The tradition of Battle Sashes is only a century or two old, but it has been adopted in every part of the WestLands.
It started in the city of Celedor by the River. There several schools of Swordsmanship made their home. Each School of Swordsmanship was (and still is) a home of Elite finishing: teaching ettiquite, honor, and some scholarly elements (histories, rhetoric, and some others) in addition to "appropriate" styles of sword (and weapon) use. Each had their own "uniform" for training. It is the honorable thing to show ones "colors" or school affiliation, to "warn off" those of lesser skill. The uniform tradition expanded into a network of social connections via the school. Thus many an Elite, noble or otherwise, would patron or recipicated to fellow school mates.
However wearing ones colors became cumbersome, as social decorum determined it was inappropriate to wear them at certain times. Wearing of uniforms outside the schools was periodically outlawed, as they became a magnet for challanges.
As the story goes, one of the school, The Dolman (of Celedor) school, incorporated a black sash with white edges into its training uniform. The Festival of Atarais, which celebrates his great victory over the Pylarthians, is one of the proper times to show ones school colors. (One also wears their regiment or banner colors.) The nervous Principate would not lift the ban on school uniforms, even for the holiday, because of the number of terrible incidents that had just recently happened. The Dolman students (novices, juniors, and seniors) began to wear the sash outside of the school as a "fashion piece". This allowed them to show their school affiliations without violating the ban on wearing uniforms. During the first day of the festival, the entire school turned out to parade through the streets wearing their sashes. The idea caught on. Students of the Swords began to appear at the festival wearing the traditional belts or a sashs that matched their uniform colors. The tradition began. All the Students of the Sword in the city began to wear a sash of the appropriate style and colors when "off the grounds" of the Salle. Soon a complex system of knots was developed to determine who was "ready to duel" or who was peace vowed, who was a novice, who was a senior, and who was "graduated" or Retired. This all made the Principate happy, as it helped to restrict wanton dueling (and made sure that only senior dueled seniors, and that novices were kept out of harms way). The concept was quickly adopted other places to avoid "issues".
Additional traditions have occured as well:
> City Knots or specific school knots or charms have appeared upon the sashes. Dolman schools have a distinct double knot that almost everyone can recognize.
> Mastery Beads: Certain schools have "notable" techniques. Those that have mastered those techniques, be they juniors, seniors, masters, or retirees, will wear beads or a small string of beads tied into the knot or sash. Each school has its charms for each technique.
> Link Tradition. From Master to Student or Parent to Child, each forms a link in the chain from the founding of the school. Link traditions have people hand down their school sash, to their successor. People will go to great lengths to retrieve their family sashes or to avenge any staining of them.
>Duplicates: There is no controlling body registering which school can have which colors, styles, or knots for sashes. While most schools strive to be identifiable, there is some duplications which has causes some grevious incidents.
> Students of Conflict: Rather than being a tradition just for Swordsmen school, other lesser schools (i.e. non sword schools) have adopted the tradition. The venerable and famous Flècher school of Archery issues Battle Sashes. As long as the school primarily teaches battlecraft, issuing sashes is socially acceptable. The term "Student of Conflict" is becoming prefered of "Students of the Sword".
>Sashes of Variation: Some schools, to be different, wear their "colors" as headbands. This practice is common in the Northern part of the Southern continent. Armbands, neckware, and vests, have also been used.
Schools and Honor Code
The teaching of "finer" combat has been a mark of the Elite in the WestLands since the fall of the Arcturian Empire. Associated with this is an honor code. The code resembles Western Chivalry in many way. The various schools of finer combat, beyond the basics taught to soldiers of the line, are part of every Elites (or those who aspire to be Elites) training. It includes things of the Elite (honor, style, proper decorum, and so on), next tier education suitable for an Elite, and social connections.
Part of the code also allows for those Elites (call them Knights or Nobles or Chezcan or soliders) to "test themselves" against others. The Sashes allow for people to know if a target is "worthy" (i.e. worth your time and effort) to fight, for proving your superiority over a novice from another school is pointless. Elites should only test themselves who are of a suitable (comparable) skills. The knot code helps determine who is suitable. (Of course if a lesser skilled person offends one’s blood honor, then any challange is appropriate).
These challanges are often to first strike or first blood or suitable degree of points. Given some schools rivalries, the death or first grevious wound is often the result. The challanged party determines if real or mock weapons are used and the level of victory.
