Kato Masao has gone. His death at 57, it has to be said, was far too early.
It needs hardly be said that Kato and I first met at the Kitani Dojo, the training school run by Kitani Minoru. In 1959 I was just 10 and in the 5th grade at primary school when Kato joined the dojo in Hiratsuka City. He was 12 and in the first year of middle school.
Kato was two years older than I was but I had entered the dojo one year earlier. Within the training school, entrance took precedence over age, so I had the status of a senpai, or senior.
The live-in pupils of the time, ranked from most senior down, were Otake Hideo, Ishigure Ikuro, Haruyama Isamu, Kanashima Tetsuya, Shibata Kanji, Ishida Yoshio and Hisajima Kunio, and then Kato joined. In the same year, Sato Masaharu and later Miyazawa Goro joined. Cho Chikun and Kobayashi Koichi joined after the training school moved to Yotsuya in Tokyo in 1961.
As a boy, Kato was one of the more unusually earnest members of the dojo. He was two of a kind with Kobayashi Koichi, who joined later.
He had absolutely no aptitude for operating things. After he left the dojo and set up on his own, he could not even put the kettle on. He could not run a bath in his own house. That's how little aptitude he had. I was therefore surprised to see him holding a mobile phone after he became Deputy Chairman. Kato and mobile phones just didn't go together, but that shows how seriously he took his responsibilities!
Among us pupils, the one who spent longest at the go board was Kato. Of course he was talented, but on that talent was piled a lot of hard work.
We took meals together in the dojo. When it came to clearing up, any pupil who left his meal - or if no-one left anything, the pupil who was left at the table last - had to do the job. This was known as the "Gold Medal."
Kato won this gold medal far more than anyone else. I don't think it was a matter of likes and dislikes as regards his food (we really had no choice about what to eat anyway), but Kato was a slow eater. Although the meals were spread over two tables, every pupil - every one - was anxious to be at the same table as him. If you were at Kato's table, he would get the gold medal and so you could avoid doing the clearing up. Even so, Kato never showed any displeasure at taking on this burden.
In 1961, the Kitani Dojo moved to Yotsuya. Cho Chikun joined that year. We had to wait until 1965 for Kobayashi Koichi to join. Takemiya was a commuter, a day student.
By the time of the move to Yotsuya, Otake and almost all the other senpai were independent. Inevitably Kato and I got the status of being head boys. Perhaps because our self-awareness and sense of responsibility thus blossomed, Kato and I achieved promotion to 1-dan in rapid succession. I was promoted in 1963 at age 14. Kato was a year behind, at age 17 in 1964.
1-dan at 17 is not particularly fast. Among what might be called the top echelon of pros, it is on the slow side. However, Kato kept on piling on the hard work and developed his talents enormously.
Kato, I and Takemiya were known as the Three Crows of the Kitani school. The first of us to achieve national fame was Takemiya.
At that time Takemiya was 2-dan. Kato and I were 4-dan. At the handicap arrangements within the dojo, Takemiya should have been taking Black from us. It was probably no surprise therefore that Kato and I should be thinking that if young Takemiya could do that, so should we.
In that same year, Kato immediately posted a result. He sailed through the first, then the second then the third preliminary of the Honinbo tournament with ten successive wins, and so entered the league. Entering the Honinbo League at 4-dan was a brilliant achievement. But Kato's achievements did not stop there.
His first league foray ended in relegation, but he returned at once. Then after a playoff he stepped up as challenger to Honinbo Rin Kaiho. This was the 24th Honinbo tournament, in 1969.
Both Kato and I were then still live-in pupils. We were sort of hangers-on. When Kato set out for his title-match challenge from the dojo, those of us left behind gathered round to study the game with our teacher Kitani. Kato's first Honinbo challenge ended in defeat, 2-4, but in terms of content there wasn't much of a margin, we all felt.
Entering the league, then challenging. Kato's performance gave us a big boost. Thanks to him, in the same year that he challenged for the Honinbo, 1969, I captured the Nihon Ki-in Championship title. In 1968, I had won the Prime Minister's Cup and in 1969 the Shinei tournament, but in terms of events in which all pros could take part, the Nihon Ki-in Championship was my first title.
In 1970, I played the first game in the 26th Honinbo League with Kato. Kitani sensei came and sat at the board to watch the game between his live-in pupils and apparently said, "Whoever wins will become the challenger."
Kato won the game. But I then went on to win all my games and I was the one who became the challenger. Kitani's prediction was a little off!. Cresting the wave I then went on to defeat Rin 4-2 to take his place as Honinbo. I was 22.
It was Kato who gave us this "Kato effect." But he himself went into an unexpected slump. It was not that his results were bad, but for some reason he could not convert challenges into title victories. It was his so-called "tunnel period". He challenged and failed eight times, earning the unflattering nickname of "eternal runner-up."
Around this time, Kato and I left the dojo to go solo. One day, Kato put a question to me with a serious look: "Ishi-chan, what do I have to do to be able to win like you?"
This was hardly the sort of thing pros say to each other. I thought I was hearing something interesting. But I was stumped for an answer, and so this is what I said: "You take it too seriously. You have to enjoy it a bit more."
I was half joking, half in earnest, but I had no intention of baiting him. It was just that perhaps I saw his character as needing just a little prod. But after hearing what I said, Kato set out to enjoy himself with a vengeance. I was even rather worried that I had lit a fire! Yet even in that period he never neglected his studies.
In 1976 Kato finally won his first title, the Gosei. And everyone knows how well he did after that.
Although he gave his full efforts to being Chairman, Kato was a professional go player. I felt he wanted to fight in the front lines again. Those of us who are left will draw inspiration from him and will hope to strive even more to follow the way of go.
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