I bring this up just to tell a story about my father. He has been going to Japan every year since the 1970’s and at one point he decided to learn Go, the famously difficult strategy game.
So he made some inquiries and he found a Go master who spoke no English but was willing to teach a foreigner. The lesson took place at the master’s house and he began by simply setting up a board and beginning a game.* My father got no instructions. Not being able to ask questions in Japanese and not knowing anything about how to play the game he simply looked at what the master did and tried to match it. He played exactly the same moves as the master.
At the end of the game (or perhaps near the end because I’m not sure my father knew enough to identify the end) the master sat there just staring at the board. Then he got really angry! Obviously my father had been playing Go for many years and was trying to humiliate the master by playing dumb. Raging in Japanese, he threw my father out. And that was the last time my father tried to learn Go.
In martial arts we have another name for this. It’s called Wild Man Beats the Master. Sometimes an opponent can be totally unpredictable because he actually makes the worst possible choices. This is perhaps related to Isiah Berlin’s problem of the Fox and the Hedgehog. The fox knows a little about many things and the hedgehog knows a lot about one thing. Foxes are better at making predictions. Too much expertise may not be such a good thing.
This is one of the things that I’ve always found troubling about careers in general. Once someone finds their niche, it’s very hard to change. Am I heading down a dangerous road? Have I become an expert at weakness?
*(My father never actually learned how to play Go, so he probably wouldn’t have noticed if the master gave him a 9 stone advantage at the beginning; however, that wouldn’t have made as good a story--and frankly it shouldn’t matter-- when I tried to learn Go, I lost for two months straight, even with a 9 stone advantage. I finally won a game when the guy who was teaching me said if I didn’t win that one, I was going to have to buy everyone in the club a beer [about 20 people]. I’m pretty sure he let me win because he felt sorry for me. I found another hobby.)