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Postscript - Aiming for something more amazing


I started to write this book initially by contemplating about modern shogi with Habu's legendary book The Changing Modern Shogi at hand as an inspiration. Then I put together what I gathered through the three title matches of 2008, that is to say, the Kisei title match in Niigata-shi and the Oui title match in Toyota-shi in summer, and the Ryuoh title match in Paris in autumn, and I ended this book with the dialogue with Habu, which we had soon after the year 2009 began.


In the dialogue, Habu described modern shogi as follows,

There is no denying that the whole shogi world was moving as a big wave in the direction which I explained (in The Changing Modern Shogi) at that time, though I cannot specify exactly when it had started, say twenty or thirty years ago. I reckon that a person such as Mr. Kozo Masuda might probably have seen that coming already in his time. But as he was the only one at that time, the small wave did not grow into a big movement. It is really very recently that a breakthrough in the whole shogi world has happened.

Habu declared that the origin of modern shogi was Kozo Masuda.


This inspired me to read the texts where he talked about Masuda. It is in ”My Favorite shogi player,” which Habu specially wrote for Kozo Masuda CD-ROM (Kodan-sha), where Habu's thoughts were most clear.


I can always sense from Masuda's shogi his attitude of not overlooking the smallest mistakes the opponent makes at the beginning of a game, and of attacking without any hesitation when he spots a chance. I imagined that every opponent would be forced to maintain intensive concentration from the beginning, and used to want an opportunity to challenge him. ...

When I looked at his game in the 1960's, he already played a number of patterns which are even applicable today. However, the opponents replied with normal strategies and Masuda won easily.

I reckon that his shogi at the time was approximately thirty years ahead of its time, and it was way too progressive for anyone in his time to notice. ...

I could understand how he would have felt if his strategies had been just a short period ahead of his time, but considering the fact that he was thirty years ahead, I can hardly imagine how Mr. Masuda was feeling and what he was thinking about. I guess it had been extremely difficult for him to set a direction because there was no one else around him, even though he was a frontier.


This "attitude of not overlooking the smallest mistakes the opponent makes at the beginning of a game, and of attacking without any hesitation when he spots a chance" and "that every opponent would be forced to maintain intensive concentration from the beginning" are exactly the modern shogi which Habu defined in The Changing Modern Shogi.

His shogi style being different from Masuda's notwithstanding, Habu must also be a person who is "very progressive" compared to other professional shogi players in his time. In this solidarity, he gradually started to think that "winning or losing" is no more than "a dull, deserted concept" and began to prioritize "the quest for the truth," feeling disappointed "having a bad move, which may result in losing a chance to create something more amazing."

In addition, it seems like that Habu was sympathizing with Masuda, who would end up losing the chance to "create something more amazing" because of the opponents "normal strategies" against his moves, which were "approximately thirty years ahead." He surmises Masuda's solitary feeling, saying that "it had been extremely difficult for him to set a direction because there was no one else around him, even though he was on the frontier."

Habu talks about Shogi as "dependant on the opponent" and "something which you do not complete on your own, but entrust to the opponent by doing your best." This view of Habu  towards shogi, which contains a flavor of resignation, must have been obtained through a great deal of solidarity, which Kozo Masuda also experienced.


I reckon that Habu realized on the road to winning all the seven titles in his youth that there would be only "a deserted world" after continuing to win alone, and that he would not possibly be able to create "something more amazing" alone in shogi, which is an art created by two people in a quest for the truth. And he was convinced that nothing is more important than the comrades who have also mastered modern shogi (they are also rivals, of course), in order to create "something more amazing." This is because it is "extremely difficult for him to set a direction if there was no one else around him." I presume that it was then when his belief of "freeing the knowledge," in order to have more comrades, was born.

And the origin of modern shogi, which was just only Masuda's foresight, has gradually become "a big wave" in the whole shogi world. This being as an important trigger, "freeing the knowledge" movements in the shogi world have also developed, and the shogi world resulted in getting ahead of other parts of society in terms of  the "Information Revolution." In addition, Habu's comrades who are mastering modern shogi have started to look like scientists who are in a quest for the truth, as Habu describes them by saying "they might be analyzing something like a genome" or "we are always like 'yes, we are done analyzing this move.' " Through these movements, the modern shogi world has been reborn as an incredibly valuable place for us, which assumes the characteristics of "a laboratory where social phenomena occur preceding the rest of society."

By the way, the main text of this book, that is to say, from the 1st chapter to the 7th chapter, reflects what I have observed throughout thorough discussions with the four greatest professionals (Yoshiharu Habu, Yasumitsu Sato, Koichi Fukaura, and Akira Watanabe) who among them shared seven shogi titles in 2008. For that reason, even though the expressions I have used to express their thoughts might not be fully accurate, they would not be far from it. I have tried to cite their own words in cases where that was possible.


