Medieval knights in shining armour.
That was about 10 minutes ago.
Seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, though, I'm thinking better of it. When I can think at all. Which I can do only intermittently on account of the oxygen deprivation.
The series Full Metal Jousting had its premiere last night, and it features the real thing, not the fake theatrical jousting you see at Renaissance fairs. Guys on horseback charge at each other with 11- foot wooden lances. They're wearing armour. Which is how I came to be sealed up in this sartorial sardine can.
We're in a press room at Madison Square Garden in New York, where Shane Adams, the show's genial ringmaster and a champion jouster himself, has arranged to put on a demonstration at halftime during a bullriding event. And while waiting his turn in front of the Garden crowd, he has agreed to let me try on a suit of the armour being used in the show.
I was not expecting quite so tight a fit. Or the weight. Or the de facto blindness. Or the sensation of being baked alive.
It was a balmy 72 degrees, room temperature, when a squire -- or "ground crew," his title nowadays -- crammed me into this gear. (No way you'll ever get it on by yourself.) At the 5-minute mark the temperature hit what seemed like 200, and now, at 10 minutes, it's 350, the roasting point for a turkey. Hmm; perhaps that is no coincidence.
In any case, as I slowly achieve a golden succulence, I am more impressed with each passing minute at this whole jousting thing, which I mocked in print a few months ago when another jousting show, Knights of Mayhem, turned up on the National Geographic Channel.
Earlier in the visit Adams had explained that a joust was not merely two guys flailing randomly at each other with lances.
The sport has rules and scoring and technique, and now that I'm in this suit of armour, I can tell you that anyone who can mount a horse while wearing this stuff, much less accomplish what a jouster is trying to accomplish, is a skilled athlete. Crazy, to be sure, but skilled.
The full suit weighs at least 80 pounds. Adams has decked me out in about 60 pounds' worth (he has left off the leggings), and though I am considered an impressive physical specimen -- I can do almost a dozen push-ups without stopping, and the other day I ran two full blocks to catch a train -- I feel as if the life is slowly being crushed out of me.
The jouster is trying to hit his opponent not just in any old place but on a spot "not much bigger than a license plate," as Adams says in the show's premiere: a socalled grand guard bolted to the left side of the opponent's chest.
This seems preposterous, given that both jousters are on galloping horses and that, with this armour on, you can barely see.
That's because the helmet's visor has slits that provide roughly the field of vision you get when looking straight into the noonday sun and squinting. There's a reason for this.
"If that lance came in and struck in that visor area, and the lance could go through, you would be another King Henry II of France," Adams explains (at least I think that's who it is -- can't really see) as I'm getting used to this near sightlessness. Henry died in a jousting accident in 1559, which is why you'll seldom see kings jousting today.
If you watch Full Metal Jousting, however, you will see some relatively ordinary guys giving it a try. The gimmick of the show is that Adams and his lieutenants take 16 men who have not jousted competitively before (a few have done the choreographed entertainment version) and teach them the sport. Through elimination bouts the series will build to the crowning of a champion.
The competitors include a horseman trained in show jumping, a stunt rider, some rodeo cowboys, a polo player and more.
In the premiere Adams gives them the rules of the sport and assorted bits of advice, including this: "Don't stick out your tongue.
You will bite it off." Their training includes a lot of time spent trying to get used to the sensation of being lanced at full speed. In one drill a rider in armour gallops past a man who has a baseball bat and who takes a full swing at him as he goes by, aiming for the chest. Just before he put me in the armour, Adams, who is Canadian, recalled the first time he was hit in a competitive joust.
"I've played hockey all my life," he said. "I could've got hit by the whole team at the same time, and it didn't compare with the amount of force I just got hit with." As the temperature nears 500 degrees inside my armour, I reflect on my good fortune that no one has hit me with a baseball bat or hockey team while I've been in here. Just the ringing in the ears would be enough to kill a man.
Later, after my squire has released me from my prison, I realise that one good thing, at least, has come out of this medieval little experiment.
My new year's resolution was to lose 10 pounds. Mission accomplished.
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