We are The Jousters, and we proudly perform jousting tournaments at Renaissance Festivals across the United States. The one-on-one, to one-on-five-thousand contact with our patrons is electric. The atmosphere is tailored for us and we are tailored for it.
We are not historical, nor are we fantasy, we are not extreme, hard-core, full contact; we just aim to be an exceedingly entertaining blend of the best of each. We wear real gear because we really joust, but we don't want to hurt each other. After all, we have to do it all again in an hour or two, then again tomorrow, then again next week... So, we take some liberties; we use our own custom variant of the historical ecranche shield, we use stainless armour, we use bitless bridles, and all sorts of other non-historical things. Conversely, we do try to break real lances, try to win our jousts, win tests of skill, AND be interesting, engaging characters (with style and panache) while doing so.
We pretend to be knights, but we do actually joust... a lot, so we are simply: The Jousters.
Photo by John Karpinsky
The ecranche shield is a small shield that historically was strapped via a loop around the neck and left arm. It was the target for the joust, made of layers of wood, leather, gesso and paint. Ours are a custom designed concept by our own Matthew Mansour. Several things are changed for several reasons.
Ours do not use straps, rather they attach via a wedge bracket to the breastplate. Originally, Matthew was sliding a bar in between the lames of his breast plate, but our good jousting friend David Mesimer suggested a tractor bracket, which works quite well. This allows for it to be launched out of the bracket upon impact, as well as be easily replaced in rapid fashion.
We use a curved metal shield base with plastic spacers bolted on. Then, we take thin plywood and tension-pin it to the curved face of the metal shield. This allows the lance to punch though, and we get wildly theatrical impacts as a result. The shields can simply get a hole punched through and launched some 20 feet into the air, or shatter into any number of pieces, or get "snaked". This is where the shield gets impaled and stays on the opponent's lance.
If many factors come into play, you can genuinely launch your opponent from the saddle. However, usually the lance breaks or the shield goes airborne/breaks before such happens. To joust, we like to have each jouster have four fresh ecranches ready to go; this makes for rapid replacement when launched or destroyed, and provides a crisp, clean new shield surface (which looks nice) for each pass. We do reuse a faceplate if it's only mildly damaged, but usually they do not survive one show, let alone a whole day. Per faire, we hand-cut and decorate an average of 1,300 limited-edition shields, most of which get destroyed; the remainder of which get sold as souvenirs!
They are much smaller than the heater shields used by many theatrical jousters, so accuracy is important; however, the rider does not need to stick out the left elbow to present a target, so it is more comfortable to joust with and nice to keep your reining hand calm and quiet.
Historically, there was a device made: a mechanical "disappearing" shield which had pieces that exploded off when struck. This could be considered just our very simplified version, but it really fits many more uses than just theatrics (although we love theatrics, of course). Overall, what this style provides is a good, clean, even historical aspect, incredibly hard hits that are surprisingly safe, and unparalleled theatrical impact.
Photo by Owen Karpinsky
Our lances are hand made in-house. Each one is ripped on a table saw, planed to taper, routered round and then painted. They are 11ft in length of solid un-scored wood, requiring strength and skill to break.
Photo by John Karpinsky
Our current scores stand as such.
The system is continuously morphing as our jousting constantly evolves. It has varied greatly throughout the years. When we started this system, a snake was worth 7 points, and a normal hit was only worth 1. This led to extreme point leads, making it quite tough to catch up when an opponent would snake a shield. With our newly updated layout, it's simpler mathematics, and it keeps the knights' scores close enough so that it keeps the sport interesting for all involved.
Photo by John Karpinsky
Field props are an often neglected or thrown together hodge-podge for many shows, but for us they are an integral part of our production. Our tiltyard's appearance and usability is just as important as the costuming and armor. We enjoy designing and building this equipment and have a fairly strict level of standards to which we strive for. They must be attractive, sturdy, unique, of good quality, and travel well. Our high standards of field equipment is just one of the many things that we are known for.
We have nine-piece stanchions that bolt together and form the nexus of the system. Each stanchion is identical and can be used for several different functions, such as the tilt rail or target bases. We have many interchangeable tops that interlock into the stanchions, allowing for a myriad of options in the field layout. They can form gauntlet skill races for a show and switch into a round pen for training with ease. These are sturdier than a 4x4 base, but much lighter and easy to carry with one hand, which is important for ease and speed of set up and tear down mid-show. The 22 stanchion system breaks down small enough to fit into a 3x6x2 crate.
Our interchangeable tops come in a plethora of options, from flip targets, ring holders, and melon stands, to spring-loaded catapults. Our goals for these devices are for them to be challenging to the competitor, entertaining to the spectator, and easy to set for the squires.
Our weapons racks (or pylons) must perform a number of tasks. They are built to safely hold a variety of lances and our flags, as well as our bladed weapons of choice- all in an organized fashion. They also hold four ecranche shields, a display rack for our helms, a shelf for water mugs and squire supplies, a two-stage mounting block, and an iPad charger built in. Technically, a jouster can be completely self-sufficient, even from horseback, utilizing these racks if his squire is away.
All the wood is stained in a matching color, then sealed with varnish. The tilt rail and pylon tops are painted white as a running theme. This allows the equipment to travel excellently, as scratches are easily repaired and paint is easily touched up. We polish the stained wood as well.
We are always creating new elements to fit within our interlocking system. Some variants we try only in rehearsal, some in only a show or two, and some everyday. We like to keep the skills and concepts fresh, which is excellent for horse and rider and it's an ever evolving process to see what new devices we can create to entertain and challenge the mind, body, and spectator.
Photo by John Karpinsky