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Game of Thrones has been back for two weeks. I’ve been stoked as hell about it. Obviously the fantasy elements – the dragons, White Walkers, blood magic, etc. – are the most fun elements of the show, but there’s something to be said for the entertainment value from knights, horses, swordplay and such. Shame the current season won’t really allow for anything as pageant-like as a jousting tournament as what happened in previous seasons, so I’m going to try to fill the void for you this week when it comes to your medieval combat techniques.
Jousting is a pretty cool sport to begin with. Horses running fast at each other with big pointy sticks. What’s not to like, really? Well, in France, they’ve decided that this is simply too tame, and have improved on the medium by putting the whole thing in boats. And the product delivers big time. Water jousting actually dates all the way back to ancient history, with bas-reliefs from the ancient Egyptian period showing boats ramming each other along the Nile; other versions also existed in ancient Greece, as well as in Roman times as miniature ship battles. Records of water jousting in France date back to the 12th century, with specific towns and regions having their own variants on rules and guidelines to how the sport is played. Water jousting is practised all over France, with variants found in Languedoc, Provence, the Rhone Valley, around Paris and in Alsace. It can also be found in Cognac, Accolay, Merville and in Brittany.
One of the most exciting versions of water jousting can be seen in the port of Sete, on the south coast of France in the Languedoc region, just to the west of Montpellier. This tournament has been running annually since 1666, when it was first staged to commemorate opening the new port in the town.
In this version of water jousting, two boats run at each other – each has a team of ten oarsmen and a captain commanding each boat. Six jousters sit on a wooden ladder called a bigue, at the back of each boat, while one jouster sits on a platform called a tintaine at the end of the bigue. Each jouster then tries to ram his opponent off the tintaine as the boats pass – seven times in total. Combatants are lucky to have wooden shields to protect themselves, as the lances are iron-tipped and probably hurt like hell if you catch one in the gut.
There’s also a live brass band playing in a boat in the middle of the harbour as well, just to make the whole spectacle even livelier.
There’s actually tons and tons of videos available on this, as it turns out. The pageantry that goes along with the event is a holdover from the 17th century, as the opening to each tournament sees parades and flags and drumrolls aplenty. Don’t worry if your French isn’t good when watching the video below – this is just a short description of the tournament format and highlights from the 2013 event.
Clearly, I’m gonna need to go and check this out for myself. I think of all the sports we’ve covered thus far on This Week In Violence!, this is one of the ones that best lends itself to a good live atmosphere for spectators. Give me a nice sunny day and a large bottle of red wine, and I’ll fit in just like a local, I’m sure. Cheers to jousting!