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What is Jousting?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Jousting is a medieval equestrian sport which was designed to demonstrate suitability and fitness for battle. Through the late 1500s, jousting was a very popular sport throughout Europe, and competitions were often well attended. The popularity of jousting declined after this point, although the sport is still practiced by modern fans, who have adapted it somewhat to make it safer. Jousting demonstrations can often be seen at large Renaissance fairs, and some organizations hold regular tournaments to display and hone their jousting skills.

In medieval jousting, the goal was to unseat the opponent or to demonstrate the ability to kill from horseback. Most people associate jousting with tilting, a division of jousting in which knights ride directly towards each other carrying long lances. The knights attempt to knock each other from their horses with these lances, typically in three attempts. Other weapons can be used in jousting as well, including daggers, war axes, and swords; typically, the knights went through three cycles with each weapon before moving on to the next.

The goal of medieval jousting was not to kill or even seriously injure the opponent, although this did happen. Often, fellow knights and members of the military would organize jousts among themselves to hone their skills or determine their champion. An ill-placed blow could result in injury or death, especially if a lance managed to penetrate a jouster's helmet. Jousts were typically watched by a crowd of nobles and others, and they could get quite raucous, often including other war games as well.

The horses used in jousting tended to be solidly built and trained to respond to leg commands, so that their riders could have their hands free. Typically, horses wore armored face shields to protect them, along with breastplates, and sturdy saddles which were almost like armchairs. The riders wore full helmets and plate or chainmail, usually heavily padded to distribute the impact of lance and axe blows.

In modern jousting, weapons are made from lightweight materials so that they break upon impact. Riders usually wear authentic clothing and armor, and their horses are historically accurate as well. Points are given when weapons are broken on shields or armor, and the goal is a demonstration of skill, rather than unhorsing the opponent. Although modern jousting is much safer than the historical version, it is not a sport for amateur riders, since it requires immense coordination and control, along with a well trained horse.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By SkittisH — On Jun 21, 2011

@Hawthorne - Wow, I didn't even think of the safety precautions until now...

You're absolutely right, people should take every step to ensure that the training and the actual jousting or sword fighting is performed in a controlled way.

I think the biggest difference between how jousting and other medieval sports are performed nowadays and how they used to be performed in the medieval times is that, of course, back then the goal was to kill the other guy!

Now it's exactly opposite -- we want to learn all of these cool skills like sword fighting, but we don't want to hurt anybody, and inf act we want everybody to be safe while we fling weapons around. Sounds a bit unreasonable of us, doesn't it?

As @Malka said here already, though, the skill sets involved here could be really valuable. I don't think we should let the knowledge of how to do things like jousting or swordplay die off, and especially not blacksmithing.

By Hawthorne — On Jun 19, 2011

@seHiro - Isn't the jousting gear for those renaissance faire groups different depending on if they're doing a performance for a crowd or not?

A friend of mine who does sword fighting demonstrations and basic training for beginners at events (not renaissance faires, although I'm sure he would fit right in) uses props made out of duct tape or fabric tape.

They're super tough, they last through lots and lots of "fights" even with beginning sword fighters who are clumsy with using them, and most important of all they are far, far safer than using any form of actual sword.

As my friend says, when they get good enough to not hurt themselves then they can switch to something more sword shaped. When they are trained enough not to hurt anybody else, they can use a real sword.

It takes advanced skill to get to use a real sword, and even when you do, you use a dull one so that any accidents will do minimal damage.

By ahain — On Jun 18, 2011

@lonelygod - I've viewed jousting pictures in the brochure from Medieval Times, which my sister visited when she went to California. It looks like they do the closest rendition of actual all-out jousting, complete with colored banners worn by the knights and horses and a lady fair for the knights to fight to win the favor of!

I'm sure that at Medieval Times, as with all theme parks, there are safety precautions taken and the knights are trained in how to fake a good fight -- kind of like pro wrestling. A big, exciting show is the most important thing.

Judging by the other things I read in the brochure, though, it sounds like Medieval Times would be a fun experience to learn more about medieval history. Is it true that they serve you a traditional medieval meal with plates made out of slabs of bread while you watch the jousting?

