Not only was the glima grip the most important hand technique in the martial arts of the Vikings, it was also the most important grip in Viking Age society.
The glima grip (glíma grep) is an extremely strong and flexible grip that is capable of adapting to many situations. For Viking warriors in unarmed combat, the glima grip was used to hold and manipulate parts of an opponent’s body, clothing or weapon. In armed combat glima, the glima grip was used to hold any single-handed weapon. When a grip could mean the difference between life and death, this was the one to have.
The 3 forms of Sport Glima are defined by grips; Løse-tak is free-grip glima (Lausatök in Old Norse), Ryggtak is Back-grip glima (Hryggspenna in Old Norse) and Bukse-tak is trouser-grip glima (Brókartök in Old Norse). The glima grip is an essential part of Løse-tak sport glima right from the very first move when opponents clasp each other’s forearm at the start of a competition. This is called the 'Handsal', which means that the opponents are friends before the wrestling starts, are friends during the competition, and are friends after the competition, regardless of who wins. The handsal can be the initiator of other moves, or it can be built upon to control the opponent.
The Handsal was not only an integral part of sport glima, it was a legally binding contract in the Viking Age and is still a legally binding contract in Norway today.
Grip strength is important in combat, but strength is not enough, flexibility is also needed. No matter how strong a person’s grip is, it can be broken by using the correct technique. Close quarters combat, grappling and wrestling are not static. The people in these situations are always in motion, using strength and technique to win. To control an opponent in these situations, a strong yet flexible grip is vital.
In order to throw an opponent, it is necessary to grip an opponent’s arm or some part of the body. To stop an opponent from hitting or throwing you, the first line of defense is often to take a grip of the arm being used against you. In order to stop a person from using a weapon against you, it is usually necessary to control the weapon by either a gripping the weapon, or gripping a part of the opponent’s arm that is holding the weapon. A strong but static grip is not enough in these situations, and when weapons are involved, a strong static grip can be fatal.
When gripping, the arm muscles are tightened, which usually means stiffness or less flexibility. A strong grip is usually made by gripping with all four fingers towards the thumb. Although strong, this grip is prone to be ‘broken’ when the object that is being gripped moves into a position that weakens the gripping arm. What makes the glima grip so good is that it is flexible whilst still being strong.
The secret of the glima grip is the passive index finger, which leaves a three finger grip towards the thumb. By not gripping tight with the index finger as well as the other three fingers, the wrist is more flexible and has more range of motion. Applying pressure from the index finger to the glima grip at certain moments can secure or build on the grip, so long as the index finger isn’t fixed and can relax or release without negatively impacting the grip. This is true for grips on an opponent’s arm, on an opponent’s clothing or on an opponent’s weapon.