Aisho and the Persistence of Dueling in Modern Kekon

By Fonda Lee
Apr 22, 2019 · 1,610 words · 6 minutes

From the author: The tradition of clean-bladed dueling is common in Kekon but not well understood by foreigners. Espenian professor Thom Granost provides a scholarly overview in this article.

Aisho and the Persistence of Dueling in Modern Kekon

 Professor Thom Granost

Department of East Amaric Cultures, Watersguard University, Adamont Capita  

Once prevalent across much of the world, the settling of personal disputes by means of potentially deadly armed combat has long since fallen out of cultural and legal acceptance, with the last recorded fatal pistol duel fought legally in Espenia seventy-five years ago between two rival lawyers in the town of Evenfield, eight months before the practice was officially outlawed across the land by the National Assembly under Premier Lentworth. The continued existence of such an anachronistic tradition in a modern, industrialized state would seem paradoxical to most current day observers, yet, on the island nation of Kekon, dueling remains remarkably commonplace, with no significant legislative efforts to curb its practice. According to recent studies, one in eight Kekonese men have participated in at least one duel. When polled, 76% of all Kekonese approve of the custom as a means of “solving serious disagreements in a fair way.”

Almost no aspect of Kekonese society can be examined without acknowledging the influence of bioenergetic jade and its continued importance to the country’s culture and economy. The extraordinary physiological enhancements combined with the risks of close prolonged exposure to bioenergetic jade gave rise many centuries ago to an elite warrior class, still referred to by the esoteric name of “Green Bones.” [The most thorough Espenian language overview of the history of Kekon and the Green Bone caste can be found in Island of Jade and Blood: Kekon from Ancient to Modern Times, Granost and Penderson.] Setting aside fanciful legends and pop culture depictions, most tourists to Kekon today can expect to come across the sight of individuals openly adorned with bioenergetic jade, going about their business much like anyone else. More observant and knowledgeable visitors may notice the social deferences, symbols of clan affiliation, and the myriad of other customs rooted in the uniquely Kekonese reverence for jade and the status accorded to those capable of employing it. Current day Kekonese Green Bones drive cars and wear suits, but are nevertheless inculcated at a young age, not only in the tolerance and usage of bioenergetic jade, but in the traditional code of conduct known as aisho.

Aisho is a collective term for the principles and ideals that dictate the Green Bone way of life, stressing honor, loyalty, martial prowess and mastery of the jade arts, familial clan duty, self-sacrifice, and obligation to protect and defend the weak (in other words, those without the abilities gained from the use of jade). It is unsurprising that many of these values are echoed in the four Divine Virtues of the Deitist religion (Humility, Compassion, Courage, Goodness), given the spiritual significance of jade and the long codevelopment of Deitism alongside Green Bone culture. Aisho codifies what is socially expected of Green Bones, simultaneously emphasizing the importance of jade, honor, and combat, while forbidding violence against those of lower status. Adherence to these ideals contribute directly to what the Kekonese consider the “greenness” of a man. Any sociologist seeking to understand the enduring cultural significance of the Kekonese “clean-bladed” duel must thus first understand the strict context of aisho.

Over history, duels have served the purpose of containing violence to the aggreived parties and preventing the escalation of a feud into cycles of vendetta involving entire families or tribes. This is particularly vital in a society such as Kekon, where familial duty and clan allegiance continue to underpin social interactions in everything from business deals to political affiliation. In addition to this, however, the Kekonese duel contains a distinctive social mobility aspect. In a “clean-bladed” duel between Green Bones, the victor is entitled to claim his opponent’s jade, with no retribution permitted from the defeated party’s relatives or allies. Dueling in the Kekonese tradition therefore enables the meritocratic distribution of bioenergetic jade, ensuring that only the most skilled and accomplished warriors assume more of the valuable resource. Social norms dictate that dueling occur between opponents of similar social standing; a person in a superior position is not permitted to challenge a subordinate, and it would be a breach of aisho for a Green Bone to duel someone not enhanced with jade. Clean-bladed duels have also long served the function of reinforcing the status of the warrior class; numerous recorded duels have occurred between Green Bones acting as champions on behalf of relatives or clan members.

