WHAT IS GLIMA?
THE ORIGINS OF THE VIKING MARTIAL ARTS
In 1874 the Icelandic people celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the settlement of their country. One of the many and distinguished foreign guests at the 1874 celebraton was Christian IX, the King of Denmark.
The main festival was held at Thingvellir - a plain on the shore of a lake surrounded by sheets of lava some 50 km northeast of Reykjavik. This was, where the nation convened every June to attend their legislative and judicial duties from the years 930 to 1798 A.D.
On the first day of the festival, the king rose early and strolled out to the fields where the Icelanders had pitched their tents for the night. Most of them were outside, playing physical games to warm themselves against the chill. One of the games that caught the attention of the King was a wrestling match. Showing great interest in the physical and vigorous nature of the sport and the agility and ability f the contestants, the two best competitors were brought before him to demonstrate the game at its best.
The name of the noble game the King witnessed was Glima - the Icelandic word for a national form of wrestling.
Throughout history, many ancient forms of wrestling have been developed and preserved by nations and cultures all over the world. Including countries as diverse as Switzerland, Korea, Japan, India, France, Russia, Turkey, New Zealand, etc.
In the British Isles, ancient wrestling styles are also found in the cultures of Westmoreland/Cumberland, Scotland, Cornwall and Devon and has long been practiced for exercise, sport, and simply for fun in varying styles such as backhold, trouser-hold and freehold for thousands of years in these cultures.
Icelandic Wrestling (known as 'Fang') is a form of combat in which two opponents face each other unarmed and either naked or wearing special wrestling attire. 'Fang” means “catching” in the context of obtaining control or possession of something and is also the Icelandic word for the area of the body between a persons arms. Therefore anyone who is another’s “Fang” is held between the arms.
The objective then is for each wrester to put the other on his back. Often done by seizing the opponent by his clothing or part of his body, belt or trousers and/or by tripping him with the feet or legs by means of special wrestling 'tricks' (techniques and skills).
Historically, when a warrior lost his weapon in combat, control of their opponent and neutralising the advantage they had in being armed became the priotiy. Warriors could resort to their closed-distance wrestling skills. either in attack or in defense of their life in which they may have had to resort to bringing an opponent into a position of disadvantage on the ground with a view of maiming or killing the by a short weapon at hand or by exposing them to an attack from a adjacent companion on the battlefield.
As time and the centuries moved on and cultures became more stable, the form of hand-to-hand combat which pertained to warfare and were designed to main or kill an opponent also began to change. These developed from the traditional combat arts into methods of entertainment, pleasure and play, (i.e. they became more of a sport). By the 12th century at the latest, the concept of wrestling as a sport with recognised holds, tricks, and grips began to emerge. This was known as Glima (“game of gladness”) as opposed to the more deadly and devastating forms of combat designed for warfare which it originated from.
The winner in a Glima match was the one who managed to throw, topple or fell their opponent in such a way that the opponents torso (i.e. core body) touched the ground. A win can also be claimed where you manage to throw the opponent to their knees on two or more occasions, or where both topple and one can get to their feet and out of reach first.
In Glima the objective is not to tie up the opponent or force them to submit, but to fell them, then get your own self safe and out of harms way. In this respect, it still honors the original battlefield and martial history where even a seconds hesitation on the ground could be deadly.