What To Expect in Glima | A Martial Arts Overview

Glima is a unique martial art that goes counter to what most people think about when they imagine martial arts because it has roots in Viking fighting traditions. I wanted to know what to expect given its unique origins, so I did some investigation into Glima.

When training Glima, you can expect to learn both unarmed and armed combat methods mirroring those used by the Vikings. Modern Glima primarily trains unarmed techniques with an emphasis on grappling and their students typically wear casual athletic clothing.

So let’s take a look into the history of Glima and many of the other questions you might want to know before you consider adding Glima to your routine.

A Brief History of Glima

Vikings had one of the greatest warrior societies in history. Glima is a Scandinavian martial arts system that was developed by the Vikings as a sport and martial art system starting back in the Viking Period (793 AD – 1066) in Norway.

Since it was developed to build real combat abilities it was a complete fighting system that included throws, grappling, striking, chokes, joint locks, pain compliance techniques, and weapon techniques. With such a widespread and comprehensive combat system it was no wonder the Vikings were renowned for their fighting prowess.

Glima is now classified as a recreational sport and is most popular in Iceland, where annual national competitions have been held since 1906.

Some schools practice more traditional Glima and include more weapons-based techniques and sparring, but this is not usually done as full-contact live sparring.

What Do You Wear for Glima?

For training, you don’t need to go full gear as the Vikings did; long-sleeve shirts and a pair of athletic pants will usually suffice. Modern Glima practitioners typically wear athletic clothing, sometimes going shirtless during training.

I don’t personally advocate going without a shirt and generally prefer to wear a shirt or rashguard alongside shorts or sweatpants simply to avoid unnecessary scratches whenever training martial arts or combat sports.

Do You Wear Shoes in Glima?

You usually will wear shoes in Glima, especially when practicing for sports Glima rulesets. Schools that teach Glima usually require Feiyu shoes low tops in black. In indoor grappling-based Glima done on a mat, competitors may be barefoot.

What Equipment Is Required for Glima?

The original Viking practice of Glima involved both hand combat (unarmed) and weapon combat (armed). The latter includes a dagger, bow and arrow, stick, spear, and ax.

Many modern Glima schools do not emphasize weapons training as much as they train the grappling and unarmed combat part of Glima as a martial art.

In Glima schools that cover weapons training, Glima training consists of sword fighting (‘sverdkamp’), stick fighting (‘stokkekamp’), ax fighting (‘oksekamp’), and knife fighting (‘knivkamp’). You might be required to have these types of equipment, or they might be provided to you when you enroll.

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Glima?

You do not need to be fit to start training in Glima. While fitness does have an impact on how training feels initially, it is actually a fun and excellent way to start improving your fitness in general regardless of age or fitness level.

Do I Need To Be Strong for Glima?

Although strength undeniably increases combat and competition effectiveness, being strong is not a requirement to learn Glima, and it is possible for Glima athletes to use strategy and technique to overcome strength disadvantages. Practicing Glima can also increase your strength naturally.

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Glima?

As a sport and self-defense mechanism, Glima promotes and requires flexibility. However, not being flexible in the beginning does not have to be a problem as long as you are consistent in doing the work. After all, with enough practice, everyone can develop better flexibility.

Flexibility and mobility are very helpful during competitions, as it helps an athlete have a better effective range of motion, movement quality, and balance throughout the competition, which can help them gain the upper hand against their opponent.

Is Glima Good for Getting in Shape?

Glima training ensures that the player not just becomes stronger but also fitter, both in the physical and mental sense. In most cases, outdoor activities throughout the year take place, helping Glima’s competitors be physically well-built and resilient if they practice regularly. 

With multiple training sessions, they also become able to develop strength and determination. Some Glima academies in the UK practice VFC, or the Viking Fit Challenge, in their warm-up sessions. 

This challenge involves a simple 8-week program that hits every muscle in the body hard, making practitioners fitter and healthier.

Is Glima Good for Self-Defense?

Glima is helpful for self-defense and combat situations just as it was during the Viking Age. Techniques that are learned in this combat system, especially from the grappling end of the techniques are helpful in preparing a Glima martial artist in a self-defense situation.

Both armed and unarmed forms of Glima combat provide its athletes with the tools they need to stay calm and have good situational awareness, balance, and technical fighting skills to beat an untrained opponent. This is largely due to the prevalence of live training against resisting opponents.

What Style of Fighting Is Glima?

Glima covers several kinds of Nordic folk wrestling alongside some weapons-based training in some schools. It has two primary forms of combat: armed and unarmed combat.

