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Tales of a Modern Knight

An In-Depth Interview with Medieval Times Head Knight

If someone told you their occupation was a "knight," you might assume they were an actor. Sam Talley, Head Knight at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Dallas, TX, clarifies. “The knights at Medieval Times wear a lot of different hats. In a nutshell, I’d say we’re more professional athletes than performers and stuntmen.” Not that it makes things easier when he’s doing his taxes. After all, can you list “knight” as a profession? “You don’t anticipate that until you get to the form and wonder ‘What do I do for a living?’”

A knight for over 14 years, Talley was an athletic guy, full-time student, and tile layer in Baltimore, MD on the fateful day he went to the mall to get a watch repaired. Medieval Times was preparing to open a new location, and he was noticed in the crowd. The next thing he knew, he was being flown down to Dallas for knight boot camp.

Currently, as Head Knight, it’s now his job to train the current batch. “We have a variety of young men from a variety of backgrounds,” he says. This includes corporate guys sick of being stuck behind a desk, but especially young men who were college or high school athletes.

Everyone starts as a squire, learning horsemanship, combat, jousting, weapons and armor maintenance, and more. “We actually prefer to hire people without any horse experience and without any stage fighting experience,” says Talley. “It’s better for us to teach someone from scratch than to break any bad habits.” After about six months to a year, he might consider promoting them to a knight. But that doesn’t mean the training is over. “Just to perform one role as a knight in our show takes at least 300 hours of training.”

There’s no offseason, either, so Talley and his men keep in peak physical condition year-round. They practice with swords, lances, maces, and more to fully master the show’s elaborate fight choreography. “We change the script to our show every three years or so.” He explains, “We keep it for that period of time because we only get better over time.”

Horsemanship is another vital skill. “There’s no such thing as a knight without a horse.” Medieval Times breeds their own steeds, from powerful Quarter Horses for jousting to elegant Andalusians. And Talley says you never stop learning. “I’ve found that I’ve become a better horseman after I had children. Nothing will prepare you for having a lifetime of patience than children.”

All that training is important. After all, being a knight is not without risk. Live steel, powerful horses, and plenty of other variables can make it a dangerous profession. That’s why even the most experienced knights train between 2-5 hours for every performance. “We minimize risk through training. I always tell my new recruits, and even my experienced knights, ‘The safer we are with the proper technique, the more aggressive we can appear.’”

Despite being athletes, Medieval Times is still a show. Knights more comfortable with the crowds tend to perform better. “That’s the biggest part of our performance. Charisma isn’t something you can teach; you either have it or you don’t.” He says there’s nothing like standing in that circular arena, all eyes on you. It’s part of what makes the job amazing. “We’re getting paid here to play with horses and swords in front of a crowd of cheering fans.”

“There’s nothing better than watching a young knight that I’d trained for hundreds and hundreds of hours perform in his first show.” Talley makes sure he teaches his men with everything he’s learned so that the knowledge will continue to be passed down through the generations. “I can only imagine how good the knights in ten years will be if we keep up this trend. It’s what keeps me excited about this job.”

So despite all the hard work, fatigue, and demanding schedule that can keep him away from his family, Talley remains passionate. “As cliché as it sounds, I’ve grown up with this company. I met my wife here; we’ve got three kids. There are people here that will be in my life after I leave. I love to coach, I love to teach, I love to train new knights. I love to take young men and mold them into something harder and better than when we got them.”

-By Ettractions Digital Content Editor, ALLISON BENNETT

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