Leidangen was still in use until the 13th century, and there are references to the Viking martial art fighting style in the Norwegian Konungs skuggsjá, (King's Mirror) an educational text referred to politics and morals, published in the year 1250, and Hirðskrá, 'The book of the hird', a collection of laws regulating many aspects of the royal retinue from the end of 13th century Norway.
In the first part of the 1270's at the order of King Magnus VI, the Hirðskrá states that practical knowledge of martial arts is the most important virtue of a warrior. In Heimskringla (the circle of the world) from Snorri's Old Norse kings' sagas, written in 1222, it is mentioned that Viking warriors were supposed to be vigr, meaning "able in battle" in Old Norse, at least until they were 60 years old.
In Egils saga, written around the years 1220-1240, the word glímur is mentioned. The noun glíma and the verb að glíma also appear in Finnboga saga (written in the early 13th century). At this time, most styles of Viking wrestling, or fang, were a form of martial arts, and the known styles in Iceland were lausatök, hryggspenna, brókartök and axlatök.
As the combat version of Viking wrestling (fang) was used to maim or kill, it was considered evil by the Icelandic church. One source says that the name glíma is believed to have been given to Viking wrestling by the clergy in the 11th century, in order to eradicate the remains of the heathen customs. To be rid of the pagan sport/martial art, only brókartök, the trouser-grip version was acknowledged, and glima in Finnboga saga refers only to brókartök. Since then, brókartök has been made a gentler sport over time, and known as glíma in Iceland.
From the medieval Edda manuscripts, and more recent historical combat manuals, all descriptions of glima Viking wrestling are presented as a style where arm techniques are as important as footwork, and the use of bragð (trick), kast (throw) as well as sviptingar (hard throw) and røsking (tugging techniques) are mentioned.
Through historical documents, we can see which Viking fighting techniques were still in use in the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s.
The first scholar who wrote in detail about Viking wrestling was the Icelander Skúli Þórđarson Thorlacius (1741-1815). His work, Thorlacius' Borealium Veterum matrimonio, or 'the old Scandinavian customs of marriage' published in 1784, provides a thorough description of the ancient physical activities. It is the fourth part of Antiqvitatum Boealium Observationes miscellaneæ or ‘miscellaneous observations of ancient Scandinavia’ that was published in seven parts 1778–1801 for the university students of Denmark.
Thorlacius separated these physical activities into three main groups - Ludi, Exercitia militaria and Pugnæ; Traditional games/sport, military exercises and combat.
Lucta, or wrestling, was the only activity belonging to both "Ludi" and "Pugnæ".
In his text, Thorlacius uses the terms glíma and fáng as the major expressions of Viking wrestling, the same words as used in Snorri's Edda manuscripts.
Thorlacius talks about two types of standing wrestling forms, løse-tak (loose-grip/Free-grip), and rett glíma/fang (straight wrestling/trapping). He stressed the importance of sviptingar and braugd, and tells us that sviptingar belong to løse-tak glima, and braugd to glíma/fang.
Fang has been translated as an Old Norse expression meaning ‘to wrestle’, which can be seen in the Scandinavian translations of Snorri’s Edda from the earliest 17th century editions. ‘Fang’ is a versatile word which could mean ‘trapping’, ‘catching’ or ‘fetching’ as an expression for grappling where a part of an opponent’s body is held, or an arm is trapped against the body.
Snorri’s Edda gives a clear idea of what ‘fang / glima’ is. Glima wrestling starts when the opponents ‘taka fang’ with each other. This indicates that grips or holds are to be taken when the opportunity presents itself. It also means that catching/fetching/embracing/trapping are its major action.
Thorlacius also claims that straight glima/trapping differs from the others Viking wrestling styles because it relies more on ‘magis agilitate & exerciti’ (agility and exercise), instead of ‘qvam viribus nitens’ – through trials of strength.
‘Trick’ was a term used to describe martial arts techniques until the late 20th century. Thorlacius wrote that braugd were ‘varias supplantandi artes’, various tricks to trip the feet, that ‘strophas ac technas luctatorias habuit’ wrestling masters used. Thorlacius also wrote about ‘Lucta brachialis’ meaning wrestling with the arms, which makes clear that this was wrestling that included leg and arm techniques.
Thorlacius also made it clear that this way of fighting is very versatile as contained ‘pancratii species fuit’, meaning wrestling and striking, and ‘impellendo raptandoqve’ , meaning offensive moves with brutal tugging, called sviptingar. The aim of this style of wrestling was to be ‘adeoqve robore corpis maxime constabat’ (unwavering and to maximize the utilization of body strength).
In lucta ordinaria (straight glima/trapping wrestling), technical skills are favored above strength and aggressiveness which are found in løse-tak glima. In the straight style, beinfeiinger (leg-sweeps) or braugder (tricks) play a major role.
The less restrictive style of løse-tak (loose-grip/free-grip/freestyle) focuses on the offensive possibilities of the arms and the violent tugging movements, which can be done by a grip as well as by striking blow or kick.
Thorlacius wrote that løse-tak glima was a form of pancratii, or combat style where every technique was used; wrestling as well as striking and other means. Combat techniques from Scandinavian wrestling from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s shows that Thorlacius and Von Heidenstam had similar opinions on what Viking wrestling was all about.
Firstly, Scandinavian wrestling contains an arsenal of slagteknikker (strike techniques and powerful push techniques) against the chest, the throat and the neck, and that the throat, neck and chest are the main targets when striking above the waist.
A spark (kick) is used whenever possible, and the calf is the goal of both the sidespark (side-kick) and skyvespark (side and front thrust-kicks).
Beinfellinger (leg takedowns) are the most common leg techniques, such as beinkroker (leg hooks) and feiinger (leg-sweeps).
In wrestling situations using arms, the focus is set on attacking the legs. This means holding a leg or both legs with both arms, lifting the leg/legs to the side, and powerfully pulling the leg or legs upward. Another arm technique that is also used is grabbing behind the knees and pulling, so that an opponent goes backwards to the ground. ‘Fattar hans lår med båda sina armar … lyfta det ena benet åt sidan … fattar hans venstra lår, och drar det strakt till sig ... fatta tag i venstra ben i knä vecket och rycka omkull honom’.
Thorlacius underlines the importance of glíma/fáng being seen both as a sport and a combat form. Thorlacius also identifies løse-tak as a Viking wrestling style where everything is allowed and that the grappling action of combat glima as brutal and no nonsense.
Thorlacius demonstrated the basic principles and characteristics of glima, noted that the ancient Scandinavian form of glima was separated into two forms; sport and combat, and wrote: ‘lucta brachtialis, Borealibus lausa-tauk audiebat ... sic antiqvior’ (løse-tak is the oldest style of glima in the Scandinavian countries).
Thorlacius also confirmed that løse-tak and rett glíma were still practiced in his time, 1741-1815.
In the years 1841-1842, the Swedish fencing champion Gustaf Daniel von Heidenstam (1785-1850) wrote a manual about Scandinavian wrestling titled Brottning (About Wrestling). This wrestling manual was published in a limited edition in 1946 by Ling expert Carl August Wester Sheet (1873-1955). Here, Von Heidestam wrote that Viking wrestling was a versatile and all-encompassing martial art. Von Heidestam wrote the manual in memory of his martial arts teacher, Per Henrik Ling.
Von Heidestam became the swordmaster at Kalberg Militærskole (Kalberg Military School) in 1808, until Ling took over in 1813. Von Heidestam was appointed swordmaster at Uppsala University the same year and held this position until his death in 1850 (University of Uppsala is the same university that owns the oldest Snorre Edda manuscript).