Welcome to the Blog site for the Úlfhéðinn Glima Hall, here you will discover some of the writing, inspiration, and teachings of the old ways, the old gods, and the history of Nordic martial arts.
You may perhaps even gain enlightenment or understanding from the new beginnings arising from the formation the our club and organisation, and the sagas that we weave now and in the future.
We look forward to sharing our thoughts, tales and stories with you.
So all of us beginngers take the plunge and try to find that warrior within. We have survived our first few forays into the training hall time and time again and have arrived, and have learned to deal with the myriad rituals, methodologies, and mysteries of the martial arts world. We embark, then in the future, relatively unscathed (physically at least!), at a place where we feel that some small measure of understanding has begun to take root.
Within the first few weeks and months, the techniques and principles begin to plant in our thoughts and there is even a few fleeting moments of familiarity with the movements and directions required to translate each technique from what we witness and are told to do (often two very different lines of input depending on the viewer) into what our own individual body types and personalities can create. We have faced the demons of our own doubts and insecurities at the entrance to this new realm of knowledge and at cast set them aside. But being demons they are never fully slain but merely wounded or winded in our hearts and souls for the moment. Nevertheless we take the small victory.
That moment becomes everything for it is really all we ever have, both in martial arts and in life. When we begin to understand (and not merely realise or have awareness of) this, then we begin to appreciate the importance of not merely the fluidity of physical motion to accomplish techniques, but also the fluidity of our own progression, mentally and spiritually, within and without the training hall.
Change, adaptation, and re-direction becomes not merely a state of being for training, but a metaphor for our life and path toward understanding out art, ourselves, and is in essence the genuine meaning of the martial arts and the way of the warrior (in Japanese arts this was called Bushido).
The greatest challenge we face as martial artists and as human beings, is to live each moment within that moment (akin to the concept of Zen). To face directly each single instant and to react in the way required to merge and blend with that instant for maximum effect in all that we do. When challenges arise, not just in combat, but also in life, we can learn much from adapting these small moments of peace to find ourselves and our equilibrium once again (like Utesitting or meditation) All aspects of our psyche and senses may be screaming at a myriad of percieved, imagined, or unknown threats to run, to hide, or worse to turn and fight a foe we do not yet recognise or understand. Yet we must also have the skills to recognise that these reactions are the offspring of our Ego, and of the deepest parts of our mind which exist purely to lead us into self doubt, fear, and ultimately into a loss of our centering and control.
Through training and self-development we may be more readily places to know, and therefore learn to control ourselves better. To act as a thinking and feeling human being rather than merely react on a lizard or monkey-brain level to the world and the situations around us. Control of the self within oneself therefore should be the ultimate goal of all martial arts.
Learning to control the body (and thereby the movement or flow) of ourselves and our partners or opponents deans that many of the methods and movements we utilise will appear counter-intuitive to most. Such as: turning where the direct would appear more productive; entering where any sane person would prefer distance; opening up where a tighter defense may seem logical; controlling and sedating where a coup-de-grace would be far more directly efficient.
Those options are always available in training, but may well not be the most beneficial to you for use during resistance or sparring. Yet we often see students struggling against all odds to apply a technique that cannot be completed, when a more circuitous or alternate route would be much more efficient.
What then does this say about how we train? It identifies that often we are not in control of our responses, opting for the quick and easy but ineffectual, over the controlled and defined required response. In short, we are still functioning on an animal brain level and not making informed choices. In effect, we still have much more to learn in order to read both the situation and our own body movements to know what is best for our own particular style of combat.
Always remember, if we initially perceive a movement as counter-intuitive then so too will our attacker and as a result, the effectiveness of what we do cannot be second-guessed or compromised. W can therefore choose to not work in the direct and obvious or the identifiable, but instead seek to control ourselves and our baser impulses in that one instant to overcome our own natural response and so instill that into our opponent. It is this that renders them, and their attacks as less effective.
In training to respond not to our minds, but to the situation and the feelings and movements we have coming from our attacker, then we can work out-with the envelope of perceived and anticipated reaction. We can return that power back to its source and we can make the informed choice of how to respond and control our opponent by first controlling ourselves, then extending that control to the moment, to the situation, and so to our attacker by default. We work to protect ourselves and to offer that protection to the situation in order that both may walk away from it, not necessarily unscathed but certainly to live to tell the tale.
True Victory in the martial therefore does not always come from the defeat of ones opponent or of a threat, but from the defeat of our human response to that threat. It permits us to rise above and to enter into the very heart of the problem through self control, self-awareness, and self-discipline, choosing the manner and nature of our response not just to protect in the here and now, but in the future.
