Gladiator school

Paul Abercrombie and son Ewan at gladiator school in Rome. (Photo by Gail Abercrombie)

It's not often you step out of a chauffeured Mercedes and cheerfully answer "yes" when asked if you are "Ready to die?"

On a recent visit to Rome, my son, Ewan, 11, and I enrolled in one of several gladiator schools that offer tourists a chance to learn how to put the moves of the Eternal City's famed fighters into nonfatal practice.

Or as I'd soon learn, an opportunity mostly for my son to gleefully whup me with a wooden sword.

Our school, run by Gruppo Storico Romano (Roman History Group), was about half an hour's ride from our hotel, Rome Cavalieri, which arranged the lesson. Under the stern but winking tutelage of our instructor, Marcus, we would be put through our mock paces over the next couple of hours.

After a brief lesson in the history of gladiators — so named because of the short sword called a gladius they often wielded — we donned tunics and were each issued a wooden training sword.

In a sandy arena complete with grandstands, Marcus drilled us in the five basic moves for attack and defense.

He called out moves by number, testing our memory and reflexes by mixing up the order in a kind of martial Simon Says. "One! Two! Four! One! Two! Two! Five!" he shouted as we thrust and slashed and blocked.

Soon it was time to put our skills to the test in a fight. Within seconds, Ewan bested my shaky defenses with a swipe to the neck. "You're dead," Marcus announced with a smile. It's a sentence I heard pitifully often during our battles. By lesson's end, Ewan was giddy. "I want to practice when we get home," he said.

Next time in Rome, I think we'll just concentrate on scenery.

Lessons last about two hours. Prices start at about $75 per person (age 6 or older) for groups of four or more. More expensive solo lessons are available. Hotel concierges can book, or book online at viator.com. Gruppo Storico Romano, 18 Via Appia Antica, Rome. gsr-roma.com/inglese.htm