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Glima: Grappling In the Land of Thor

Think of culture as the intersection of humans with their environment. We live together in various geographical and climatic conditions around the world, and as time passes practices concerning religion, commerce and warfare become habitual and formalized. The curious student can look at cultures around the world and generalize that all human societies have devised ways to handle the gamut of human life: birth, courtship, boning and death.

In addition, human societies have also formalized combat. Fighting is a cultural foundation found throughout the last fifty thousand years of human existence. Grappling can be found in cultures ranging from Senegal in West Africa to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia to Reykjavik in Iceland.

Glima is a Nordic martial art in which a grappler throws his opponent to the ground and then breaks away before his opponent can recover. In old Norse, glima means, “flash”, referring to the speed and dynamism of this style of wrestling.

Perhaps Raven-Floki, the first Scandinavian to deliberately set out from Norway to Iceland, brought glima with him in the 9th century. Or perhaps it came to Iceland later with Leif Hrodmarrson who was on the run for murdering a romantic rival (and all his friends).

Islensk glima is the official national sport of Iceland. “What,” the reader may ask, “is the unofficial sport?” Hand-ball.

There are various styles of glima based on where in Scandinavia it is practiced. In Lausatök glima, or loose-grip glima, wrestlers start with the handsal, or forearm grip, and then transition into any grip they want.

Wrestlers must stay upright and in motion. This constant motion has led to glima being compared to a waltz with falls. “What the hell is a waltz?” you may ask, “And why would anyone want to practice anything that’s not fighting?”

In glima, a wrestler throws his opponent to the ground and then disengages to “stand tall” and so to win. If both grapplers go to the ground, the one who gets up first wins. In this scenario, both wrestlers are trying to tie up his opponent and then to disengage for the win.

All things Nordic return to Thor. Norse legend tells of Thor, humiliated after losing a drinking game, challenging anyone to a wrestling match. Thor finally wrestles Elli, the personification of Old Age. Elli remains standing as Thor is forced to one knee, text book glima. Not even Thor can out grapple Old Age.


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