Masagatus Agatsu Katsuhayabi – True Victory in each passing second, in every breath, in every thought, in every moment before thought and action. In pursuit of only technical mastery in the martial arts we will never obtain true victory in for that moment that we become aware of and realise it, is already gone and the required movements have changed in the flow of combat or in our lives.
Instead we may perhaps realise it through our dedication to training our responses to any situation so that in every action, every impulse, and every breath we manifest the principles of cause and effect through control of ourselves and allow our art to simply be with us, to change us, and to make us better people, in each and every single instant of our lives.
He is truly wise who’s travelled far and knows the ways of the world.
He who has travelled can tell what spirit governs the men he meets.
Anyone who studies a martial art for any length of time will one day stumble upon or eventually be referred to the statement “True Victory is Victory Over Oneself, In a Single instant”.
Like most esoteric phrases and statement we encounter in martial arts, it is impossible to capture this in any single aspect and the beginner student will doubtlessly take something different from it than the long-term martial artist. However, while an individuals interpretation of this, or any other training maxim will alter, it does not necessarily lessen from what was first realised. Instead the understanding will grow from that point of first meeting and assimilation of the phrase and it, like the student will change and reform over the years until what you have is the same, but intrinsically different in terms of not only meaning, but also application. Different, yes, but only in the way that we as individuals are now as different in this moment as from when we were first born.
The warrior philosophy that is contained within all martial training, grows with us in every aspect of our lives. Often in very subtle ways in which we are not aware until a moment occurs where we draw upon either knowledge, thought, or technique to improve an issue or situation. Not merely in terms of combat, but in relation to life itself.
The concept of martial training. and the benefits it will bestow upon us, is the first thing that many who enter into this most unique martial art encounter, and indeed is often the draw that encourages any one individual into a Glima hall in the first place. The need to know that one can protect oneself from danger. However what we must also realise is that this desire to defend oneself is pure sympathetic nervous system response to perceived or real hazards and is a perfectly natural thing to occur, especially in the world we now live in where danger is prevalent at every turn, physical, material, emotional, and even social. The need to defend and protect, and the embodiment of a ‘warrior spirit’ is an enticing and exciting prospect and this is the greatest hurdle that many new (and sometimes old) students must overcome. For the concept of what makes a good warrior differs greatly from culture to culture. Likewise what is expected from that culture as being a ‘real fighter’ is likewise affected. For most newcomers, and those with a limited viewpoint, only those who ‘win’ in competition can be good fighters. But is this an accurate statement as a competition is (while having its own dangers) preset by rules, rounds, referees and regulations of accepted levels of violence and somewhere in the process unless a series of unfortunate events leads to a more serious condition, the event can be stopped by those in charge or who have responsibility for ensuring safety of the participants. here is where the line between ‘fighter’ and ‘warrior’ gets drawn. In truth we are all mostly fighters, the concept of war, and the implications of what that means on the psyche and focus of any individual as a different place entirely.
War and the warriors path gives rise to contemplation that life may one day cease abruptly, and therefore every moment, every person we meet, and every situation we encounter is not to be seen as a boon or a handicap to our plans, but is a precious learning tool and should be savoured and acknowledged as part of our path. To go on regardless of the task, or the odds, or the likelihood of failure. To never give up and to strive to be the best you can in the situations and places you find yourself. To truly be the best version of yourself in every moment, for one day those moments will cease. For the warrior then, is not the ‘win’ derived from continuation of Self and worth, despite the odds?
This is where the understanding of the difference between the warrior arts, and the sport arts begins to shine forth. Essentially all good martial training seeks to subconsciously derail a students confidence from day one, breaking them down with lack of success, lack of understanding, and movements contrary to anything they had previously encountered. It becomes clear that this is not a ‘quick-fix’ course where a few simple punches and kicks will suffice and slowly confidence and even interest begins to ebb. Particularly where you have a path before that may be relatively easy to pick up, but almost impossible to master, where the path also has a mindset and a philosophy and a rich interpretative tapestry of techniques and concepts to try and grasp. For the Vikings, this philosophy was capture in the Hávamál (the ‘sayings of the high one’) which contains lore, advice, and guidance on not just life but also war and the world. Each saying, like many sources of wisdom, can also be interpreted many ways and one person will invariably take something different from it than another. ( We will look into Hávamál and Warrior Spirit in Part 2 of this Blog).
It soon becomes clear that Glima is not a simple 3-trick pony but a complex system of movements, thought, and understanding that will not be easily taken into the real world for a considerable time. Yes, like all arts there is a basic element that may be applied immediately and effectively to the benefit of the students (such as strikes, basic throws and escapes, concepts of getting up from the ground etc) should they find themselves in physical danger. However the capability to apply these skills in a fluid and aggressive moment will take time and practice before they work as planned.
