- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2011

The clanging of armored knights atop thundering horses can still be heard in Maryland on most weekends, as jousting draws hundreds of spectators and preserves its position as the state’s official sport.

“A lot of people like it for being hard-hitting,”said Roy Cox, director and founder of the Free Lancers, a full-combat jousting company based in Tennessee. “To put it in Americanese: You cowboy up. It’s not a sport for the faint of heart.”

Mr. Cox and his fellow crewmen say spectators are attracted to the loud battles, but Maryland’s official sport is actually the more quiet and sophisticated ring jousting.

Ring jousting began as a form of marksman practice for medieval knights, in which they galloped toward a suspended ring in the hope of taking it with their lance. This form of jousting has held its title in Maryland for 49 years, ceding only the official team sport status to the Native American pastime of lacrosse.

The Maryland Jousting Tournament Association has scheduled an event nearly every weekend from July through September. Also coming up are the 145th Calvert County Jousting Tournament next weekend and the Maryland State and National jousting championships in early October.

To be sure, the full-contact jousting — more well-known from movies set in medieval times — is still alive as well. On weekends, starting Saturday and running until late October, the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville will showcase this form of jousting courtesy of the Free Lancers.

“When you see us joust, it’s not fake, it’s the real thing,” Mr. Cox said, adding that when the group first started the riders would fake their hits.

“If the other guy missed, it looked really bad,” he said.

On a hot and humid Sunday afternoon, Mr. Cox and his crew of 16 riders and jousters sweated in their shining stainless steel armor through two practice runs of the show on a new field built for the festival.

The Free Lancers showcase marksman and agility skills, including ring jousting. But the most popular part of their show is the full-contact jousting, said crew member Leland Coleman of Nashville, Tenn.

“If you can hit a target this small,” Mr. Coleman said as he held up a three-inch metal ring, “imagine what you can do with someone’s chest.”

Unlike ring jousting, in which riders need only comfortable riding clothes and perhaps a riding helmet, Mr. Cox and his fellow jousters don more than 100 pounds of armor, not including the heavy leather pieces worn underneath.

“There’s a reason why armor evolved the way it did,” Mr. Cox said. “You’re taking a direct hit with it.”

The knights have four attempts to knock their opponent off their horse, though often the result of a pass is a broken lance, dented armor or another bruise.

The 9-year-old Free Lancers company showcases seven of the 15 styles of jousting, omitting the versions with sharpened lances in favor of blunted edges. However, that doesn’t mean injuries don’t happen, Mr. Cox said, adding “but bumps, bruises, cuts, contusions, strains sprains and minor breaks to not count as injuries.”

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