Glima – Traditional Icelandic Wrestling
I was searching for some traditional wrestling photographs to place on the Wrestling Roots tumblr when I came across this webpage promoting a book on Glima by Bennett Nichols. I wanted to place it here as well since the top of the page seems to have a notification that the website that was used “is outdated and has been archived.” Just in case the page is gone in the near future, I wanted to place Mr. Nichols’ information here on WR:
Glima, in theory, in practice, and in general kinetics, is distinct from any extant form of wrestling. After viewing my first glima competition in Iceland, I wrote in my journal that “glima possesses the skill, precision, grace, dexterity, and finesse of foil fencing, as well as the strategy and sophistication of ches.” Proper glima emphasizes technique over power, stressing superior balance and nimbleness over brute strength and force. It is a sport not of who is strongest, but rather of who is most quick, most clever, and most skilled in the wrestling techniques and their respective defenses.
Some characteristics which make glima distinct from other styles of wrestling include: 1) upright, erect posture, 2) stigandi (clockwise circular stepping) 3) fixed grips on the glimubelti (wrestling-belt), 4) techniques using only the feet, legs, and hips, 5) no handbrogo (“hand-techniques”) other than jerking, swinging, lifting, or off-balancing with the grips fixed on the glimubelti, and 6) no groundwork (i.e. no “matwork”).
The early twentieth centry marked the beginning for glima as a modern organized sport. It has subsequently earned the honored title of the national sport of Iceland. This transition into a “modern” sport included elements such as written rules and laws, the establishment of wrestling clubs, judges, referees, and a modification of the traditional wrestling attire. In the years between 1905 and 1908, the official adoption of the glimubelti replaced the traditional trouser-hold grips. The glimubelti has been modified several times since its initial use in the early twentieth century. In modern glima the glimubelti is a large leather belt that encircles the waist, from which extend two smaller belts that buckle around each thigh. In this way, the glimubelti resembles a harness rather than an ordinary trouser belt. The only permitted grips taken on the glimubelti are as such: the right hand grips the belt on the opponent’s left hip and the left hand grips the small belt on the opponent’s right thigh. The right hand is the upper (inner) grip and the left hand is the lower (outer) grip.
The glimumenn shake hands before taking grips. This gesture of mutual respect is termed glimukveoja. Once the standard grips are taken on the glimubelti and the glimustaoa (glima stance) is formed, the referee signals and says “stigo!”; the wrestlers then begin the characteristic clockwise treading, or circular stepping, referred to as stigandi. The footwork in stigandi is graceful and gliding; each step is carefully calculated with great precision. It is believed that stigandi was the practical solution to wrestling in the confines of the narrow halls of Icelandic farmhouses during the winter, when wrestling outdoors would be hindered by the harsh northern climate (Einarsson, 1988). Stigandi prevents the wrestlers from being backed into, or thrown against, the corners or the walls of indoor wrestling areas. Stigandi allows the glimumenn to perpetually revolve, thus enabling the maximum use of a limited area indoors in which to wrestle.
The central object of glima is to off-balance the opponent (using a swing, jerk, lift, or pull with the hands on the glimubelti), apply a foot, leg, or hip technique, and then swiftly, but gracefully, throw the opponent to the floor. It is prohibited to follow the opponent to the floor, or fall on top of him. It is important that a wrestler maintains proper balance after throwing an opponent. A bylta (fall), which decides victory in a match, is called if a wrestler touches the floor anywhere on his body above the knee, above the elbows, on the buttocks, the torso, the head, or with both hands behind him. If both wrestlers lose balance and fall to the floor, this is termed braeorabylta (brothers-fall) and the wrestling match resumes. A wrestler who is skilled in the art of falling can prevent a bylta when thrown and thus continue to wrestle in the match. The art of falling, or landing properly, demands much practice and is of great importance to the sport of glima.
In contemporary glima, with the exception of those wrestlers younger than 17 years, all competition is done on wooden floors such as those common in most gymnasiums. Females began practicing glima for a short period in 1914, resuming limited practice in the 1970′s, but in 1988 females began to formally practice and compete in the sport. Mixed sex competition is logically forbidden by the rules of the Glimusamband Island (the governing federation of glima clubs). The time limits for unglingur (youth) competition is 1 1/2 minutes for each round; for adults (17 years or older) the time limit is 2 minutes, with at least a five minute rest period for each wrestler between bouts. In certain cases, a round has no time limits; such is the case in the finals of a competition. Another distinctive aspect of glima is the absence of weight limits in practice and in competition.