I like to think I am careful in my judgments, and, therefore, rarely wrong – at least away from the go board. But one of my greatest misjudgments was Yoshi Sawada.
When I ran the US Go Congress in 2001, I was vigilant in keeping costs down and trying to pass those savings on to my guests. I was particularly frugal with comps – fighting the AGA to limit them, and even charging myself for room and board. And so when the powers that be insisted that Yoshi Sawada be comped, I balked. I mean, he was just a translator, and I had several Japanese speaking people on my team; I disagreed strongly with the expense.
Fortunately, this was a battle I lost. By the end of the Congress, I came to realize that Yoshi was so much more than a Japanese translator, he was a tireless worker who spent every waking hour (and I am not quite sure there were any sleeping hours) making sure my Congress was the best that he could make it.
What made him so special? Any of us who attended his lectures know. Note I said his lectures. To call them Nakayama’s, or Maeda’s or Takemiya’s is really unfair. It was the Yoshi Show, and I wish I could watch them in reruns forever.
Quite frankly, I am not sure how strong a go player he was. He was always reaching out to strong players in the room to make sure he was getting things right. I would even jokingly say I am not sure how strong his Japanese was – because clearly the length and breadth of what he said bore little resemblance to the amount of words that seemed to come out of the pro’s mouth – when Yoshi gave them a chance to speak.
No, I would say that Yoshi did not speak go, he did not speak Japanese. Yoshi spoke Pro.
He knew what a pro wanted to say, even if he did not say it. He knew how to take the most reserved pro, and bring him out of himself and make everything so entertaining and accessible – not just to the strong, not just to the weak, but to everyone, spouses and non-players included.
And he took care of them, made sure they were happy and entertained. If a pro had an issue with the way things were being done, we would never know if it were not for Yoshi. He knew, and he let us know. He lived his life like he played poker – he always made sure there was action.
The Congress gets harder every year for many of us, whose eyes glaze over new faces, looking for the old friends who will never return. In 2005, we lost the future in Greg Lefler. In 2009 we lost so much promise in Jin Chen and Landon Brownell. Last year we lost the personification of the soul of the Congress in Nakayama.
And now we have lost the laughter.
winter’s last cruel chill
shadows a most joyous light
august’s laughter dies
- Keith Arnold; this post originally appeared on Life in 19×19; photos by John Pinkerton