In addition, for all beginners is the added fact that in attempting to understand, assimilate and label these new movements it also becomes clear that in order to confuse a grown adult, all one needs to do is ask them to move in a straight line while holding a practice sword above their head and to cut down on a specific movement. The simple addition of a tool or equipment takes the individual out of the place they have mostly existed and into a new direction, one that is different enough so as to derail everything that had gone before, including even basic tasks and motor functions. In these moments there is no glory, no victory, no raising oneself above others, in fact we often leave classes feeling less masterful than we entered. This is as it should be, for what we are training for in the martial arts is a marathon, not a sprint.
For the beginning student embarking with excitement on the Warriors Path, the way ahead seems extremely rocky indeed and the aforementioned ‘True Victory’ in any instant at all seems unfeasible and out of reach and grasp. Success seems always to be just over the horizon and the path to it filled with constant failures.
Yet here is the first lesson and application of the path ahead. In being presented with the impossible task, does the student turn and walk away or do they continue? This is similar to the old adage of many a 70’s and 80’s martial arts movie where the the student is waiting patiently for days outside the home of a prospective Sensei in the hope of being accepted. In this case the student and Sensei are the same, both are awaiting the arrival of the other in radically different terms (again as in the saying ‘when the student is ready the master appears’) and so begins the first steps on together the path to a further Self-enlightenment and quest for truth about themselves, where student and teacher merge into the same person seeking the same goals – and only they can both choose to stay and struggle and seek to overcome the difficulties, or one can go and that potential future is broken.
In this moment, fighting against all that their mind, body and mastery tell them is the driving force of the smaller self – that little voice that always tries to set you on the path to failure in expressing to them the first trial in the warriors path – knowing and accepting the difference between what they want and what they need. Very often wisdom is gained not by staying to the safe and obvious, but from a deviation from ones intended course. It may be hard earned wisdom, but earned nonetheless.
At that point, for all of us, we achieve that first, albeit very small true victory over ourselves, and the journey into our chosen art begins and the real trials and work can start to unfold …
To be continued in True Victory and the Warriors Path – Part 2
The following verse from Hávamál was presented to me for contemplation and reflection by a good friend and someone I have the utmost respect for. It came about in light of a concept I put to them about entering into challenges ‘like a dead man’ when it came to combat and competition and challenging oneself. Immediately it became obvious that, like many warriors (old and young), that perception of oneself and the manner in which we perceive the philosophy and psychology of our beliefs is very often the thing that will drive up to succeed or fail in many of our endeavours.
Coming from a philosophy of relatively eastern views within a western environment, forged and cast by 40 years of study of Japanese martial arts, and the pursuit of Buddhism, Zen, and other native eastern religions I was at first surprised by what I felt on reading verse 71 of Hávamál. Surprised, and more than a little chastised by it.
However, after some time and reflection on both my previous understanding, and the advice on life given by Hávamál I have come to the conclusion that both approach the same meaning, albeit from very different perspectives and attitudes and each one contains within it the seeds of the other.
The ultimate goal between both is to life life fully and in the moment, but the journey and route taken are vastly different.
Hávamál Verse 71
The lame can ride
The one-armed can steer
The deaf can fight
Better to be blind than dead
You can’t do anything When you’re dead
The initial observation here is that, taken at face value, only the living can actually live a life. That no matter what your situation in life, there is always something that you can do.
While an accurate assessment, there is a lot more to this statement than just the obvious and the deeper you look into the words and their meaning, the more you can uncover.
‘Cogito Ergo Sum‘
In life, it is too easy to focus on the things that we can and cannot do and allow ourselves to be dictated by them. To let our impairments and inability to define us, rather than to take ownership of what we as human beings are truly capable of. In verse 71 we are faced with a series of impairment coupled with the offering of things that can be achieved, culminating in the finalising that a body, devoid of life, can do nothing.
This verse immediately makes me think of the philosopher Decartes and his famous statement ‘Cogito Ergo Sum – I Think, therefore I am’.
Our ability and perception of ourselves is limited immediately by what we believe we are capable of and what we consider ourselves to be worth. In verse 71 the greatest limitation that is placed upon either the lame, or one-armed, or deaf individual is the limits of their own perception. If they accept without question that they are limited, they will be limited without question.
If we perceive ourselves to be impaired, then we will be so and will only see the very few things we cannot achieve, rather than acknowledge the many more things we can. Then by focusing on what we cannot do, we become the slave to that thought until it gains ownership of our very essence until everything becomes about that. In effect, we truly become dead to possibilities and opportunities, even though we are still 99% functional. In this case, we act as though dead when still so full of potential life.
