Robert Low, a burly man with steely eyes, pushed a Viking sword in my hand, a rusted Gjermundbu helmet on my head, and said with a rich Highland brogue "Consider yourself volunteered". As I fastened my gear, he slapped my shoulder with a big calloused hand and led me towards a hundred or so battle ready warriors who were working themselves up into a frenzy. With a cheer they greeted their fighting companion, then with flags held high and robust singing, we marched to the battlefield to defend Scotland against the invading army from the far north.
I had travelled to Largs to meet this celebrated Scottish journalist, author and Viking re-enactor, to ask him about his much acclaimed Oathsworn novels, and now I literally had to fight for the interview.
Police and health and safety workers ensured the thousand or more eager spectators were safely behind a large roped off area. The spectators cheered as we aproached the battlefield where the oppposing army waited, ready with swords, shields, axes and taunts. An announcer's voice came over the loud speaker to repeat what Robert had told me just a few hours earlier, that this was to be a reenactment of the Battle of Largs, which took place on the 2nd of October in 1263, between the kingdoms of Norway and Scotland. This battle was part of the Norwegian expedition against Scotland, in which King Haakon Haakonarson of Norway attempted to reassert Norwegian sovereignty over the western part of Scotland.
After some fanfare, the two armies collided with ferocity. Skilled reenactors yelled and swung their weapons at each other with flare, much to the appreciation of the audience. Fist one side won, then the opposite side, then the first side again. At the end of the final clash, all reeanactors were brought back to life in the name of Odin so they could wave to the cheering spectators.
It was beginning to get dark, and as all the warriors sat down, Robert led me to a taped off area near an old boat that had been fixed up to look like a Viking Longship. Someone hoisted a striped square sail on the boat, then several archers appeared, lit their arrows, fit them to their longbows, took aim and fired. The flaming arrows arched through the air then struck the boat. Within minutes it was engulfed in flames.
As we sat on the grass, watching the boat burn, I asked Robert about the historical accuracy, level of detail and graphic fight scenes in his Oathsworn novels. His answers were as compelling as the books themselves.
When he was still a teenager, Robert was a war correspondent in Vietnam. Later he covered the fighting in Sarajevo, Romania and Kosova. After his stint as war correspondant, Robert moved to an area rich in Viking tradition, started riding, taught himself horse archery, took up re-enactment and joined The Vikings group. After witnessing and reporting real warfare from the trenches, and then immersing himself in everything Viking, Robert had the ability to write about Viking life and battles with gritty understanding.
There is an assured and convincing tone to Robert's writing, and there is a rough realism to his rousing Oathsworn Saga that reveals much of the Viking Age and how Vikings lived that history books never could. In book one, Robert transports the reader on to a raiding Viking Longship, with a sense of realism that keeps the reader hooked to the end of the engaging, authentic, violent and extremely readable adventures, as his accolades attest:
"A company of warriors, desperate battles – an enthralling read" ~ Bernard Cornwell
"A fantastic book, one of the best I have read for years. There’s a wonderful earthiness to proceedings and Robert creates a tangible sense of being there” ~ Simon Scarrow
"No modern novelist knows more about the Vikings than Robert Low” ~ Harry Sidebottom
“I’ve read all Oathsworn books and I loved them all – but The Prow Beast is, I think, the best of them all: poignant, muscular, magical and impossible to put down.” ~ Angus Donald
Robert was a fantastic host who enriched my stay in Largs immensely. He conveyed much about the viking legacy of Largs, and of Sotland's history in a fascinating and witty way. Robert's latest work, The Kingdom Series, that deals with the Scottish Wars of Independence - the era of Wallace, Bruce and Edward Longshanks, are gripping novels that have been very well recieved. When Robert isn't writing or giving talks, you can still find him with sword and shield in hand, participating in steel weapon battles at festivals.
