Brothers, what we do in life, echoes in eternity,” said Russell Crowe as Roman warrior Maximus in Ridley Scott’s epic movie Gladiator. As I defend myself against another swing of a sword in the heart of Rome, I hope that isn’t true – I don’t want my descendants listening to a panicked whimper.
To avoid a gladiator’s death, I’m skipping over a dusty floor, not in the Colosseum, but in a lesson organised by the otherwise refined hotel Rome Cavalieri.
As I donned a tunic and leather sandals half an hour ago, it had all seemed so simple. Nero, my instructor, had laughed at how hard it was to find a helmet that fit, before assuring me less wiggle room made it safer. “Less chance of break neck,” he said. At least, I think that’s what he said – my ears flattened to my head.
The first stage of learning to be a gladiator is childish. Trainees grab a wooden sword and practise swings in a particular order: left, right, overhead, uppercut – all followed by correlating defensive moves.
Versus thin air, it all feels easy enough. Then, Nero steps in with his own pretend weapon and we enjoy a bit of swordplay. Alas, this is not enough for my Italian friend, who insists we switch to metal gladiuses the size of the gladiators’ original weapons. The weight is shockingly heavy. Nero calls out the moves again, slowly coming towards me. I attack at a glacial pace as he swats away my sword. The clash of metal makes for a satisfyingly authentic sound.
This is fun, I think. But Nero allows little respite as we speed up the routine. Then speed it up again.
“Faster.” The metal flies. This isn’t fast enough?
“Faster.” Now it really feels like I’m in a battle for survival.
“Faster.” Oh God, I don’t have travel insurance.
When Nero calls it quits, I’m panting, full of adrenaline, happy to be alive and almost certainly ready to go to war.
– TEXT BY JAMIE LAFFERTY
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.