In unarmed combat, Glima practitioners mostly use grappling techniques in a combat sport situation. Glima also covers strikes and submissions as a part of many curriculums which makes it a relatively complete martial art in terms of unarmed hand-to-hand combat.

In armed combat, practitioners are trained to use various weapons such as swords, sticks, axes, and knives in a way that mirrors how Glima was used historically by the Vikings.

Does Glima Include Live Sparring?

Live and choreographed sparring are a part of many training sessions, and it commonly takes place at the end of the class. Sparring against a live resisting opponent is done in training to allow students to experience how learned techniques work in real life. 

Are There Glima Competitions or Tournaments?

There are Glima wrestling competitions and tournaments, especially in Scandinavia, with the annual national competition in Iceland being the most famous one. Festivals in Norway also feature Glima tournaments which are all open to the public.

In sport Glima, 3 main variants are practiced: Brokatrok (trouser-grip), Hyrgspenna (backhold wrestling), and Lausatok (loose-grip).

For loose-grip Glima, the mechanics are somewhat easy to follow: the player who manages to take the opponent to the ground and remain on their feet wins provided that they are out of grabbing distance of the opponent.

Is Glima Dangerous To Practice?

Glima is not especially dangerous when practiced thoughtfully. There are risks associated with most forms of athletic training and Glima is no exception, but martial arts schools usually teach their students how to practice safely to minimize the likelihood of injury to opponents or training partners. 

Is Glima Hard To Learn?

Glima is not particularly hard to learn, though it may be overwhelming at first. Glima teaches fixed techniques you will need to master through practice and memorization. As you train, your strength and speed will also develop, making it easier to execute after training consistently.

How Long To Learn Fundamentals in Glima?

According to Tyr Neilsen of the Academy of Viking Martial Arts, combat Glima classes are categorized into indoor training with mats (learning of techniques) and year-round outdoor training (application of techniques). 

Because this martial art involves various techniques and weapons, it might take three months’ worth of classes for you to reach basic competence both in sport and combat Glima. 

The time needed to be comfortable in the course will depend on the player, but one year of strategy application is a safe assumption.

If you’re still having second thoughts about enrolling, most schools offer a 2-week free training for you to determine if Glima training is for you.

How Long To Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Glima?

There are no official rankings or grading systems in traditional Glima, but the UK Glima Federation has recently implemented a syllabus that contains the time frame it should take a beginner to reach the black belt level mastery. This was done in order to give students new to Glima something with which to understand their progression

According to their grading system, practitioners will need five years and three months of learning and skill-enhancement to obtain the black belt.

Can You Learn Glima at Home?

It is not really viable to learn Glima Glima at home and make significant progress. Students can learn theory and understand some fundamentals. Glima is a hands-on sport, the best way to learn is to enroll in actual training sessions to learn sound techniques from instructors directly. 

By going to physical training, you’ll be guided by a coach and learn more effectively. If you can’t find Glima classes near you, there are online courses you can pay to enroll in, but it isn’t the same as going to a class in person. 

Is Glima Good for Kids?

Glima is good for kids if you can find a good kids program. It’s helpful for them to start developing their strength, agility, skills, and awareness while they’re young. Growing up practicing martial arts is invaluable for children. Vikings used to begin Glima training as early as six years old.

If you have trouble finding a Glima program for your kids then you can always enroll them in a high-quality judo program, wrestling program, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program and those martial arts will have great carryover into Glima when they get old enough to find similar-sized training partners in Glima.

Is Glima a Good Choice for Physically Smaller People?

Glima is beneficial for physically smaller and short people, as height or size doesn’t entirely determine your success in this type of combat. Since Glima involves technique and strategy it is possible to excel in it regardless of size, even though size definitely plays a factor in performance.

Is Glima Good for Women?

Learning Glima can be great for women. Training a martial art that has a strong self-defense capability is just a generally good idea in order to deal with harassment if disengaging is not an option. Glima provides grappling abilities and techniques that carry over into self-defense very well.

Training Glima can be very empowering for women and bring them a better sense of confidence in their physical abilities while helping build up strength and fitness.

Final Thoughts

Glima has shifted from the total martial arts combat system that was built by the Vikings and used during the Viking Age. The unarmed combat and grappling components of Glima are more popular because they are more useful in a self-defense context and more people are interested in those aspects.

In areas in which Glima is available to train, it is a great option that has a lot of carryover into self-defense and is an interesting martial art since it is based on Viking combat and not the typical oriental martial arts that we are all used to seeing.

For more check out What To Expect in HEMA | A Martial Arts Overview


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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