21st century jousting for millennials

Posted by admin on May 18, 2015 in Animal Oddities, geekery, Strange events |

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It is a scene ideally suited for Medieval times. A dark knight adjusts his visor, raises his lance and focuses, laserlike, on his opponent, the “white” knight, sitting astride his mount. The flag goes down and they charge, lances straight, bodies tensing against the weight of their custom-fit armor — often 200 pounds of solid steel. The bout, though, isn’t old; it’s happening at the Scottish Highland Games & Celtic Music Festival in Mississippi in November. And lest anyone forget that we are in modern commercial times, Guinness (one of the festivals sponsors) has its logo on both knights’ armor.

Looking for a new form of entertainment, or considering the next crazy physical challenge? Jousting is growing in popularity in the U.S., both at Renaissance fairs and formal tournaments. One of its leading advocates is Canadian-born Shane Adams, who captained one of the teams at the Scottish festival. For years, he used to set up his own jousts, but he wanted the sport to be taken seriously, so in the 1990s he competed and twice won a jousting event at ScotFest in Colorado. “The style of jousting was white armor,” he says. “That means you wear 100 pounds of chainmail.” So far Adams has broken his hands, wrist, and dislocated his shoulder. And there are reports of jousters dying. But Adams wants the sport to stay physical, he believes it won’t get respect if it tries to be “historical.”

Joust

Peggy Young, vice president of ScotFest, thinks jousting is integral to her festivals success. “I love it,” she says. “I love to watch these massive guys in full armor — their accuracy, horsemanship and control is amazing.” Young has three events for jousters: the rings, where jousters have to ride and spear them with their lances; the Quintain, where jousters aim at boards; and the big draw, the competitive joust, where challengers thunder down the arena to face off.

“We’re in our 39th year,” Youngs says. “We brought in light armor jousting in 1997 and then introduced heavier armor in 2002. That’s where they wear the full suit like in the 1800’s.”

Jousting has been an American sport for more than 50 years and became the national sport of Maryland in 1962. It’s a staple at Renaissance fairs across the country, and a number of organizations such as the International Jousting Association and WorldJoust Tournaments do their best to promote it. More than 15 professional jousting tournaments take place annually — not counting the weekly jousts held at Ren fairs and local barns — and prize money varies from public applause to cheques for $38,000.

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ScotFest offers the biggest cash prizes for jousts in the world, but they don’t make money by hosting jousting. “It’s expensive to put on,” Young admits. The armored lances are approximately $15 and 300 are used (total : $4500), the caps need replacing ( approx $2700)  and the quartermaster and the producers draw a salary. Plus Young needs specialized safety insurance.

“We rely on our gate cost to pay the fees,” she says. Last year admission was $20, this year it will be $25. With around 60,000 visitors that’s around $1.2 million. “As a business its been a wash,” Young admits. “But I love it. I love to watch these massive guys in full armor, their accuracy, horsemanship and control is amazing.”

Zhi Zhu, an Austin-based jousting supporter and chronicler of the sport, has been documenting the sport on The Jousting Life since 2012. Some of her friends jousted and she discovered there was no online compendium that covered “everything” — many troupes reported on their successes, but she wanted a larger overview of the sport. “I wanted to talk about contemporary competitive jousting, as opposed to choreographed jousting at Renaissance fairs,” she says. She’s noticed a sharp rise in the number of tournaments over the last few years. Zhu gets a thrill from watching it, “when you catch them going tip to tip and breaking their lances. It’s the skill and the athleticism I really enjoy.”

Zhu hopes that jousting can become part of American life, similar to how mixed martial arts (MMA) was adopted. “I could see this being part of equestrian events, like dressage,” she says. “Historically a rich noble held jousts, and the equivalent today would be a venture capitalist holding one and putting money in it.”

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Dr.Christian Jaser from Humboldt-University, Berlin  agrees. “In late 14th and 15th century Florentine jousting was  part of an emerging urban sport and leisure culture,” he wrote.. “Key aspects of the sportivisation of jousting were the use of blunted weapons.”

Back then nobles ran the jousts and the lower classes and servants were denied access —even if they could afford it. The same economic barriers don’t apply today, but it’s not a cheap sport. Armor can cost $3000 and up, and then there’s equipment and horse costs.

This might explain why jousting remains a hobby, not a career for most participants.“People I know trade skills for equipment, but they all have day jobs,” said Zhu. “I know a firefighter, a lawyer and a policeman!”

Full contact jousting

Charlie Andrews and Shane Adams both compete in full-contact jousting.

Of course, jousting is dangerous and injuries are common. California-based Talon McKenna, star of the Knights of Mayhem TV show on National Geographic Channel, has been jousting professionally for more than 15 years and considers his cracked collarbone and forearm lucky. “Nothing serious,” he says.

McKenna is a fan of heavy armor, as “to be a pro-sport, we need that. But we should have two weight classes, over 200 pounds and under.”

McKenna respects the history of the sport, but says that people need to move on. “This is the new millennium and  if you want this sport to grow, you have to get out of the historical stuff,” he says. For now, McKenna’s armor is packed away. He has rheumatoid arthritis and hasn’t held a lance in 3 years, “I still go to the tournaments,” he says. “ I love the sport. But it’s tough for me not to throw on armor and get up there.”

This story was first published on OZY.

Images via Flickr CC: Jeff Kubina, Marc Soller, Paul Mullett James Laing Robert Bacca

 

 

 

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