"We joust the way they did it during Elizabeth's reign [1558-1603]," says Gregg Oatley, who jousts with the New Riders of the Golden Age at fairs around the country, including this summer's Great Lakes Medieval Faire near Geneva. "The difference between this and a staged joust is the difference between real football and flag football. Companies that do staged jousting use presawed lances. Ours are solid wood."
For protection, the warriors wear full suits of custom-made armor, including the manteau d'arms, a steel plate that guards the target area of the chest, and the buff plate, which covers the chin and stops just below the eyes. The armor weighs more than 100 pounds, making everything -- moving, falling, and in some cases even seeing -- a challenge. Jousting strategies include striking the opponent in the manteau to break the lance or trying the more difficult buff shot, which is an attempt to lift the enemy knight off his horse.
"I don't care who you are, everyone gets knocked off," Oatley says. "I got knocked down twice last year. This year I've been down four times already, and the season is almost half over."
At 31, Oatley is a nine-year veteran of the battlefield. His experience gives him an edge, but competitors, at an average age of 23, have youth on their side. "Most guys have an injury that ends their career," Oatley says. "Sometimes guys are great until they've been injured, and then they become gun-shy.
"I had my fifth annual retirement party last year," he jokes. "I've been saying I should quit, but I keep coming back, because I simply love it."