Yoshito Hori speaks about leadership lessons with enthusiasm in a suit and tie

“Three more wins and the boys will be champions; all the teams that got through the preliminary round, however, are strong, so the boys can’t let their guard down.

The preliminary matches were more competitive than I expected, and one after another strong teams from Tokyo (with captains and sub-captains ranked from 3 to as high as 5 dan) lost unexpectedly.

As anticipated, the top scoring teams in the Kanagawa, Saitama, and Tokyo district tournaments remain in the Championship Tournament. Meanwhile, teams from Hokkaido, Kagawa, Miyagi, and Nagasaki were also strong, and advanced by beating formidable opponents. I believe all three players on the teams in the Championship Tournament hold higher than 1 dan.

If the boys can win one match with no problems, they will take on Kitaurawa, a favorite, in the semifinals. The Kitaurawa captain holds a 6 dan, while the sub-captain holds a 5 dan, and their third player holds a 3 dan. I guess teams with equal Go ability advance far in the tournament. With their abilities pegged at nearly the same level, the matches will be close.

While the other seven teams in the Championship Tournament were made up of 4th to 6th graders, Team Hori has two players in lower grades. Therefore, the outcome will be greatly influenced by mental factors.

Although Team Hori’s third player is strong, he’s only a first grader and the sub-captain is just a third grader. Nevertheless, I believe that if they manage to get themselves mentally into the match, they will be able to demonstrate their ability and advance well in the tournament. So it is really their mental power that will determine the result. The team that wants it most will prevail. It is my role as a parent to help them reach this desired level.

That’s why I feel as if I am playing the match with them. 
Please wish us luck.

We are already one of the final eight teams, and whatever we do, there are only three matches left. I wonder how far they can go. Whatever happens, I will praise them.”

I posted the email above on a mailing list of Go friends. 

As usual, the four of us walked to Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association), and the kids were calmer than the previous day.

The opponent for the quarterfinal match was Sendai City Hachiman Elementary School from Miyagi Prefecture. Since our captain, my oldest son, and the other captain had met before in another tournament, they seemed to be on rather good terms. The games started in a friendly atmosphere. Team Hori was victorious and advanced, 2-1, although the sub-captain lost his game, and I had been worried about his condition.

All the semifinalists were from elementary schools in metropolitan Tokyo. There were two teams from Tokyo, and one team each from Saitama and Kanagawa Prefectures. While this was the first time for Team Hori to participate in this tournament, the three other teams regularly appeared in the semis. Intense Go battles were about to start among strong teams from metropolitan Tokyo.

Our opponent for the semifinal was Kitaurawa Elementary School from Saitama Prefecture, a leading favorite to win the championship. We were fired up. As usual, the games began on the signal from the head judge. In this Championship Tournament, eight teams remained for the elementary school division. Including the junior high school participants, there were only 16 teams, so it was very quiet. The sound of stones being placed on the Go board and the game clock being pressed reverberated throughout the hall. The media, parents, and chaperons quietly watched the games.

My third son, who plays quickly, finished his game first. Although his facial expression during the match gave away nothing, I was nervous about the result. As both players moved the stones to count them and declare the number on their territory, they bowed, put the stones away and bowed again. My son came to me to tell me the news. This was a very nerve-racking moment. His first words were, “I lost.” I had him explain what happened as I hugged him. He said he was doing well up to the middle of the game, but the other player came from behind to win. As the team’s third player, he had won all eight of his games including the preliminaries, and therefore was defeated for the first time. Team Hori’s formula for victory began to unravel. They will not advance to the final match unless both the captain and sub-captain win their games.

The sub-captain finished his game; unfortunately, he hadn’t been up to the task. That sealed Team Hori’s defeat. The captain, who was facing the opponent on his own, seemed to have lost his desire to win after finding out the results. He gave up in the middle of the game. Team Hori’s summer Go battles had finally come to an end at the national semifinals. 

In the match for third place, Team Hori was bested by a team they had defeated in the Tokyo District Championship, resulting in a disappointing fourth place finish in the national tournament. Since this was the first time they had formed a team, participated in the Tokyo District Championship and then the national tournament, and advanced to the semifinals, I would like tell the boys, “well done.” To be honest, however, since our goal had been winning the championship, I felt less than completely satisfied.

In their last match, it appeared that cracks appeared in their mental preparedness. In junior Go, when the ability of both players is about the same, the difference in mental toughness seems to determine the outcome. Since the boys had started playing only a little over two years ago, their lack of experience was the difference between winning and losing.

I can recall asking my friend’s Go salon to hold a junior Go tournament in July two years ago. Although my first and second sons were only beginners, they took part in the tournament. Because there were few participants, they were able to win a trophy. With this experience as a starting point, the boys began to seriously concentrate on the game. They took part in an official Go tournament for the first time in December 2006. (Refer to the column:The first Junior Go tournament (Japanese))

Other teams had kept trying to reach this tournament, enduring hardships for years and never giving up. These teams have made great efforts, dreaming of ultimately claiming the championship. Maybe the gods of Go are not quite generous enough to allow Team Hori a championship in just two years since first starting to play the game.

Although I said I had been disappointed, the boys gained much from this experience. They faced adversity in playing Go under tremendous pressure. Naturally, as a result of making these efforts to achieve a goal, their Go ability improved somewhat. I think they also understand their efforts will bear fruit. By accepting this defeat as an opportunity, I would like them to experience more tournament play and build the mental toughness to win in tight situations.

For this reason, we should not be satisfied with a fourth place finish in the national tournament. With this disappointment as a springboard, I want the boys to aim for the next level. This is why I call it a “less-than-hoped-for fourth place.”

Next year, my first son will be a 6th grader, and it will be his last time to compete on a team with his two brothers in group matches. If our strongest desire is not fulfilled with this group, we will have a team made up of the second, third, and fourth sons. And finally, we have a chance with the third, fourth, and fifth sons. With these three possible combinations, each team will have two years together, for a total of six chances to win a championship.

We had to settle for a fourth-place finish this year in the national tournament, but fortunately, the brothers will have five more chances. (This is assuming all of the boys will be chosen to represent their school. Since the Go level at their school has improved, competition for places on the team will be fierce.) I believe the boys will acquire the mental toughness to overcome hardships when they grow up based on having such intense experiences during childhood. As mentioned in the column “Striving to Overcome Adversity, Part 1: Personal Development in an Affluent Environment,” I believe I should keep exposing the children to adversity, if I really love them. Children mature by facing challenges.

As soon as the award ceremony had finished, we left Nihon Ki-in with a large winner’s plaque and a certificate. On the way home, we dropped by the school to leave the plaque and certificate with a teacher. After explaining the results, we left for home.                            

As soon as we arrived home, we had to finish packing. We were scheduled to leave for Perth on a flight in the evening. This will be our third stay in Perth, following trips last summer and this spring. The kids will stay in Perth for one month and then go to a local school. Even though it’s summer vacation for kids in Japan, it is winter in Perth and children attend school. Therefore, Perth is an ideal place to learn English and experience a different culture. (Refer to column:”Our stay in Perth,” from Part 1 to Part 8 (Japanese))

The next day, the three Go players and their younger brothers will be exposed to a different culture and placed in a school where a different language is spoken. This is another challenging situation provided by their parents. While Go is important, being able to exercise leadership in the world is also important. As the plane pushed back from the gate and took off from Narita, the boys immediately fell asleep, exhausted. I placed blankets over them and decided to take a rest myself.

The column “Striving to Overcome Adversity” will continue.

August 5, 2008
Perth, Australia
Yoshito Hori 

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