Martial Arts: The Viking Way

There’s no denying that the Vikings were some of the strongest and fiercest battle warriors of all time. And although they often killed others with their weapons, there were instances when they fought weaponless and applied their knowledge in martial arts.      


The Vikings believed that in order for them to increase their chances of winning battles, they should also know how to defend themselves without the use of any weapons. This was the reason why they developed a self-defense system called Glima, which means flash and quick in Old Norse language. 

During Glima, they applied speedy chokes, throws, blows, kicks, and other painful techniques to hurt their opponents/enemies. And their experience in this martial arts type of system helped develop their courage, stamina and reflexes which they obviously needed to survive battles. 

This system was not just helpful for adult Vikings though. It was also helpful for children (they usually start around 6-7 years old) to prepare them and build up their self confidence in their fighting skills in the future. 


Glima in Norse Mythology        

Glima was mentioned once in Norse mythology. The story began when Thor went to the land of Utgard-Loki the giant to take part in competitions. During his last and final competition, he was up against an old woman named Elli instead of one of Utgard-Loki’s strong bodyguards. Much to his surprise, the old lady defeated him despite her old age.    

Historians believed that Thor couldn’t take Elli down because she was the personification of old age and no one could triumph and win against old age.           

Three Primary Ways of the Glima 


Brokartök (Trouser-grip) was more focused on technique rather than strength. It was also known as the most widespread form of Glima in Scandinavian countries. 

In this type of Glima, the competitors usually wore a belt around their waist and thighs which was connected with a vertical line. If we talk about its grip, it was carried out with one hand in the wrist thigh and the other one in the thigh belt. And in order to win this, one of the competitors would have to throw the person he was competing with on the ground with either their knees or elbows. 


If Brokartök favored technique over strength, Hryggspenna (Backhold wrestling) just like any other forms of wrestling was more focused on strength over technique. In this type of Glima, the goal of every competitor was to control their opponent’s upper body to the point that their bodies hit the ground.      


Lausatok (Loose-grip) used to be banned in Iceland for nearly one century because it was more aggressive compared to other types of wrestling. But they decided to incorporate and use it again despite its violent fighting approach. Since then, it has become the most widespread type of Glima in Norway. During lausatok, it was the goal of competitors to prevent their opponents from getting back up once they had taken them down.

These are the three primary ways of the Glima. For the Vikings, these were not just self-defense  techniques, but sometimes considered and looked at as sports or recreational activities.                 


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