Original Korean text written and posted on the web by Yi Young Ho (1999-12-07)
« Yoda Norimoto... in a sense the name sounds a little bit eerie to me. No particular grand reason. When you picture a sort of food chain in the ecology of professional sports, you see someone in the upper position, the other in the lower. And Yoda's position was in the upper. Yeah, fans will be amused to see even the world-best invincible player Yi Chang Ho has some jinx opponents. But as his blood brother I just couldn't like this jinx.
This is what happened in the Asia TV Baduk Championship 1999 this spring in Tianjin, China.
The Asia TV Baduk Championship is a mini-international cup held annually since 1989. There are usually seven qualifiers, one defending champion and six finalists from Korea, Japan, and China. (the KBS, NHK, and CCTV finalists of the year) It adopts a knock-out tournament system, all of its matches are rapid play. Time limits permitted to each player are 5 minutes [with 30 seconds per move]. To those professional players who usually use more than three hours in a game, the Asia TV championship is like jazz musicians' jamming.
As always, this year seven grand masters of this improvising art were gathered including Yi Chang Ho and Jeong Soo Hyun from Korea (the KBS finalist), Yoda from Japan, and Chang Hao from China to vie for the championship.
After a few days of matches, my brother reached to the final round. And in front of him there was Yoda. Last big boss, kind of too melodramatic but that's the way it goes, always. Who would be the last man standing? Neither of Yoda nor my brother could stand back.
It's a famous legend that my brother is vulnerable in the early phases of a game and as these stages pass by he becomes stronger and stronger. Almost every games of him I'd watched had been in this pattern. This time it did not go that way. In the early phases he went on leading his opponent. I felt a little hilarious, maybe because the opponent was Yoda. But in the end a series of mistakes from my brother caused him nearly ten points' damage. As the saying goes in professional Baduk world, half a point's difference is fortune, one and half a point is competence. That is to say a mere difference of a point is a huge standard which decides the levels of the professional players. And my brother lost 10 points to Yoda. That was an enigmatic mistake by my brother, a legendary figure whose play was praised as accurate as an atomic clock. He did several counterattacks in the later phases, he couldn't make up for previous losses, and finally with a margin of two and half a point he had to yield the championship to Yoda.
I was disappointed, even a little bit wrathful. Once again Yoda's Force befell my brother. Yoda tends to put a stone on the Baduk board too fiercely producing a loud clash. That day's match was no exception. Actually he had crashed a Baduk stone into three pieces. That behavior seemed to me a menace to my brother. So I felt anger. My hatred grew bigger and bigger inside that he seemed to me a Darth Vader or something.
In the evening dinner, the sponsor invited all the participants. After a while, to my surprise my brother approached Yoda with a cup of alcohol in his hand. I strained my eyes. Wait a minute, you can't knock down Yoda with that tool... I thought.
My brother said to Yoda through a Japanese interpreter that he really congratulated his victory... And proposed a toast to him. After he drank a cup of alcohol he invited Chang Hao to Yoda's table, a No.1 player in China who had been defeated by Yoda in the semi-final. My brother proposed a toast to his Japanese and Chinese rivals and three of them drank a cup of alcohol each.
After a while, this time Yoda came to our table. Chang Hao had been sitting around the table with us. Yoda wanted to propose a toast in the meaning of solace Chang Hao and my brother's defeats. Again they cleared their cups.
Last loop. It's Chang Hao's turn. He proposed an another toast to the other two men. Each of three of them again drank a cup of alcohol.
As I saw the scene in front of me, my brother drank more than five cups of Chinese alcohol which is two times more intoxicating than Soju [Korean rice wine]. This was an unusual event because he usually doesn't drink much.
In that place they were nor competitors, nor rivals. They were friends. They congratulated a victory to the winner and solaced a defeat to the losers. It was a touching scene to Baduk fans. My brother who tends to scarcely laugh, was grinning from ear to ear that evening, maybe due to the influence of alcohol.
Many thoughts went through my head. I was just an ordinary man. I felt myself ashamed to have tried to judge Yoda only by results of a few matches against my brother. Their spirits were above the dichotomy of victory and defeat. They had been in the jungle of survival for decades since their childhood and would be for more decades. They knew how to keep themselves in the environment. If there are winners, automatically there happen to be losers. If you too cling to a single result of win or loss in a myriad of matches, you become to see only trees not the forest in the life of professional sports. If you cling to victory you can't get it. You must know how to free your mind from the paranoid. That's the way a professional player lives. In a way my words sound to be quite vague, but this is what I felt seeing these professionals in front of me.
Later that evening... After the dinner, we came back to our room in the hotel. Yoda approached my brother and requested a replay of that day's match. As it was live-broadcasted on air, the TV schedule did not permit him to replay and analyze the sequence of the match with my brother Chang Ho. Right after the game Yoda received the trophy in front of TV cameras, he and my brother also had to be in the closing ceremony and the evening dinner.
The two of them replayed the sequence of maneuvers on the Baduk board in a hotel room. With no Korean-Japanese interpreter nor interrupters... I didn't want to bother them, so I just stayed outside the room, peeping into the room from time to time, thus giving them almost total free hours of analyzing. From my experience replaying and analyzing the sequence of one match usually took ten minutes at least or thirty to forty minutes at best. But that night's replay took nearly two hours. It was a very long stretch of hours for me who was waiting outside without knowing when it would end.
