Gladiatorial combat: martial art?

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Gladiatorial combat: martial art?

Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Sat Aug 04, 2007 1:13 pm

Salvete sodales,

Perhaps someone can answer me this question. As gladiatorial combat was a professional sport, I wonder if it had sets of predescribed movements for each type of gladiator that got honed over time, the way martial arts refine and develop their movements. Or did much depend on the individual, such as signature moves in wrestling, which is similar to the munera in that it is also a sport aimed more at spectacle than effectiveness.

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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Mon Aug 06, 2007 11:03 am

Salve mi Draco,

I try to answer your question as best as I can out of personal experience in practising Martial Arts (Wing Tsun - Kung Fu Style) and the gladiatura:

No matter what you practise you always become better by training regularly, you gain experience from training sessions and fights. Even though your coach tries to tell you why to do things one way or the other you often understand it only after a little while when you've gained more experience.

When using weapons they are formed a special way. E.g. a scutum is large and heavy, it slows me down and I'm not that swift carrying that heavy thing compared to a thraex or hoplomachus wearing only a small parmula (no matter if that thing is round or rectangular). The gladius has a short straight blade used for thrusting mainly, while a sica is curved which allows you to attacks you can't do with a gladius, e.g. get it behind the shield of the opponent, rip it away and than stab. When fighting with a short weapon against a fighter with a long weapon (spear, trident) you have to try to get close hence out of his range and into your range.

Since the gladiators fought also for entertainment you could always add a spectacular move but usually these moves are very exhausting so you would not overdue it esp. when taking into consideration that the fight is with sharp weapons with which you were about to kill your opponent. Also spectacular moves usually open your defence. (A fight of course did not have to end with the death of one of the combatants though - very often injuries were more likely than the death since gladiators were expensive in training). The balance between effective moves and spectacular moves needed to be found.

Why one gladiator fought in one category and the other in another is not sure. Some scholars assume that the basic training was for all the same and also similar to that of legionaries - fighting with wicker shield and rudis (wooden gladius) against a pole (palus). What where the reasons after which the doctores/magistri decided to train one gladiator as murmillo, another as thraex and the third one as retiarius we do not know hence there are no written records about gladiatorial training. This makes it on one hand hard on the other hand interesting to do gladiatorial reenactment - it's a lot of trial and error.
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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Mon Aug 06, 2007 2:42 pm

Salve Cleopatra,

Thank you for this information.

Optime vale,
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Postby Primus Aurelius Timavus on Mon Aug 06, 2007 10:59 pm

The use of the palus implies that set combinations were taught. An analog is training with the makiwara, a striking post used for toughening the hands and feet in Okinawan and Japanese karate. Beginners strike the makiwara the same way over and over, but more advanced students use combinations and change their body position relative to the target.

Take away the striking post and you get something close to shadow boxing. And maybe you've taken the first step toward a kata (a form of set movements with (some-times imagined) opponents).

It is easy to imagine doctores having trainees move from hitting the palus the same way to introducing combinations to introducing footwork, and then finally taking away the palus and having the trainees imagine their opponents.

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Mon Aug 06, 2007 11:46 pm

Salve Timave,

Did you practise karate? I actually did shotokan karate for about 1,5 year and I'm looking to start again.

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Postby Primus Aurelius Timavus on Tue Aug 07, 2007 1:25 am

Yes, I practiced Shotokan for eight years, almost every day, but only reached first kyu (ikkyu). It was a combination of tough teachers and a slow learner.

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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Tue Aug 07, 2007 8:34 am

The reason of the palus is that you learn how to strike, thrust etc. with a sword. This is the basic, you learn the proper movements because you're not supposed to hack senselessly with the sword.

The next step would be training with a partner. You learn certain strikes, thrusts and the blocks. A good thing would be to do this without the shield in the beginning, it helps you to learn how to handle the sword properly and as a beginner you need to concentrate on one thing first.

One step further would then sparring, where one strikes but now you don't know anylonger which way he is striking and then it's your turn.

In the end it is the free fight.

This is basically how we train at my Escrima class and I try to handle it in a similar way with my gladiators. Like I've said in my previous post we don't know how they trained exactly but I think it's not unlikely that they might have done it in a pretty similar way.
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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Tue Aug 07, 2007 1:44 pm

Primus Aurelius Timavus wrote:Yes, I practiced Shotokan for eight years, almost every day, but only reached first kyu (ikkyu). It was a combination of tough teachers and a slow learner.


Oh, I wouldn't feel bad about this, during my 1,5 year I took about one or two training sessions a week and fell slightly short of reaching 7th kyu :).

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