Glima – Icelandic Wrestling

Table of Contents

Glima is a wrestling style from Iceland developed from various forms of combat and has its origins coming from the Vikings. Glima or ‘fang’ is an Icelandic term for national wrestling. Icelanders use this expression to describe Viking wrestling that the Scandinavian people took when they migrated from Norway and settled in the new land in the Viking Age.

In terms of a combat sport, Glima is played where a wrestler engages with the opponent by gripping the waist and throwing them to the ground using tactics and skills instead of brutal force. However, different variants of the Icelandic wrestling Glima permit more aggression.

Nevertheless, there were also different forms of wrestling, which the Icelanders indulged for amusement and activity.

There are eight fundamental Glima wrestling techniques, which constitute the basic technical foundation of Glima, these 8 techniques are the basis for approximately 50 techniques that are used to throw or takedown an opponent. 

The sport of Glima also has a code of honour known as Drengskapur that calls for fairness, respect for and care about the safety of one’s contenders. 

Glima History

Glima has a long history and dates back to the Viking Era when the Scandinavians brought their ancient Viking wrestling skills and techniques into their new land (Iceland). For the most part, the settlers of Iceland relocated from Norway and the British Isles, primarily of Celtic origin.

The Viking martial art has been practised for many centuries, and its descendants continue to preserve the wrestling techniques and practice the Glima to this day.

Glima Wrestling
Glima Wrestling

One can find the Old Norse term ‘Fang’ meaning ‘to wrestle’ in the Scandinavian translations of Snorri’s Edda from the original 17th-century version. The word has a versatile meaning which could mean ‘catching,’ ‘trapping,’ or ‘fetching.’ It is used as an expression for grappling where a wrestler holds his opponent’s body or clamps an arm against the torso.

Two current theories developed on the transition of the sport Glima and how the name came into being. One theory maintains that when the Icelanders adopted Christianity, they discarded many heathen practices, including combat-related ones. However, they allowed the form of wrestling practised in a friendly spirit and gave the name “Glíma,” which means “gladness.”

The second theory regarding the name origin of Glima is derived from an Old Norse expression, ‘glimt’ meaning glimpse, which indicates quick motion and describes how different Viking wrestling skills and tactics are supposed to be executed and how Glima grappling is considered in action.

From the 20th century onward, Glima was considered a national game of Iceland, and it was popularised to be included in the school curriculum. It became widespread among Norwegian and Swedish school children after the Second World War and is something that everyone could participate in events to this day.

The modern trouser-grip Glima contest was held for the first time in 1888 in Iceland, and ever since, it has been held every year. The belt was introduced in 1905 to give the wrestlers a firm grip on each other. Before introducing the belt, the competitors held on to each other’s trousers. 

The Belt of Grettir was organized in 1906, where the victors were given the title of The Glima King. In the Summer Olympics in 1912 held in Stockholm, Sweden, there was a demonstration match of the contemporary trouser-grip Glima.

The three purposes of Icelandic Glima

The Icelanders practice Glima for three purposes; in warfare, in daily life as exercises to restore warmth and for sport and entertainment. 

In Iceland, the Norwegian settlers resorted to wrestling to fight their opponents when they lost their arms and weapons in battles. Sans weapon, a warrior could use his unique wrestling skills for defense and attack or injure his adversary. One of the most effective ways for the defenseless warrior to fend himself and attack was by seizing, knocking, off-balancing, and tripping the challenger to the ground.

Wrestling was a prominent feature of the Norse people’s martial art. It became the most prevalent sport in Viking Age Scandinavia when used for pleasure, and it kept men fit and muscular and became a source of play, enjoyment, and sport. 

The Three Variants or Forms of Glima

There are three general forms of Glima known as íþrótt, meaning sport in Old Norse. These forms of sport Glima are characterized by their grips, namely the LausatökHryggspenna, and Brókartök.

Brókartök or trouser-grip 

In Old Norse, Brókartök means trouser-grip, and it is a form of Glima where wrestlers have a firm and stable trouser-grip on each other. 

The Trouser-grip is the most prevalent form of sport Glima in Sweden, and has been the official national sport of Iceland since 1906.


Each year, the winner receives the championship Grettís-beltí, named after the tale of Grettís and known for its portrayal of a Glima combat where two men fought against one.

Brókartök is more about technique than strength. In this form of Glima, the contestants adorn a striking belt around their waist and other belts on the lower thighs of each leg that connect to the central belt. 

The wrestler then takes a tight grip with one hand in the belt and the trousers at the thigh with the other. This position allows the Glima-wrestler to attempt and trip his contender. The hurled wrestler may try to land on his feet and hands, and if he prevails, he is not defeated. If a wrestler can make the opponent touch the earth with the body region connecting the elbow and the knee, he wins.

Four points distinguish the Brókartök from other variants of wrestling:

  • The wrestlers must always stand upright.
  • The contestants take a clockwise step around each other, similar to Waltz. They make this motion to create possibilities for offense and defense and avert a deadlock.
  • Wrestlers cannot fall on the competitor or knock him down violently, as it is not deemed sportsmanlike. A player should execute a well-implemented grip that makes the opponent fall to the ground with poise without employing any violent force. It goes against the dignified nature of the Glima as a sport for reputed men and women. 
  • The contenders should look over each other’s shoulders as it is deemed correct to grapple through insight and contact instead of sight.

Lausatök or loose-grip

In Old Norse, Lausatök means loose-grip or free-grip, and it is freestyle wrestling with specific rules. Lausatök was a liberal type of wrestling where contestants could use every grip he wished, and one could apply tricks with his hands, feet, and other body parts. 

The contestants can employ a wide variety of hand-grips, no less than 27. The player who remains standing wins, and if both players fall, the one who gets up first is declared the winner.

