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Knights of Mayhem

November 30, 2011

So no shit, there we were…

Moose and I managed to make it out for one more day at the local Ren Faire, braving the beautiful weather and only somewhat massive crowds in order to get in one more day of socializing and dressing in funny renaissance-ish clothes. We were very lucky to be able to meet up with several groups of friends, and even caught a couple of shows. I missed seeing my absolute favorite show (Sound and Fury, for the curious), but we did get to see the live jousting with the dudes from Knights of Mayhem.

Moose has been quite keen on the videos he’s found for the show Knights of Mayhem, so he was very excited to get to see them in action. We caught the show just as it was starting and I have to say that the jousts themselves were mostly fairly exciting. It’s just that some of them were exciting in ways that I think were probably a wee bit off script.

First of all, I feel that I should mention that while I studied Tudor history quite extensively and still try to keep fresh on the details, most of my experience is which the political, religious, and social aspects of the period. I can talk for hours about the influence of King Henry’s wives on the fashions of the Tudor court and how the disbanding of the monastical system impacted the lower class, but as far as jousting goes, I’m more likely to talk about how King Henry’s jousting injury impacted (pun not intended) his reign than the sport itself. That said, I still have some serious problems with the show that the Knights of Mayhem put on for this festival.

To start, I am a bit annoyed by the way the participants dressed. As someone who used to work for this festival, I am intimately aware of the dress code that every other employee and cast member is subject to. Even the people who tend to the grounds and bathrooms have to wear vaguely renaissance-ish shirts as their uniforms. The only employees you won’t see in garb are the police officers who provide the security and the EMTs who provide the first aid. Most of the people working with KoM were running around in jeans and t-shirts. There were a couple of people who wore garb-ish tops over jeans and one guy who was wearing what looked like the top half of a really awesome outfit. And naturally, the riders were in armor. But it wasn’t hard to see that they were wearing jeans and t-shirts under their armor and one of the riders put on a pair of sunglasses after his helmet was off. For a festival that drills into every participant the importance of the full immersion experience, it was rather jarring.

The announcer was especially jarring. He stood in the middle of the open area, talking into his mic, wearing jeans, a polo, and tennis shoes. What’s worse, is that his speeches were heavily peppered with profanities, and a friend of mine witnessed several families leaving looking very upset. This festival prides itself on being mostly PG, with most of the more racy stuff going on in the bars. Every single show of that nature that I have witnessed makes it quite clear prior to the act that there may be some innuendo, and as Sound and Fury so succinctly notes “If your kids get the jokes, it’s not our fault.” This, however, was not clever plays on words. This was flat out cussing. Moose and I had been jokingly complaining about how one of the princesses in the regular joust anachronistically used “like” very frequently, and described her relationship with another princess as “tight.” I cannot imagine the sort of talking to a member of the cast would have gotten if they had cussed so liberally. But I can imagine it ending in being fired.

The horses were another problem. One of the horses had to be dragged around to her position in the list and forcibly held there until the joust started. If the handlers didn’t hang on tight, she would dash down the list until she reached the other end, clearly hoping to get the hell out of the way. Another horse would only run straight on one side of the list. Whenever she ran the other side, she would veer off towards the mounting steps. I told Moose that she probably hoped that since this was the place her rider got on, that this would be the place where he got the hell off. She got her wish, regardless. Every time she veered, her rider would slide off and go crashing to the ground. Not a very good indicator of his riding skills.

Here’s where my history background comes in handy. Training up a war horse was hard and usually very expensive. The horses had to be trained out of some very natural reactions, mostly involving running the fuck away when someone comes at them with a sharp stick. Even horses in today’s modern rodeo events are specially trained to react in certain ways and not shy away from unusual stimuli. These horses… Well, the was one horse who looked like he had been well trained. The other two just looked like draft horses who were most recently pulling a wagonload of kids through a field while someone told scary stories. Those horses did *not* want to be out on that field and it made me wonder just how much training these so-called knights had put into their horses before making them run the list.

For all of that, the full contacting jousting was interesting to watch. Sadly, the only other interesting thing about the show was waiting to see if one of the horses would buck her rider. As much as people joke about how lame the regular jousting show is, the crew for that show at least go out of the way to make the whole thing into a performance. The KoM gave out a few roses and then tilted at each other for a while. I certainly wasn’t expecting Knight’s Tale level heraldry out of anyone, but a little showmanship would have been nice. Take out all of the pageantry, all of the gentility, all of the chivalry, and what you are left with is two guys running at each other with sticks.

