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Preview: Tournament of the Phoenix

October 18, 2013 6:30 a.m.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks into what it takes to be a modern knight.

Related Story: Armored Knights Face Off In Poway At Tournament Of The Phoenix


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: Dust off your armor and pick your finest steed because today the Tournament of the Phoenix kicks off three days of jousting, equestrian display, and poll-axe combat at the Poway Rodeo. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at what it takes to be a modern day knight.

TAG: Tournament of the Phoenix runs today through Sunday at the Poway Rodeo Grounds. Watch for Beth’s video tonight on Evening Edition.

For $30,000 you could buy a new car or you could commission a suit of armor from Jeffrey Hedgecock.

JEFFREY HEDGECOCK: Typically it’s a minimum of about 6 months… I have a fellow on my books for next year’s production, who wants a very involved 16th century armor with a lot of embellishments. There’s usually over 200 plates in a suit of armor.

Hedgecock has turned his passion into a profession for the past twenty-five years. At his Ramona workshop he explains that he tries to be as historically accurate as possible in terms of design, methodology, and the materials he uses.

JEFFREY HEDGECOCK: This steel that I’m using is about as close as modern steels can come to historical medieval steel…. This is hand formed, heat treated spring steel… It’ll take a blow and deform and then spring back to where it started at.

It’s also strong and resistant to impact, which means Hedgecock can make the armor thinner and lighter. That’s important for a person trying to move under the weight of a full suit of armor As a teenager, Hedgecock was struck by the idea of the human form in steel.

JEFFREY HEDGECOCK: If you want to think about that idea of a sculpture in steel , an artwork in steel, which was the human form and the idea that it was all made of plates and moved on each other and the body could be inside it. That’s really what started my fascination with armor. It’s a hard thing to wrap a human body that has to move in a rigid material, it’s an unforgiving medium, and to be able to achieve it is quite a challenge and quite an accomplishment.

The process involves cutting sheets of steel from patterns, hammering them into shapes on various anvils, planishing or smoothing the surface, tempering the metal in a kiln to harden it for battle, and then polishing the pieces to a mirror-like shine for final assembly. But you can only make armor for so long before you want to put it on says Hedgecock.

JEFFREY HEDGECOCK: It’s kind of like every kid’s dream to be a knight.

After a visit to England in 2003, Hedgecock decided to start competing in jousting tournaments. But it’s a challenging task. Just think about how restricted your field of vision is from inside a jousting helmet.

JEFFREY HEDGECOCK: We only have about a half to three-quarters of an inch gap between the upper and lower sections of the helmet, and obviously our balance is affected because we have 60-70 pounds of extra weight on us between the armor, the lance which is about 6 pounds, a shield, which is about another 5-6 pounds, so it’s a bit juggling act.

Jousting also asks a lot from the horse.

JEFFREY HEDGECOCK: We don’t go after a specific breed of horse but we look more at the type of horse, whether it’s athletic, whether it’s energetic, whether it has the right mindset for the activity.

That mindset requires the horse to have an affinity for charging at a full gallop toward another horse where the rider is armed with an eleven-foot poll trying to knock your rider off.

SOUND of a hit. “That was big.”

In 2007, Hedgecock decided to launch the Tournament of the Phoenix.

JEFFREY HEDGECOCK:, It’s an international jousting competition and… This year we have competitors from New Zealand, two from Poland, and then one from the Netherlands, and myself and one other fellow from California.

It’s a three-combat style tournament with jousting being the main event. But it’s not the only thing.

JEFFREY HEDGECOCK: We also have foot combat with pollaxes where we stand on foot in full armor and beat each other to a specific number of blows.

Whoever accrues the most points throughout the entire competition, wins the tournament. Hedgecock has developed a lot of respect for the knights of yore.

JEFFREY HEDGECOCK: Knights were the fighter pilots of medieval times; they needed to not only be able to defend themselves but to attack the other guy. If you are lying on your back in a pile of mud you are not going to be very effective so you need equipment that is light enough to move in it, light enough where you can do your job. If it’s too heavy, it’s useless.

This weekend Hedgecock joins five other modern knight to see who’ll take home the prize at the Tournament of the Phoenix.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.