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Viking Combat

Updated on August 11, 2014

Glima - The Viking Martial Art

Like much of the information we have today on the Vikings, the best available source for Viking combat is the poetry and literature of the age. "Glima" is an Old Norse word meaning "a flash", and was also used a term for a fight. For example, to glima in Old Norse meant to spar or fight someone.

Glima dates back as far as the 700's A.D. It was mentioned in the story of Thor travelling to Utgard, a city in Jotunheim, and facing three challenges presented to him by Utgards-Loki. In the story, after attempting and failing the first two trials,Thor is challenged to glima with an old woman named Elli. Elli is, in fact, old age personified, and Thor loses the match, much to his chagrin.

During the Viking Age, Glima was likely the most widespread sport in Europe. It's practice has not changed since, and a number of organizations train and compete in the sport to this day. The end goal of Glima is to remain standing while your opponent is on the ground, which most likely hearkens back to the fact that falling to the ground during battle was as good as a death sentence.


Variants of Glima

There are three main variants of Glima. They are Brokartök, Hryggspenna, and Lausatök.

Lausatök (Free-Grip) - This is the most commonly practiced form of Glima in Norway. This form allows for any grips or holds to be used by the participants, and a match ends when one opponent is on the ground and the other is on their feet and out of reach. This particular style is the basis for the self-defense variant of Glima, and is the only version that features wrestling on the ground.

Hryggspenna (Back-Hold) - This version entails the opponents gripping each other around the back. A match is considered over when one of the combatants touches the ground with anything but their feet, or releases their hold (unless the opponent is already falling, in which case the winner is expect to let go of their opponent to avoid injury.) This is more a test of strength than of combat prowess, and is similar to many other wrestling styles.

Brokartök (Trouser Grip) - This version has the combatants gripping each other by way of a special belt. This belt wraps around the waist and each leg at thigh level, with straps connecting the individual belts. Each opponent grabs the other by the waist belt and thigh belt, and attempts to unbalance the other while standing as close as possible to each other (ideally with either contestant looking over the others' shoulder) and remaining in constant motion. A match is won by forcing the opponent to touch the ground with the area of their bodies between the knees and elbows.

Brokartök is considered to be the most technically-challenging and advanced form of Glima, and is the most widely practiced version in Iceland.

Glima competitors gripping each other's belts
Glima competitors gripping each other's belts | Source

Brokartök Rules

Brokartök has a number of special considerations even within the sport of Glima. The first is Upprétt staða, which requires that competitors must remain standing upright at all times.

Second is Stígandinn, which requires that opponents constantly move clockwise, stepping back and forth (it is often compared to a waltz.) This prevents the action from stagnating by creating constant opportunities for attack.

Finally, Níð dictates that it is not allowed to throw your opponent forcefully to the ground or to fall onto them during a match. These are considered unsportsmanlike actions, as Glima very specifically dictates respect for your opponent. The goal is that a match ends as a result of a superior grip, not of brute force.

John Charles Dollman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
John Charles Dollman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

More Information

This is a basic overview of the sport of Glima. I am by no means an expert, and have only recently started studying it at all. However, as a well-known Viking enthusiast, I believe it is my responsibility to learn and share all I can about the infamous Northmen and their culture, combat, history, and myths. It would be a failure on my part to neglect the value and importance of unarmed combat in any culture so famous for their warfare.

So, as you investigate the intricacies of Glima from the following sources, remember that 1,000 years ago there were Vikings practicing this very martial art.


The Gripping History of Glima

The Icelandic Wrestling Federation

Were you aware of Glima before reading this?

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