Finally, for all the big talk about making this into the next MMA, how chivalrous the knights were, how careful everyone was, one of the knights did something which was completely unsportsmanlike. As I mentioned before, one of the horses had to be restrained from running down the list before her rider was ready. At one point, she dashed down the list before her rider could properly seat his lance. To indicate that he wasn’t ready, he held the lance aloft. His opponent raised his lance as well, passing him by without striking. The announcer explained that the first rider had used this as a signal that he wasn’t ready to fight and that the other rider, as an act of chivalry, had raised his lance as well. When this happened again, the first rider raised his lance, the second rider raised his lance… and then lowered it again. The second rider aimed the lance at the first rider’s shoulder, and landed a glancing blow on the shoulder plate. The first horse clearly wasn’t as out of control as the first time this happened and they weren’t going very fast, but when your announcer just explained that raising your lance was the chivalrous thing to do, that makes re-lowering your lance unchivalrous. It’s all fun and games until some asshole decides that he needs to get a tap in on the dude on the out of control horse.

When I first heard that there was a group trying to bring full contact jousting into the mainstream, I was honestly interested to see if it could be done well. I enjoy rodeos, and even though I cannot personally ride horses, I respect people who make a living at it. If the Knights of Mayhem truly intend to try and make jousting into a mainstream sporting event, they need to learn a little more sportsmanship, and a lot more showmanship.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2011 11:48 pm

    This exact same sort of thing happened when the KoM jousted at Sherwood this year. There was one horse that seemed to be relatively well trained, and the rest kept veering sideways out of the list (knocking down the rope, and occasionally getting caught up in it and knocking the rider off), or stopping halfway down the list, or just generally not doing what they were supposed to do. I was thoroughly unimpressed with the MC, though I don’t remember him cussing all that much; he was just incredibly modern in his speech. It was more like listening to a monster truck rally than a joust tournament. He also used the terms “Elizabethan”, “Medieval”, and “Renaissance” interchangeably, though Sherwood is *supposed* to take place about 1289 or so. Lastly, the “main” jouster (Prince Killum, I think they called him) was very rude and immature, to the point that when a pre-teen boy jokingly insulted him from the audience, he spent at least 5 minutes yelling back at the kid.

    Unfortunately, KoM have 2 more years at Sherwood on their contract. Even though what they do is partially staged, I *much* prefer the Noble Cause jousters who perform at the Oklahoma Ren Faire in Muskogee. They know how to put on a show, and never break character.

    • December 2, 2011 7:32 am

      Other than handing out the flowers, the knights pretty much ignored the audience, which is probably for the best, all things considered.

      It is rather curious that the horses are so poorly trained. You’d think that they’d want to fully train the horses first, since it seems to me that the horses would be the most likely cause of severe injury.

      • December 2, 2011 11:47 am

        The MC said something about the worst-acting one being a new horse, but Mark and I were thinking if the horse was *that* new, why was she on the field? It doesn’t sound like there’s been much training going on between then (last Feb/March) and now, which is really inexcusable on the part of the “knights”.

        • December 2, 2011 1:12 pm

          That’s…. highly suspicious. The MC said something similar about one of the horses at our show. Which begs the question: are they really putting new horses on the field that frequently, or is that just something they say to explain away the poor training of the horses?

  2. April 10, 2014 6:53 pm

    I know I am way late to the game on this, just came across your article. I worked with the Hanlon Less during the 2011 KoM fiasco. Let me just say, that it’s nice to see someone who wasn’t just “blown away” by how awesome KoM are(n’t). They dropped their horses off in a make shift paddock on the Thursday before their show weekend, and never came back to check on them once until Saturday before the show. They were constantly running back and forth front (and back stage) through the Lees area and hopping over fences. They had like, 30 “absolutely necessary” people with them in jeans and t-shirt, talking on cell phones and generally acting in such a way that any other employee of the faire would have been fired. The cursing, the lack of showmanship, the lack of sportsmanship…. Hell, even their “full contact jousting” was mostly fabricated. It had been raining buckets that weekend and our arena was swamped. Andrews and his boys didn’t want to fall in the mud, so they drilled out their lances so they would break easier instead of unhorsing one another. Ugh. Not that I’m all that impressed with any other joust company I’ve worked with (there is a lot of “just hang on” and questionable horse training), but that weekend was absolutely ridiculous.

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