Viking 'Saga' combat clip!

Discussion in 'Western Martial Arts' started by Louie, Apr 12, 2011.

  1. Louie

    Louie STUNT DAD Supporter

    [ame=""]YouTube - Viking Fighting Moves from the Sagas: 1[/ame]

    A speculative reconstruction of one-on-one Viking combat based on fighting moves described in the Sagas of Icelanders, including:

    --- thrusting with the horn of the axe: Grænlendinga þáttur, ch. 5
    ...en Kolbeinn snaraðist við honum og stakk fram öxarhyrnunni og kom í barkann Þórði og hafði hann þegar bana.
    Kolbeinn sidestepped Þórður and jabbed the horn of his axe into Þórður's throat and that was his death.

    --- hooking a shield with a weapon: Þorskfirðinga saga, ch. 10
    Askmaður skopar um hið ytra og vildi krækja af honum skjöldinn.
    Askmaður ran around him and wanted to hook his shield off him.

    --- throwing away a sword, running under to grapple, and throwing an opponent down: Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings, ch.21
    Atli sér að eigi mun svo búið hlýða, kastar síðan sverðinu og hleypur undir Þorgrím og rekur hann niður við völlinn.
    Atli saw he was making no progress. He threw away his sword and slipped under Þorgrímur's guard and threw him to the ground.

    ---throwing a man down and killing him with a sax (short-sword): Grettis saga, ch. 56 (and many others)
    Fann hann eigi fyrr en Grettir tók hann upp yfir höfuð sér og færði niður svo hart að saxið hraut úr hendi honum og fékk Grettir tekið það og hafði ekki orða við hann og hjó þegar höfuð af honum og lauk svo hans ævi.
    Grettir lifted him up above his head and threw him down so hard that he lost his grip on the sax. Grettir took the sax and without a word, cut off his head and ended his life.

    More information at:

  2. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    Very cool to see that someone actually tries to reconstruct the combat-sequences from sagas!

    For beeing so popular re-enactment-period, we know preciously little on viking combat technique. We know very much about the weaponry, thanks to the grave-customs of the vikings (before they turned christian), much less on armor and helmets.

    One just have to keep in mind that the sagas were written down between 1200 and 1500, and that is 150 - 700 years after the actual viking-age.

    This means that it can be icelanders just making up the moves (just as directors in hollywood-movies today), to make it sound dramatic around the campfire, but one allso believes that the sagas are a written extention of an oral tradition, and it isnt impossible (IMHO) that elements of saga-litterature are actual copies of historical events.

    The video itself looked OK IMO; plausible weaponry, dimentions on things (shafts and shield-dimentions), and regarding clothing. The moves themselves we have no source on; except from contemporary illustrations, and saxon recordings, so I really cannot comment on them from a realizm-perspective. I liked the takedown, that lifting-technique is described in Icelandic GLIMA-system (allso no certain sources on that MA from earlier than 13-1400's), and it's allso shown in german MA-systems from 1400
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2011
  3. Nojon

    Nojon Tha mo bhàta-foluaimein

    Funny, I just finished reading that. :D
  4. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    Very interesting. But isn't there some danger that the techniques described in sagas are chosen for their theatrical drama, and not for their realism, kind of how Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon doesn't use anything remotely like real kung fu and Top Gun doesn't use anything remotely like real dogfighting (airbrake? really?)?
  5. William Short

    William Short New Member

    Thanks for your interest in our Viking videos. I'm one of the people who created this series of videos (there are now 5 of them on YouTube), and I appear in the video (I'm the bearded guy whose back is broken).

    The questions and comments raised in this thread are good ones. A bit of background…

    My primary interest is medieval Icelandic literature: the sagas. I've been doing WMA work for about ten years with the Higgins Armory Sword Guild at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, MA, USA. Because of my interest in the sagas, most of my work has been with Viking combat.

    We've used many sources to create a speculative reconstruction of Viking combat. At the museum, we research it, practice it, teach it, and demonstrate it. More information about our training at the museum is here.

    I've written a number of web articles about Viking weapons and their use, based on our research, as well as a book which was published in 2009.

    We have come to believe that the sagas are our most important source of information about Viking-age fighting. Our research suggests that, for the most part (but not for every case), the fights in the sagas represent accurate depictions of Viking-age fighting. Forensic evidence from Viking-age skeletal remains with battle injuries confirm some of the more fantastic fight descriptions in the sagas. Comparisons between different types of sagas tell us that saga authors were well aware of differences between weapons and techniques from their own times versus the time in which the sagas were set. Literary markers in the saga texts separate events that were thought to be accurate descriptions of historical events from the more fantastic and supernatural events. Some of this research is described in the web articles, and in more detail in the book.

    Best regards,
    William Short
  6. callsignfuzzy

    callsignfuzzy Is not a number!

    While I acknowledge the very real possibility of the majority of your post, and Top Gun was almost certainly cinema-friendly, that's a real maneuver, called the "cobra".

    [ame=""]YouTube - Sukhoi Su-27 executing Cobra maneuver[/ame]

    My understanding is that it's used very similarly to how the film portrays it: you slow down and deliberately stall for a second in order to maneuver behind an incoming enemy.