Verse 71, therefore is not about physical ability, but thought – about belief in oneself.
The Self vs the self
A further factor in Verse 71 arises from the many roles presented, here we have a lame man riding, a one-armed man steering, and a deaf man fighting. These are not necessarily roles or duties in which only that individual is either involved or connected to. The lame man may be delivering a message to many, the one-armed may steer a ship of hundreds to better shores, and the deaf man may fight side by side and strengthen the wall of his comrades to prevent a weak link. The blind man possesses knowledge and strategies that may change the tide of fates or fortunes. Each one of these can be part of a grand force or army, seeking to better itself and the world around it.
All of this applies not only to combat but also to social and even emotional or psychological situations. Every day we wage a constant battle between our sense of ‘Self’ (our greater sense of purpose and will to do better) and our ‘self’ (the little voice that wants us to fail just to prove it was right for us to doubt ourselves). It is vital that we do not let our own little ‘self’ win out and show us only the negative aspects of our characteristics and perceived impairment.
Impairment can often narrow our perceptions down to just being ourselves, to only seeing the world from the viewpoint of a camera pointed inward to us, rather than from ourselves to the world around us and how we may influence it. It is easy to lose our sense of purpose and place, but only when we allow that to happen. Our power cannot be taken away, it must be relinquished and it is here in Verse 71 that this finally reaches its meaning in stating that ‘You cant do anything when you are dead’.
The dead relinquish life either intentionally, unintentionally, or due to the tests and rigours of time. The stripping away of life is what results in death and it is so very easy to be living a life that is actually devoid of life itself. Each day becomes a step closer to an actual end but those steps are taken in a self-inflicted purgatory for the inward-facing camera can only see the things that cannot be done.
Yet in this state, living as though already dead, we deprive ourselves of the one thing that the dead do have, and so we continue to live and even greater lie than we thought.
The Dead cannot fear Death
In eastern philosophy, ‘to fight as though already dead’ implies a lack of fear of failure and a desire to deny that final step into actual death with every fibre of ones being. It is designed to introduce a state where we can undertake actions without considering failure and, when such an event occurs, acknowledge it as a chance to do the very utmost you can in that moment before the final blow is struck.
To live, and to truly fight for life, we cannot be concerned with the prospect of death and failure, yet only the dead can truly be without fear of death and so to enter into any endeavour without such fear requires we resolve ourself to that outcome in advance.
Overcoming that fear of failure is where life exists at both its greatest and most rewarding , but also at its most demanding place. Where we choose to embrace the challenges before us as fearlessly as possible and to enter with full commitment, even when the chance of success is slim.
In embracing the concept of our own failure, we can inevitably challenge any death, be it literal or symbolic, and meet life with passion and a desire to succeed.
Verse 71 therefore is not merely about knowing what can be done, but about understanding a greater picture. Any and all of us will and can affect the world around us in a myriad of ways – may of which we may not even be aware of.
Some inspire, others lead, many strive, and many more seek a place and a truth in the world. Just because you do not see the impact you have on others does not mean it never occurs.
To stand among those who refuse to be limited by the things they cannot do is one of the greatest lessons we can learn in life. To support and encourage them to continue striving, reaching, and breaking through the boundaries of what others may perceive as their limitations is one of the greatest gifts we can give.
Do not be so quick to judge the old man, or the blind man, the deaf man, or the infirm. Each one by their very presence of being is a warrior on their own path, fighting their own fight and they should be an inspiration to us all.
Well that is the hard work done, the Glima masterclass is over and the instructors have been successful and now we are let loose into the world to take something very newborn and unique out there and to give it form and shape and meaning.
Almost every person that we encounter will have a battery of the same questions : “What is Glima?”; “How does it work?”; “Is it effective”; “can anyone do it?”; “What is it like?” etc etc etc…
These are all important questions and, more to the point, they will be answered by many of the different instructors who all have their own specialism and background in a variety of martial arts. On the course alone there were accomplished artists from Judo, Aikido, BJJ, MMA, Boxing, Kickboxing, Kung Fu, Savate, Jujutsu, Wrestling, and more. Each one with many years experience and many years of accolades. But also many years if identified patterning and earned reactions. In fact it is these learned processes that make the proponent so good and highly efficient at their own art, but where does that leave them in terms of Glima?
