Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bring back bear-baiting, too...

Obviously way too many people took those Renaissance Fairs too seriously, because they are trying to make jousting the new Extreme Sport.

Jousting was popular enough to last for more than 400 years in Europe, but these days there are only some 200 competitive jousters around the world, about 30 of whom are in North America. (A couple hundred more perform at Renaissance fairs and festivals but do not compete.) The basic concept is unchanged from medieval times: two armor-clad opponents charge at each other on horses while wielding 11-foot-long wooden lances. The goal is to break your lance on your opponent’s shield or on a metal plate bolted to his chest called a grand guard, but unhorsings are an added thrill and — in the North American style of competition — the surest way to rack up points.
At the Pensacola championships — as will be the case later this summer at the heavy-armor tournament at the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highlands Festival in Estes Park, Colo. — two competitors began at opposite ends of a 180-foot list, or jousting field, with a rope barrier called a tilt rail running down the middle of it. A match consists of four passes, and a panel of four judges awards points after each pass: 1 point for a strike to the gridded grand guard, 5 for a broken lance and 10 for an unhorsing. Over the course of the three-day championships, there were four separate tournaments — one on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday — with a winner of each and an overall champion at the end.
The championship event was created by two men, both professional jousters, who are on a mission to transform jousting from Renaissance-fair entertainment to arena sport. One is Shane Adams, the knight who unhorsed Tolle. The other is Charlie Andrews, a Hummer-driving former bull rider who spent six years as a Navy Seal and is hard-pressed to utter a sentence that doesn’t include at least one profanity. “I personally believe that Shane Adams and myself are the two best jousters in the world, period,” he says. “Anybody wants to argue it, you can come out and joust us or shut your pie hole.”
A member of the Chukchansi tribe in California, Andrews is 6-foot-4 and about 250 pounds, with tattoos of his spirit animals ringing his thick biceps. He doesn’t joust because he’s attracted to romantic notions of honor and chivalry or because he has an affinity for the medieval period. (“I don’t know jack about history, nor do I care,” he says.) He does it because he considers jousting one of the most extreme sports ever invented, and he likes doing things that most other people can’t or won’t do.
“I like violent sports,” says Andrews, who also participates in mixed martial arts. “I like hitting you. I like getting hit. I like competing man to man to see who the better man is that day.” [More than you may want to know about modern jousting]
I pause to let the testosterone clear from the air....

Well, could we be sending little Jacob (and Isabella) to jousting camp soon?

I don't think so. And neither do some guys who really understand the history involved.
And this is to be expected.  We just don't have the built-in communal language or familiar reference points to elevate jousting to a popular sport once more. We're too far removed from horses and lances to be able to tell what makes a skilled rider different than an adequate one or a good hit different than a loud one. Sure, we can appreciate a dude getting knocked off a horse, but that does not a sport make. If NASCAR really were just people waiting for a car crash to happen, it wouldn't be popular enough to make building all those nice tracks worthy anyone's while, and the TV networks would never show up, not even ESPN 32¾.

I understand the fun of reenactment for reenacting's sake, but I don't understand why anyone would think that people outside the immediate circle of reenactors and associated enthusiasts would much care. If jousting really wants to make the break to modern popularity, it probably needs to just drop the medievalism in anything other than name only. Sure, call the athletes knights and let them go by Sir This or Lady That if you want, name their teams or squads or whatever after medievalish things, but drop any pretense of reenacting. Leave the shiny plate mail and the fake British accents to your mascot on the sidelines. Gear up in ballistic nylon and kevlar and figure out a style of helmet that'll protect while still letting people see some of your face. Devise new rules that have little to do with whatever the 13th-Century Sir Whatsisface would have called proper. Add electronic sensors and an elaborate point-scoring system if you can't come up with any other way to judge who's the best than who gets knocked off the horse first.

Frankly, the idea of jousting with several-hundred-year-old weapons and armor would probably be pretty insulting to any of the knights who actually made their living jousting in the Middle Ages. They didn't technologically handicap themselves in order to meet some artificial standard of authenticity. If there had been some new affordable type of stirrup that kept them from breaking their ankles when dragged around by their horses after unseated by their opponents, they would have been queuing up around the block to get themselves one. [
Of course I didn't think tattooing would become popular either.

Watch some jousting here (they didn't allow embedding).

[They rode sheep?!]

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