The Jousting at Sete

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July 14th 2008
Published: July 23rd 2008
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Jousting, as it is practised in Sete originates, so the records say, from ancient marine sport played by Mediterranean fisherman, and first reported in Egypt in some 2000 BC. It was recorded as being played in SETE in the C11th and the sport was given Royal Approval in 1664 when this current tournament commenced.

It's a game that sort of makes a mockery of Rugby, which is, by comparison, a new comer on the block, and cricket which at best is some 240 years old. Rugby, though, is also a favourite sport of the province and its played with similar gusto. The French forwards come from this area, so I understand.

The lances are about 2" in diameter, tipped with a stainless steel three pronged claws which on impact gouges the opponent's wooden shields to get a purchase, in the attempt to dislodge the opponent knight from the boat. We saw one lance snapped on impact, and a couple of shield wrecked.

The boats start about 100-150 meters apart and the 10 rowers on each boat whip up a good stroke rate for 12-15 strokes; then, just as the boats pass,the inside rowers feather their oars; the outside rowers row like the clappers; helmsman deftly guides the craft as close as possible; the waiting knights (yet to joust), sitting on the ladder leading to the jousting platform, bend down and place their arm over their head to protect themselves; the jousting knights set themselves on the platform one leg rigid behind them, leaning forward, their front leg just over the front step... and then the crash of steel on wooden shield, the wrenching of lances, the cunning uptake of pressure and the flicking of the lance to dislodge the opponent., and all the while, the band plays "waltzing Matilda" - well a French version that the folk love which we thought became repetitious after about 120 bouts

In all, there were about 100 - 120 bouts in which we had a variety of outcome - all of them interesting. Red KO Blue , Blue KO Red, Blue and Red cant shift each other for three clashes, Blue end up on the Red boat, Red ends up on the Blue, Blue fall after red is dislodged before he hits the water, or after he hits the water, equipment is broken and there is a rerun. A knight floating in the water appeals to a judging panel of 10 judges and dashes the water in disappointment at the decision.

At all times the knight who falls in is effectively ignored by the players, the rowers and the boats ripping around, and he slowly swims ashore, licking his wounds so to say. Only if there is an injury will people, almost reluctantly, come to someone assistance - I thought the medicine cabinet held a bottle of cheap wine to discourage people faking it.

The shrapnel of lances and shields that fall into the water after the contest are picked up by smaller boats that flick in and out of the competition collecting gear and dropping of new contestants on the boat.

It is not a competition between red knights and blue knights but an individual knock-out sport with just the winners remaining. The winner would have won 5 or 6 bouts without a loss.

The eventually victor, Evangélisti , is a giant of a man, and his opponent Rojas was no small fellow either. I was amused that the cups for First and Runner-up were identical, other than the name on the cup. This clearly recognises the equality of men in this competition.

The pageantry of the final gave us in insight into the history of the competition, the honour, the chivalry, the camaraderie of the fraternities and the joy of competition. The audience applauded everyone and there is a strong sentiment to keep the sport alive and everyone in Sete, so we've been told, has had the opportunity of competition and there are jousting schools being run for the school children.

It really was a fun day.


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