United States: Jousting in Dixie

Leland Coleman
A student unhorses an instructor at Roy Cox’s jousting school.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

WESTMORELAND, TENN. – It took almost 20 years of careful labor by Roy Cox and his wife, Katherine, to transform an old tobacco barn here into an English Tudor manor house. “The barony,” as he calls it, includes an arena for jousting, called lists, where each spring Mr. Cox trains would-be warriors how to don a full suit of armor, mount a horse, charge 80 feet, and strike a target – or another rider – with a 15-pound lance.

“Roy Cox produces knights,” says Michael Winship, who learned to joust under the former stuntman before becoming a manager at the Medieval Times near Baltimore. “But you have to want to be a knight, and it’s not for the pay checks.”

To earn a chance to hear the roar of the crowd on the Renaissance Faire jousting circuit, Cox’s trainees must have the “intestinal fortitude” to withstand a grueling two-week regimen that begins each day at dawn and extends well into the evening.

At a recent afternoon session, Cox and his squire, Leland Coleman, set up a wooden pole with a worn target shield, known as a “quintain pell.” Waiting at the end of the jousting area, the trainees prepared for their first passes.

A young knight-in-training, David Adams, starts his charge, the red pennant on his lance fluttering. He closes in and smacks the old oak beam with the tip of his lance. It rocks gently back and forth; Cox is unimpressed.

At first, people here assumed Cox and his wife were “carnies”: They traveled most of the year to fairs. But now, neighbors and locals come over on Sundays to picnic and watch a jousting demonstration when the trainees are ready to graduate. “They come here and watch us beat the [heck] out of each other,” Cox explains.

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