Art of Insult
“To insult someone without wit is to show your neck to the enemy and hand him the sword with which to cut it off.” – Kakita
- Keep it personal An effective insult must be delivered against its target alone, not against his family, his clan, or any other figure or institution on whose behalf he can take offense.
- Keep it true An effective insult must be based on real information rather than wild speculation or specious slander. If ammunition for an insult is not yet available, a skilled
courtier will wait until it is instead of hurling obvious falsehoods. Conversely, obvious openings should not be ignored; if someone is known as greedy, insult him for that, instead of
calling him ugly.
- Be amusing A truly effective insult is one which brings smiles and laughter from those who hear it. An insult that fails to amuse will be seen for what it is—a petty attempt to degrade an enemy’s character. Conversely, a funny insult will not only charm the court, it may keep them listening to see what the insulter says next.
- Do not talk to your enemy Talking directly to the object of the insult will give him the chance to reply, which may allow him a counterattack. Instead, a wise courtier talks to someone else loudly enough for the target to overhear—preferably, someone of higher status, so that if the enemy interrupts, he is offending someone of superior station.
- Quote the sages A truly effective practitioner of insult will never rely on his own words, or even those of another contemporary samurai—instead he will quote a famous book or philosopher. An insult from Shinsei is more devastating than anything a mere samurai can compose. Further, by quoting the sages the insulter forces the target to do the same
if he wishes to reply effectively.
- Skew titles Everyone in Rokugan has a proper rank and appropriate form of address. Twisting or mis-stating these titles, such as referring to a higher-ranking samurai with
“-san” or a woman as “-chan,” is a very blunt but effective insult. This form of insult is especially favored by those who are trying to goad someone into issuing a challenge.
- Be prepared for the consequences Rokugan is a society of warriors in which reputation and face are all-important. Pushing someone too far with gibes and insults will often result in a duel. Naturally, some courtiers expect this, keeping a skilled duelist available to back them up and using their insults, in effect, as a form of indirect assassination. The Scorpion are especially effective at this maneuver, although other clans are not above employing it on occasion.
Kemari Kemari is a courtly sport where the participants try to keep a cloth ball moving through the air with only their feet—touching it with their hands is against the rules. It is considered a court game and is traditionally played in full courtly dress, complete with the tall peaked hats male courtiers wear on formal occasions. Many consider the challenge of maintaining one’s dignity in a kemari game more difficult than the game itself.
Sadane A favorite among younger courtiers, sadane is the art of impromptu criticism. The participants in the game will choose a single agreed topic—a work of art is a very popular choice—and then compete to see who can deliver the most scathing and devastating criticisms of its quality. Sadane is normally directed against inanimate objects (paintings, sculpture, ikebana, etc) or artistic presentations (plays, poems, pillow books, and so forth). However, truly daring courtiers may play a game of sadane with a person as the object of criticism—a hazardous move indeed, since if word gets back to the target of the game, offense and a duel will likely result.
Game of Letters Within the courts, critics and blackmailers alike employ letters as their weapon of choice, and lovers use them as their most subtle but most direct gift. This continual fl ow of correspondence within a court is known as the “Game of Letters,” and is designed chiefly to display skill and manipulate others rather than to convey information. The Game of Letters is quite ancient, and tales claim it was first perfected by Hantei Genji, the Shining Prince, second Emperor of the Hantei Dynasty. In the modern Empire all courtiers are familiar with the Game of Letters, and dealing effectively with the Game is taken extremely seriously, especially at major courts such as the Imperial Winter Court. Each letter must receive a reply, since otherwise the recipient is admitting the author’s superior wit. A single game will often continue for an entire season, and a skilled courtier can easily have a dozen correspondences continuing at once.
A letter for the Game is never written casually, in the manner of a letter to a friend, or brusquely, as a commander might dictate orders for his troops. Instead, it is a creation born of precise art and careful calculation, following a strict set of rules but exploiting those rules to amuse, confound, lure, entice, or provoke the recipient. Symbolism is employed not only in the text itself but also in every physical detail, such as the choice of paper or the manner of delivery. The color of the paper establishes mood, conveying a particular emotion to the reader. The texture and thickness of the paper also matters—a thick, heavy paper suggests a serious topic, while a thin tissue conveys a light-hearted tone. The size of the paper relative to the writing is also signifi cant—using a large piece of paper to convey a short message suggests
generosity or extravagance, while a small piece of paper crowded with writing conveys a subtle insult, suggesting the recipient is not worthy of more paper.
The content of a composition for the Game of Letters follows a strict structure, a thirty-one syllable poem, usually based on an image from nature, and conveying the author’s intent indirectly. Since letters sent in court are almost never sealed, any samurai can stop a servant in the halls and read what he is carrying. In fact, most courtiers take it for granted that their letters will be read by others — that is part of the game.
Skilled authors consider many other aspects of their letters. Brushwork may convey an emotion that reinforces the text or undercuts it. Messy or uneven brush-work might suggest an insult or a lack of emotional control, for example. Most courtiers compose their letters several times to make sure they get the exact effect they want from their calligraphy.
Rokugan has several traditional styles of letter-folding, often quite elaborate, and some clans have developed their own signature styles to show off their skills and discourage forgeries. Scorpion Clan courtiers are especially skilled at folding letters in ways that are fiendishly difficult to open without tearing. Again, different styles of folding convey different messages, with a casually folded letter suggesting lack of care while elaborate folding implies great significance in the contents. A completed letter will also be scented and usually attacked to a small object, such as a fl ower, a sprig from a tree, or a stick of incense, all of this again conveying subtle messages. Even the choice of which servant will deliver the letter has meaning.
The combinations of paper, scent, style of poem, and accompanying item used in the Game of Letters are almost infinite. An expression of love might be written on soft paper the color of spring clouds, with a poem comparing the recipient’s beauty to a hunting heron, accompanied by a sprig of bamboo implying the author’s love is strong. Not surprisingly, a skilled courtier can often guess the intent of a message without even opening it.