On my last two or three trips to Japan I have contemplated buying this well regarded book, but I've had to bear in mind an already overfull suitcase. As it's a little on the heavy side (though nothing like the lead-filled Korean books of the prolific "never mind the quality feel the weight" variety), I've reluctantly put it back on the shelf.
However, on my recent trip to the USA I had almost the reverse problem - a too empty suitcase. This was caused by the apparent dearth of bookshops now in the USA. Borders had closed down, as had some branches of Barnes & Noble, and the few shops I found were too small or nichey. This combined with the mind-numbingly partisan debt-wrangling to bring fleetingly to mind The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - fingers fidgetly fiddling on iPads while once civilised Washington burned. I saw dozens of iPads and smart phones (the owners made sure we saw them) but I only ever saw one person actually look at his iPad screen sans fingers. He, however, sat on the ground in the middle of the Santa Barbara train platform to ensure we all noticed, while I mused on what visual havoc a millipede would cause walking across an iPad screen.
Of course, iPads and the like are not directly responsible for the rough times being experienced by bookshops (Amazon is presumably the guiltiest party), but their ubiquity did make the lack of books more glaring. However, I found an oasis in Los Angeles in the form of the Japanese bookshop Kinokuniya, and the result was that, as I now had plenty of room for Kyushin Tsumego
, I finally bought it.
Although, as a sufferer from accidie, I never actually study go, I feel confident in saying that it is an important book. It is useful and enjoyable for any go player beyond beginner, but its novel approach may be especially valuable to all those who feel they have got into something of a rut studying the usual problem books. The author's approach could be enough not just to lurch the cart of your go career out of the rut but also to keep it trundling on towards amateur 8-dan (the highest level of problems in the book).
At any rate, the previous, rather similar, book by Japan-based Taiwanese pro Kaku Kyushin did well enough to merit this reprise. Since problem books normally sell poorly, that's almost enough recommendation in itself. The book is also published by MYCOM (Mainichi Communications) whose track record of novel and high-quality go books in recent years is sparkling.
Some readers may recall my recent post somewhere else on this site on Shioiri Itsuzo's denunciation of some fellow pros who published tsumego problems. One of the major points in his philippic was that composers had to ensure they avoided mistakes by showing the composition to as many other professionals as possible before it is published. When you are publishing 151 problems that range mostly from 3-dan to 8-dan, that warning bell tolls especially noisily. Fortunately (as with the previous volume) Kaku has enjoyed the supervision of fellow Taiwanese Rin Kaiho and O Rissei. They are acknowledged on the cover, so it seems safe to assume they really did help.
Shioiri also railed against the use of hints. On the face of it, Kaku does provide hints, but they are nearly always of the vacuous type "White can live if you find the vital point". Even when he is, rarely, specific, it is only to say things like "look for an under-the-stones play". Since we all do that automatically anyway, whichever problem book we read (because composers love "under the stones" even though we never seem to see it in real life), even that hardly counts as specific.
So this makes it sound as if you are on your own again with just another problem book, and a very hard one at that. This is where the twist comes.
Kaku divides his problems into three classes: A, B and C. The 44 Class C range from 1-kyu to 3-dan. More precisely they are classed as "x-dan in y-minutes". But Kaku stresses repeatedly that you should really ignore the ranks. He also says it is OK to look at the solutions straightaway, so long as you look at the problems repeatedly. I have seen similar advice rather often. Although a few pros insist on the "bust-a-gut" approach, rather more advocate whatever approach suits you, even if that means "cheating" - so long as you look at the problem often enough to hardwire it into your brain.
