- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2001

ROME — Their eyes were gleaming with fury, foreheads glittering with sweat, lips twisted into horrible grimaces as they circled each other.
Just as one man struck his opponent with a sword, a squealing melody went off.
"Nero! Your cell phone," someone shouted.
Welcome to ancient Rome sort of. At this gladiator school, businessmen, musicians and college students become gladiators, legionnaires and Amazons twice a week, learning the history, theory and techniques of ancient fighters.
Like their forerunners, these fighters wear armor and swing heavy metal gladi, or swords, at each other. But unlike 2000 years ago, the weapons are blunt and gladiators-in-training are in it as much for the culture and camaraderie as for the combat and glory.
A 10-minute drive or 30-minute chariot ride from the Roman Colosseum, the Scuola Gladiatori Roma is tucked away at the edge of the city on the Appian Way, the ancient Roman highway to the south.
Students pay $100 for a two-month course of twice-weekly lessons and fighting gear, said the school's president, Nero, who goes by Sergio Iacomoni in the outside world.
Prices are low "because we do it ourselves. We do it to have fun," Mr. Iacomoni said. "The payment is just to keep the structure on its feet, for rent, electricity."
After training with a 13-pound shield and rudis, or wooden sword, experienced gladiators are allowed to use more elaborate equipment. And it does get elaborate. There are three types of helmets to choose from crested, smooth or hooked spears, axes and tridents of various shapes and sizes, armadillo-like armor, chain mail and capes.
Mr. Iacomoni said he studied Roman art and mosaics to understand how people used to dress.
The school is part of the Gruppo Storico Romano, a cultural association founded in 1994 that studies and re-creates the lifestyle of Romans living in the first century.
Many of the gladiators are history buffs and avid readers of historical novels, said Leonardo Lorenzini, a 23-year-old student.
"I personally love history, and role playing. Now I get to live on a Roman stage. Too bad I don't know Latin," Mr. Lorenzini said.
Students assume ancient Roman names and listen to what passes for ancient Roman music the soundtrack from the movie "Gladiator."
They also don't bother denying the pull the hit film from last summer had on them, even if there were a few stylistic inaccuracies.
"Honestly, the movie helped the school get started, because of the influence it had on public opinion," Mr. Lorenzini said.
As the only school of its kind in modern Rome, Scuola Gladiatori has gained some notoriety. The gladiators recently staged fights at Villa Adriana, the ruins of the palace of Emperor Hadrian built outside Rome.
This summer just seven people are taking classes it's a down time, with half of Rome vacationing at the beach, the students said. But the school has trained scores of aspiring fighters, including many foreigners.
Giuseppe Pecorelli, 51, began taking lessons shortly after Scuola Gladiatori opened in September. He said the figure of the gladiator is appreciated more by foreigners than Italians because the vestiges of fascism have left Italians a bit uneasy about the idea of empire.
However, he added that Roman-style combat is not so different from practicing self-defense sports or capoeria, a martial arts-like beach dance from Brazil.
If it weren't for the bearded men hanging out in tunics and the huge ballistic arrow tucked away in a corner, the Scuola Gladiatori could almost pass for an athletic club.
Two men run around a track wearing Adidas shoes the one fashion anachronism permitted, to prevent slipping. Someone sips sparkling water at a picnic table. People chat on their cell phones. A woman stretches her leg muscles, laughing with some friends.
Still, the seven men and one woman who put on ancient garb and grunt on a grassy field as they lunge at each other admitted their hobby is a bit out of the ordinary.
"Most normal people think it's crazy to be a gladiator in 2001," said Guido Pecorelli, Giuseppe Pecorelli's 23-year-old son.


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