By Malka — On Jun 16, 2011

@seHiro - Renaissance faires sound like fun! I've read a lot about them, but I've never been to one. Do they cost a lot?

I think it would be awesome to be able to watch activities like jousting, sword fighting, archery and blacksmithing in person. I've read that there are usually tailors at renaissance faires who sell hand made wares like peasant outfits, and that many people attending dress up in period clothing.

Renaissance faires are important, I think, because they get the average person interested in things like the process of traditional blacksmithing, or jousting history. Medieval times tend to be romanticized, with the barbaric aspects downplayed, but the knowledge from back then is still useful today.

If and when technology drops back down to a more rudimentary level, as many worst case scenario believers are predicting society will do sometime soon, then these basic skills will be life savers.

Imagine learning archery at renaissance faires and then one day needing to use that skill to hunt and feed your family. It's a different perspective, isn't it?

By seHiro — On Jun 14, 2011

@Acracadabra - Those events where people dress up like knights and do activities like jousting, bow and arrow competitions and sword fighting are called renaissance faires. They have one in my area, Port Gamble, which is known for doing historical reenactments as well.

Renaissance faires tend to attract not only those who interested in historically accurate medieval events, but also a bunch of fantasy fiction fans and fans of the steam powered Victorian genre called steampunk.

My boyfriend happened to be invited to join a group of "knights" from one of these renaissance faires, who offered to train him during their weekly meetings. They wanted to teach him swordplay in particular for sparring matches at renaissance faires.

Their gear, such as jousting equipment and swords, all have strict safety requirements, so the gear belongs to the group and is free for all members to use.

By lonelygod — On Jun 14, 2011

If you want to see jousting without having to go to a Renaissance fair you can head the chain restaurant and dinner theater, Medieval Times. They offer a lot of fun for the family, will a big meal, all while seated in an arena. The idea is to let you feel like the nobles did many years in the past. During your dinner you get to watch recreations of medieval jousts and things like sword fighting, all for your entertainment.

While Medieval Times is very touristy, it can be a fun thing to try at least once. I think that the novelty of it will keep the restaurants up and running for many years to come.

By letshearit — On Jun 14, 2011

If you are interested in jousting you can actually give it a try for yourself with a safe medium, video games. Back in 1982 the game Joust was released and people had a lot of fun running headlong at their opponents, carrying a long lance, all while balancing their character on a horse.

Since then the game has been remodeled and is available through things like the XBOX Live Arcade and online. Often you can find a similar game to this for free if you search online.

Whether you choose to play a flash version, or download it to keep, Joust is a fun way to try jousting from the safety of your home.

By Potterspop — On Jun 14, 2011

I really like the famous Caravaggio painting of Medusa on a leather jousting shield. One christmas I included a copy of it on my wishlist, and got quite excited when my parents dropped hints that they may possibly be buying this item for me.

On christmas day I tried not to appear to eager when the family came over to me for dinner and present exchanging. Still, I was quite looking forward to hanging my treasure on a specially selected spot I'd cleared on the wall.

Finally my dad disappeared and came back with an enormous box. He'd been round every antique shop in the area to find my gift, which turned out to be a five foot high suit of armor, a perfect replica of that worn by a medieval knight and finished with a jousting lance!

By Acracadabra — On Jun 14, 2011

@yumdelish - My brother is very into medieval history, King Arthur, knights and all that kind of thing. He used to love telling me gory tales of jousting deaths, both accidental and deliberate.

It's said that the death of the king of France in the 16th century was the catalyst for jousting rules to change. Other people claim that it was the invention of gunpowder around that time which made this an inefficient way of doing battle.

Have you ever been to one of those events where people dress up in all the jousting gear? My brother really wanted to join a group but it was too expensive to get set up. He ended up in a battle reanactment club instead, where there is less equipment to buy.

By yumdelish — On Jun 14, 2011

Whenever I see movies with jousting scenes it reminds me of how men have been trying to one up each other throughout history!

I can appreciate that being good at jousting games was maybe the only way an insignificant knight could get some attention, and maybe impress a few ladies of the court. But I bet there was a lot of rivalry and scores being settled at the same time.

Didn't a king of England die during a jousting tournament? I can't imagine that made his opponent very popular!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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