With hands placing stones over the Baduk board and sounds of laughter floating in the room, clumsy Korean (from Yoda) and clumsy Japanese (from my brother) were exchanged in their communication. At last the replay took even more time than the real game did. They finished it and came out of the room, smiles on their faces. Out of the blue I realized several reporters from Korea, Japan, and China were around me. All of them had kept silent looking into the room, I didn't even notice their presence.
Yi Chang Ho said, "So, you are going to sleep now?"
Yoda said, "I'm going to have a drink in a pub."
"I'd like to buy you a drink, if you don't mind."
"I'll be honored. I'm in."
So another meeting was held in the heart of night. It was accompanied by three men - Yoda, Yi Chang Ho, and me - and one female Japanese TV reporter. We chatted about various topics. The conversation was kept mainly in Japanese. My brother's Japanese was far from fluent, and some gaps were filled by English words and sentences. From the conversations I could see the new side of Yoda's nature.
It was his passion for the game. The very Samurai-looking appearance of him was also reflected in his mind. Feel it, in the dialogs below.
Yi Chang Ho said, "When you have children, what job do you wish they have?"
Yoda replied, "Son or daughter, I'll raise them as professional Baduk players. I wish them to feel the deepest sphere of the game."
My brother nodded his head approvingly and proposed a toast. He was sitting with a man who had a great passion for the game, as great as that of his. Probably he was very content to meet such a man, even excited.
Yi Chang Ho said, "Do you have any player you respect and admire?"
Yoda said, "I do. The most formidable player in the world Yi Chang Ho is my favorite. I invest a long time studying your skills and sequences of maneuvers in games every day."
"I feel my face blushed out of shame. I always lose when I have a match against you... hmm."
"I was lucky today. If you didn't have a disease in one of your eyes, I would've lost the game."
"It's ironic. In the quarter-final of the Chunlan Cup this January, I beat you from a very desperate situation for me. Today the situation is vice versa."
"You can say that again," Yoda laughed.
After a moment, Yoda said, "The maneuver you played in the corner of the Baduk board in today's match was a new experiment. Any reason to adopt such an adventure?"
"Is that so? I thought I had used that maneuver a couple of times before."
"No, the move was experimented for the first time today. I have studied every record of sequences of your games. I have never seen such an attempt."
"I'm ashamed. Your study might have enabled you to see through my weakness in my maneuvers."
The fact that Yoda had researched every record of sequences of my brother's games is truely marvellous. Yi Chang Ho had nearly one hundred games a year in early- and mid-1990s. Did Yoda really study all of them? I came to remember he showed very much good will to my brother since their first encounter in 1991.
Back in 1991, it was a series titled "The Most Formidable Rookies' Series in Korea and Japan." The delegate from Japan was Yoda, and his counterpart from Korea was Yi Chang Ho. Many Korean fans didn't like this match-up even before the series began. Yi Chang Ho had already three titles in early 1991 whereas Yoda had only one rookie's title. The protesters' opinion : it is an unbalanced match-up, too much burden to Yi Chang Ho whereas Yoda has none.
The series was wrapt up 3-1. My brother had to concede the trophy to Yoda. Even after the final game ended, Yoda didn't let my brother go. He went on asking a chain of questions on the maneuvers played in the game. I couldn't understand his persistence. After all he won the series. Why does he bother my brother who suffers the defeat, even after the replay was finished? I wondered. I took it as rudeness devoid of manner. Now I realized that was my misunderstanding. Yoda was simply so immersed in the deepest sphere of the game that he couldn't think of anything else. If Yi Chang Ho didn't make mistakes around this corner, I would have lost the game... this kind of meditation swept every single part of his brain into the realms of Baduk. To win or to lose, that was not the question to him.
That night's conversation went on and on.
Questions about each other's native language were exchanged. "Do you have a girlfriend?", the female reporter asked to my brother half jokingly. The clock on the wall said it was one o'clock in the morning. Both Yoda and Yi Chang Ho seemed to suffer from the fatigue of the previous day's battle, and from the influence of alcohol. They gave a toast for the last time and left the bar.
As a Baduk fan, not as a younger brother of Yi Chang Ho, I have a dream. That Yoda and Yi Chang Ho would someday meet in the finals of the world championship. A single match is not enough to measure up whose competence is better. A series of finals is really needed. In the first Samsung Cup World Baduk Championship 1996 in which Yoda made it through the rounds into the finals, my brother had to retreat in the semi-finals by the attack from Yu Chang Hyuk [one of the top-class Korean players, born in 1966, of the same age as Yoda, nine years older than Yi]. The first Samsung Cup was won by Yoda in the end. Since then Yoda didn't appear in the finals of the world championships whereas my brother seven times. A real series of grand finals between the two top-class rival players, one who studied every game of his rival, the other who has not overcome his jinx, have not staged yet. Or will it ever? I am really eager to see what result would come out.
Nowadays Yoda is in a slump after having experienced a deadly setback in the finals of Meijin against Cho Chikun. I hope he recovers fully his competence soon and prepare the Ragnarok against my brother. »