Posted in
April 9, 2022

How to win a joust

By Peter Konieczny

In 1464, a knight wrote to a friend asking him for secrets to winning at tournaments – he wanted to know what “hidden art” there was to allow him to gain victory. Undoubtedly, he was not the only one who wanted to win, for success could mean great fame and riches.

The different types of combats in a tournament all had their own set of tactics, but here we will consider the joust. What could be said about improving performance when you are riding a horse at full gallop towards your opponent and trying to hit him with a very long stick?

Several medieval writers did offer some advice about how to take part in a joust, noting the importance of equipment, technique, and being mentally focused during the action. In Le Jouvencel, the 15th-century author Jean de Bueil stresses that a knight should have good armour and a courageous horse, and wield lances that are not too heavy. Meanwhile, King Duarte of Portugal includes several paragraphs about fighting a joust. In one section he offers two important tips:

First, when you lower your lance under your arm, if your adversary is not too near, let the lance point a little lower than where you intend to hit. This is done for two reasons: first, in order to see more clearly where you intend to hit; second, in order to stop yourself from lowering the lance too far when you are bringing it down. The second piece of advice, and this is the main method of striking on target, is to have your eyes set firmly on your target and force your body and intention to remain set until you think you can see the iron tip of the lance arrive at its intended target.

Knowing where to look during the joust is also emphasized by other writers. For example, after explaining that it is a good idea to smear some red ochre onto the end of a lance so you can leave a mark on your opponent, Juan Quijada de Reayo advises that you keep your eyes open:

You should not close your eyes for if you do close them you will neither encounter nor will you see where your lance is going; nor should you focus on your opponent’s lance, for if you do, it will look as though he is aiming right for your eyes. And you should focus on your mourne or single-pointed lance-head, and aim for the centre of the point you wish to hit, be it the head or the vamplate, so that you may say to your aider: “Look there! Look at the red ochre, I struck him in such-and-such a place!”

Finally, the mental battle of the joust can often determine who will win and who will lose. King Duarte recognized this, describing the clash of emotions one endures in the moments before impact:

When someone enters a joust, he is determined to fight, and this determination is still present when he takes hold of his lance. But as he approaches his adversary, his instinct advises him to avoid the encounter; his determination immediately contradicts this, and this inner struggle is conducted all the time he is charging down the lists.

See also: Rules of a Medieval Tournament: ‘No Aiming at Unprotected Parts’

This article was first published in Medieval Warfare magazine Issue VII:3 – you can buy that issue here. You can also get new issues of the magazine through our Patreon – click here to learn more. April 9, 2022 at 04:36AM

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