Subtlety of the Court

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Otomo Madoko’s famous Subtlety of the Court

In the year 689 there lived in the Imperial City a powerful courtier by the name of Otomo Madoko. Madoko worked for many decades as the Imperial Matchmaker, arranging marriages for the Imperial family. During her long career, she witnessed the reigns of four separate Hantei Emperors. She was a great admirer of the works of the ronin general Sun Tao, and had committed the entire Imperial Manuscript of the Book of Sun Tao to memory. Once, on a dare from a clever Lion courtier, Madoko was encouraged to compare the tactics of the General to the tactics of the court. Madoko was amused by the request, and eagerly complied. The resulting work, an essay simply entitled The Subtlety of the Court, has been adopted as a survival guide by many courtiers since.
Madoko recognized what other courtiers had not expressed in words: to a samurai, all is war. Even the meekest courtier is still a samurai, and a samurai never confronts an enemy with anything less than the fullest dedication and strongest resolve. Those who apply this to the court as they would on a battlefield, prosper. Those who treat the court as a vacation, a reward, or a chance to indulge in the pleasures of wealth are doomed to fail. Otomo Madoko had seen mighty generals sent to the heart of the Shadowlands through the machinations of clever courtiers. She had seen simple ji-samurai gain great status and become generals themselves. All of this was done through skillful manipulation of political currents.

Note: Below are a few random excerpts from the sampling of Subtlety of the Court in the Winter Court: Kyuden Asako book. If you wish to review more, I can lend you the book.

“Only the ignorant fight to win. The enlightened win before they fight.”

A wise courtier does not confront an enemy about whom he knows nothing. Better to let an opponent win a minor victory while you retreat to research his background and weaknesses, than to confront him directly when you do not know what is truly at stake.

“Victory can be seen, but never forced.”

Even when it seems that your triumph is well in hand, exercise an element of caution. Even the surest plans can be undone, and you must be prepared with contingencies on all occasions. In particular, when one is negotiating peace, it is helpful to have letters drawn up in advance in event of your failure with couriers prepared to deliver them unless you arrive to tell them otherwise. This way, in case of a crisis your allies may be notified win the quickest fashion imaginable and the armies can attack swiftly should your negotiations fail.

“What kills the enemy is anger.”

Showing undue emotion in public is weakness. Find out where your enemy is weakest, discover what upsets him, and create an environment in which he will fly into a temper in front of others. While he rages, his allies will flee to seek more stable cohorts.

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Subtlety of the Court

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