Last night over dinner I had an interesting conversation about being a professional baduk player. My company was two young and pleasant gentlemen, one from the US and the other from the UK. They said in America or Europe, “professional” indicates full time paid jobs. Also, no matter how skilled you are, if you love doing so but do not get paid for it, you are an amateur player. Concerning players who have other jobs but still play for a part-time job, people would call them “semi-professional”. It’s clearer if you think about the origin of the words. The word “professional” stems from “profession,” which means it’s your job. On the other hand, the “amateur” comes from the Latin “amatus,” meaning “love” or “having been loved.”

One example they used was professional tennis players. Tennis players don’t have special qualifying test to become professional, but they would be considered as professional if they perform in major matches and get paid for them. If they stop playing actively, however, they would be either semi-professional or retired professional. Also, the players whose full time job is teaching tennis may be considered as a kind of professional as well.

Being a professional player in Korea Baduk Association (also in Japanese, Chinese or Taiwanese association), however, is more like having a degree such as Master’s or Ph.D. It’s honorable and prestigious. Once you become a professional player, you are professional until you decide to retire. Yet, since no one has a right to tell you to retire, it would be safe to say that you are a professional for a life time. In fact, many players would retire only when they think their life is almost at an end.

Like almost every policy, the unique professional system of baduk has both good and bad sides. As a good side, it makes highly desirable to become a professional player. Though your income may not be stable, your status is secure. Also, it allows professional players to explore other worlds. For a good example, it would have been much more difficult for me to become a full time college student, if I had to give up professional status.

However, if you look at this from the baduk fans’ point of view, the system causes the professional world’s stagnation. Because players retire so late, KBA can afford to accept only a limited number of new professional players every year. It’s also true that many players believe that the strength of Korean professional players comes from the difficulty of becoming professional. Yet, the obvious consequence is that, many prodigies, who have as good of skills as the majority of professional players, end up giving up on their life dreams after several years of intensive study. It results in both diluting the competitiveness in professional tournaments and taking away places for “pure amateur players” in most amateur tournaments.

If I think only about my interests as a professional player, I want the current system would stay for a long time. As one baduk player who wishes prosperity for the entire baduk community, however, I want it to take the best for itself. What do you think? Is it good to keep the traditional system or should they reform regarding the new age?