For more info about Robert Low and his work: http://www.robert-low.com/index2.htm
When the Norwegian Glima Association decided on making the ultimate glima trophy, it was agreed that it should be the symbol of Mjölnir, the hammer of Thor, the god of Viking wrestling. Mjölnir, from the Old Norse - Mjǫllnir, meaning to "grind" or "crush", is the most powerful Viking sacred symbol. As a symbol, it was used in sacred Norse and Viking ceremonies, weddings, and as a protective amulet.
The Association has used Mjölnir as its symbol for Glima - Viking wrestling from the start, and in 2015 it was decided to create the ultimate Glima Mjölnir.
Tyr Neilsen, president of the Norwegian Glima Association, together with Håkon Neil, designed the hammer based on several Mjölnir amulets from the Viking Age. The Association then took the design to Arkadiusz Gawecki, an acclaimed blacksmith with a smithy in Åmot, Buskerud.
After talking about the reasons behind the Mjölnir design, and the sacred Norse symetry and symbols associated with it, Arkadiusz began working on this prestigious hammer in the same way as iron and steel equipment and weapons were made in the Viking Age.
When finished, the Glima hammer weighed 3.5 kilos and looked amazing. It is one of the very few large Mjölnir hammers made in Norway since the Viking Age. Arkadiusz said it was a pleasure to work on the trophy and felt that it was an important piece of art.
At the 2015 Norwegian Glima Championship, the Glima Mjölnir was presented to the public for the first time. The Norwegian Glima Association and the Academy of Martial Arts believes this piece of art would be worthy of Thor, the Viking God of wrestling.
For more info about Mjölnir, check out:
One of the absolute best reads about the Viking Age is the book “THE VIKINGS” (also called “The Hammer and the Cross: A New History of the Vikings” in the UK) written by author Robert Ferguson.
I was very pleased to find this well-documented book that put the Viking Age in perspective, especially after reading book after book that seemed more like anti-Viking propaganda than realistic historical accounts of this exciting period of history. A major strength of this account of Vikings and the Viking Age, is that Robert writes about the incredible history of the Vikings, the many cultural, political and religious reasons for the emergence of the Viking Age, and the world wide effects of the Vikings, in such a way that is not only easy to understand, but also an exciting read.
Most people have had a limited picture of Vikings, who for several centuries were described as savage brutes, raiding and raping their way across Europe. This is not surprising, as the only accounts of Vikings were written by members of the church. What set Robert’s book apart from most, is that he gives us an understanding of how rich the Viking / Norse culture was, and how much of other cultures were influenced and enriched by the Vikings. Not only does Robert give an impressive overview of the Viking Age, he tells the histories of great warriors and kings and provides faultless accounts of Viking battles without romanticizing or de-emphasizing the violence.
A few years ago I had the pleasure to interview Robert Ferguson at Frogner Park in Oslo. As we walked in this park full of amazing statues, Robert answered unhesitatingly all of my questions long after the allotted time we had agreed on. He told me that whilst doing research on the Viking period for his book Siste kjærlighet, he inversed himself into Viking history, which led to him wanting to tell the story of the Viking Age as a continuous narrative. With the book “Vikings”, Robert manages to satisfy the curiosity of the smart general reader and place the Viking Age in the scale of European history with grand style.
I highly recommend Robert’s book, which is so good and has been so well received, that the producers of the TV series “VIKINGS” used it when developing the series and in pre-production. The series creator used Robert’s narrative structure, particularly in the first series, and recommends this book for anyone with a further interest in the Vikings. The Vikings TV series logo is printed on US paperback editions of Robert’s book, along with this endorsement: 'A comprehensive and thrilling history of the Vikings for fans of the History Channel series, now on its fourth season'.
Robert had never any other ambition than that of being a writer, and after emigrating to Norway from the UK, his first book, a biography of the Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun, was published. Since then, Robert has written biographies about Henrik Ibsen and T.E.Hulme, the novels “Siste kjærlighet” (Last love) based on the Saga of Hallfred the Troublesome Poet, and “Fleetwood”, about fatherhood in England in the late 1960s. Robert has also written plays for Norwegian radio, RTE Dublin and the BBC, as well as translations and adaptations.
