Ye olde fun: Knights, jousters and more share tricks of their trade

Meet a knight, jousters and a Renaissance Fest performer who make time-traveling entertainment possible.

Geared up in a red and black suit and shimmering armor, Josh Brown grips his medieval weapon of choice with one hand as he steps toward his opponent in the sand-covered arena.

He swings the bola, sending a heavy, metal sphere chained to a handle toward his enemy. He misses and dodges his enemy's sword. He chucks the bola and heads for a new weapon.

This is his day job.

Like Brown, who works as a head knight at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Hanover, there are many others whose jobs and pastimes transport them back into a different age without the aid of a time machine.

Places like Maryland Renaissance Festival and Medieval Times — both riddled with knights in shining armor, royal flourishes and hearty eats — allow residents to travel back for some olde time fun, while competitions for ring jousting, established as the official state sport in 1962, put a modern spin on the time period.

Meet a knight, two jousters and a Renaissance Festival performer who make the time warp possible.

Medieval Times

Brown, 30, has been performing at the local Medieval Times castle for nearly 11 years.

After deciding the first two jobs he had out of high school weren't interesting enough, he found Medieval Times — a place where he was greeted with "Hello, my lord," as soon as he entered the castle; where guests were treated as noblemen; and where the knight fight, full of cheering and heckling, allowed him to travel back in time to his favorite era from history class.

"This was definitely something different," he said of the dinner theater. "I knew I didn't want to be behind a desk."

Instead, he found himself in a medieval-style fight arena full time, working his way up from a squire — an assistant to the knights who bears their shields, arms them with weapons and readies the arena — to a sword-wielding knight himself.

Today, as head knight, Brown transforms stuntmen and athletes into squires and knights, making the 1,010-seat arena come alive with riveting combat and sword choreography on foot and on horseback.

He teaches the men how to maneuver medieval-style weapons, including various-sized axes, flails and swords.

But while the fights are strictly for entertainment, Brown emphasizes the choreography requires real skills that can take anywhere from six months to a year to learn. The performers must go through basic sword choreography, jousting practice and — because "a knight is not a knight without his horse," Brown said — horse training, to prepare for the six fights that occur in each show.

Along with professional horse trainers, Brown also works to get the horses ready for the big show.

"We are also teaching the horses to joust and sword fight, which is another form of training in itself. But a lot of our fancy horse riding stuff are natural movements the horses do in the wild," he said.

Brown still performs — most recently as the Herald from the North, who brings a proposition to the king of the castle which ensues in battles — but pretty soon, he'll be ready to turn in his sword and armor to focus on training his knights.

"It's a pretty neat responsibility," he said, but now, "I've got enough experience in the show where my job is no longer for me to perform. It's to get others to perform like me."

Regardless of how he's involved, Brown appreciates his unconventional career.

"It's a job that you're not going to be able to do everywhere, and not everyone's going to do it," Brown said. "Plus, you ride horses and sword fight. Who didn't want to do that when they were a kid?"

Maryland Renaissance Festival

Revel Grove, the fictional English village at Maryland Renaissance Festival, has been Randy Dalmas' office for over a decade.

The 50-year-old Medfield actor has portrayed a range of characters from the 16th century, including the Duke of Suffolk Charles Brandon (King Henry the VIII's brother-in-law) and a fictional wealthy wool merchant named Sir Walter Yaxley.

Dalmas and the other characters bring tourists back to the beginning of the English Renaissance in 1526 at the festival grounds, where the whole village is a stage.

"A lot of our days are spent doing photo ops, but also what we do is talk to different people," said Dalmas, who interacts with tourists, discussing village rivalries, the Royal Court and how food was prepared in the Renaissance age.

To prepare for their roles, each performer must dive into Renaissance history to fully develop their personas.

As a fictional character, Dalmas notes he "can be sillier and do sillier things," incorporating compliments and insults into his speech. But still, he strives "to keep things historically accurate."

"Once you've done it for awhile, it becomes natural. … You get the costume, and you're with other actors that will support you. It can be a lot of fun just staying in character," he said. "Some people get so used to it that we have to remind them that they're no longer in character. … They'll be speaking in accent and period language, and you'll have to say 'OK, you're done now. You're off the clock."

