Can Full-Metal Jousting Become the Next Ultimate Fighting Championship?

Shane Adams, host of a new reality TV show about the sport, hopes it will.



If chivalry, as the common saying goes, is dead, someone forgot to tell Shane Adams—the host of History's new original reality series, Full Metal Jousting, which aims to resurrect the medieval and renaissance competition as a legitimate sport over 500 years after its heyday. Which isn't to say that things don't get gritty—"Do not stick out your tongue. You will bite it off," Adams advises the series' would-be knights in last night's premiere episode.

Full Metal Jousting, which premiered last night, takes 16 amateur competitors and trains them in competitive full-contact jousting, with a $100,000 prize to be awarded to the last man standing. It's hard to imagine the show successfully capturing the intensity of "history's first extreme sport" without the expertise offered by Adams, a former president of the World Championship Jousting Association and holder of 17 international jousting titles who remains one of the sport's most respected and celebrated competitors. As Full Metal Jousting prepared for its television debut, The Atlantic interviewed Adams about wooden lances, war horses, and what it takes for a normal person to become an expert jouster.

The introduction to Full Metal Jousting calls jousting "the most dangerous sport in history." What makes it so risky?

Jousting is so dangerous, primarily, because of the force of impact delivered on the opponent. To knock someone out with a punch takes seven pounds. These guys are hitting each other with over 1,000 pounds of force.

You also say that jousting has gained popularity over the past 30 years. What inspired the renewed interest in the sport?

Interest in the sport has always been there. But unfortunately, medieval festivals and renaissance festivals have always gone toward a more theatrical performance. [...] I've dedicated the past 20 years to building the sport, so when I went to a renaissance festival or medieval festival—the only arena that I had to perform in front of people—I didn't do a theatrical performance. I did the real sport. I brought real full-contact jousting using real armor, real war horses, and solid wooden lances, and people that viewed those shows didn't leave. They stayed in their seats. They watched show after show.

How authentic is your jousting compared to jousting tournaments in the medieval or renaissance eras?

Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, most of the competitors jousting were nobility. So when they were out jousting, they were putting on more of their own theatrical display. Of course, they went out to win, but the lances they were using were not war lances, and were made to break, because these nobles didn't want to go out there killing each other. The peasant class at the time embraced the sport of jousting—it was the Super Bowl of sports—but they didn't know any different.

So medieval jousting was more theatrical than the jousting you're practicing now.

The only way you're going to make it a real sport is by doing the real thing. We're putting together and producing a modern-day venue for a modern-day sport. But we're still using a lot of historical elements to bring it there.

What type of person makes a good jouster?

Mentally, you have to be strong. You have to feel invincible. Physically, [there are] guys who are 6'4, 250 pounds, and guys who are 5'8, 160 pounds. Really, it's a matter of connection to your horse. Though [your opponent] may have 60 or 100 pounds of weight on you, when you get on top of your 2,000 pounds war horse, that 60 pounds means nothing. [...] It's a major psychological game. Once all the avenues are equal - once your equestrian ability, physical ability, and riding ability are equal—it then becomes a mental game.

In the first episode of Full Metal Jousting, you explain to the competitors that the horse isn't just a tool—it's a teammate.

This sport is not man versus beast. It's man and horse, working together as a team against the same opposing force. I have 20 jousting horses that I travel from show to show with, and I've been performing with, for the past 10 years. All these horses basically came from my roster of trained jousting horses. And trust me, it takes a long time to get them to that point.

How would you describe the 16 aspiring jousters selected to compete on Full Metal Jousting?

Let's face it: right from the start, they're amateurs. They've only had a week at the boot camp to get them to the point where I feel they would be competent jousters. But none of them have actually ever received a full hit until that very first episode. It's very, very dramatic to see these guys form these bonds with the horses, and it shows that this is a true equestrian sport.

Is there any advice you'd have for an aspiring jouster? Even someone who's never tried the sport before?

Think twice. [laughs] But if you really want to do it, don't commit half-heartedly. Don't do it half-assed. [...] Growing up on a horse farm, at four years old, I didn't know if I wanted to be a cowboy or a knight. I stepped left instead of right and chose the knight route.

Two tempting choices.

[laughs] I believe so. What else can you be, growing up on a farm in Canada? But that's what I wanted to do.

Full Metal Jousting marks a new level of exposure for the full-contact jousting you practice. As the sport continues to attract more attention, what are your hopes its future?

I would like to see the sport grow like Ultimate Fighter. The UFC. That's what I want to see happen to Full Metal Jousting.