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JUL 9, 2008

Striving to Overcome Adversity, Part 2: Winning the Tokyo District Tournament and Going on to the National Tournament

By Yoshito Hori

The day of the Junior Go Championship, Elementary School Division had finally arrived, and I sensed the boys were nervous. Although I was pleased that this challenge would help the kids mature, I was also a little anxious as the chaperon of the team that was representing their elementary school.

My fourth son begged me to take him along as well, so I left home with the four boys a little past 9 am and headed to the Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association). It was raining lightly as we marched to the site with umbrellas big and small. Meanwhile, our fifth son was sound asleep in bed.

We soon arrived at the Nihon Ki-in. After registering on the first floor, we dashed to the second floor to draw lots. We entered the hall and headed to the assigned location. The first opponent was Ochiai Daiyon Elementary School”, and they were already seated and waiting. The chaperon parents greeted each other, and my kids took their seats. The other team consisted of 5th and 6th graders. No other first graders were participating in this tournament, and even third graders were scarce.

Let me briefly explain the system for the Junior Go Championship team tournament. This is a group match of teams consisting of three players. It is a competition for the Tokyo district, and the only one that also serves as the preliminaries for the national championship. It is, so to speak, like the Go version of the summer National High School Baseball Championships, and junior Go players practice hard to reach this competition.

Although playing Go is becoming more popular among elementary school students, you have to form teams of three for the group matches, and this is actually not easy to do, especially for elementary schools, many of which are public. Because of the school district system, good players tend to be scattered. It is not easy to put together teams of three good junior players.

As a matter of fact, it was hard to gather Go players at my kids’ public elementary school. We were only able to put a three-player team together because our third son finally started elementary school this year.

Here is the team lineup:

Captain: First son, 5th grade Sub-captain: Second son, 3rd grade Third player: Third son, 1st grade

In other words, the Hori brothers made up the entire team. In this tournament, three players start their games at the same time, and the team with at least two victories advances. In Kendo, bouts take place one at a time in order. However, in Go, all players start their games at the same time.

I saw lots of teams as I looked around the big hall. There were many girls playing as well. Everybody was dressed in various styles, and my players from Chiyoda Elementary School wore the same green team T-shirts.

The championship was divided into four categories: select matches to decide the Tokyo District Tournament and determine which team advances to the national championship and classes A, B, and C based on level. Only one team per elementary school can participate in the select matches whereas multiple teams can participate for the Class category matches.

Nearly 50 teams took part in this championship, which means there were almost 150 elementary school kids in the hall. Ten teams took part in the select matches, and these teams had four matches each in their competition to claim the Tokyo District Tournament and the right to go to the national tournament based on the results.

The opening ceremony began, and Shuzo Awaji, a professional 9 dan Go player, greeted everyone along the lines of, “Regardless if you win or lose, I want you to do your best. Make as many friends as you can and take home good memories.”

After waiting for 30 minutes, the all-even group games started. Parents could only remain in the hall for the first five minutes to take photographs, and after that we basically were not allowed to enter the hall.

By the time the five minutes for photographs were about up, my third son had already been declared a winner. He plays Go at an unusually fast pace. My first and second sons also won their initial matches, so the team was 3-0.

Since winning teams from the first match faced off in the second match, players had to maintain their concentration. The opposing team was from Yanaka Elementary School. My third son got us off to a good start by winning his game, but tension mounted when word came that my second son had lost. That meant my first son played the rubber game of the match between captains. The captains’ game tends to use all their allotted time and is often not decided until the last moment.

I watched the game from a distance, but I could not figure out who was winning. It seemed the game was over and the stones were being put into a position to count them. Then it appeared that the winner had been decided, but I didn’t know the results. When the three boys approached the scorekeeper to report, I caught my first son’s eye. When he smiled slightly and gave me the OK sign, I realized he had won and the team would advance to the third match.

My wife and fifth son arrived at lunch time, so the seven of us ate together in a waiting room. Since there was a little time between lunch and the next match, I decided to take the five kids out to play in the parking lot puddles because the rain had stopped. I’m sure they were nervous in their own way, but they were still goofing around and laughing at our two-year old, who was soaking wet in the puddles. Casual playtime can be important for little Go players.