Bioenergetic jade and aisho is also at the root of the Kekonese abhorrence toward theft. Those unfamiliar with the culture may be surprised to learn that theft is viewed with as much, and sometimes more, societal condemnation than murder, with legal consequences ranging from corporal punishment to imprisonment to execution. Out of all capital offenses recorded by the Kekonese court system in the past five years, 22% are indicated for “theft in excess of 50,000 dien,” 16% for “theft of jade,” and 4% for “graverobbing.” These statistics are a woefully incomplete picture, as many crimes, particularly those involving bioenergetic jade, are judged and punished by clan authorities without going through the state system, in a practice that would be described by other societies as extrajudicial if not for the fact that there is no prohibition against the dual track administration of justice shared by the official government and the Green Bone clans. [An excellent explanation of clan-based social regulation can be found in Reining in Power: Legal and Social Accountability of Bioenergetically Enhanced Groups and Individuals, Granost and Steffens.] Nevertheless, comparing the 42% of death penalties levied for crimes of theft against the 39% for “premeditated murder of a heinous nature without sufficient cause” is worthwhile insofar as it validates the assertion that theft is viewed with particular repugnance.

This is not so difficult to understand when considering the value and availability of bioenergetic jade as well as the community danger posed by the acquisition of the substance by individuals without sufficient physiological tolerance, training, and social support. [For some in-depth examples, see Historical Case Studies in Overexposure to Bioenergetic Jade, Dr. Hartrow.] The temptation to steal jade through deceitful methods is extremely high, yet poses a collective danger that threatens societal destruction. Theft is therefore considered the ultimate sin; if it were not, Green Bones would live in constant fear of being ambushed and having their jade stolen by unworthy rivals. Open combat is lauded and celebrated, with dueling seen as a way to ensure civility, honesty, and meritocracy in a society where honor, status, and jade are intertwined. 

The subject of Green Bone culture under Shotarian occupation prior to and during the Many Nations War would go beyond the scope of this article, except for a mention that despite the necessity of secrecy in avoiding Shotarian authorities, dueling not only continued under colonial rule, but gained in prevalence, spreading from its traditional adherents among Green Bones to the general, non-jade-wearing civilian population, who viewed it as a fairer and more honorable way to resolve disputes than appealing to the official and biased Shotarian-controlled legal system. Dueling was in fact encouraged and abetted by the Green Bone-led resistance groups, as yet another act of Kekonese defiance against foreign governance. [For more context, see The One Mountain Society: Kekonese Resistance Under Shotarian Colonial Rule, Granost and Whick.]   

After the Many Nations War and the reestablishment of Kekonese independence, dueling came back into the open with the rise of the Green Bone class into high public social standing and the division of major cities into territories managed and defended by patron Green Bone-led clans. As the administrative importance of the clans grew during post-war reconstruction, dueling became, and continues to be, one of the primary mechanisms for a jade-enhanced individual to prove his martial ability, earn jade, and thus achieve a higher position within his clan.

Tradition dictates that duels are fought with the traditional Kekonese sword (“moon blade”), a hooked combat knife, or empty-handed. Recorded pistol duels have occurred on occasion, but are seen as classless and scorned as a foreign frivolity. Challenges must be issued in person, typically in regards to a personal offense or breach of honor against either oneself, or one’s family or clan, although many a duel has been fought out of simple straightforward desire to settle some disagreement or rivalry. The contest can happen immediately or be postponed until later, so long as there are witnesses present to ensure accountability. Refusing a challenge is considered cowardly and dishonorable, unless the duel would be in violation of aisho or there are extenuating circumstances that prohibit one or more of the parties from fighting. An estimated 12% of duels end in death, a lower figure than is commonly believed; deadly, high-profile duels are reserved for the more grevious clan disputes. Rates of participation are highest among Green Bone men between the ages of 18 and 35; in a recent study by Janloon Royal University, 86% of individuals in this demographic report having participated in a duel, and 22% of those have been in six or more duels. Duels between female Green Bones are less common, but are on a sharp rise, with 22% of jade-wearing women having dueled, up from 15% only two years ago.

For centuries, Kekon’s geographic isolation and unusual resources have made it uniquely resistant to outside influences, and today, despite legislation and prevailing attitudes elsewhere in the industrialized world, dueling remains commonly practiced throughout the country. Wth 95% of the seats in the Kekonese Royal Council held by representatives with Green Bone clan affiliations, it seems unlikely that this will change any time in the foreseeable future.

[footnotes excluded for brevity]

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Fonda Lee

Fonda Lee writes science fiction and fantasy. She posts bonus content for her books and (very) occasional short fiction here on Curious Fictions.