Viking wrestling form still thrives today / Columns / The Foreigner

Viking wrestling form still thrives today. Glima is the traditional form of Scandinavian folk wrestling. It is the national sport of Iceland, where the oldest Glima completion is the Skjaldarglima Årmann, first held in 1888. Glima is increasingly popular in Norway and championships are held regularly, the last in December 2013. The word Glima is Old Norse for “brilliant flash”, which in wrestling is suggestive of its speed of movement. Glima is entwined in myth, being first mentioned in 9th century poetry. It recounts a wrestling match in which an aged goddess Elli defeats Thor, the god of thunder and strength. Glima is mentioned more than three centuries later in the Prose Edda, also known as Snorri’s Edda, the principal work of pagan Scandinavian mythology assumed to have been written by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson circa 1220.       In more modern times, Glima wrestling was a demonstration sport in the 1912 Olympic Games held in Stockholm. Unlike Greco-Roman wrestling, contested in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and incorporated in the Games programme from 1908 on, Glima did not become an Olympic sport. This is even though the historic practice of it is assumed to be equally old.

vikings, norway, sports



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11:27:33 — Monday, 20th October, 2014

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Viking wrestling form still thrives today

Published on Sunday, 23rd February, 2014 at 08:18 under the columns category, by M. Michael Brady.
Last Updated on 23rd February 2014 at 10:39.

Glima is the traditional form of Scandinavian folk wrestling. It is the national sport of Iceland, where the oldest Glima completion is the Skjaldarglima Årmann, first held in 1888. Glima is increasingly popular in Norway and championships are held regularly, the last in December 2013.

Thor and Elli
The illustration might be mythological, but this wrestling art is still practiced today.Thor and Elli
Photo: Lorenz Frølich (1820–1908)


The word Glima is Old Norse for “brilliant flash”, which in wrestling is suggestive of its speed of movement. Glima is entwined in myth, being first mentioned in 9th century poetry. It recounts a wrestling match in which an aged goddess Elli defeats Thor, the god of thunder and strength. Glima is mentioned more than three centuries later in the Prose Edda, also known as Snorri’s Edda, the principal work of pagan Scandinavian mythology assumed to have been written by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson circa 1220.      

In more modern times, Glima wrestling was a demonstration sport in the 1912 Olympic Games held in Stockholm. Unlike Greco-Roman wrestling, contested in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and incorporated in the Games programme from 1908 on, Glima did not become an Olympic sport. This is even though the historic practice of it is assumed to be equally old.

There are three forms of Glima wrestling: Brokartök, Hryggspenna and Lausaatök. Brokartök (“Trouser-and-belt grip”) is the most International Glima Axxociation logo
International Glima Axxociation logo
Courtesy of International Glima Associat
widespread form in Sweden and in Iceland, where it is the national sport. It favours technique over strength, and opponents wear special belts. The two opponents stand erect and step clockwise around each other, as if waltzing, each attempting to trip or throw the other.

Hyrggspenna (“Backhold grip”) resembles other forms of wrestling that emphasise strength over technique. Opponents grasp each other’s upper bodies, and the one who touches the ground or floor with any part of the body except the feet has lost.

Lausatök (“Free-grip”) is the most widespread form of Viking Glima wrestling in Norway. The opponents may use any holds they wish. The winner is the one still standing while the other opponent is lying on the ground. Matches are usually held outdoors or indoors on a wooden floor, so hard throws are discouraged.

Starting in the mid 1980s, Glima has become increasingly popular outside as well as within Scandinavia – both as a martial art and as part of the re-enactment of historical Viking battles. The UK’s Jorvik Viking Centre, a museum and visitor attraction in York (the modern name), was created by the York Archaeological Trust in 1984. It has since has had more than 17 million visitors. The Viking museum at the Mosegård Museum south of the city of Aarhus in Denmark now has some 20,000 visitors of a weekend.

Tyr Neilsen dressed for Viking battle re-enactment
Tyr Neilsen dressed for Viking battle re-enactment
Bente Wemundstand and Tyr Neilsen
Viking Glima has become more and more international as it has spread. The burgeoning Viking Glima community in Norway is an example. Norges Glima Forbund (“Norwegian Glima Association”) was established in 2013 by Tyr Neilsen (54). Despite his Icelandic-sounding name, was born in Liverpool, and first came to Norway in the mid 1980s with the expressed purpose of immersing himself in Viking mythology and lifestyles. He had started practicing martial arts as a teenager, and now is a leading instructor of Glima Viking wrestling in Norway.

The International Glima Association works towards popularizing Glima wrestling outside Iceland. Movie Mercenaries Sweden supports Viking Glima Wrestling, because it often is part of re-enactments of Viking battles.

The next event is a workshop in Glima wrestling to be held 3-4 May 2014 at Kålltorp, Göteborg, Sweden. info@teamtitan.org, tel: +46 (0)768834314.

Further reading and viewing:

  • Viking Glima Federation website with Glima information and a directory of instructors.
  • YouTube Viking Trailer, Glima instructor Tyr Neilsen’s account of a year travelling through nine European countries to attend 25 Viking events that included a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings of 1066 held on the original battlefield near the present-day town of Battle in East Sussex, England.
  • British Pathe 1932 Glima-Iceland wrestling film now on YouTube.



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Published on Sunday, 23rd February, 2014 at 08:18 under the columns category, by M. Michael Brady.
Last updated on 23rd February 2014 at 10:39.

This post has the following tags: vikings, norway, sports.


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