Ms Mei En is a Chinese 2 dan professional now residing in Iwata City where she runs her own Go School. The school’s star pupil, 15 year old Ito Kenryo, is the top game recorder at this WAGC. Before having a talk with the young Ito himself Ranka first had a word with Ms Mei En who for the duration of the tournament helps out with Chinese-Japanese interpreting.
Ranka: Can you tell us a little bit about Ito Kenryo?
Mei En: Ito came to my go school when he was eleven years old. At that time I thought that his level was about 1 kyu. At first nothing seemed to change but than during one summer he somehow managed to suddenly get to 6 dan and really get strong. He definitely has a lot of talent and started training with the insei (pro intern) at the Nagoya branch of the Nihon Ki-in.
After Ito failed to make pro at his first attempt he decided to not go to high school but instead focus his energy* on becoming stronger in order in to make it to the pro level on his next attempt.
(* = This often times is a hard choice aspiring go professionals face.)
Ranka: Is Ito the first of your students to come this far?
Mei En: Altogether 4 of my pupils have made it to insei level but I think that Ito is the only one at the moment who has a shot at making pro.
Ranka: Is there a recipe you use at your go school to ensure that your students will get ahead and become strong go players?
Mei En: Ah, if you mean if I have a special technique or training program to help me teaching the answer is no. That doesn’t mean that I’m just sitting there doing nothing, of course (smiling). I feel it is my job to provide an environment where children who are really serious about getting stronger can be themselves and be matched up with like-minded opponents. If you get group of children like that together and they enjoy playing each other and studying together there’s not telling where the limit is. Have fun, play a lot, if I have a recipe than that’s it.
Ranka: Are you copying your methods from the way you yourself were trained when you were living in China?
Mei En: No, not really. I’ve been in Japan over 10 years and by now I’m sure I’ve developed my own style.
If one of my students show talent I will not try to train that one person in a special or different way. What I said before, providing a place and environment where serious games can be played is in my eyes the best thing you can do to foster talent. A healthy dose of rivalry also helps a lot to develop go skills fast, of course. But in the end, although I help my students when they come to me for advice it’s the students own will to win and get ahead that does the trick, that’s what I’m trying to accomplish at my go school in Iwata.
Ranka: Is there anything you like to add before I go talk with Ito Kenryo?
Mei En: Yes, he’s going to try to become professional for the second time this year. In order to succeed this time I think that he needs a more raw kind of power in big fights. This do-or-die kind of go is typical for 21st century go in Korea and China, I think.
Ranka: Listening to you and if we understand you correctly than it sounds as if you’d like to get on a plane to China tomorrow and take Ito with you for a crash course!
Mei En: Actually, that is exactly it, if he’d spend one month at my old school in China than I’m positive he’ll make pro. Unfortunately, if he’d take a whole month off from the insei league he’ll lose his top spot without which he’s not eligible to take part in the pro test.
Ranka: Who was your teacher in China?
Mei En: He’s actually quite famous in China, his name is Ruan Yun Sheng (professional 7 dan) located in the City of Wuhan.
Ranka: Hello Itou Kenryo, aren’t you tired after the long game* you had to record?
(*= 30th WAGC, round 4, the match Hong Kong – Japan, was one of the very last to finish that day. Although Japan’s representative Kanazawa tried to corner the 16 year old WAGC veteran as his positions seemed a bit stretched the tenacious youngster skillfully kept everything together and managed to make good on his lead in territory)
Ito Kenryo: No, that’s OK, I’m good.
Ranka: How old where you when you learned to play go and what made you decide to give go a try?
Ito Kenryo: I was in 4th grade elementary school when I started playing first. The reason was the comic “Hikaru no Go”
Ranka: Did you ever find the “Kami no Itte” (“the move of God” which is talked about in the comic)?
Ito Kenryo: Hehe (smilingly) no, I don’t think so but in the manga it was cool I thought.
Ranka: Did you ever meet with Hotta Yumi, the author of Hikaru no Go, she lives in the neighborhood, doesn’t she (central Japan)?
Ito Kenryo: Yes, that’s true but no, I’ve never had the chance.
Ranka: What do you think is the most interesting part of the game?
Ito Kenryo: (after a long silence) Well, you see, now and then it just happens that you realize that you and your opponent are thinking about exactly the same thing. And at the same time you realize that your opponent is aware of this, too. That’s a kind of weird but at the same time interesting feeling.
Ranka: That sounds as if you mean to say that sometimes you can communicate with your opponent solely by putting stones on the board. That you, if only for a second, can read each others mind.
Ito Kenryo: Yes, that’s about it, I think
Ranka: you are an insei now, aren’t you? How many years have you been insei?
Ito Kenryo: Yes, I think I’m in my 5th year now.
Ranka: How do you usually study
Ito Kenryo: Ah, well, you know, the usual. Doing problems, going through games, playing games.
Ranka: Do you have any favorite pro whose games you like to go through?
Ito Kenryo: No, I just play though everything I can get my hands on.
Ranka: Do you also study the old masters?
Ito Kenryo: When I was younger I studied quite a few of Jowa’s games but now I’m concentrating on modern go.
Ranka: What did you like about Jowa?
Ito Kenryo: His fighting spirit and raw power, amazing.
Ranka: The game record you just finished, I noticed that you were recording upside-down. Usually game recorders sit at the side of the black player as all games are recorded from black’s point of view. You were sitting next to the white player (Kanazawa), though. Wasn’t that tricky?
Ito Kenryo: Not at all, I really don’t mind from what angle I’m looking at a game when I’m making a record.
Ranka: By the way, do you still play with your first teacher Mei En?
Ito Kenryo: Yes, but only sometimes. We play on even now but the last game we played I couldn’t win.
Ranka: What do you think of the WAGC?
Ito Kenryo: It’s quite an experience seeing people from so many different nationalities gathered and all playing go!
Ranka: This is going to be the last question but could you tell us when you were getting stronger was it easy to find people to play with?
Ito Kenryo: At weekends there always were strong opponents to find either at Mei En’s go school or at the Nihon Ki-in. But weekdays was (and is) more difficult. I’m certainly glad that I can play online where you never run out of opponents!
Ranka: Thank you for your time, good luck with the recording for round 5~8 and more good luck for the coming pro test!