Secrets of Korean Medicine, Part 25: The Game of Go and Mental Health

Focus on causes, not symptoms
By Dr. Seo Hyo-seok,
April 15, 2016 Updated: April 15, 2016

The historic match between the artificial intelligence Alpha-Go (of Google) and Lee Se-dol of the ninth-dan rank of Korea held in March 2016 was concluded with Alpha-Go winning four of the five games played. Although this match received a great deal of attention throughout the world, I am offering this special article related to Baduk (the Korean name for the board game Go) and mental health.

As a lover of Baduk, or Go, I watched the match with intense interest.

I am certain that you remember the shocking incident in which 12th-grade student Dylan Klebold and his friend, Eric Harris, indiscriminately shot the students and staff at Columbine High School in the State of Colorado in 1999, killing 12 students and a teacher as well as wounding 24 other people.

In the book “Mother’s Reckoning,” written by Klebold’s mother, she describes her state of mind at the time of the incident 17 years ago.

“My son became addicted to computers when he became a high school student and displayed symptoms of depression. However, I failed to notice this. My son was living in a world apart from that in which we were living. I was not aware that he was drinking alcohol, buying and accumulating weapons, and dreaming of ending his life in the midst of severe loneliness and despair.

“Had I known and perceived the signs that my son sent out, I could have prevented the dreadful disaster that occurred at Columbine,” she wrote.

South Korean professional Go player Lee Se-Dol plays against Google's artificial intelligence program, AlphaGo, during the Google DeepMind Challenge Match in Seoul, South Korea, on March 13.  (Google via Getty Images)
South Korean professional Go player Lee Se-Dol plays against Google’s artificial intelligence program, AlphaGo, during the Google DeepMind Challenge Match in Seoul, South Korea, on March 13. (Google via Getty Images)

Since the Columbine incident, others are equally concerning. The most recent incident happened last February when a 45-year-old white male killed seven people in Kalamazoo in Michigan State.

According to the report published in the April issue of the Journal of Behavior and Law in 2015 by a joint research team of three universities, including Harvard University, Duke University, and Columbia University, approximately 10 percent of all Americans are suffering from embitterment disorder.

In addition, this report asserted that the total number of guns owned by individuals in the United States is approximately 310 million, and while the average number of guns held by normal gun owners is one, the majority of those with embitterment disorder own more than six guns.

This signifies that there is a high probability of indiscriminate gun killings by such people. According to the report, despite calls in local and federal legislatures for stricter gun control shortly after the occurrence of such killings, not much attention is paid to the causes of such actions. Although stricter gun control is important, it is more important to be proactive in preventing such crimes by closely examining what leads to such actions.

Body and Mind Must Both Be Healthy

[As a society], we are overly focused on our physical health and material prosperity. We want to be more influential, slimmer, and more beautiful and earn more money, and so on, but this is a huge mistake.

The game of Go is characterized by courtesy and consideration of the opponent.

Both the body and the mind must be healthy. From this perspective, I was greatly shocked by the computer games my children were playing when they were growing up. They were enjoying games of indiscriminately shooting guns at the blink of an eye, as if in a war, with blood splattered all over the computer screen.

As the mother of Dylan Klebold pointed out, our children are enjoying such killing games in which the level of the players rises as more people are killed in a violent and merciless world that is far from the reality that we live in. How will these children grow up, and what kind of life will they be living in the future? I feel that this must change, and I have started to recommend that children learn to play Go instead of computer games.

The game of Go is characterized by courtesy and consideration of the opponent. The term “standard moves” that one learns when one begins to learn about Go refers to the optimal moves that ensure the coexistence of both players who are waging attacks and planning defense, rather than being aimed at winning only for oneself.

Go is a game that enables the players to gain self-discipline in nurturing enhanced mental health.

Players are taught to seek resurrection without giving up early in the game even if a portion of the Go table is lost. Moreover, players learn to foster self-discipline. They learn to look forward to the next game when one loses and to gain self-mastery rather than win over the opponent.

Through such techniques, players will learn to tackle the next challenge.

