Tennessee Renaissance Festival Veteran Jouster ‘One Tough ‘Broth’r’

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Anyone going to the Tennessee Renaissance Festival (TN RenFest) and thinking the jousting tournament is just a choreographed show, they’d be wrong. The guys who go out there and joust three times a day, every day that the festival is open are the real thing. Just ask Leland Coleman. 

Coleman has been jousting since August 23, 2008. During that time, he has broken his hand, broken his ankle, had six concussions, and fractured two ribs extremely close to his heart. Then there was the time he tore his rotator cuff and dislocated his shoulder, but didn’t even know he’d torn his rotator cuff until a few months later when seeing a doctor about another issue. He just kept on jousting. 

“I just figured it was residual from dislocating my shoulder,” said Coleman, “which I just popped back in.” 

Today he’d be called one tough dude, in Elizabethan England, the time set for the TN RenFest, he’d have been called ‘one tough broth’r.’ 

“Bumps, bruises, cuts, contusions, strains, sprains and minor breaks do not count,” added Coleman with a grin. And he has suffered many of all of these.

He also went back on the horse just three months after surgery on a ruptured disk, which was unrelated to his days of jousting. 

In spite of all the injuries, Coleman comes alive when on horseback and jousting with his comrades in Elizabethan arms. He is driven by his love of horses and his love of history. 

Initially, Coleman got involved with the TN RenFest in 2002 as one of the ‘atmospheric’ players. Then in 2005, while serving as a squire, he gained the attention of Roy Cox, the owner of Jousting Freelancers, Inc., because of how he handled a particular situation. 

Cox asked him to become the troop’s marshal, which is the master of the games, calling the points and explaining the different challenges to the audience. At first, he marshaled from the tower that marks the entrance to the arena, then he began doing it on horseback. While Coleman said he would never joust when first joining the troupe, Cox saw something in him and eventually tricked him into becoming one of the knights of the realm. 

Training took two weeks, riding three to four times a day, every day. But that was just learning the basics. It takes lots and lots of practice actually in the ring to gain the experience to become good. 

“The first year I was part of the troupe, I thought I was going to die every time I went out there,” said Coleman. “Then I got better.” 

Getting better means not only coming to understand the “tricks of the trade,” but also learning how to become one with the horse. 

“You build up a partnership with the horse,” explained Coleman. “They shift to keep you in the saddle.” 

Of course, one of the prime goals of a joust is unseating the opponent. Opposing jousters, carrying ten-foot lances, ride towards each other at about 25 miles per hour. When the lances clash, the knight’s shoulder experiences the force of about three times their body weight at about 40 miles per hour, according to prezi.com. That is some serious force. 

“My best tournaments were right after my back surgery,” said Coleman. “I took 20 lances and unhorsed two of my opponents, but I never hit the ground.” 

During the Middle Ages, when jousting began, it was created as a way to keep a knight’s military skills sharp in times of peace so they would be prepared for battle when war came. War was pretty constant. 

According to historyskills.com, “Jousting was considered an essential part of a knight’s training, as it allowed them to hone their riding and combat skills…From the [twelfth] century onwards, jousts were the ultimate test of a knight’s courage, strength, and skill, and a way to gain fame and fortune in the eyes of their peers.” 

While the skill has a long history, each TN RenFest jouster also takes on the persona of a real historic character. Coleman prefers to play Sir Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Howard was a second cousin to Queen Elizabeth I and the most powerful politician in all of England at the time. Unfortunately, he got involved in a plot to dethrone Elizabeth I, a Protestant, and put the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Even with all his power, he lost his head over his actions on June 2, 1572. 

Jousting will be taking place three times a day, each day over Memorial Day weekend, including Monday. The troupe will be appearing at noon, 2:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Sharing the tournament field this year is a new group, The Daring Horsemen.

Tickets and additional information is available at https://www.tnrenfest.com/. The Tennessee Renaissance Festival will run through Memorial Day. It opens at 10:00 a.m. and closes at 6:00 p.m. It is located in Covington Glen at 2135 New Castle Road in Arrington, Tennessee.

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