Jousting in the 21st Century
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you can earn a knighthood … today.
By Zara Stone
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.”
Jousting has been an American sport for more than 50 years and became the national sport of Maryland in 1962.
Peggy Young, vice president of ScotFest, thinks jousting is integral to its 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.
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 checks for $38,000.
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.”
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.”