Smash. Our swords collide with a colossal metal clang. Lifting my shield above my head, I manage to avoid a lethal blow before narrowly dodging a trident aimed for my stomach.
This is an average day at Scuola Gladiatori, a school just outside downtown Rome, which trains students to fight like gladiators. Using authentic weapons dating back to ancient Rome, instructors take tourist beyond the crowds and kitsch of the Coliseum. It’s a two-hour, hands-on history lesson that encourages learning through active participation.
As the saying goes: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” so I sign up for a private lesson to learn how to rumble like a real gladiator.
I slip into my burgundy tunic and warm up in the gravel-dusted compound, designed to look like an authentic Roman arena.
The gladiator teachers, trained at a neighboring history re-enactment club, go through the basic techniques of gladiatorial swords fighting, from how to defend, to how to attack.
My teacher, a short man with the don’t-mess-with-me authority of a military sergeant, breaks down the steps like it’s a choreographed dance routine. “Strokes are in a sequence of one, two, three, four,” he barks, walking me through each movement. I lift my sword horizontally to defend my head. Vertically to each side to protect my neck, twisting my torso like a backhand in tennis. “Good,” he grunts. “Again. Faster now.”
I’m armed with a wooden training sword called a “rudis” but as I get better, I move up to other authentic weapons: the trident, nets, armors and the gladius (a metal weapon and origin of the word — gladiator).
My teacher explains that gladiators were the ultimate fighters of world history, embodying brute force, courage and feral skill. Different types of gladiators were distinguished by their arms and styles of fighting. Some were amateur slaves and others professionals. The slaves were fighting for freedom while the professionals were not unlike today’s superstar wrestlers, where money and entertainment is the name of the game.
Bouncing back and forth, dodging and blocking jabs I actually worked up a sweat! Much to my surprise, the lessons were far more physical than expected. My wrist muscles quickly got weak, and, after 1/2 hour of battle, I had a hard time holding the training sword. Guess this newbie gladiator needs some practice.
“You think that’s difficult?” mocks my teacher. He slips a heavy bronze mask over my head and a protective iron cast over my arm. I feel like a human armadillo. With limited visibility and movement, I gain a newfound respect for the difficulty and skill it must have taken real gladiators to fight in this wardrobe. Interestingly enough, this costume wasn’t used to protect, but to disadvantage the gladiators. Bloodthirsty spectators wanted to see an entertaining fight after all.
Had I fought as a gladiator during that time, I surely would have died within seconds of entering the ring, but with a little more practice at Scuola Gladiatori, maybe I too could become Spartacus!
For more information about Scuola Gladiatori and their day gladiator courses visit: http://www.gsr-roma.com/