If you are of a lesser mark (notably lower skill) than your opponent or not a warrior, you may appoint a substitute for any challange. Some people see this as cowardess, others acknowledge you as a wiseman who knows their limits.
Students of the same school are supposed to be part of the same cadre or military family. One is supposed to support this extended family, when one can. Thus the schools become the basis for an extended connection of contacts.
Schools are normally named after geography or the school’s founder. Normally, each city or region will one school, thus it will be named after the city or region. The WesternMark school or the Doleman School or the Blue Cascade (a small mountain range region). If the founder’s name is used, it will be founder OF region. Delmen of Dolman for example (there are four schools in Dolman). This begins to get tricky when the school branches out from its original location into others. Example: Delmen of Dolman in Celedor is the Delmen school in Celedor by the River or Blue Cascade School in Antioch. Schools have yet to be named after their "technique" or "style" yet, but that will occur some day.
Each school will teach the basics of superior combat. While dueling is an emphasis, the realize that Elites will be the forefront of any military. Schools will have certain tactics or techniques that they emphasize. There will always be one to three things the school is known for: fast attacks, cleaving, masters of feints, lightning draws, teaching how to fight in cramped spaces, masters of knifework, etc. When creating a school, choose a couple.
Schools will have histories as well. Schools will often be in conflict, due to their owners or some events in the past. Determine if there is any relationship with other schools in their area. Also schools might be associated with historical figures and events. Append them into local history.
Remember, in China, schools sometimes opposed corrupt local rulers and marched against their forces OR the local rulers suspected they might and marched against them.
Why are there game mechanics for something so simple? To make it easier for some to impliment Battle Sashes into their games. They will impact characters in ways that might simulate game mechanics in your system.
> School: Each school provides certain advantages when performing manuvers. If your rules do not support "martial arts" or advanced combat manuvers, they should receive a simple plus when performing certain basics actions. Example: Dolmen school known for defense, grants a +1 to defense, but a +2 if they have initiative and attack after they defended last round. Being part of a given school gives one a "discount" or minor advantage if they take certain skills or manuvers or feats/boons. The school might also be required to easily learn certain manuvers or feats/boons.
You may also get certain skills for free given your school membership (or get them at a discount).
Certain systems will see School Membership as a gift/ feat/ edge that must be purchased. However, the GM can set this as a default, so those who create non schooled characters will have that as a flaw.
> Honor Gifts/ Flaws: The Sashes are outward symbols of the students dedication to a honor system. When one wears their sash, it can provide access to honor modifiers. If one has an honor gifts: When acting properly along the honor code lines, you get a bonus… and only receive penalties when greviously failing; when one has an honor flaw/ disad, they character is penalized if they don’t act honorably, and only receive a bonus when going above and beyond the code.
> Reputation: Sashes add to your reputation.
> Heraldry: Heraldry skills will allow you to appropriately identify people. School membership alone will give you some of the basics for any school from "your area".
> Ancestors: One could take certain "ancestors" associated with the school or the family. These ancestors could grant bonuses or advice in appropriate circumstances. This is prevolent with the links tradition.
> Contacts: A social/ Charisma skill, combined with a "school skill" allows one to a) recieve reaction bonuses when dealing with members of the same school and b) to find members of the same school (who are in the area) who might be able to help you. (So if you need someone who speaks an ancient language, your school contacts might know a retired member who speaks it in the next town over. He might even do it for free…)
> Contact rivalries: Keep in mind that school rivalries might provide negative reactions for members. So you find yourself brought before the magistrate, and he is wearing your rival school sash. While he will be fair, he will lean towards a harsher penalty than he would had you been with another school (and you would of gotten off with a warning had you been with his school).
> "Interesting Battle Sashes" The character may need to have a special background gift/ feat to achieve this item.
If you have a skill based magic system, the schools may allow players access to "battle magics", a small selection of skills that will be useful for combat users. Some of these might be jump, skill charms for to hits, "biting blades" (extra damage mods), serpent slip (dodge advantages), shell of honor (armor pluses), and so on. Gurps or Hero or Basic Roleplaying/ RQ will work well for this.
Note: Honor code- The honor code I am using is close to that of European Chivalry. Any code that allows for personal dueling can be used. You can create a Bushido-esk code, a piratesk code, or anything that fits for you.