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Get to Know Glima: Part I

Glima is a proud sport - an international form of wrestling with a long and exciting history. It is the national fighting style of Iceland, and dates back as far as the 12th century. Glima is still practiced today, and becoming better known internationally all the time. The word “glima” translates as a “struggle.” A common expression in modern Icelandic, to “glima” with something means to struggle with something in life, similar to the word “grapple” in English. Its name illustrates the nature of the sport, which is based on a philosophy of respectable confrontation with traditions and regulations that differentiated from boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai and other forms of more aggressive fighting. Though Icelandic, this style of fighting bears a similarity in its ethos to more traditional Asian martial arts like Karate and Judo. Glima is also an ancient combative style. There is evidence of glima dating as far back as the 12th century. Some tales of wrestling in Icelandic sagas, for instance the Younger Edda, argues for a case that this style is even older. More recently it has been made famous by International Strong man, Jon Pall – who is a native of Iceland.

This “system” of combat is categorized into eight main bragd (techniques), which form the basic training for approximately 50 ways to defeat an opponent with a “throw” or “takedown.” A unique stance for combat is one of the things that make Glima unique and easily identifiable, for those who are familiar with its rules. Two opponents must remain standing upright throughout the match. Forcing your opponent to fall to ground is considered poor sportsmanship and is frowned upon. Footwork is crucial. As in most styles of boxing, the sportsmen must remain in constant motion, usually moving in a clockwise manner. Because of this, Glima is often described as having “dance – like” qualities: due to the rhythmic movements of the wrestlers. Glima opponents step clockwise around each other (similar to a waltz). This creates opportunities for strategic offense and defense, and also helps prevent a stalemate. Interestingly, Glima wrestlers are trying to note look over the shoulder of their opponent, rather into his face. This tradition and comes from the Icelandic belief that wrestling is a sport based on contact, and therefore, the primary sense one should use is touch - as opposed to vision.

While Glima remains primarily a recreation; a fun pastime for exercise, and a gentleman's sport there is also the “lösatags” version, which is a more aggressive and abides by additional rules. The recreational exercise version is by far the most widespread and the one typically associated with the term “glima.” Some argue that to the term should be restricted to recreational fighting only, and it is this non-violent but athletic version, which is Iceland’s popular national sport. Learn more about this fighting style by using the Martial Arts School Finder