    My understanding is that it was also not looked fondly upon by US air commanders if their pilots attempted it. The Soviets/Russians, not so much.
  7. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    I think in Top Gun, they slow the plane, not by a dramatic pitch of the nose upward, but instead by deploying the airbrake while keeping the nose in line (much like a car slowing down when you step on the brake), though I can't find a clip on YouTube to confirm.

    I know about the maneuver you're talking about (though I knew it as the Focke-Wulfe flop, after FW-190 pilots using it in the IL-2 flight simulator), though I thought only a couple modern aircraft--all Russian--were capable of it. Could easily be wrong on that though.
  8. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    Im very glad you define this as speculative reconstruction. I have no problems with speculative reconstructions as long as people inform their audience that it in fact is speculative reconstructions, and not FACTS.

    In Europe, there are unfortunately many who do re-enactment, with or without combat, wanting to be regarded as viking-reenactors who...
    A -have smoked too much marihuana and believes that their more or less grass-influenced new-age-hippy-quasi-religion is in fact the real Norse mythology, just replacing Mick Jagger and Janis Joplin with Thor and Odin :woo:
    B -have made up in their minds that viking society was a mirror of modern teenage-macho dysfunctonalities, with some metal blunts added into the fray, and present their ramblings and wavings of blades as "how the vikings fought".
    C -have some fix idea on what viking-equipment/dresses looked like, based entirely on some chair-design from zimbabwe, etc....

    I myself spend time presenting history to tourists during summer seasons, and from time to time, I allso present viking (late iron age germanic) weapons and clothing, and for me, the whole point of it is to present my theories, other peoples theories, and listen to the tourists own theories on the matter. I'm glad to see that others allso are able to research seriously into the source-poor viking-age :cool:

  9. Kwajman

    Kwajman Penguin in paradise....

    If I remember the 70's correctly, there was a (I'm sure true) demonstration of Viking fighting on some show called Monty Python.
  10. Polar Bear

    Polar Bear Moved on

    Hi William,
    If you are trying to reconstruct Viking combat why are you fighting like stage combat?

    The Bear.
  11. ap Oweyn

    ap Oweyn Ret. Supporter

    I'm curious about the thrusting with the ax. Is there a lot of utility in that? Seems like it's mostly inviting a parry and leaving the ax in a position where it's difficult to chamber it again and bring it to bear as a swinging weapon. Just curious. Two-handed ax (indeed, two-handed weapons in general) isn't my forte.
  12. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    Looking at the broad-bladed axe heads found, they are pointy enough to be effective.

    I believe that the two-handed axe is to be regarded as a formation-weapon. When we fight in formations, thrusting is allways effective, as it is an attack that is hard to detect, if you're busy deflecting 3 other attacks at the same time. Fighting in formation is about positioning, and not exposing you (or your buddies), while trying to take out the easy kills on the other side.

    When fighting in a duel, with twohanded weapons, it's a bit like with the katana or the longsword; to quote Silver(from the top of my head): "It takes the strength of a child to deflect a thrust."

    Yet, thrusts can have its uses. For once, it can be an integrated end of a cutting-manouvere (I've tried to explain this without success before, imagine swinging outwards and downwards, not just downwards, then the blade will end up in a long position.)

    When fighting someone with sword and shield, cutting with the dane-axe, can use up more time, you can deliver far more attacks and faster feints with thrusts. Say you thrust towards his legs with your superior range, then he'll either have to jump back, deflect with sword or lower shield, you can then abort the thrust and swing at his head, etc. (Low-high-feint). If he happens to not deflect or block, or evade, then you press home the thrust, and you have an opponent with a broken leg :cool:
  13. William Short

    William Short New Member

    It's a move described multiple times in the sagas. A good example is the one I quoted in the notes for the YouTube video, from Grænlendinga þáttur:
    Whether we see utility in it or not (at first), it's a move used by Vikings in single combat, as attested to multiple times by the sagas. This particular example is good because literary markers suggest it to be a truthful representation, rather than fantasy. The goal of our research is to study this move and reconstruct it in ways that seem to provide utility.

    Best regards,
    William Short
  14. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    I don't think the argument that "it's a move described multiple times in the sagas" is really responsive to ap_Oweyn's question (Stolenbjorn's post, however, does answer the question directly). For example, wielding dual pistols (a pistol in each hand) is one of the most common tropes of modern Hollywood and modern video games. Yet it's not something actually used by modern police, military, or even gang members as far as I can determine. The reasons are obvious--despite the impressive cinematic effect, it's almost impossible to aim, and even harder to reload.

    Thrusting with an axe seems like an inefficient technique with any axe design, and an ineffective technique with many axe designs. I'm not saying it's not possible, but I think ap_Oweyn's question is more than fair.