There were many brave and courageous people on the course, who would enter into combat without fear and who would persevere to succeed even when the tide of the combat turned against them. Yet this means little or nothin compared to the nerve and dedication it will take to accept and work with what Glima is, and to let it change you and your established, rather than merely slotting it into what you already know. yes, initially this will place you at a point of weakness, where contending forces of pattern, training, familiarity, and form are all vying for supremacy.
We will be facing the worst of our enemies, our own sense of self and our self-confidence. For to truly embrace Glima and to move it forward with the intent to which it has begun to be passed down to us will need integration into our existing repertoire, then for all of us to move aside the ego and admit that we are once again children at play in a larger world. A world bigger than us at the moment, yes, but one we will grow into and which – more importantly – our students will grow into with greater skill and finesse than perhaps we possess.
The mark of a good instructor is someone who can teach and pass on knowledge, but the mark of a great instructor is someone who can do that while making other better than themselves. More rounded, more defined, and less given to the restrictions and limits we place on ourselves.
I am aware that to do so we must find form an familiarity in what we have already worked so hard at, yest we must also learn to understand and preserve the rations and skills of Glima in order to teach it correctly. For me it is not enough to mix a little of what i know from over 40 years of training with a little of what Glima does and simply call it ‘Glima’. That would not only be factually incorrect but would be deceiving not just myself but also my students and all those who witness it.
The true test before us all is to let go of our ego and to realise that on this journey toward teaching, preserving, and promoting Glima that we must let go of our perception on where our skills are and integrate them with the new world before us, but without losing the instincts and awareness of martial ability that all those years have taught us.
In being one of the few to preserve this art and tradition, we have been given a rare gift – that of trust. It is vital therefore that we accept and take on the mantle of responsibility to not only fully understand, but actively seek to incorporate all our skill set into Glima and keep is form and function alive and moving forward.
The principles and mechanics of martial form and function are relatively easy for everyone to grasp, at least on a cognitive level: Your opponent attempts to attack you, and you then defend accordingly. Such a simple concept.
Like many aspects of the martial arts, it is not enough to just look at the very plain and basic meaning of this statement, in doing so you are just working mechanically and becoming nothing more than an automaton. Instead of a living, thinking and feeling human being which not only completes, but LIVES through each movement. Every technique must be defined by you, and will be affected by your background, your personality, and your own particular philosophy on life and death.
If martial training was indeed so easy that all we need to do is follow a format, we would all be masters of the art in only a few months. Fortunately, or unfortunately if you simply require a quick-fix or a band-aid for your self-belief, the truth is something much more complex than simply following a three-step process of: 1. Foot here, 2. Hands here, 3. Push here,
Why do i say fortunately? Simply because the process of mechanical procedure can only function within a set of specified and defined parameters, and the highly individualised, fast-moving, fluid dynamic of training in the Dojo does not allow for this, never mind the myriad of complexities provided by, and in addition to, an unstable environment within a real-world scenario, should a real situation arise and you be compelled to act in defence.
Any given situation introduces an element of fallibility not just in our own capacity to deal with the techniques and the situation, but also within the focus and also the determination of the incoming attack. If either of these factors is incompatible, then the technique is doomed to fail.
Given that we cannot expect out attackers to be pleasantly appreciative of our limitations in ability, understanding, form, execution and confidence, the onus for change must lie solely on our own shoulders. Unless we are able to change the fundamental aspect of how we choose to deal with the attacker and the method or style of attack used, it is more than likely that our defence will therefore not be completely effective.
In order to make the most of our ability, we must simulate and become at once the attack and the defence combined as one fully committed action, free from restraints imposed upon ourselves, by ourselves. This is the essence of training, and in order to be realised first we must focus not on the individuals or the outcome, but on the way we choose to interact within any given moment. Control, then becomes the key factor, but oftentimes not in the way we first think.
We cannot hope to control any attack without first seeking to control fully and completely our own selves – control of body, mind, and spirit, with a single focus on remaining fluid and aware of the changing dynamic of any given martial situation.
(to be Continued in Part 2).
A Fabulous Blog entry about Wolves in Nordic Mythology from We Are Star Stuff
Wolves, as predatory animals and carrion-eaters, had a somewhat grim reputation among the Norse. There was the Fenris Wolf, who would devour Oðin at Ragnarok, and on a more human level, outlaws were called vargr, wolves.
At the same time, though, Oðin had two as pets, and in one Eddic poem he praises the killer wolf Garm as the “best of hounds”. Warriors gave themselves wolf-names, and in addition to the well-known berserker, Úlfhéðnarwere men imbued with the ferocity of wolves.
In my next three posts, I will be taking a closer look at the ambivalent mythology surrounding wolves in Norse myth. In particular, I want to look at three aspects of the wolf-mythos:
The image of the wolf…
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