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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sensei and Culture

As I've noted before, we've had a really nice Japanese gentleman out here teaching us the finer points of shape and other such things. Having completed Part One of Teaching Go in Africa, he's returned to Japan and will, if rumour is correct and worth standing by, return later this month or early next month. But who knows? Maybe he'll be kidnapped by North Korean agents in frogsuits.

While he was here, I noticed there was a fair amount of local players bowing their heads, muttering Japanese phrases, an increasing usage of traditional Japanese go etiquette, and the conscious absorption of Japanese formal address (i.e. x-Sensei, x-San). Weird, for in the usual discourse no one does those things. Quite often, players taunt each other across the board, swear, gnash teeth, argue, and other such niceties. One thing is for sure, the game of go is played in a local style that doesn't include the formality of the Japanese-style playing.

Why then the sudden rush to adopt Japanese forms of address and the like? Beats me, I sure as hell didn't dig it. As an anarchist (to one degree or another), I spend a lot of time trying to break down the inbred forms of hierarchy and authority that still dominate my worldview. It takes a fair amount of time and effort, and I wasn't about to waste that by subscribing to the rigid, over-formalised Japanese way of doing things. I like go, but that doesn't mean I have to become Japanese in order to receive instruction. If that means I might appear rude, then so be it. Likewise with the natural hierarchy that permeates go playing communities; dan-level players on top and kyu-level players on the bottom. That's a potential source of problems, and often prevents kyu-level players from bringing forth good suggestions.

Come on, for there is no reason why the game should be tied to a particular worldview; Japan doesn't own the game of go. We all do (if anyone does), as it is a product of the species's collective experience of existence. Same applies for Aristotle; Greeks don't own his work or ideas exclusively, we all do. Like Aristotle, go is there for each of us to do with it what we wish.

Having a quality go teacher come and visit and teach is fantastic, and should be welcomed. Give the guy a pat on the back for being a sharing human being with a passion for the game. Yet, even considering this, there is no good reason to suddenly adopt Japanese practice, tradition, and manners. There is even a line of thought that states that visitors to different cultures should make an effort to adopt that practices of that culture; I'm not sure I agree entirely, but, hey, it is out there and, at least, should be considered.



  • I didn't notice it, but then I partly anticipated the possibility and dodged. you see much the same thing when a tibetan of any description arrives in ZA, and everyone suddenly, inexplicably, simultaneously becomes both a feudal serf and extraordinarily pious and soft-spoken, and concerned for your well-being.

    I figure once the two-headed chicken factor has worn off, if he's still here, I might get some benefit in an entirely normal way. as far as addressing him as sensei goes, I don't have a problem with that. It's become normal enough in the west because of the martial arts context, because of films and the globalisation of Japanese culture. and it's a courtesy to a stranger.

    Bowing on the other hand is taking things a little too far, perhaps. Why not prostrate then? Commit seppuku in his honour? Wear a kimono to the club? shave your head in a tonsure?

    By Anonymous dale, At 10:25 am  

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