After the completion of the second match, only two teams had won two games in a row. If the boys won the next match, they would almost certainly win the tournament as well as their ticket to the national tournament. If they lost, they could be eliminated, depending on the result of the fourth game.

The third match was with Ichigaya Elementary School, the defending national champions from last year. Although two members had graduated from the strongest team last year, the captain was a good player and well known in the world of Go. He has almost reached a professional level and is strong enough to play public matches against professionals.

As in previous games, my third son was declared the winner early. It appeared to be difficult for any team to have dan-holding players up to third players. The two older sons continued with their games, and I sat where my kids could see me as I looked on in anticipation. After a while, my second son’s game ended. He smiled at me, the one who was worried about how the game had gone, he had won. In spite of myself, I thrust my fists in the air and looked up as a sign of triumph. The boys had won the third match, 2-1. At this point, they were close to clinching the Tokyo District Tournament and the right to play in the national tournament.

With a 3-0 route in the fourth match, they had won the Tokyo District Tournament with a complete sweep. They looked very happy as they received their award certificates at the closing session and were interviewed by the Sankei Shimbun.

On the way home, we decided to stop by a park near our home so they could play as much as they wanted. Before long, my nephews and friends from the neighborhood joined them. I’m not sure if it was just to blow off steam, but the kids played for almost two hours, playing tag and using the swings. Then our fourth son and our fifth son joined in, after returning from their Go lessons. Now, there was a group of kids ranging in age from 2 to 12 frolicking in the park.

When I asked the Tokyo district Go champs about what kind of reward they would like, the captain talked to his brothers and said they would like to watch Dragon Ball DVDs and have pizza. On the way home, the five boys and I picked out two DVDs, and when we got home, we ordered pizza and I enjoyed relaxing and watching the Dragon Ball DVDs with them. At dinner, my wife and I proposed a toast with champagne in one hand and pizza in the other. She had been busy driving the boys to their Go lessons.

Our lifestyle has completely changed since my kids started practicing Go two years ago. We used to go to Karuizawa every weekend. These days, my wife takes the four boys to Go lessons on weekends while yours truly plays with the fifth son at a park. Twice during the week, the older boys are coached at a Go club after school.

Their hard work paid off in winning the Tokyo District Tournament. However, they can’t rest on their laurels. There will still be individual matches and, in August, group matches in the national tournament.

For more than a year, fifth-year classmates of our oldest son have been going to a cram school to prepare for the junior high school entrance examination. We plan to have our boys focus on Go until the national tournament in August and then spend time overseas, just as we did last year, so they can experience a different culture and language during summer vacation. Our oldest son will start studying for the junior high school entrance exam this fall. I’m not sure if he can fully prepare, but I think it will be a challenge.

I believe that challenging kids with the game of Go and exposing them to high pressure situations toughens them up more, mentally. Win or lose, I think it is important to keep giving them these opportunities and have them deal with obstacles head-on.

Since I objected to Takanori Nakajo’s opinion that wealth has deprived Japanese people of a ‘hungry spirit’ and endurance (see the entry,”Striving to Overcome Adversity, Part 1: Personal Development in an Affluent Environment”), I hope to provide examples that disprove Mr. Nakajo’s viewpoint. So I want to give my kids as many challenges as possible.

I have often told my children to be global leaders. And they say “OK, I will”; but I don’t know if they really understand what this means. To compete at a global level, it is necessary to sharpen one’s mind, skills, and body. In particular, the AQ, the mind will not be strong without facing challenges.

For this reason, it is important to continue exposing children to adversity from an early age. If this does not happen before they’ve grown up, they will tend to avoid problems and only reluctantly seek to overcome them. It is important to get in the habit of developing with the attitude of confronting adversity as a “friend” from childhood. It’s too late to start once you have grown up.

In that sense, I believe how children spend their childhood is the key. It’s too late for them after they get in the habit of avoiding challenges. Perhaps it’s important for parents to guide children to overcome challenges willingly.

Just as in the title of this entry, I would like my kids to move forward by overcoming difficulties. I will continue to lovingly expose them to many challenges because I believe that is the biggest gift I can offer my children as a parent.

May 28, 2008
In a Boston hotel
Yoshito Hori