Robert has a new book out called “Scandinavians: in search of the soul of the north” (on sale in the US this summer). “Scandinavians” is a sort of personal memoir, among other things, and I look forward to reading it at a cottage in the Norwegian Alps next week. As I’ll be going to Oslo soon, I’ll try and get Robert to sign the book for me over a coffee.
For more info about Robert Ferguson and his work: http://robertferguson.org/
Robert Ferguson was gracious enough to write the foreword to the HÁVAMÁL book I co-authored:
No other word in Scandinavian history has imprinted itself so deeply into human consciousness as the word Viking. The term ‘Viking’ conjures up images of resilient men and women of honor, who are tough, fit and virile, and has become a Nordic trademark of independence, strength and quality.
The people who lived in Scandinavia during the 8th to 11th century weren't Vikings. Viking was a profession, and Vikings made up a very small part of the population. Calling everyone from Scandinavia in this period of history a ‘Viking’, is like calling everyone in California a Navy Seal.
The origin of the word Viking comes from the Old Norse Vikingr, meaning Scandinavian seafarer. A ‘Viking’ was a part time farmer-hunter-warrior, who traveled to other lands and traded, raided, became sword for hire or conquered lands. In the sagas, the phrase "to go a Viking" was used to describe the people from the north who went on voyages of discovery. These farmer-hunter-warriors were so successful in their part time profession in the late 8th to late 11th centuries that this period of history became known as the Viking Age.
For hundreds of years before the Viking Age, the people from the lands that would later become Norway, Sweden and Denmark, had been trading around Europe. With the introduction of the Viking longship, the people of the North became a force to be reckoned with. As daring explorers, Vikings became masters of the stormy seas, and their expeditions took them to countries all over Europe, the Far East, Russia and even North America 500 years before Columbus.
Vikings traveled to and through dangerous lands, opened up trade routes, fought to keep them open, and became feared and admired as great warriors in all the lands they travelled. One of the earliest documents about Vikings was written by a Muslim diplomat called Ibn Fadlan, in 922 A.D, who described Vikings as “The wildest warriors I have ever seen”.
What these part time warriors did, was no different than what people from many other countries did, Vikings were just better and more successful than the rest. Vikings fought for, and carved out kingdoms, around the world. They are an integral part of the world’s history, and the Viking warriors who created the Viking Age, paved the way for the world as we know it today.
Much historical and archaeological research has been done over the centuries concerning the Vikings, from their diet to their shipbuilding. There has been much written about Vikings, by poets, academics, and historians, but very little by warriors, martial artists or elite soldiers. Yet warriors, martial artists and elite soldiers have a special insight into what being a Viking really means.
Being a Viking meant being tough, smart and well rounded. A Viking could farm and hunt and live off the land and sea. A Viking could build a house and repair it. A Viking could sail a ship and repair it. A Viking could make weapons and armor and repair them. A Viking could also fight with and without weapons against all enemies and their different forms of fighting techniques.
Growing up in the hard lands of the cold north meant growing up tough. Children were expected to help with chores in and around the home and farm, hunt and help with providing food and materials for the family, and learn how to be a benefit to their society. In the Viking Age, a boy was considered a man, and a girl was considered a woman, at the age of 12. At this age, everyone was expected to survive and thrive without help.
Many men and women today call themselves Vikings because they are reenactors, put on a show fight, dress in Viking clothes, or simply take part of a Viking market or festival. These are worthy activities that create awareness regarding the Norse people of the Viking Age, but they are not representative of what it was like to be a Viking.
A Viking was self-reliant, had a particular set of values, and had a heightened sense of spirituality that few modern people can understand, let alone live by. Only by living like a Viking can a person understand how it was to be a ‘Viking’. If a person can’t hunt, fish, farm, build or repair a house, ship or equipment, or have competence in glima, they aren’t anything like a Viking.
