January 25, 2012 07:39
Park Ji-eun, the first Korean woman to reach the coveted status of 9th dan in the board game baduk, won the Qiong-Long-Shan Women's World Championship last October in Suzhou, in East China's Jiangsu Province, to claim her fifth title at an international women's baduk championship.
Park, who became only the third woman in the world to achieve the so-called "master level" at the game that involves using black or white tiles to surround your enemy and gain territory, showed how her skills have evolved since she turned professional at the age of 14 and represented her country.
"I still get amazed when I win major competitions," said Park, who started learning baduk, more commonly known as "go" in the West, at the age of 10. "I never imagined I would reach this level when I was young, as I only took up the game because I enjoyed it so much."
At the time, Park's local neighborhood teacher noticed her special talent and encouraged her to continue. But it meant something had to be sacrificed. In order to concentrate on the game, Park decided to put her academic studies on hold -- indefinitely. She quit school as soon as she turned pro at the age of 14.
"I only finished primary school," she said. "But graduating from high school doesn't mean that much to me now, and I don't think my thoughts will change regarding going to university, either," added Park, who explained that it is a common practice to leave school at an early age in order to turn pro in the world of baduk.
Although there has been an increase in the number of people turning professional recently, only two could do so each year when Park was making her name in the sport. She said the practice sessions were grueling, and that even putting in 10 hours' practice a day was no guarantee of success. "Most of my fellow players started when they were four or five, so I had a relatively late start, but I've enjoyed it tremendously."
Park has produced remarkable results in both domestic and international competitions since her debut, but this has also heaped more pressure on her to perform. "Baduk players are very sensitive people, and there are many odd personalities in this game," she said. "I think it's because all they think about is baduk, including myself. The expectations tend to become a huge burden. Your psychological state matters a lot when you compete because baduk is very much a psychological game."
Park said she is more than satisfied with her choice of career, even though it may have its ups and downs. But she admits she has no idea what the future holds. Looking ahead, she said that baduk has taught her to aspire to be the best at what she does and to maintain a strong sense of self belief, as this is the wellspring of success.
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