Teens boost skills at baduk camp

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Teens boost skills at baduk camp

On a quiet afternoon late last month a group of international students sat around the Kwon Kap-yong Baduk Academy in Banpo-dong, Seoul, engaged in rounds of the popular board game.

Baduk, also known as Go, originated in ancient China and is a well-known strategy game in Asia, so to see foreigners playing it here is rare.

The game is something of an Oriental version of chess, in which two players alternately place black and white pieces on empty intersections on the board; and the player who manages to take up the most space with his or her stones wins the game.

The students came to Korea specifically to learn baduk, participating in a three-month training course, established as part of efforts to internationalize the game, which was organized by the Korea Baduk Association and sponsored by the Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism and the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation.

The 13 students, who ranged in age from their mid- to late teens, took part in the program from June to August, learning strategy techniques as well as ways in which they could improve their game.

In baduk, their proficiency levels range from grade 6 to dan 3 - considered high in their home countries - though they don’t have many rivals with which to compete.

Amateur grades range from grade 30, the lowest, to grade 1, the highest. Amateur dans, meanwhile, range from dan 1 - one level higher than grade 1 - to dan 9, the highest.

When asked why they enjoyed the game, their answers were resoundingly positive.

“Baduk shows a human potential that machines cannot copy,” said Kelsey Dyer, 20, an American.

“Baduk has a greater number of cases than chess and is more creative,” added Martin Ruzicka, 18, from Germany, who said he first learned how to play from his father.

“I wanted to learn baduk in Korea because it has so many good players,” he continued.

“I first got to know baduk when I watched the Japanese TV animation series ‘Hikaru No Go,’ which means the ‘king of baduk,’” Dyer explained. “When I got into Princeton, I joined a baduk society.”

She really wanted to visit Korea, she said, mostly due to its status as one of the most prominent countries in which the game is played, and so much so that she even gave up her summer vacation.

Still, it wasn’t necessarily easy for the participants to learn how to improve their game, especially in a different country with a foreign culture.

“We studied baduk all day long from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for three months at the academy, except for mealtimes,” said Matias Pankoke Jordi, 16, a German student.

“The training schedule was much tougher than I expected.”

But more than their skills was the issue of their posture.

“When I first saw the students playing baduk at the academy, I was so surprised since they were having matches almost in a reclining position,” said Kim Soo-yong, a professional player and a teacher at the academy. “It took a long time to correct their poses.”

Soon, their skills also improved and most of them moved up at least one level.

“At first, the students seemed to have difficulty adapting to the rigid atmosphere at the academy,” said Choi Seong-eun, who organized the students’ schedules. “But after watching how the Korean students played their games, they tried to take after them and gradually got better.”

Australian student Amy Song, 18, raised her level from an amateur 2 dan to an amateur 3 dan, for instance, while French student Matthias Mangin, 17, improved from a grade 3 to a grade 2.

“There are a lot of good teenage players in Korea, and having matches with students who are preparing to become professional players was helpful for improving my skills,” said French student Thibaud Neagele, 19.

When the 13 students were asked their favorite among Korea’s professional players, the most popular player was almost unanimously Lee Se-dol, a 9 dan baduk player.

After three months of training, the students were also notably more confident.

“Whenever I had matches with my friend, who’s a French teenage baduk champion, I always lost, which made me furious,” said Mangin. “But now I believe I could beat him.”

BY JUNG AH-RAM [koo.yurim@joongang.co.kr]

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