The Honors and Duties of Knighthood at Medieval Times
Blood sport has been an important part of cultures across the globe for centuries. The Romans congregated in the Coliseum to watch gladiators murder each other for spectacle, the Spanish come in droves to watch matadors challenge and flay wild bulls, and Mexican cartels are forcing their kidnap victims to fight to the death. As long as people have been gathering to watch spectacles, those spectacles have included violent displays that tickle the innate human desire to watch things get killed. Although the physical toll of being a Medieval Times jouster is a teeny tiny bit less extreme than the activities mentioned above, it requires far more skill and dedication than an outsider would guess.
Max Shkvorets was a friend of mine in high school. Part of the drama clique, he was the kind of happy-go-lucky kid that bordered on annoying most of the time thanks to his perpetually cheerful attitude. I remember him trying out for our school’s improv team (yes, my school had an improv team) and absolutely bombing the audition. He loved acting, but just didn’t have the confidence at the time. He was a good guy to be around, but like most friendships at that age, it didn’t survive graduation. One day a few years down the line, a mutual acquaintance told me that of all the dramatic hopefuls we studied with, he was one of the very few who managed to get a paycheck for his craft. Not only that, but his day job now required him to wear plate armor and ride a horse—my friend Max had become a knight.
Medieval Times is kind of a weird place to work. While most of the people they employ are cooks, servers, or general event staff, the whole operation revolves around the few people—mostly trained actors and stuntmen—with the skill and dedication necessary to perform in the weekly shows. Becoming one of these rare individuals is not an easy task. It requires an intense dedication to something most of us would never even consider trying (or watching, probably).
The first stepping stone to becoming a knight at Medieval Times is temporary employment as a squire. You’ll tend to the horses, help load the weapons, and set up and take down various props and effects for the show. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a foot in the door. The real benefit is the training you recieve from the rest of the crew on stuff like fight choreography and not getting trampled to death by horses mid-show.
According to head knight Sean Delaney, not everyone’s got the drive for it. “Part of it’s the dedication; part of it’s the ability. We’ve had some people come here with all of the ability but no ambition, and they just fall by the wayside. Then we’ve had people with nearly no skill who come and get it because they try their guts out. It’s those people who are willing to learn as much as they can, ride as hard as they can, and try as hard as they can who make it.”
When Max started as a squire a few years back, he was faced with a very typical problem for newcomers to the show. He had some acting ability, but most of the specialty work needed for the show was foreign to him, and training time can be exceptionally rare. “A lot of it was an uphill battle. When I started as a squire, there were a fair number of them here and most of the training time goes to those who prove themselves. It makes sense to train the guy who’s been here for a while rather than the guy who might leave in a month. You sort of have to fight for training time, so I had to go to Sean every day and ask if rather than wash horses for a bit I could do mock tests to become a knight. You just need to keep pushing for it and pushing for it. It’s cool how this job puts your advancement in your own hands, but you have to own it. It’s definitely made me a stronger person. It’s made me understand that you can’t wait for people to offer you something—you just need to go out and do it.”