Lausatök is the foundation for Combat Glima, the armed and unarmed self-defense or combat martial art practiced by the Vikings. Loose-grip wrestling (Lausatök) was also the source of Råbryting or raw wrestling, the most severe form of wrestling in the Viking Age.

Lausatök is much more forceful and varies in numerous ways from other forms of Glima. It comes in two forms: Self-defense and a friendly match. 

All wrestling methods are permitted in either of the two versions. Still, a contestant is asked to execute techniques in the friendly match without causing the opponent any harm or injury. 

A wrestler can freely and artistically explore dangerous techniques in self-defense without injuring the opponent. This form of Glima is practiced at the Norwegian Glima Championship and Lausatök Combat Glima Finland.

Lausatök was extensively practiced in Iceland, and in some areas, it was more standard than any other type of Glíma. At present, Lausatök remains the most prevalent form of Glima in Norway, Europe and the USA.

Hryggspenna or back-grip

In Old Norse, Hryggspenna refers to back-grip wrestling. Hryggspenna is identical to back-hold wrestling, the most widespread type of folk wrestling in Scotland, of which many areas were under Norwegian control or colonization until the 15th century. 

Viking Hryggspenna is more about a test of brute strength than skillful techniques. Here, the wrestlers grip their hands behind each other’s back and then try to swing each other and whoever falls to the ground first or if any of their body parts touch the ground except the feet loses. 

Essential Rules of Icelandic Glima

  • The wrestlers or the Glimumenn should stand closely upright, each contender standing slightly on the left side from the opponent with a bit of expansive posture, the right leg scarcely forward. 
  • The Glimumenn should glance over each other’s shoulder and should not look below at the foot. This rule is applied so that the participants can wrestle by touching and feeling and not by looking.
  • After the participants assume their grips and take the needed stance, they start to the right. Next, they start to employ the techniques to try to dominate the clinch and match. 
  • Each wrestler strives to toss the other and force each other to lose balance. Both participants attempt to hook their feet about their opponent’s to make each other fall. 

Also, a participant may try to hurl his competitor and skillfully use the legs, feet, or hips, preventing the opponent from falling on his feet. A wrestler applies this technique to make the opponent lose balance so artistically that some body parts touch the ground.

Glima wrestling has primarily 8 types of techniques, known as bragð, and 4 techniques developed to topple the opponent. One can implement each technique in several ways, and there are at least 50 strategies to throw the adversary to the ground. 

The Eight Principal Glima Techniques (bragð) 

  1. The outward blow.
  2. The twisting across the knee. 
  3. The inside-snap.
  4. The hook.
  5. The inside-hipe.
  6. The cross buttock.
  7. The half or full buttock above.
  8. The cross-buttock overhead.

How is Glima Different from other Wrestling Styles

 Glima varies from another ethnic grappling in three forms:

  • Erect position – Once inside the arena, wrestlers should remain upright. The posture in several ethnic grips often looks like a set square, but such a position is called ousting and is forbidden in Glima sport.
  • Stepping – Glima sport involves steps, which means that wrestlers step forth and back in a clockwise motion like they are dancing the Waltz. Stígandi is one of the features of Glima and was invented to avoid a stalemate and create a chance for attack and offense.  
  • Ban on throwing and knocking over – Glima forbids knocking your adversary down forcefully. This action is opposed to the essence of Glima as a game for decent sportsmen and women. A wrestler should defeat his opponent by employing a well-implemented hold that could make him tumble to the floor without giving much effort. 

What do Glima Wrestlers Wear 

In modern Glima matches, the wrestlers adorn particular wrestling attire known as Glimuföt, including exceptional shoes, a combo of trousers, a shirt, and a defensive covering close to the groin area.

Each participant sports three leather straps, where one belt is worn around both thighs and the other about the waist, and straps attach the thigh straps to the belt on the waist. 

The arena is a soft and bare wood flooring where the two contestants welcome each other by shaking their right hands while their left hands grasp the belt around each other’s thighs. Once the formalities are done, the Glima combat begins.

Combat Glima

During modern times, there has been a resurrection of combat Glima which is a very effective and no nonsense combat martial art and self defense system. Combat Glima is a mix of Glima wrestling techniques with striking (especially effective low level kicks), choking, joint locks, pain compliance and groundwork. What differentiated combat Glima from other self defense systems is the emphasis on lightning fast high percentage/no nonsense techniques that are generally gross motor movement based.

Combat Glima also covers a wide array of weapons such as the knife and axe and is growing a lot of popularity with the martial arts community due to the fact that all techniques are straight to the point with no fluff added,

In Conclusion

Thus, Glima is an ancient martial art with solid wrestling techniques that have served the Vikings and their ancestors for many centuries, that said, those who want to learn Glima wrestling must learn from acknowledged masters of the art of Glima as it is highly technical in nature and needs proper supervision in order to learn the fine details of the wrestling style. Anyone who practices Glima is considered the guardian of an intact tradition dating back to Viking Age Scandinavia. 

Only those awarded the authorized certificate sanctioned by the Viking Glima Federation and its Glima masters are considered authorized instructors in this noble art. 

The most well-known Icelandic Glima Champion is Johannes Josefsson, Iceland’s Glima champion in 1907 and 1908 who also represented the nation at the 1908 Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling

Currently, Glíma is being introduced in other nations where exhibition contests are orchestrated to encourage this popular sport. Although it truly is a manly sport, it is practiced by both men and women as it truly has the sporting characteristics of a well refined combat sport. 

Glima wrestling is an excellent workout that exercises all the muscles of the body, develops courage and perseverance, requires quick wit and boosts alertness, speed and urgency. It is truly the martial art of the Vikings.


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