Go and War


Hi all,

Just wanted to open up some discussion, I have been reading about the history of Go and it has been written that the game is based on a battle fought many years ago in ancient China, if I am not mistaken.

What are your thoughts on this? Are there any examples in your own life that could be related to strategies you have learned from Go?


Go, Martial Arts and Military Strategy

Several people, including Kissinger I think, commented during the Vietnam War that the Americans were fighting like a chess game, while the North Vietnamese were fighting like a go game.


The equation of Go to war is probably more accurate than that of Chess to war, but it is still quite inaccurate

First of all: War is not won by how much land you control, that is a means to the ends of causing the opponent to surrender
Secondly: Not all territory is equal in war, there are certain places and cities that are just more valuable than others due to production
Thirdly: It has no account for the affects of attrition, which is very important in warfare

The main principles of war (which are: rapidity, going for larger objectives, avoiding unwinnable fights, etc. etc.) are definitely present in Go, which is what makes it slightly more accurate than Chess, which is all about fighting for a single objective instead of multiple possible objective, and tends to favor slower and safer strategies a bit more than Go does.

One of the things Go teaches in life is to read ahead of your current situation. You start to look for what you can do, and what will happen if you do it, and whether things are possible.

Another is that it teaches you that sometimes pursuing something directly is the best way to make sure it doesn’t happen. This is especially true when it comes to conflict. When you attack something headstrong, you are usually the one that loses out. But when you threaten an advantage the opponent can either defend or try to do something elsewhere. If they defend you have now gained something without conflict, if they do something elsewhere, you can then attack and win.


A pianist may tell you that Go resembles music. A painter might tell you that Go resembles a picture. A corpse might tell you that Go represent a war,


I agree. Games are generally too abstract to have much meaningful comparison with real war. My previous post was simply to pass on an interesting assertion that I recalled. On the other hand, China’s recent use of pseudo-islands to “enclose” the South China Sea seems to me eerily like a moyo.


Does that mean it’s time to invade? :wink:


Go is more like a set of life lessons than like war. Think of all the applicable proverbs. You have to be flexible. You have to cooperate to succeed (give your opponent what he wants), you cannot focus on winning all the battles, but must choose. You have to plant seeds (aji). A rich man should not pick quarrels. Lose your first 50 games as quickly as possible (experience is the best teacher) etc.


One of the reasons I was drawn to Go was that I have a long term interest in the Martial Arts. The first time I ever heard about Go was in the “novel”, Shibumi . The lead character is a freelance assassin/espionage agent, who is also a Go Master, Master of the martial art of improvised weaponry (of course … he kills a terrorist in an aeroplane toilet with a credit card), potholer, linguist, tantric sex master (you get the picture).

Although the link between Go and combat, both small and large scale was mentioned, this was just as a context for an action story, rather than explained in detail; the one exception being the idea of eyes on the Go board ensuring the life of a group being a metaphor for the use of holding sensitive information under lockdown, as leverage against a group or government, that would be released to the press if he didn’t call a secret phone number at a certain time. (If he died or disappeared)

I my own training I have observed parallels. The structure of Moyo, could be like the physical structure of the body being used to develop an effective technique. Seizing and keeping the initiative is key to surviving a physical assault. The pincer strategy can be seen in the “ox horns” of King Shaka’s Zulu army, experienced units of hardened fighting men who would outflank an enemy army and harry them from the sides and read, while the main body of the younger warriors attacked recklessly from the front as a distraction.

So, my question is, how do you think Go strategy is related to combat and warfare? Is Go perhaps a metaphor for a “way of life” or Do?

I’d be very interested to hear from those who play Go and are also martial artists, or who have been in the military, or who have studied military strategy or history, but this is essentially a geek topic, so keyboard warriors are equally welcome to comment (as long as their point is supported by reasons or illustrated by examples). Tangents are welcome as long as they are quite interesting.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Hello @BrodieRatel13, I think they are not specifically “related” but rather that Go teaches a lot of skills that can be applied to different areas of life, as @baliset also explains in the other quite similar thread (to which I will append have appended your post in a minute; I hope that’s okay with you).

And yes, Shibumi (link to Goodreads), awesome novel!
In comparison, “Satori”, a prequel written by Don Winslow (Wikipedia link), disappointed me a lot: I often had the impression that Winslow wanted to show off his researched knowledge far too much while Trevanian’s writing seems to come naturally, flowing (see Goodreads for other opinions).


To give a serious answer, albeit off topic, the consensus here in the U.S. seems to be that it is too late to do anything about it. Nobody even talks about it anymore.


Thanks, trohde. Interesting thread. I thought people might be able to relate specific combat strategies to Go, but obviously it is not that simple. :slight_smile:

I will check out the book, perhaps someone showing off their research knowledge might be interesting for a while. Trevanian’s book was an excellent example of it’s genre. What we refer to where I come from as a “Skop, skiet en donner”. Although it is not literature, it was great entertainment, with an interesting cultural backdrop for someone interested in all things Japanese.

I guess, the question in my mind after reading your post is which Go skills can be applied to different areas of life? But you have given me lots to explore already. Many thanks.


Just check the mentioned comment by @baliset just above your first one here:


Hi. I’m a new participant here, extremely limited Go experience but lots of military history. One of the books on my journey was one a few years ago I picked up off a bargain table in the middle of the high country. Book is since lost and I can’t recall its title or author but it was an analysis of the vietnam war / theories of guerilla warfare using Go concepts and theory. One thing I recall in particular was how it spoke of the classic guerilla strategies such as ‘fighting on the perimeter’ and compared it to the relative value of the border areas of a Go board. Another involved the use of Ko (can’t recall the detail).

Anyway, am glad to be here. If anyone can point me in direction of this mystery book I’d love to know!


Found it! Must have been all your good thoughts. For those interested - “The Protracted Game - A Wei-Ch’i interpretation of Maoist Revolutionary Strategy” by Scott Boorman (1969) Oxford University Press. Classic sixties structuralism. It doesn’t really cover vietnam war, concentrates on the Chinese Civil War (I think Ho was more the russian than the chinese in influence, though the analogical interpretation still sort of holds). First couple of chapters are interesting conceptually as it looks at Wei-ch’i from a dialectical perspective. It’s also on Amazon, cheapest at $40.