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What is Glima?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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Glima is a type of folk wrestling and the national sport of Iceland. It has been practiced since the 12th century CE at least, and probably for quite a bit longer than that. In its most traditional form, glima is a gentlemanly pastime in which sportsmanship and proper technique are key.

Traditional glima was standardized in 1916 by the Icelandic Sports Federation. Today, glima wrestlers wear special shoes and a special belt that the opponent grips during the match. There are officially four "key points" and eight "basic tricks." The four key points are that the wrestlers must grip their opponent's belt correctly, stand upright, move around each other in a circular fashion, and attempt throws using the legs, hips, and feet. The eight basic tricks, or wrestling techniques, can be modified to encompass around 50 different methods of throwing the opponent.

In traditional glima, also called Byxtagsglima in Swedish, the first wrestler to touch the ground with any area of the body between the elbows and the knees loses. Drengskapur is the code of honor that each player must follow, showing fairness and respect for his opponent.

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A less formal incarnation of glima is called axlatök in Icelandic or livtagsglima in Swedish. It is more a test of strength than of mastering a certain technique. Livtagsglima is also practiced standing upright, but the wrestlers grip each other's upper body instead of a special belt, and making one's opponent touch the ground with any body part other than the feet is considered a throw.

A third form of glima, lausataksglíma, is the least formal and most aggressive type. It is often taught as a form of self-defense in Scandinavian countries, but is rarely practiced in Iceland, where it is not considered true glima. Lausataksglíma opponents may use any holds they wish and, in some contexts, may deliberately try to hurt each other. Though lausataksglíma was not practiced for about 100 years prior to its recent popularity, a similar form of aggressive wrestling existed in Scandinavia in ancient times. While the Vikings practiced glima for recreation and as friendly competition, they could also wrestle to the death in extreme circumstances.

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