baduk player ― calm, enduring, wise, philosophical and mysterious, among other traits.
I once read a Chinese article that was cynical about Lee Se-dol, who did not meet the archaic Zen-like image of the baduk master. I thought it was mostly prejudiced, with a shallow understanding about him. It seemed that the writer felt uncomfortable and was confused about Lee Se-dol’s out-of-the ordinary behavior and language.
Our world has been rapidly sucked into the whirlpool of globalization. The worldwide Internet has made it possible to access any information by a simple click.
The diverse cultures of the world are interacting rapidly. We don’t feel odd when we see Koreans with blond hair or hear a Korean popular song with a mixture of English and Korean. People don’t lose a beat when a news report about starving African children dissolves to a commercial, with a woman glossing her lips.
This is the background of post-modernism, which could be summed up as the “disintegration of value systems” and “fragmented images.” The disintegrated value systems multiply even further and at accelerating speed. It is not possible anymore to seek patterns of values or interpret them. We can only see numerous fragmented images, feel them and let them pass by. The values just exist. No interpretation.
Lee Se-dol is 9-dan. A baduk 9-dan used to be looked up to as a sage. This sage, though, is not one with a white beard, but a 24-year-old youngster. He does not look like a man of wisdom who has cultivated his mind through long and hard discipline. He is mischievous, young and full of passion.
Hahn Sang-dae, an amateur 6-dan and a former president of the Australian Go Association who has been active in promoting Korean baduk in the West, says Se-dol’s baduk enters into close fights straightaway from the start, without taking the conventional process of warming up to a middle game and then to the end game. Se-dol’s reading is so complicated that it is difficult to predict his next move. He is said to often make conflicting and even prohibited moves. He just fights fiercely in several places simultaneously and breaks through.
I presume he has grown up through innumerable fights, studying all sorts of masters’ skills. Se-dol might have learned that ultimately, the particular baduk player’s style or the artistic trend of a certain era are not very important, but that winning is. Or, he might simply be retrieving the required strategies and skills for different situations from his brain, where he has downloaded and stored thousands of baduk game records. He might be scanning hundred-year-old game records or current ones indiscriminately by surfing around the Korean, Chinese and Japanese baduk, or go, sites in his head and applying them.
Today’s young people chat on the Internet simultaneously with several partners. Lee Se-dol also might not feel it so stressful or confusing when he carries out multiple readings in several places of the baduk board simultaneously. Se-dol might find the fierce multiple battles exciting and stimulating.
In contrast, I am reminded of the words of an older player, Seo Bong-soom, also a 9-dan: “If there were a color X-ray, it would show a big blue bruise in my chest from painful baduk games.”
What would Lee Se-dol like to do after a fierce baduk game? He would most probably move from online to off-line with a pocketful of money, like other successful young people of today. He would feel like hanging out on the glitzy streets of Seoul with his friends.
Today’s successful young Internet moguls in their 20s who earn billions a year are quite different from the conventional creations of the conglomerates. They meet cyber-friends from their Internet communities, talk about unrelated topics and part without future commitment. They might, on impulse, enroll in a cooking class they have stumbled on at an Internet site, or buy the real-life version of the helicopter they once used in a computer game and actually fly it around, or, on a whim, visit an ancient European castle.
Such kids of the post-modern generation scan all manner of information on Internet sites, and interact with random people all the time. They peep into anything freely, casually get into unscheduled activities and easily come up with unregulated ideas. They consume enormous amounts of information and countless values, then mix them up to create new ideas by the moment. No hesitation, no agony, no particular preference, and no creed in life. Only continuous downloads and uploads with the utmost amount of concentration.
Lee Se-dol would be able to retrieve the right file from his head instantly to find the answer to a problem. Like in computer games, he can win when he manages to find more answers for problems within the allowed time or lose if he doesn’t.
Baduk games could be just a virtual reality for Lee Se-dol where, win or lose, he can always start a new one.
For him, the virtual or the real may not be very different, but an intertwined double matrix. Two major titles that brought him more than 500 million won ($533,000) within a one-month period would not give him a sense of success in life. Rather, he would wait for the next match, which could give him another thrill.
Well, he would notice his cyber points of 500 million won next to his cyber ID. In a matrix, numerous spaces and time zones exist simultaneously. For Lee Se-dol, the warm up, middle game and end game all would be simultaneously in the same matrix.
The game does not progress teleologically, but occurs at the same time everywhere, commencing and ending in the matrix of multiple time zones.
I wonder if Lee Se-dol shows us post-modernism in baduk. I also wonder if we should understand post-modernism first to comprehend the baduk of Lee Se-dol and his generation. Baduk is not a static game frozen in ancient Oriental time, but an extremely dynamic and future-oriented one very much alive and kicking in our post-modern world.

*The writer is the executive director of International Affairs for Baduk TV, and a professor of Migration Studies at Myongji University.

by Park Hwa-seo
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