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When in Rome, do in the Romans, as Jasper Jordan learned when he attended gladiator school.

Clare Vander Meersch

For my summer vacation, I got to choose where to go to on a trip in Europe. It was between Rome and Greece because I wanted to see the old temples of the Greek gods, but I settled on Rome because it has a Colosseum and cool sculptures to see. It also is home to my favourite foods, pizza and pasta. And of course gelato!

My mom and I arrived in Rome after a six-hour flight delay in Bristol, England. We were tired and stressed because we felt like we had lost time for exploring, but when we arrived at our hotel, the Queen Suites near the Piazza Venezia, right in the centre of everything we wanted to walk to, our helpful concierge presented us with a tray of wonderful snacks – sliced hot dogs, jumbo olives and bright red bitter sodas. On the bed, I found a toy sword and a story about where the gladiators come from. They knew we had come on a mission: I was going to train at gladiator school.

On the morning of our colossal battle day, we travelled by taxi down the ancient Via Appia Antica, the same road where thousands of gladiators and warriors had trained 2,000 years ago, to get to the school. When we arrived, we met the others who had signed up for the two-hour session. Our group was five kids and three adults, including me and my mom. Our teacher was like the Hulk with a man bun and muscles bulging out of his sleeveless red tunic. He asked us, “Do you want to die today?” All of us shouted “No!” The trainer replied, “Follow these steps to earn your freedom by winning 25 battles against other gladiators or beasts.”

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Step I: Learn the history of the Roman gladiators

Gladiator school includes a crash course in the history of the Colosseum battles.

Clare Vander Meersch

We lived moments the gladiators did and got the chance to feel how they felt by putting on replicas of the actual armour of the slaves who fought bravely. We felt the difference between the swords. The first was a heavy Spartan sword with a curved blade, with only one side good for cutting. If you held it the wrong way, it was pretty much useless. The Roman one was a lighter sword designed for stabbing and it allowed you to have a good grip. That was more my style. Also displayed were shelves filled with helmets of war. All were different shapes and sizes – one had feathers and another even had long hair. There were different shield choices from big to small, and rectangles to circles. My favourite combo was the simple Spartan shaped helmet, with the stabbing sword, and circular shield. Add on the armour, and you are carrying 140 pounds of gear in 40 degree heat, the sun in your eyes for 10 hours a day. If that were me, I wouldn’t last 10 minutes. We talked about how the Romans ruled all of Europe and North Africa. That astonished me because that is now over 30 countries. The strategies the Romans used to fight have been shown in a lot of Hollywood movies. For instance, when the warriors linked their shields and formed a wall and roof over themselves, which you see in movies such as Gladiator. They also did smart things such as putting horse poo on their swords to make sure a wound would kill the enemy – if not right then, then a few days later from infection.

Step II: Get fit like a gladiator

Before battle, aspiring young gladiators are put through fitness training and learn how to target weak spots.

Clare Vander Meersch

We trained our bodies by running, hopping over a tight rope side to side, dodging swinging sandbags and stepping through the rungs of a ladder placed on the ground. The icing on the cupcake at the end of every lap was five push-ups. If you failed an obstacle, punishment was 10 more push-ups. The whining started at the game of hot potato, using a sandbag, when one gladiator-in-training started complaining, saying, “I don’t wanna” and “Why do I have to?" At that moment, I knew just who my opponent was going to be.

Step III: Learn the moves to fight like a gladiator

We were now ready to enter the arena. Our instructor Luca taught us offence and defence moves. He gave us wooden swords and taught us how to hit the weak spots: head, neck, knee, knee, stomach. We practiced these moves until we memorized them by giving them a dance-like beat, ending with a kick, spin and stab.

Step IV: FIGHT!

A win in the Colosseum is better than a solo win in Fortnite, Jasper Jordan writes.

Clare Vander Meersch

Finally, the real games began. As I’d hoped, I was paired up with the complainer gladiator. Oh boy. This kid is going to moan all through the fight, I thought. But, he let out a surprising warrior battle cry and charged right at me. I ducked as he thrust his sword at my head and I scored a point by landing a blow to his knee. Next thing I knew, he was up by two points. He jabbed his sword at my shoulder but I blocked it with my shield, and he staggered back in shock. I landed two more points and was just one away from a win. To win the game, I slashed him in his gut when he went to raise his sword in attack. Luca called the game and raised my arm in victory. It was better than getting a solo win in Fortnite. Later that day, we went to the Colosseum and used our training to fight through the crowds.

Jasper Jordan, age 11, lives in Toronto.

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