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tirely to the game, and either found positions as players at the court of a daimio, or traveled through the country (like the poets and swordsmen of that period), playing the game and giving instruction in its mysteries as they found opportunity. If they came to a place which pleased them, they often let their years of wandering come to an end and remained there, making their living as teachers of the game.
At the time of the founding of the Academy, besides Honinbo, the previously mentioned masters, Hayashi, Inouye, and Yasui, were installed as professors. For some reason, Nakamura, who is mentioned above as one of the contemporaries of Honinbo, did not appear at the Academy. Each of the four masters above named founded his school or method of play independently of the others, and the custom existed that each teacher adopted his best pupil as a son, and thus had a successor at his death; so the teachers in the Academy were always named Honinbo, Inouye, Hayashi, and Yasui. (Lovers of Japanese prints are already familiar with this continued similarity of names.)
The best players of the Academy had to appear every year before the Shogun and play for his amusement. This ceremony was called “Go zen Go,” which means “playing the game in the
august presence,” or “O shiro Go,” “Shiro” meaning "the honorable palace,” and the masters of the game entered these contests with the same determination that was displayed by the samurai on the field of battle.
An anecdote has come down to us from the reign of the third Shogun, Tokugawa Iyemitsu, showing how highly the Go masters regarded their art. At that time Yasui Sanchi was “Meijin,” which, as we shall see in a moment, meant the highest rank in the Go world, while Honinbo Sanyetsu held the rank of “ Jo zu,” which was almost as high, but which, according to the rules, would entitle him to a handicap of one stone from his expert adversary; and these two men, being the best players, were selected to play in the Shogun's presence. Honinbo, feeling conscious of his skill, disdained to accept the handicap, and met his adversary on even terms. The game was proceeding in the presence of the court nobles before the Shogun had appeared, and among the spectators was Matsudaira Higo no Kami, one of the most powerful noblemen of that epoch. Yasui Sanchi was a favorite of Matsudaira and as he watched the play he remarked audibly that Honinbo would surely be defeated. Honinbo Sanyetsu heard the remark, and pausing in his play, he allowed the stone which he was about to place on the board to fall back into the "Go tsubo" or wooden jar that holds the Go stones, gently covered the “Go tsubo,” and drawing himself up with great dignity, said: “I am serving the Shogun with the art of Go, and when we Go masters enter a contest, it is in the same spirit as warriors go upon the field of battle, staking our life, if necessary, to decide the contest. While we are doing this we do not allow interference or comments from any one, no matter how high may be his rank. Although I am not the greatest master of the game, I hold the degree of ‘Jo zu,' and, therefore, there are few players in Japan who are able to appreciate my plans, tactics, or strategy. Nevertheless, the Prince of Higo has unwarrantedly prophesied my defeat. I do not understand why he has done this, but if such a comment were allowed to become a precedent, and onlookers were permitted to make whatever comments on the game they saw fit, it would be better that the custom os the 'O shiro Go'should cease." Having said this, he raised himself from his seat. At this moment the court officers announced the coming of the Shogun, and the noblemen who had assembled to see the contest, surprised and confused by the turn affairs had taken, earnestly persuaded Honinbo to reseat himself and continue the
game. This he obstinately refused to do, and endeavored to leave the imperial chamber. Prince Matsudaira, taken aback, scarcely knew what to do. However, he kotowed to Honinbo and, profusely apologizing, besought the offended master to finish the contest. Honinbo Sanyetsu was appeased, and resumed his seat at the board, and both players, aroused by the incident, exerted every effort to achieve victory. Honinbo Sanyetsu won, whereupon the Prince of Higo was greatly humiliated. Since then the name of Sanyetsu has always been revered as one of the greatest of the Honinbo family.
In the degenerate days toward the end of the Tokugawa Dynasty the “Go zen Go” became a mere farce, and the games were all played through and studied out beforehand, in order that the ceremony in court might not last too long: The custom was, however, maintained until the fall of the Shogunate in 1868.
Honinbo Sansha established at the time of the foundation of the Academy a method of classifying the players by giving them degrees, which still exists, although no longer under the authority of the State. When a man attained to a certain measure of skill in the game he received the title “Shodan,” or, of the first degree. The still stronger players were arranged as “Nidan,” “Sandan,” “Yodan," etc., or of the second, third, and fourth degrees. The high
est degree in the series was “Kudan," or the ninth degree. In order to attain the first degree, or “Shodan,” the candidate must be an excellent player, so good in fact that he could follow the game as a profession. In other games such a graduated system of classifying players would be scarcely possible, but among good Go players it is feasible, because the better player almost invariably wins, even if he be but slightly superior. If the difference in skill could not be equalized in some way the game would become tiresome, as the weaker player would almost always be able to foresee his defeat. The stronger player, therefore, allows his adversary to place enough stones on the board as a handicap to make the adversaries approximately equal.
According to the rules of the Academy,.if the difference between the skill of the players was only one degree, the weaker player would be allowed the first move. If the difference was two degrees, the weaker player would be allowed to place a stone on the board, and the stronger player would have the first move, and so on; in other words, the difference between each degree might be called half a stone. Thus, a player of the fourth degree would allow a player of the first degree to place two stones on the board as a handicap, but would have the first move. A player of the seventh degree would allow a player of the first degree three stones, and a player of the ninth degree would allow a player of the first degree four stones. Four was the highest handi
among the players holding degrees, but, as we shall see later, among players of less skill greater handicaps are frequently given.
A player of the seventh degree also received the honorary title “ Jo zu,” or the higher hand. Those of the eighth
rank were called “Kan shu,” or the half-way step, and those of the ninth degree were called “Mei shu,” the clear, bright hand, or “Mei jin,” literally “celebrated man.” It is related that this last appellation arose in the time of Nobunaga, who was a spectator of a game played by Honinbo Sansha with some contemporary, and who expressed his admiration of the skill of Honinbo by exclaiming “Mei jin!” which thus became the title applied to players of the highest skill.
Since the institution of this method of classifying Go players over three hundred years ago, there have been only nine players who have attained the ninth degree, and only fourteen players who have attained the eighth degree. On the other hand, there have been many more of the seventh, and many more still of each of the lower degrees. In 1880, at the time Korschelt wrote the article previously referred to, there was only one player in Japan holding the seventh degree, and that was the celebrated Murase Shuho. At present there is one player who holds the ninth degree. His name is Honinbo Shuyei, and he is the only player who has attained the ninth degree during the period called the “Meiji,” or since the fall of the Shogunate forty years ago.
This arrangement of the players in degrees is unknown in China and Korea. On the other hand, it is in use in the Ryukyu or Loochoo Islands.
The Japanese seem to have regarded the classification in degrees as an absolute standard of measurement. Nevertheless, it must necessarily have varied from time to time, and in the course of centuries the standard must gradually have risen.