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Armored Knights Face Off In Poway At Tournament Of The Phoenix

Modern Day Knights Joust At Poway Rodeo

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

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


Dust off your armor and pick your finest steed because beginning Friday, the Tournament of the Phoenix kicks off three days of jousting, equestrian display, and pollaxe combat at the Poway Rodeo.

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

"Typically, it’s a minimum of about six months," Hedgecock said. "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 25 years. At his Ramona workshop, he explained that he tries to be as historically accurate as possible in terms of design, methodology and the materials he uses.

Photo caption:

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

A practice joust.

"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," Hedgecock explained.

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.

"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," Hedgecock said. "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 because, as Hedgecock pointed out, "It’s kind of like every kid’s dream to be a knight."

Photo caption:

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

The view of a jousting helmet from the outside and from the inside.

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.

"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 to 70 pounds of extra weight on us between the armor, the lance which is about six pounds, a shield, which is about another five to six pounds, so it’s a bit juggling act," Hedgecock explained.

Jousting also asks a lot from the horse.

"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," Hedgecock said.

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.

Tournament of the Phoenix

WorldJoust Tournaments™ "Tournament of the Phoenix" from WorldJoust Tournaments on Vimeo.

In 2007, Hedgecock decided to launch the Tournament of the Phoenix, an international jousting competition. This year there will be competitors from New Zealand, two from Poland, one from the Netherlands and then Hedgecock and one other competitor from California.

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

"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," Hedgecock said.

Whoever accrues the most points throughout the entire competition, wins the tournament.

Photo caption:

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Jeffrey Hedgecock shakes hands with his opponent during a jousting demonstration in Ramona.

Hedgecock has developed a lot of respect for the knights of yore: "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 knights to see who’ll take home the prize at the Tournament of the Phoenix. He’ll also be upholding his knight’s motto: Honor only among equals.

Tournament of the Phoenix runs today through Sunday at the Poway Rodeo Grounds.

Suggested films: Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V," "Excalibur," "Robin and Marion."

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