An Unusual Spectator Sport

Sherwood Forest Faire is technically a medieval festival instead of a renaissance one, since it’s set (roughly of course) in the 1100’s. I consider the difference to be negligible though, for the purpose of my long-term goal to visit a ren fest in as many states as I can while I’m on the road.

Knights, waiting to take the field

Knights, waiting to take the field

And since it turns out said fair was running during Julie and my stint of volunteering here at Enchanted Rock, and only two an a half hours away, well, it would have been silly not to go. Throw in camping right at the festival grounds for only $10 a person for the whole weekend (no hookups) and there was no way I could turn the opportunity down. So early last month we talked with the volunteer coordinator and arranged to have this past weekend off.

I could regale you all with where we went, what we ate, and what we watched, but having already described what a ren fest is all about in another post, I thought I’d focus today on what was different about Sherwood. The joust tournament.

Big horses, big sticks, big armor

Big horses, big sticks, big armor

When you think of jousting, you might think of fantasy settings like Game of Thrones. If you’re into renaissance festivals like I am, that’s probably what comes to mind. If you’re a history buff, you may know that King Henry II of France was killed in a jousting tournament in the year 1559. But either way, jousting conjures images of an older age, far removed from our own.

But interestingly enough, the sport of full-contact jousting has seen a comeback in our modern era, due in large part to renaissance festivals.

Charlie Andrews (right) shatters his lance on an opponent.

Charlie Andrews (right) shatters his lance on an opponent

The first renaissance festival started in the 1960’s in California (they’re actually not a thing in England at all, go figure), and since then has slowly spread to all corners of the US. Early on, some enterprising acting troupe realized that there was money to be made in “jousting”, which started as purely staged theatrics using light armor and break-away lances.

By the early 80’s, jousting troupes were becoming more common, and a shift was occurring. Audiences responded better when the action was more authentic and less scripted, and so the jousting became more real. These festival knights, like their ancient counterparts, quickly learned that if you’re going to be pounded in the chest with an eleven foot wooden dowel, plate mail protects better than chain mail, and more armor is better than less.

Mark Desmond (left) being dehorsed by Charlie

Mark Desmond (left) getting dehorsed

Not that modern jousting today is exactly like it was in medieval and renaissance times. Most jousting companies still exist for the primary function of entertaining renaissance fair goers. From what I’ve seen from the eight different ones I’ve been to so far, the standard recipe goes as such:

The final match: David Schade and Charlie Andrews

The final match: David Schade and Charlie Andrews

There are usually three joust shows in a festival day, with earlier ones hinging around sword fighting bouts and games of skill like catching a hoop on the tip of a lance, and more true jousting in later ones. There’s always a story, a “good” knight and a “bad”, and the last show of the day climaxes in a “joust to the death” kind of premiss. The lance blows cannot be precisely scripted because they are more or less real, the bad knight might aim his lance poorly, or fall off his horse on purpose, but the points are awarded so that the correct knight – the one playing the good guy – wins and it’s happily ever after.

The weekend's champion

The weekend’s champion

But what occurred at Sherwood Forest Faire this past weekend was a whole different animal, it was a true full-contact jousting tournament, a-la medieval times.

There was no script, no good guys and bad guys. This was much more like a sporting event, put on by a sponsor with a purse for the winner. Nine jousters competed, bringing their heavy draft horses and 100-pound plate mail from around the country to not only entertain, but to win. And you could tell the difference in the energy and feel of the action. The announcer wasn’t delivering a narrative, he was acting as a sportscaster and referee, awarding points based on merit and explaining the moves to the small (bah, weather) but enthusiastic crowd.

Through later research, I learned that these tournaments have become more common in the past ten or so years, as a couple key figures in the renaissance jousting world have taken it upon themselves to try to turn what started as a fair sideshow into a true arena sport. There have even been two different TV shows on the subject, “Full Metal Jousting” on the History channel, and “Knights of Mayhem” on the Discovery channel.

As someone who doesn’t normally get into sports, I have to say, it was pretty amazing to watch. Some of the thrill comes from the horses, which are powerful and beautiful and extremely well trained and trusting to put up with running at one another full-speed while their riders wave a giant weapon about. And some of it comes from how dangerous it can be. Jousting clubs and tournaments exist still in other parts of the world, but in nowhere but America is the full-contact version practiced.

Goofing around after the conclusion

Goofing around after the conclusion

This weekend there were many shattered lances and a few unhorsings, including one spectacular bout where both riders were knocked from their horses simultaneously, but luckily no serious injuries occured.

Charlie Andrews came in second place, founder of the Knights of Mayhem and widely considered one of the best jousters in the country. In the many years he’s been jousting, he’s sustained a wealth of injuries, including near death from a pulmonary embolism. This weekend he got off relatively light with only two broken fingers.