But what makes Class C special? Kaku refers to these as the "fundamentals" but I think this is misleading, at least outside the context of Classes A and B. If you practise, say, an Oriental martial art, you will spend much time as a beginner on learning fixed patterns of movements (kata in Japanese) on your own. Your progress may even be measured by belts awarded for memorising these kata. But at some point your teacher will introduce you to "applications" in which you use these patterns against a real, but entirely cooperative, opponent. Typically you will find that initially, far from felling your puppet-like opponent, your hard-earned fluency reverts to a flurry of flaiing and uncoordinated limbs. But with a little guidance, an arm a little higher here, a slightly wider stance there, you begin to see that the kata's movements do work and make sense. Eventually the puppet flops on the floor with a very satisfying grunt from you. You still have not used your basic skills in a real fight with a swiftly moving opponent, but at least you can now see what might be possible with a lot more practice.
Kaku's Class C, in my view, represents this "applications" stage of tsume-go solving. Most problem books for the lower grades offer the plain kata. Although, inevitably, go problems involve an opponent even at the most basic level, problems of the "there is death in the hane" type or nakade problems are really all about one player - the opponent is made to respond in just a reflexive way. It is very necessary to learn these kata, but when you apply them in real games you often find that the real, squirming opponent manages to wriggle out somehow. You have learned the kata but not the application (unlike karate or kungfu, even beginners are allowed to get into real fights too early in go, perhaps?).
When you look at Kaku's Class C problems, you do get a real feeling of an opponent, who can dodge and twist against your just memorised kata but only in a basic and controlled way (i.e. Kaku, the composer, is your kindly teacher). This seems a new approach to me. The title of the book means, most obviously, (Kaku) Kyushin's Tsumego, but kyushin it can also be read as "seeking the truth", and I think this hint at a new insight is apposite to this Class C.
Class B builds on Class C. There are 86 problems and they are nearly all rated 3 to 5-dan, with rather more time needed per problem (mostly 5 to 10 minutes). In martial arts terms, you are still not in a real fight, but your opponent now is not the limp puppet when you first learned an application. Now he is still not really fighting back but is moving around energetically, forcing you not just to apply an application with technical fluency but to choose the right one and to time it right.
Every now and then Kaku will refer to another, similar problem so that you can e.g. compare the aspects of timing or see how an extra liberty can make a difference. Since this reference is in a standard form, I'll give it here for those who don't read Japanese. With this and the descriptions here about the various classes, and given that you can (or should, as per Shioiri) ignore the meagre hints, the book should be readily accessible to any western reader. The format is: ﾘﾝｸP109(B)第２８問 or "linked with Problem 28 of class B on page 109".
Once you get to Class A (21 problems) it's as if your opponent now doesn't just dodge but punches back. Also, while this is going on, you still have to choose your application at the right time, and to nail the opponent you need to use one application just to get him off balance so that you can use another to score the full ippon
. Accordingly, these problems will mostly take you 15 to 20 minutes if you are 6 to 8-dan. The times in minutes are obvious from little clock diagrams, and I expect you will easily recognise the grades up to 7-dan. What I am calling 8-dan, though, is actually given as Prefectural class 県代表ｸﾗｽ. i.e. a player strong enough to challenge for his prefectural championship (an old way, from China, of describing top players - the next level up, national class, or guoshou
, would be pros). In general, for all the grades, I suppose you could knock off two grades to get a European equivalent, or one grade for a US equivalent, but the medicine in this book is still seriously strong stuff. However, I repeat Kaku's repeated reminders that you can take small sips and that you should ignore the actual grades and concentrate on the kata-application-combat path.
Here is what may be the hardest problem in the book, rated as prefectural standard with 30 minutes on the clock despite a link to a related Class B problem you should already have done. There doesn't seem to room enough for that level of complication, does there?
I won't give the solution, but this is one case where a specific hint is given, so I'll add that you need to find a brilliant move 7, and the longest variation given is 19 moves (Black to play).
The ISBN is 4-8399-2230-6. The Japanese price is 1600 yen plus tax. The Kinokuniya price was $22.40. It was first published in 2006 and so should still be available.
The Japanese title is 求真詰碁. There is a sub-title that promises you a ten-fold improvement in your fighting strength. I shy away from such numbers but I'd be surprised if this book did not at least add a new dimension to the go of even already strongish amateurs.