• Professionalism

    My views on professionalism are highly influenced by Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go, by Toshiro Kageyama (1978). Kageyama was a professional Go player who reached 7-dan in 1977.

    Each spring sees the opening of another baseball season. This is one of my favorite spectator sports, but every year there is one thing that bothers me about it. That is the way that semi-professional, university, and sometimes even high-school stars enter the [Japanese] professional leagues and immediately display a skill that puts their veteran teammates to shame. There hardly seems to be any difference at all between amateurs and professionals. Amateurs play for pure enjoyment, while professionals play to make a living. The difference between them ought to be much greater.

    In every confrontation with a real American professional team it seems that what we need to learn from them, besides their technique of course, is how uniformly faithful their players are to the fundamentals. Faithfulness to fundamentals seems to be a common thread linking professionalism in all areas. If we consider the American professionals as the real professionals in baseball [circa 1978], then I think we have to consider their Japanese counterparts, who tend to pass over the fundamentals, as nothing more than advanced amateurs.

    The reason for the lack of polish in Japanese baseball is probably just the short history it has in this country. […] I feel certain that no racial physical inferiority consigns us to second place. […]

    A professional has undergone elite training in competition from childhood; […] His mental, physical, and emotional strength all have to be fully developed. If  he lets up anywhere, it will show in his performance. […]

    No professional regrets the time he has to spend studying. […]

    Professionals do this unquestioningly. Even a gemstone has to be polished. ‘A man is always moving either forward or backward,’ says Kano, 9-dan. ‘He never stands still.’ […]

    [T]he fundamentals have to be handled subconsciously. For example, if you watch the way a star infielder moves in baseball, you will observe that no matter how difficult the bounce or how hard the line drive, he meets it frontally, faithfully following the fundamentals. The ball comes at him in a fraction of a second. The question is not how well he understands the fundamentals intellectually, but whether or not his body can respond instantly. What you are seeing is the result of long days of practice and effort. […]

    You have to soak up the fundamentals as you practice on your own, studying them until they become part of your very being. If the fundamentals do not operate subconsciously […] you have not mastered them yet.

    And so it is, in baseball, Go, and all things. I think of these words often when I observe the pinnacle of performance in any field and when I see amateurs striving for professional-level performance.

    Lessons in the Fundamentals of Go is a must read for any student of the game, though not the first book one should read. More on Go here.

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