Go Figure

One board, two players, 361 stones. Behold the ingredients of Go, the ancient Asian game that, despite its deceptively simple rules, many players consider more challenging than chess. Though little known in the West, Go is played by more than 25 million Asians, who consider it one of the four ancient arts (the other three: music, painting, and poetry). The game's status as an art helped make it a new attraction at Funktional Funk, a year-old Lincoln Road shop that features the work of local artists.

How does an ancient game from the other side of the world fit into a local art store? It's just another cog in Funk's eclectic machine. The Funktional Funk crew has designed sets for local television station WAMI and helped record a soundtrack for a locally produced film. They host lectures by the Coalition Advocating Medical Marijuana. And much of the merchandise at Funk is less than traditional as well. There are colorful cotton ties, hand-made by an artist who was sick of silk. There are ceramic stogy-smoking frog ashtrays and a soda vending machine emblazoned with a portion of Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night. Art that's both beautiful and useful is paramount here.

"There are so many things you can do with art, but there's so much more you can do with art forms," says Flash, the self-described Funkfinder who runs the store but avoids the title "manager."

Go Night was brought to the Beach by Ariyah Okamoto, a musician and record producer who learned to play the game from his Japanese immigrant parents. Okamoto proposed weekly Go games at the store. Why not? replied the easygoing Funksters.

The rules for Go have remained the same for thousands of years. It's played on a square grid with 361 intersections. Participants take turns placing black and white stones on the grid in an attempt to capture more territory than their opponent. At the end of the game the player with the most territory wins.

One legend of the game's origin tells of a Chinese emperor who worried because his fun-loving son showed no interest in serious matters. He asked the wisest man in the land to teach the air-headed heir how to think; the sage came up with Go (the boy didn't master it and eventually lost the empire).

Maybe he would've preferred playing at Funk, where CDs by local bands like Sense, Boxelder, and the Inside are on sale and are played on the store's stereo system. Flash's tiny snack bar offers coffee, juice, soft drinks, and Otis Spunkmeyer muffins.

Okamoto challenges chess players who think they've seen it all to give Go a go. "It's a game of utter balance and self-discovery," he says. "Chess may be a battle, but Go is a war."

-- Alan Diaz

Go Night takes place every Tuesday from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. at Funktional Funk, 1237 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach. Playing is free, but you must bring your own board and stones. You may be able to find a partner among the crowd. Call 305-604-0393.

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Alan Diaz

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