The Medieval Reenactors Who Want to Make Jousting an Olympic Sport

There's a campaign for the old timey horseback stick-battle to be at a future games, so I went to find out if it's worthy or not.

by Joe Bish
Aug 18 2016, 7:03pm

All photos by Christopher Bethell

Hear-ye! Hear-ye! Hark! Bring out your dead! My pustule-covered spine is leaking down my leg and into my chamber pot! These are just some of the things you would expect to hear if you were living in the good old medieval times. A time when the age I am now, 23, would be described as "nearing the end." A time when men were men, hammering the living shit out of a chicken's head to make chicken's head hot pot, throwing all the good meat away because they just don't know any better. A time when you had to write your own fucking Bible with ink made from your goopy plague blood, a blackened toenail for a quill. Yep, these were the halcyon days. And it's these times, these days, that I was jumping back into at historic Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.

You see, I was here to see a joust. You know jousting, right? Horses and lances, armor and helmets. It's Game of Thrones shit. But the thing is, all the jousting dudes want it to become an Olympic sport, according to English heritage. But does jousting have what it takes to enter the great sporting pantheon alongside such greats as table tennis and the throwing of the hammer? Or is it destined for history's sporting dustbin, like shin-kicking or murdering cats? Let's find out!

The weather was blistering on the Isle of Wight, a place that was recently dubbed a "poor, white ghetto" that suffers from "inbreeding" by Ofsted chairman David Hoare. While I didn't see any sister-fucking on the leafy roads of this lonely island, I did see large numbers of white people, so that part of Mr. Hoare's accusation does appear to be accurate, at least. Carisbrooke Castle, where the great joust was to take place, is located just north of the center of the island, in Newport. Carisbrooke is where Charles I was held captive in 1647, where he attempted to bargain for his life. He even tried to escape the castle in 1648, but he couldn't quite squeeze himself through the bars on the window. Queen Victoria's reclusive youngest daughter, Beatrice, also resided in the castle, though not under duress, and she didn't get her head sliced off when she left, the lucky moo. Today, though, Carisbrooke plays host to a melange of medieval treats, one of them being jousting. But before I witnessed the main event, I wanted to sample some other aspects of Dark Age life.

Everyone was in character in the small medieval town. This woman was educating all the kiddly winks about all the disgusting things people had to eat back in the day. Adjacent to her was a guy called a "poo man" who would examine people's excrement to decipher what was wrong with them (though to be honest the answer was probably almost always "extreme dysentery from eating whole uncooked rat kings").

I say everyone was in character, but this lady was extremely indifferent about every single thing that was going on around her. She was manning the crossbow game, which, for a simple pound coin of the crown, meant you could shoot a drawing of a deer or a jester or something. There were some cans arranged in a pyramid, but they were on a shelf below the targets and sat next to an animal's skull, which didn't look like I was supposed to shoot it. I asked her if I could shoot the cans. "That's what they're there for," she replied. She bummed me out a little bit. But maybe she was more in character than anyone else in the whole place? Would a medieval tradeswoman really be that psyched about sitting in pig shit all day watching people spit-roast pigeons and vomit into their shoes? I certainly wouldn't.

Dominic Sewell, pictured above, runs a company called Historic Equitation. He's a jouster. "It's a very long process of developing a number of different hobbies," he told me, on the beginnings of his jousting. "I started hanging out with some cool guys at a medieval banquet one night, swords and that kind of thing. Soon I started getting into the real historical [aspects] of it all. I started riding to do this kind of thing, but not straight away. It took me five years before I was able to joust. I started becoming very serious about horses and changed my job, went to work on a stable yard and riding schools, so I could be with horses the whole time. I've been able to turn a hobby into a business, and now we've been running for five years and developing all the time, so it's a dream come true."

Dominic, along with a few other guys (and a girl), take their jousting show on the road and show the good people of England what it's all about. On the prospect of jousting being an Olympic sport, he commented: "It's going to take a long while. But it's something we're very serious about. Who knows at the end of the day. What it will do is get people off computer games and improve fitness all around."

I agree. Wearing the fucking armor that these guys have to wear and climb atop a steed will improve anyone's fitness. The giant helmet they let me try on made me fall around unbalanced like a young filly exiting crap London nightclub Mahiki at three in the morning.

The lance is also a big bugger. You can scarcely hold it forward with one arm for ten seconds before your muscles begin to shake and quiver. Josh Davies is the crew's armorer and hails from Minnesota. He told me that the armor he's built takes six to eight months to create. He also constructed his own glasses. He's quite the squire.

After a boisterous ceremony in which the characters of the joust are laid out, the good and evil precedent has been set, sunburned families, and packs of squawking children made their way to the bowling green to witness the joust. A lot of the kids were talking about Pokémon Go and shit like that, begging their moms for their phones. But all the old timers had, strangely, been made to feel youthful by the display of English heritage. Old people love England and history. It makes them feel happy and comfortable. And aside from all the disgraceful murders and crusades and colonies, English history and culture is pretty cool, if you ask me. It's good to connect with your roots, good or bad.

And so to the joust. The commentators harped on in their affected Olde English while the battlers raged at one another on horseback. There were to be eight passes by three pairs of two knights. I was ready to see some bloodshed (or at least wood-shed, or breastplate-shed).

But that's not really what jousting is about, sadly. There are all sorts of rules and shit. Judges and officials and points systems. It's not just about knocking the other guy off. In fact, it's not even about that at all. It's just about breaking your lance on the other guy's head, which half the time doesn't even touch them.

Should jousting be an Olympic sport? You know what, probably, yeah. It's boring enough to be involved, that's for sure. I can imagine if you swapped the historical fanfare for a mechanical, fencing-esque vibe, with a droll, nameless BBC commentator talking in technicality tongues, making you want to smash that red button to stick the volleyball on, it would fit right in with the other D-list sports that people like to pretend they know a lot about when they watch these things. It would have to be modernized, but then it would lose all its armor-y charms. Perhaps ridding jousting of historical accuracy and jovial role play is too great a sacrifice to make. And with skateboarding and fucking wall climbing being thrown in, who the fuck needs the Olympics anyhow? King Arthur sure didn't.

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