Podcast 59: Chivalry To The Extreme

Recently there’s been a shift – away from the dramatized depiction of the joust as a set piece of conflict and hero’s journey, and more towards restoring the jousting match as an honest, unscripted athletic competition.

Visit the Higgins Armory Museum to learn about their new exhibit Extreme Sport: The Joust as Scott is joined by Dr. Jeffrey Forgeng, the museum’s curator of arms and armor, and one of the coordinators of the exhibition. Dr. Forgeng is one of the world’s few professional scholars of the history of European martial arts. His books include Joachim Meyer’s Art Of Combat and The Medieval Art Of Swordsmanship, and he is one of the lead trainer-interpreters with the Higgins Sword Guild. He is the Paul S. Morgan Curator at the Higgins Armory Museum, and an Adjunct Associate Professor of History at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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Chivalry To The Extreme: The Higgins Armory Museum’s Exhibition “Extreme Sport — The Joust”

Dr. Jeffrey Forgeng is an internationally recognized expert on European martial arts, and one of the organizers of the new exhibit The Joust.

Anyone interested in medieval history or the code of chivalry knows that jousting has been used as a focus for dramatic tension in practically every work of fiction set in medieval times – from L’Morte Darthur, to Edmund Spencer’s The Fairy Queen, to Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Lerner & Lowe’s musical Camelot brought a jousting match right up onto a Broadway stage; and more recently, A Knight’s Tale gave us a movie that was, in fact, entirely set in the jousting arena.

But recently there’s been a shift – away from the dramatized depiction of the joust as a set piece of conflict and hero’s journey, and more towards restoring the jousting match as an honest, unscripted athletic competition. Live, competitive jousting events, such as the World Joust Tournament of the Phoenix, and international jousting competitions held at castles and museums in Europe, are creating an audience that is no longer satisfied with sparking swords, fake blood, and gymnastic stunts. This new interest in jousting has also given rise to not one, but two television shows that focus on the sport in a “reality TV” sort of way: Nat Geo’s Knights of Mayhem, which took a behind the scenes look at a sport-jousting troupe, and History Channel’s Full Metal Jousting, which is currently on-air, that takes more of a game-show approach to the sport by inviting sixteen athletes and riders from various disciplines to “come on down” and see which one of them can become the best jouster after 30 days of training.

So, what does this new interest in athletic jousting tell us about our understanding of medieval knights and the culture they created? Do these new “sport jousting” events provide a more authentic picture of this uniquely medieval sport, or are they creating a new sort of mythology about jousting that is no more realistic than the bombastic Renaissance Fair jousting performances we’re all familiar with? And, perhaps most importantly, does seeing jousting as a sport provide us with a more complex understanding of the ideals and practices of chivalry – or does that, rather, reveal that chivalry was (and is) nothing but idealistic window dressing that needs to be set aside in order to excel in a real competitive activity?

For anyone who wants to explore such questions – or just plain learn a little more about the jousting in both its historical and modern forms – the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass., is the place to go. Their newly opened exhibit, called The Joust, gives visitors a chance to see, and even feel the sport of jousting in a very up-close and personal way.

Scott talks with Dr. Jeffrey Forgeng, one of the museum’s curators, about the exhibit.
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While the idea of jousting may conjure up images of ancient castles and knights of long ago, there’s been a remarkable interest in reviving the sport for a modern audience. Here’s what the participants on History Channel’s Full Metal Jousting have to say about this medieval spectacle as a 21st century sport.

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We would like to thank Greenoak Media for their technical support for the Chivalry Today Podcast. Show theme and incidental music composed and performed by Joe Novelozo.

Scott Farrell

About Scott Farrell

Scott Farrell is the founder and director of the Chivalry Today Educational Program. He gives dozens of live presentations on the history and values of chivalry every year at schools, libraries, and civic and professional organizations throughout Southern California. His thoughts and conversations on chivalry can be heard worldwide every month on his Chivalry Today Podcast. His essays on the code of chivalry have appeared in numerous magazines and books, including Living A Life Of Value (Jason Merchey, editor) and the forthcoming Martial Arts And Philosophy (Damon Young, editor).