But members of The Free Lancers never have to break character because jousting is their job. The Tennessee-based full-contact jousting company holds shows and competitions at the festival, allowing attendees to experience entertainment during the reign of King Henry VIII and opens the doors for trained jousters to compete.

The only difference between The Free Lancers' work and jousting of yore is that the modern-day competitors use of blunted lances instead of sharp points to hit each other, because "what's the point in killing each other?" said owner Roy Cox, 66. You can't hit the other competitor below the belt, or the horse. Points are given according to the Henry VIII's scoring system from the early 16th century — 1 point for hitting the person; 3 points for breaking the lance; 5 points for a tip-to-tip lance strike; 10 for unhorsing.

"You're going to be getting on a horse in a full suit of armor. You're going to be charging at another person, and if you take Newton's second law of mass into account, mass times acceleration equals force," Cox said

He says injuries are rare, though "bumps, bruises, cuts, contusions, strains, sprains, and minor breaks do not count."

"If you get knocked off your horse, put some spit on it, get back on the horse, or get out of the sandbox," said Cox. "This game is not for wimps."

Maryland Jousting Tournament Association

Unlike the full-contact version, ring jousting is an individual sport that requires competitors to spear a series of different-sized rings with a sharp-pointed lance while riding on a horse, according to Bob Enfield, president of the Western Maryland Jousting Club.

Enfield, who inherited his family's tradition of ring jousting at just 9 years old, remembers when winners would dress in Medieval-like garb for parades, wearing flags to represent the sport's beginnings. Though the tradition continues, the sport's Medieval roots aren't as apparent as they used to be, he said.

In a round of modern-day jousting, three metal rings are suspended from cords on arches spaced throughout an 80-yard course. They range from nearly 2 inches to a quarter-inch ring depending on the skill level of the competitor. The jouster who spears the most rings throughout the three rounds wins.

For the son of dairy farmers in Frederick County, ring jousting was one of the few breaks Enfield's family would take from a day's work. Years later, the 58-year-old has passed it onto his 21-year-old son Brad and his daughter, Marley, 18, who started jousting when she was just 21/2.

"Definitely the biggest part of jousting is family, and not even just blood family. ... Over the years, the group of people that we joust with has gotten smaller and it has gotten really close," said Marley Enfield, a Towson University student.

Bob Enfield, who has won three state competitions and one national, is still competing.

He will take on other professional jousters in the upcoming state competition in Crownsville on Saturday hosted by the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, and the national competition, open to all jousters, held in Brunswick on Oct. 8.

The number of national competitors has dwindled in recent years from around 130 during to around 50 people at the national level, according to Enfield and the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association.

"It's such a family-oriented sport, and when some of the older matriarchs of those families have quit riding or passed away ... it's our biggest challenge to get new riders involved," Enfield said, but that's what keeps him riding.

"You have several generations riding. The oldest riding are in their 60s, so there's a wide variety,"

And if you're a viewer, it's pretty laid back, he said.

People have different methods of how they position their body, but what's most key is a competitor's relationship with a horse, Brunswick said.

"It's you and the horse. ... It's about developing the relationship with the horses, because They have to trust you, and you have to get that horse to run perfectly straight down that track, without worry," Enfield said

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If you go

Maryland Renaissance Festival 10 a.m. to 7 p.m weekends through Oct. 23. The full-contact jousting competitions will take place Oct. 22-23. 1821 Crownsville Road, Annapolis. $10-$24. rennfest.com

Medieval Times Show times and dates vary. 7000 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover. $36.95-$59.95. medievaltimes.com

Maryland Jousting Tournament Association competitions The Maryland State Jousting Championship will be hosted at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, 1450 Generals Highway, Crownsville. (Rain date Sunday). The National Jousting Championship will be hosted at Petersville Farmers Woods, 3816 Petersville Road, Brunswick at 10 a.m. Oct. 8. (Rain date Oct. 15). marylandjousting.com

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