Gladiators were trained to fight in the styles and with the weapons of the nations conquered by Rome. The Hoplomachus represented the Greek warriors who were known for their spear. The Axe (or sword) and shield of the Gallarius represented the Celtic warriors of Gaul, and so on. It was theater for the masses. A way to act out Rome’s superiority and remind the population of how powerful they were as a nation.
The owner of the ludas (training grounds) would match the fighters physicality and temperament to a family of weapons and a fighting style, much as a boxing trainer today directs his pupil in the style, aggression and training methods that helped other champions. Since most gladiators had very short careers, there was little opportunity to cross train.
Today in our gladiator school, the world view is different. We use the motions of the different weapons as a teaching aid. Each level of progression focuses on a narrow set of physical skills and tactics that will help you learn and develop muscle memory (for faster reaction times) more quickly. Along the way you will learn different ways to read and counter your opponent –using his force against him whether armed– unarmed or focused on disarming or subduing him.
Following is a quick breakdown of the ranks and the skills covered in each.
I . Parmularius
The Parmularius (gladiator with a shield and axe) is one of the purest examples of offense and defense. 5 axe and 5 shield strikes form a strong base for both weapons and empty hands. You will master powerful front and back kicks used to stop a charge or seize advantage in a variety of self-defense situations. As a beginner, you may doubt your conditioning or skill. To counter this, a pocket stick will serve -not only as a training aid- but also as an impromptu self-defense tool for strikes, grab releases, and disarms.
Modern application. Skills learned are compatible with the use of these modern objects for self-defense: self-defense key ring (Kubotan), metal-barrel ballpoint pen, small/large flashlight, hammer, camping axe, trash lid, book, book bags.
II . Hoplomachus
The Hoplomachus (gladiator with spear and small shield) combines the properties of offense and defense in a single weapon. The staff, spear or two-handed weapon is a step toward more efficient fighting skills. Added range forces one to move rapidly into and out of range to take advantage of a weapon’s length. Powerful lateral motion with kicks to defend against attackers from the side, disarms, take-downs and striking styles bring added skill and sophistication.
Modern application. Skills learned are compatible with the use of these modern objects for self-defense. Broom handle, bat, walking stick pool cue, book, hat or jacket.
The Provocator (gladiator with sword and dagger) is an aggressive fighter adds deceptive thrusts and weaving to his attacks similar to European fencing. He punishes his opponent, using his dagger (or empty hand) to check, pass or thrust. Powerful kicks from multiple angles join disarms and takedowns put your opponent on their knees.
Modern application. Skills learned are compatible with the use of these modern objects for self-defense, knives, machete, screwdrivers etc.
The Dimachaerus (gladiator with twin swords) with over a dozen angles of attack and the ability to blend offense and defense seamlessly is the show-stopper of the arena. He shifts rapidly through striking patterns as easily as a drummer, peppering his opponents with an unending barrage. He effortlessly changes elevation, spinning and turning as he kicks, strikes and throws. His skills have been raised to near ambidextrous quality taking on opponents in all directions,
Modern application. Skills compatible to use these modern objects for self-defense include knives, machete, screwdrivers, clubs and small handheld objects.
The Retiarius (gladiator with net and trident) is the master of capturing his opponent and forcing his submission. His skill goes far beyond the symbols of his rank. He uses, belts, chains, nets and jointed weapons including the flail (nunchaku). His skill is his armor as he changes range to capture his attacker’s weapon in a variety of ways. In the arena, the Retiarius was not a fisherman, but the embodiment of the god Neptune.
Modern application. Skills compatible to use these modern objects for self-defense: forked weapons (sai, trident, split knives), nets, ropes, belts, straps, chains, and jointed objects.
The Sagitarius (gladiator with bow) learns to use thrown weapons, and projectile weapons in combat. This advanced training level also deals with modern firearm safety and disarms. In hand-to-hand combat he can choose from the entire arsenal of the gladiator and improvises solutions when faced with new experiences.
Modern application: knives, darts, blow guns, bow and arrow, spear, axe, sword, sling spear thrower and firearms.
The Rudarius (gladiator having earned the rod of freedom) has proven through arduous study and practice that he has mastered the skills of all 6 levels of training. This final level is a test of both knowledge and skill. It represents an accumulated knowledge, which could be represented by black belts from 3 different martial arts styles including, a hand-to-hand combat style, a grappling style and a weapon style of combat. Having faced all challenges of the arena proving his abilities with weapons and empty hand skills and contributing to his fellows through coaching and other community participation, the rudus (wooden sword) is presented as both a symbol of a gladiator’s freedom and certificate to be proudly displayed and cherished.