Vikings were independent, strong, resilient, tough, fit and virile men and women of honor. Are modern day children, youths or adults anything like this? Are you? If you want to be anything like a Viking, read the Hávamál, learn some handcrafts, train in glima, travel, take some wilderness survival courses, take responsibility for yourself, become independent, and build a strong body, mind and spirit.
menn bazt lifa
sjaldan sút ala
en ósnjallr maðr
sýtir æ gløggr við gjöfum
The generous and brave
and rarely nourish sorrow
The cowardly fear everything
and the greedy
HÁVAMÁL – verse 48
Travel Channel series FOLLOW YOUR PAST Episode 1 - Vikings and Kings
Senior instructor with the AVK, Tyr Neilsen (57) demonstrated Viking fighting with weapons at Borre feast hall in Norway for the Travel Channel episode "Vikings and Kings".
The episode is about the exciting heritage of two midwestern brothers who discover their past is filled with Viking warriors and royalty. In the show, Tyr demonstrated armed and unarmed Glima to the brothers, quickly taught some basics, then let the brothers fight each other using the Viking combat techniques they had learned.
This episode first aired on the Travel Channel in 2016.
Former top Norwegian sports athlete in spear throwing and handball, Anette Skistad, holds weekly training for people who have difficulty getting back into shape, including some who have physical or psychological problems. To help get people going and build condition, Anette has training indoors, as well as taking the group hiking out in nature.
Anette took contact with the Academy of Viking Martial Arts, asked if they could demonstrate glima for her group, and maybe get the group to do a little Viking wrestling. Tyr Neilsen tought the group basic balance, strength and Viking wrestling principles, and after a short time, short, thin women were able to lift tall heavy men by using the correct grips.
There was much laughter and sweat, as Anette and the group learned how effective glima principles were to implement. Glima training was challenging and fun, and the group have invited Tyr back for more glima.
Edited Article by Bente Wemundstad: http://www.byavisadrammen.no/utgaver/320-2016/#16/z
''Viking-age wrestling is becoming increasingly popular as a martial art or recreational sport''
Article written by M. Michael Brady for the 'Norwegian American Weekly' about for the Glima.
Photo: Egil Scott Synnestvedt / courtesy of Norwegian Glima Association
One wrestler defeats another in a match in the Norwegian Championships, November 2015.
Glima wrestling renaissance in Norway
BY M. Michael Brady · PUBLISHED JANUARY 15, 2016 · UPDATED JANUARY 13, 2016
Viking-age wrestling is becoming increasingly popular as a martial art or recreational sport
Glima is a form of Scandinavian folk wrestling dating from the Viking Age. It classifies both as a martial art and as a recreational sport, and is most popular in Iceland, where annual national championships have been held since 1906. Glima now is enjoying a renaissance in Norway, where national championships have been held since 2009.
The word Glima is Old Norse for “brilliant flash,” which implies speed of movement. Glima is entwined in myth, being first mentioned in ninth-century poetry recounting a wrestling match in which an aged goddess, Elli, defeats Thor, the god of thunder and strength. Some three centuries later, Glima is mentioned in the Prose Edda, also known as Snorri’s Edda, the principal work of pagan Scandinavian mythology assumed to have been written by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson circa 1220.
In modern times, Glima wrestling was a demonstration sport in the 1912 Olympic Games held in Stockholm. Unlike Greco-Roman wrestling, contested in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and incorporated in the Games program from 1908 on, Glima did not become an Olympic sport. There are three forms of Glima wrestling: Brokartök, Hryggspenna, and Lausaatök.
Brokartök (“Trouser-and-belt grip”) is the most widespread form in Sweden and in Iceland. It favors technique over strength, and opponents wear special belts. The two opponents stand erect and step clockwise around each other, as if waltzing, each attempting to trip or throw the other.
Hyrggspenna (“Backhold grip”) resembles other forms of wrestling that emphasize strength over technique. Opponents grasp each other’s upper bodies, and the one who touches the ground or floor with any part of the body except the feet has lost.