However, what I am about to write below is my wishful conjecture.


It all originates from a single question. That is, what was on Habu's mind after three consecutive wins against Watanabe last year in the Ryuoh title, best-of-seven match, when one more final win against him was all that was left for the achievement of the permanent title of the septuple crown.


For Habu, this was his first game to be played against a player from the generation below. Was his intention to win the remaining games against this young player, causing him much pain from defeat, as if to pick a budding flower of the bright future from the ground while he has the opportunity to do so - similar to what Yasuharu Oyama, who reigned as the ruler for some time, practised in the past - all in order to maintain his position in a hierarchy? I often asked myself this.


My anticipation is that Habu did not have these intentions in mind at all.


Rather, while confronting Watanabe in the Ryuoh title match, Habu was placing great expectations on the young and outstanding player. If this was not true, Habu would have difficulty pairing in duels with players possessing the same level of ability from a younger generation, and consequently, would be unable to keep his pursuit of composing "beautiful games."


At the time when he won three consecutive games, "I will not be satisfied with how the game is unfolding. This is too easy. I would like our compositions to be more sophisticated and more beautiful, not only for this game on this occasion, but for many more to come in the future...," may have been the words that existed in Habu's mind towards Watanabe. The response by Watanabe to this was presented in the final seventh game, where both players played their games to their full ability together composing what will be remembered as a masterpiece of a game of shogi.


The above is why Habu, when reflecting on the final game, although he was defeated after an intense duel, appears content and satisfied stating," after all I cannot spot where I was right or wrong in my decisions. Even if I were asked the same question now, I would still not be able to answer it. It is miraculous all this effort and time investment in an attempt to come up with solutions to such questions has not lead to any conclusions yet." Rather than being frustrated by the defeat, he seems satisfied with the fact that he and his opponent during the duel composed a "beautiful game."


All the above is my wishful conjecture.


Habu, most probably, will not listen to my story seriously and will merely laugh at it. However, the deeper the relationship between us becomes, and the more my understanding of Habu develops, the more I am drawn to believe that all this is true.

Since the past year spent with the most talented shogi players, namely, Yoshiharu Habu, Yasumitsu Sato, Koichi Fukaura and Akira Watanabe was extremely enlightening and stimulating, I could unexpectedly consolidate my thoughts on what it takes to be topnotch.


In modern shogi, possessing innate talent is a required but an insufficient trait to become a leader in this field. Additional prerequisites include the extraordinary ability to sustain discipline for long periods. This also seems to reflect the current state of the real world as well, which is outside the realm of shogi. I learned from those four people that one can become topnotch only if one's unique "exceptional character" has been added to the common foundation of "devotion to object (shogi), which derives from a deep love towards it." To put it in a formula:


"First-class" = "talent" × "devotion to object" × "exceptional character"


Only the third factor on the right side of the formula, "exceptional character" varies from person to person. For example, it would be "a scientist's mind in quest for the truth" in Habu's case, "purity" in Sato's case, "brilliant sociability, hidden within his inner heart" in Fukaura's case, and "a strategic mind common in excellent young people from all over the world of his age" in Watanabe's case. I found these particularly unique in each of them and thought it was this unique character that reflects their beauty as a human being.


With fully developed "highways of knowledge" all around, it has become much easier to reach certain high-standard levels than in the past. However, these three factors are essential in order to get past "huge traffic jams waiting for us at the end of the highways." Especially it is the magnitude of "exceptional character" which gets us ahead in the last small difference. And this is universally applicable to every field. I have come to believe that this is what "aiming to be topnotch" ultimately means.



This book was born based on the vision of Ms. Ikuko Okada of Chuokoron-Shinsha, Inc. It was she who generated the concept of the "Non-playing shogi fan." She enthusiastically persuaded me to write a book which describes my deep love towards shogi and would give us a future where people can say that "I found shogi interesting because of this book." I reckon that had it not been for her encouragement, sometimes to the point of crazy, "words filled with love towards shogi" in the process of writing this book, it would have been impossible to finish this book. Thank you very much. I would like to show my gratitude to her from the bottom of my heart.

Finally, to Mr. Habu, Mr.Sato, Mr.Fukaura and Mr. Watanabe, who spared their precious time for this book, and Mr. Kunio Yonenaga, who has been supporting the publication of this book since its conception, I would like to show my greatest gratitude.


March 25th, 2009.


Mochio Umeda


Next > Acknowledgments



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