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CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

Joust horsing around, for olde times sake

A reality show called 'Full Metal Jousting' will debut on the History Channel and have a 10-episode run, with the champion winning $100,000. It is the creation of Shane Adams, a Canadian who has been instrumental in reviving the sport that flourished in the Middle Ages.

February 07, 2012|Chris Erskine
  • It appears the original extreme sport -- jousting -- is trying to make a comeback.
It appears the original extreme sport -- jousting -- is trying to make a comeback. (History Channel )

Here's the instruction book for the newest/oldest/oddest sport you'll hear-ye, hear-ye about today:

First, you dress like a Buick.

Next, you mount a horse.

(I know what you're thinking — nothing out of the ordinary so far.)

Third, you charge at full gallop toward your opponent, then attempt to bosom him off his horse with an 11-foot lance.

You get 10 points if you "de-horse" him (my new favorite verb). Five points if you shatter your lance against the opposing tin man.

If you woke up this morning thinking that life no longer excites you, that Wednesday is the same as Thursday, that there's nothing to hold your attention now that football season has expired, meet full metal jousting, a renaissance of the Renaissance.

Yep, heavy metal is back.

Witnessed the whole wacky revival recently at halftime of a bull-riding event at Honda Center. For a quick, relatable visual, imagine two Jeeps swapping paint in a supermarket parking lot, then backing up and colliding again.

Whether this demolition derby will catch on remains to be seen, but we do know that jousting just won't die, based as it is on a 1,000-year-old activity. So spare me those emails that this is some contrived, made-for-TV conceit. Jousting has more historical resonance than just about anything south of marital bickering.

How olde is jousting? Shakespeare had season seats on the floor (near the Jousting Girls, of course).

The Lancelot behind the resurgence is a promoter/jouster by the knightly name of Shane Adams, a brick of a human being, 260 pounds of Canadian grit, who originally fell for the concept while watching old movies with his grandma.

"Growing up on a horse farm in Canada, I didn't know if I wanted to be a cowboy or a knight, and I chose the knight."

Seriously, you couldn't make this stuff up.

"Straight up it was Robin Hood. [I was] sitting on the floor watching an old Errol Flynn movie with my grandma. Robin Hood was my hero back then ... everybody's hero, where is he now?" Adams says.

Obviously, Adams is the sort of no-nonsense dude who still says things like "straight up." He's also the kind of guy who gets things done. Whether they ought to be done is another matter. But done they are.

So Sunday, on the History Channel, you can see the debut of "Full Metal Jousting," a reality show pitting 16 participants, one on one, in 80-pound suits of armor. In each match, they'll make eight passes, and the rider with the most points moves on. At the end of 10 episodes, you'll have a champion jouster, who will take home a $100,000 paycheck.

Those of you who have followed jousting the last 1,000 years or so — oh, you're out there — know that it flourished during the late Middle Ages and concluded in 1559 when a French king died after taking a lance through the peep hole.

Ouch!

That one freak incident gave jousting a bad name that lasted until it started showing up at Renaissance fairs and faux-castle supper clubs in the late 20th century.

Since his first jousting competition in 1997, Adams has helped refine the sport, encountering plenty of challenges along the way.

"Where's a person in this day and age going to find an 800-year-old knight to teach him?" Adams says. "So I had to reinvent the wheel."

He learned how to craft the suits, make them safe, protect the horses, which are assigned randomly during competition, much like bulls during a rodeo.

The rider-horse connection is vital, he says, and to ensure the horse doesn't sustain the brunt of the impact, a rider is penalized five points for holding onto the horse, reins or saddle.

"If you do it twice, you're disqualified," Adams says.

Adams found competitors in the usual ways, putting out a casting call coast to coast, border to border. Candidates didn't need a taste for mortal combat so much as they needed to be able to ride well.

"From historians to athletes to any Tom, Dick and Harry who'd wanted to pick up a stick and live that childhood dream of becoming a knight," he says of the candidates he picked from for Sunday's show.

What's it take to become a master jouster?

"On top of being a good horseman, you have to have heart, and you have to have the mindset to learn the proper techniques of the sport.

"The rules are simple, the execution is not," he says.

That's the tagline for full-metal jousting, a sport that makes the unlikeliest of comebacks Sunday, with big Shane Adams as host.

Not only is this the hardest-hitting sport you probably ever saw, it might turn out to be a quick way to resolve those petty disputes with your neighbors.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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