Lausatök (“Free-grip”) is the most widespread form in Norway and is practiced in two varieties, as a martial art of self-defense or combat, and as a recreational sport. The opponents may use any holds they wish. The winner is the one still standing while the loser is the one lying on the ground. Matches usually are held outdoors or indoors on a wooden floor, so hard throws are discouraged.
Viking Glima now is increasingly popular outside Iceland. The Viking Glima community in Norway is an example. Norges Glima Forbund (“Norwegian Glima Association”) was established in 2013 by Tyr Neilsen, who despite his Icelandic-sounding name was born in Liverpool in 1959. He began practicing martial arts as a teenager and settled in Norway in the mid 1980s to delve into Viking mythology and lifestyles. Today he is a senior instructor at the Academy of Viking Martial Arts and is involved in promoting Viking culture.
In 2014 Tyr joined with editor and photojournalist Bente Wemundstad in compiling Viking Wisdom: Hávamál, the Sayings of Odin, a large-format illustrated book published by Nova Forlag.
Further reading and viewing:
• History of Martial Arts in Iceland and their Image in Media, by Jóhann Ingi Bjarnason, 2012 thesis, University of Akureyri, Iceland, 40 pages including 6 pages of references, link: skemman.is/stream/get/1946/12161/28907/1/History_of_martial_arts_in_Iceland_and_their_image_in_Icelandic_media.pdf
• British Pathe 1931 Glima-Iceland Wrestling film now on YouTube, link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVGB1Z3btIY
• The International Glima Association promotes Glima wrestling outside Iceland, link: internationalglima.com
• The Viking Glima Federation with information and a directory of instructors in Scandinavia, link: www.viking-glima.com
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 15, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.
Norwegian actor Rune Temte plays Viking cheiftan Ubba in the BBC TV series The Last Kingdom.
In preperation for his role, Rune trained in the authentic Viking fighting art of Glima at the Academy of Viking Martial Arts in Buskerud, Norway. For several months Rune trained by Tyr Neilsen in Viking sword, axe and shield fighting, as well as Viking wrestling.
Throughout training Rune showed true Viking Spirit. He was always ready to train, whether it was rain or snow, and always gave 100%.
"Tyr Neilsen, you are the best, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn Viking fighting from you !!! You made me into a Viking for the Last Kingdom." - Rune Temte
Photos: Rune Temte training Viking Fighting with and without weapons with Tyr Neilsen at the academy and article by Ingun Wiborg Gislerud on Rune, his training and his role as a viking chieftan in the BBC tv series The Last Kingdom - Based on the bestselling novel by Bernard Cornwell.
Tyr Neilsen is the first Norwegian to be invited to demonstrate the Viking martial art of Glima at the biggest Viking Festival in Europe!
Instructors from the Academy of Viking Martial Arts in Norway are the first Norwegians to be invited to Europe's largest viking festival to demonstrate Glima - The Martial Arts system of the Vikings!
"I traveled down to the Jorvik Viking Festival to seek inspiration , get ideas and talk to the people behind the festival. So it was great that Jorvik Viking Festival had invited Tyr Neilsen as the first Norwegian to actively participate in the festival, both in combat and in the academic program." says Ole Harald Flåten of the Saga Oseberg project, and Project Manager at Tønsberg Viking Festival.
The Academy would like to give a big thanks to Andy Mckie, Jarl of the Volsung Viking group in York, for his invitation to the Academy of Viking Martial Arts, so we could demonstrate the art of Glíma at the 31st Jorvik Viking Festival in febuary 2015.
It was an honor for us to be able to participate in this great event, the largest Viking festival in Europe. We would also like to thank all of the Volsung Vikings, the English Vikings at the central camp, and the Jorvik arrangers, for their generous hospitality and warmth and for making the festival so memorable.
Above: Filming with a green screen Below: With the digital background added
Here's some links you can click to the facebook videos posted by Andre Villa and the newspaper article online in Norwegian.
News Article: HTTP://WWW.BYAVISADRAMMEN.NO/UTGAVER/279-2015/#10/Z