Although Lee Se-dol lost to Alpha-Go with the game score of 4 to 1, people were moved when he said, “As a result of the match, I was able to further reflect upon myself and foster new goals in my life.”

Go is a game that enables the players to gain self-discipline in nurturing enhanced mental health. Players experience exhilaration, a sense of accomplishment, and enlightenment on what life should be in the process of playing each move with utmost effort, rather than focusing only on winning the game.

International Go Competition 

  (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

(Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

This year, I will be holding the fifth annual Pyunkang Cup World Baduk Competition. Anyone with an amateur rank higher than sixth dan in Go can participate. Since all the matches are played over the Internet, there is no spatial or temporal restriction on the games played.

Although most of the participants at the moment are players from Korea, China, and Japan, I am planning to induce players from all corners of the world to participate in next year’s competition.

I set the total prize money of 30 million won (US$26,000) for the first competition, which has increased to 120 million won (US$104,000) for the competition this year. Some people are puzzled why a Korean medical doctor is holding an international Baduk competition.

I am holding the international Go competition for the following four reasons.

The first is to assist the enhancement of the mental health of humankind. The second is to make contributions toward the enhancement of world peace through the fostering of more active and amicable communication among the people of the world through the common language of Go.

The third is to return the profits generated by the Pyunkang Korean Medical Hospital back to society, and the fourth is because I am a devoted lover of Go.

Two Korean and two Chinese players became the champions of the four competitions held thus far. The champion of the third competition held was Ke Jie, currently the ninth-dan professional player ranked No. 1 in the world.

Although he was not a well-known player at the time, he advanced rapidly since his winning of the Pyunkang Cup, reaching his present status as top professional player in the world.

I have heard that ninth-dan Ke Jie is planning to challenge Alpha-Go following the conclusion of the match between Alpha-Go and Lee Se-dol. The outcome of this challenge is highly anticipated by myself as well as by people throughout the world.

The Future of Go in China  

It is a well-known fact that Xi Jinping, the leader of China, is a lover of Go. Recently, he made the recommendation that all the diplomats dispatched to overseas missions of China should learn Go. I find this highly significant.

Xi Jinping shows a deep understanding of Go and the game’s ability to train players to think far into the future. I admire Xi Jinping’s policy to include Go in the academic curriculum of elementary schools.

Children are the future of mankind. However, the environment under which children are growing is desolate and dreary. Moreover, the favorite hobby of children throughout the world is playing cold-hearted, extremely competitive, and violent computer games devoid of affirmative emotional elements.

This is not the problem of a single country or an individual, but rather a problem that all the people of the world need to seriously consider. Korean medicine is attempting to overcome the limitations of Western medicine and address mental health issues.

Xi Jinping’s decision to teach Go to elementary school children as one of the means of resolving this problem is an excellent policy that clearly demonstrates his foresight.

When I visited China several years ago, I had an opportunity to play a Go game with ninth-dan Chang Hao, a professional Go player in China. I hope to have the opportunity to play a Go game with Xi Jinping, who is at a level similar to mine.

If such a match can be realized, how could I visit China empty-handed? As the remuneration for the granting of such an honorable opportunity, I would like to present the secrets of pulmonary cleaning that would enable the people of China to live in great health by preventing and treating asthma and pneumonia.

Through such action, I hope to bring the benefits of Korean medicine to the world and show this highly outstanding discipline that treats the roots of disease.

I look forward to such a day and hope this news will be delivered to China.

Dr. Seo Hyo-seok.  (Courtesy of  Dr. Seo)
Dr. Seo Hyo-seok. (Courtesy of Dr. Seo)

Dr. Seo Hyo-seok is the director of the Pyunkang Korean Medicine Hospital, which has seven branches in South Korea, one at Stanton University in California, and one in Atlanta. Dr. Seo entered Kyung Hee University in Korea at the top of his class and after years of research, developed the Pyunkang-Hwan herbal formula, which improves immunity by strengthening lung function. It has helped cure over 155,000 patients of various conditions.

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