I’ve taught about Roman gladiators for years. Yes, you know, the dudes that beat up on each other in ancient arenas, and fought to the death for the amusement of onlookers. This year, after starting jiu jitsu, I find myself thinking about the whole topic differently.
Gladiators are one of the students’ favorite units. They ask a lot of questions. Being on the spot in front of a class, one develops a sense of anticipation to questions that might be thrown at you. So, as students ask one question, I answer it, and my mind moves forward to prepare answers to branching questions that could come out next. (Kind of like all you great BJJers do when you plan to submit me. You think of all the moves that could follow whatever just happened, and then next thing I know . . . ARMBAR!)
Today we talked about how there were different types of gladiators, differently armed, and the Romans liked to pit them against each other to see how they used their advantages and disadvantages. All that was going through my head was jiu jitsu:
Kind of like when someone has long legs and I have short legs and I have to figure out how the hell to get out of his guard! That must be fun for some people to watch!
Then students discussed the pros and cons of a gladiator that fought with a net and trident. They recognized that this gladiator would prefer to fight from a distance, since his weapon was longer than his opponent’s. One student said that the guy could throw his trident. All that was going through my head was jiu jitsu:
Yes, but then he would be unarmed. His next step would be to close the gap and wrestle his opponent to the ground, try to control him so he couldn’t use his short, thrusting sword. Better for him to keep his trident and keep his opponent at bay, just like those long-legged folks keep me from passing their guard.
And as I looked over the questions I assigned for homework, meant to explore how the students viewed fighting and violent entertainment, all that was going through my head was jiu jitsu:
I wonder if anyone tomorrow will say that they feel like fighting can be an art form and that it might be fun to watch highly-skilled fighters from a purely artistic perspective.
Many of the spectators at gladiatorial shows would not be strangers to combat themselves. Perhaps they were war veterans, or would be joining the military themselves in a few years. Surely most had lost loved ones due to combat. State-sanctioned combat was a more present part of a Roman’s life than it is to me and my students today. Why wouldn’t people well-versed in fighting find it interesting to watch a match?
Of course, the killing part at the end: not so much fun. But exploring the art of jiu jitsu has allowed me to look at gladiatorial combat from a perspective other than blood and gore. I can just see the looks on my students’ faces now when they ask Latin Teacher a question about Roman gladiators and Shark Girl responds.