Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Lessons from My Father (on Japanese Chess)


My father plays a lot of shōgi, Japanese chess. While it’s similar to Western chess, shogi has a “drop rule” that changes the dynamics and adds to the game’s complexity considerably: one can use the pieces that you captured as your own. So, when you lose a piece, you haven’t just lost your piece: you also gave your opponent a piece.

When I was visiting my parents recently, I watched my father play shogi online. His Bishop was in danger. In order to avoid a cross fire, he pushed the piece up towards the opponent’s pieces. “You didn’t pull back,” I said. “逃げながら攻める(attack while escaping)” he said without hesitation. In less than 10 syllables, he communicated his strategy, and how he maximized the movement of what seemed like a defensive maneuver to an aggressive posture where the opponent now needed to defend its 金 (gold general). While I was still pondering upon this piece of wisdom and how applicable it was in business and in personal life, he got a call, and said to me “This is a winning board. I have to go. You can finish up for me.”

I will spare you the rest of the battle, which ended rather quickly after making one very lousy move. In getting ready to switch to an attack mode, I’d forgotten that one of the pieces I moved was defending a key piece by my king. Oops. Check mate in 4? I guessed right. I remembered too late yet another phrase my father used to say when he was teaching me chess as a kid “look at the whole board”.

There are many other shogi maxims. They range from practical reminders on each chess piece’s strengths and weakness to more strategy level directions. Another one he used to mention was 桂の高飛び歩の餌食(knight’s long leap: pawn’s prey). One should watch the use of knights as you hop over towards enemy territory because it can then be easily compromised by a mere pawn. My father told me that just knowing and exercising them could get you to a junior ranking.

It’s funny how the mind travels. While I tried to remember other chess maxims, I ended up recalling the key concepts of 剣道 kendō, a Japanese martial arts based on sword fighting using bamboo swords: 無理無駄無意味 (literally, no reason/impossible, no waste, no meaning). In other words, every stroke you attempt must be possible to do, and is not wasteful, and should have purpose. Actions that are impossible, wasteful and without meaning only hurt you.

Then I recalled a passage written by an American chess champion, Josh Waitzkin, in The Art of Learning:

“If the opponent does not move, then I do not move.
At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first.”

It means that you’ve had to have been planting a play for your opponent to follow, so you can anticipate their act, which allows you to move first.

Then I pulled up a search engine, hoping to recapture life lessons my father uttered as chess maxims.

Photo: Pebbles on a beach in La Jolla, San Diego, California


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This entry was posted on May 22, 2015 by in Family, Management and tagged , , , , .
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