They've Got Mail

By Edward Tenner

The New York Times Magazine features what is billed as a jousting revival, especially the rebirth  in the U.S. from stylized reenactment to offshoot of mixed martial arts.But it isn't just a medieval revival. It's really a new sport because everything's been scaled up:

Jousters . . . use bigger horses than their medieval counterparts because they themselves are so much bigger than the knights of old. Their mounts are 2,000-pound draft horses -- Percherons, Clydesdales and Belgians. If you add the weight of horse, rider, saddle and armor, you end up with something like 2,500 pounds at either end of the list moving toward each other at about 25 miles per hour. Roy Cox, a pioneer of American jousting, calculates the force of the resulting impact as 50,000 pounds per square inch. "If you want to experience that for yourself," he says, "put your thumb down on the cement, take a sledgehammer and slam it really hard."

No pain, no gain, I guess. But I think our would-be knights are on the wrong track if they want real tournament money. The costs of plate armor, mail (armor conoscenti cringe at the expression "chain mail," as there was no other kind), and mounts are likely to continue devouring any winnings. And broken bones are the least of the risks. According to research on Henry VIII, the Renaissance's Mr. Big, his fall at a Greenwich Palace tournament in 1536, at the age of 44,

may have affected his whole personality. . . . "We posit that his jousting accident of 1536 provides the explanation for his personality change from sporty, promising, generous young prince, to cruel, paranoid and vicious tyrant," [chief curator of Britain's Historic Royal Palaces] Lucy Worsley says. "From that date the turnover of the wives really speeds up, and people begin to talk about him in quite a new and negative way. "After the accident he was unconscious for two hours; even five minutes of unconsciousness is considered to be a major trauma today." Henry may have suffered a brain injury, Dr Worsley says. "Damage to the frontal lobe of the brain can perfectly well result in personality change."

Better to stay with something safe -- like gladiator school.

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