Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

'Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go': Wisecracking wisdom worth rereading

by Tyler Rothmar

Contributing Writer

In his classic treatise on go, the late Toshiro Kageyama elucidates the difference between amateurs, who merely “play at the game,” and professionals, who “labor at it.”

Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go, by Toshiro Kageyama, Translated by James Davies.
268 pages
KISEIDO PUBLISHING CO., Nonfiction.

Like kendo or karate, go is essentially martial. Strength in all such arts depends on mastery of kihon (the fundamentals), which beginners must learn and to which even a professional must continually return.

Through diagrams and problems designed to be pored over on a board, Kageyama hints at the substance of the esoteric principles that inform professional-level play. A professional himself, Kageyama assumes a working knowledge of the rules and basic terminology, and promises that any reader who absorbs these chapters slowly “will surmount the barrier of his present rank.”

Different sections will resonate with people of varying strengths. The reading experience is mystifying and motivating in equal measure, but today’s cryptic head-scratcher carries the promise of tomorrow’s flash of insight.

First published in 1970, “Fundamentals of Go” continues to offer a glimpse into the thinking of those who make their living on the board. The book is brimming with the kind of wisdom that rewards repeated reading, but it’s Kageyama’s voice that sets it apart. He oscillates between cantankerous go commentary and self-effacing anecdotes from his past, making circuitous forays into topics such as cooking, baseball and gangster films that always find their way back to reinforce some timeless maxim of strength at the game.