David Schade (no relation) of New Riders of the Golden Age came in first, which made me smile. In the typical renaissance festival match, he riders under the guise of Sir William Dudley, and usually plays the part of the the cocky but ultimately “good” knight that wins the final show of the day at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival – where I was first introduced to jousting.

The only downside to the weekend was the weather.

Saturday was overcast with intermittent drizzle and never climbed out of the 30’s. Sunday’s high was 42, and even wetter. Luckily the lows stayed above freezing, barely. It was a bit harrowing without any heat source in the RV, but I think the saying “May your life be interesting” applies here and having caught a true glimpse of this unusual extreme sport, I have no regrets.

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  1. Mike B on March 6, 2015 at 9:41 am

    That sounds like a “Ton-o-Fun”!

    • Becky on March 7, 2015 at 9:23 pm

      Haha! Yeah those horses are carrying a lot of weight.

  2. Ed @ Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on March 5, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    You mean the “jousting” at Medieval Times in Buena Park wasn’t REAL? Well I guess that makes sense, because the ribs and chicken didn’t taste “real” either. Of course, for the going rate of $62 per adult, I guess you can’t expect much.

    I KNOW your Ren Faire was more enjoyable if NOT as expensive. πŸ™‚

    • Becky on March 5, 2015 at 9:45 pm

      Sherwood, like most ren fairs, costs $18-$20 a day but you can get discounts if you purchase tickets ahead of time. πŸ™‚

      And for $62, I’d sure expect “real” chicken! Never been to a Medieval Times…

  3. Rene Kipp on March 5, 2015 at 10:26 am

    What an exciting experience to be able to see real jousting. I’ve been to the staged version in Las Vegas once and I enjoyed the show. I’m sure this was way more exciting than the jousters at your experience last year as a ren faire participant. (Did that make sense?!)
    Great photos of the action.
    Rene Kipp recently posted..The Trailer Has To Come FirstMy Profile

    • Becky on March 5, 2015 at 9:44 pm

      Yeah it made sense Rene. Yes, I’m pretty sure the jousting here was better than at GARF, but as I never had a chance to see a full joust match there (work work work!) I can’t say for certain, haha.

  4. dawn from camano island on March 4, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Woa, that’s some serious *#! right there! Not sure what I think of that but it sounds as if people & horses are well-protected. Glad it didn’t snow!

    • Becky on March 4, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      Me too Dawn, me too. It was a couple degrees colder at Enchanted Rock while I was gone and they got freezing rain here. πŸ˜›

  5. Rosemary Rizzo on March 4, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Wow Becky,
    I was amazed at this post. Have been a Ren Faire goer for many yrs. Mostly up and down the Calif coast. Have never seen such wonderful jousting. Could you post where and when this faire is held pleeze. My hubby and I will become full timers in July and will be setting up our domicile state in Texas. We are Escapee members and they provide so many services. After Texas we wil be going to take our time with eventually ending up in Louisiana by the first of October for a family reunion. Plan on staying the full month there.
    I wondered if these jousters worked also at the Medivial Times shows in Kissimee Fl.
    Thanks again for a wonderful post.

    • Becky on March 4, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      Rosemary, this is located in Paige, TX, about 35 miles east of Austin. It runs weekends Feb 7 – March 29. The tournament was a special event for this weekend only, but occasionally full-contact jousting tournaments are held at other fests.

  6. Jodee Gravel on March 4, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Spent many birthdays at Medieval Times in SoCal watching the story play out in the jousting tournament so it is especially interesting to me to see there are real competitions out there. I would love to see that! Goofing around in armor must have been hysterical to watch πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing a fun and unique day!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Beach Day for the BrideMy Profile

    • Becky on March 4, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      Yeah, as I said above it was a special event, but I think occasionally other fairs host them too if you keep an eye peeled. πŸ™‚

      And yes, the wrestling was pretty fun, so hard for them to get back up after getting knocked over!

  7. Jim@HiTek on March 4, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Now that’s a faire I’d go to. Too often they are just a bunch of stalls with people in period dress selling stuff you can do without. Or selling (not very tasty) food.

    Watching a jousting match like you describe would make it worth the entrance fee.

    Jim@HiTek recently posted..A day in Torino…My Profile

    • Becky on March 4, 2015 at 7:48 pm

      It was a special event for just this weekend, most weekends the joust is the normal renaissance style jousting.

      I’m pretty sure there are other fairs around the country that occasionally hold real tournaments like this though, you should keep an eye out for them!

  8. gayle on March 4, 2015 at 6:46 am

    Did you know? – Jousting is the “official” sport of Maryland.

    (Although many people want to change it to lacrosse.)

    • Becky on March 4, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      Really? How interesting Gayle!

  9. Rand on March 3, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    weird .

    • Becky on March 4, 2015 at 7:46 pm


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