    Given Stolenbjorn's post, this particular technique might be legitimate. I just wanted to toss out there that it's incredibly risky suggesting that just because something appears regularly/constantly in recreational literature of a time, that that's how they actually fought. If people far in the future applied that methodology to modern media, they'd assume we all shot two pistols at once, preferably while jumping through the air sideways.
  15. William Short

    William Short New Member

    I think this is the nub of the discussion. My opinion is that the sagas are not the 13th century equivalent of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon nor of Top Gun, two examples you used earlier in the thread. As an example, Top Gun was probably not created for an audience of experienced fighter pilots, but it's clear the sagas were created by authors and for an audience both of whom were familiar with and experienced with weapons and their use.

    Perhaps the sagas are more like a reconstruction of the historical events - not 100% accurate, but with many recurring themes and recurring moves that fit in well with information from other sources about the culture and the combat of Viking-age people.

    An example: the sagas often say "brjóta men á bak aftur" - that men dropped their weapons to grapple with the intent of breaking their opponents' backs. The move is consistent with aspects of that society attested to by other sources. It fits with forensic and other evidence about the power they used in their fighting. It's a move used in modern Icelandic sport wrestling, Glíma, and to a greater degree in modern Hryggspenna competitions. The phrase even maintains currency in the modern Icelandic language, meaning to suppress someone completely. All of this evidence from multiple sources suggests that this move from the saga is likely one used by men when they fought in the Viking age.
    My opinion is that the sagas would scarcely be described as recreational literature to the people for whom they were created. My opinion is that the fights in the sagas in many cases (perhaps most cases) represent accurate descriptions of Viking-age fighting moves. The reasoning that brought me to that opinion is outlined in my book and in the articles linked in my original comments about the video, so I won't repeat it here.
    May I ask why you find it inefficient? I think I'd take the opposite view. If Viking-age fighters didn't thrust with the axe, Viking-age smiths would have no need to put horns on the axe heads, saving quite a bit of precious iron in the manufacture of the weapon. My opinion is that the horns were put there to make the weapon more useful in battle, and one of those uses seems to be standard practice in the sagas: thrusting with the horns.

    I am of the opinion that Viking fighters used the move, and based on that opinion, we're working to see how to make it work in practice. We're doing similar work with other fighting moves described in the sagas when they are supported by other sources.

    Best regards,
    William Short
  16. ap Oweyn

    ap Oweyn Ret. Supporter

    Thanks to both Stolenbjorn and William Short for addressing the axe thrust question. I can, after reading these, see the utility in thrusting in formation. I feel like this is one of the factors that always gets overlooked in the longer weapons vs. shorter weapon debate. If there's a line of spearmen (or axe men in this case), then yes it would be easier to keep people with shorter weapons at bay. I feel like, one on one, where an opponent has the option of parrying off and moving past the tip of the spear/axe, that advantage is dramatically diminished.

    This is based partially on mixed weapon matches I've done in eskrima, but in the interest of full disclosure: I think everyone in eskrima was more comfortable with shorter weapons (i.e., sticks and machetes) than longer ones (i.e., spears and long staffs). Not to say they were all hopeless with the latter. But we logged more time with the former, which may have coloured our results.
  17. Smitfire

    Smitfire Cactus Schlong

    I can see thrusting with a weapon like this being pretty effective (no idea how accurate the shape if though).


    Perhaps swinging into someone (tangling up with them) and then thrusting upwards under the chin/throat?
  18. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    Very good sumarized IMO; I fight both HEMA/WMA and re-enactment, both one on one and formation-fighting, and one shoulden't even doubt what weapon is the best (long or short)in formation-fighing. When the line breaks, on the other hand, it's free for all escremaists :cool:
  19. Stolenbjorn

    Stolenbjorn Valued Member

    As I've said before; none of the written material on sagas from iceland is written down in viking-age. I agree that the sagas can say (I don't say they do, though; IMHO, sagas are a bit like looking at Hollywood-action-movies to learn about modern army tactics..) -quite a lot about how Icelandic peassants fought out their blood -feuds on Iceland from year 1200 - 1500AD

    I allso agree that one can SPECULATE that that tradition wouldn't be much different 200-400 years earlier, but one can never claim to prove this, just from the sagas. In order to PROVE this, one need more sources.

    That said, I'm totally for exploring the moves described in the sagas. I'm just a little fed up with people insisting that reading icelandic sope-operas from year 1400 can say a lot about how Norwegians, Swedes and Danes fought in year 800 :bang:
    One excample; english tourists in norway from 18th/19th century praised the norwegian cofee. But pretty accurate english 1700s and 1800 texts about norwegian cofee did not mean that we drank cofee 500 years earlier. The same with norwegian folk-dance and folk-instruments; the ultimate dance-styles and the "Haring-fiddle" regarded today as ultra-norwegian and super-traditional, is not more than 2-300 years old. Everything in Norway was at some point introduced from europe. Our viking-swords are germanic swords, based on the roman spatha, etc, etc.

    The glima-system is mentioned here, again claims are made that this is "How the vikings wrestled".... Granted, sagas (written around 1200s) claim that certain kings did do glima stuff (Olav Tryggvason is one who is claimed to be very good at the water-version of glima, where you attempt to smother your opponent under water). But again; written sources only prove that authors in iceland around year 1200 claims that people did wrestle around year 900, but they do not specify the moves. The modern icelandic glima have a certain set of rules, of course (and towards the foregin tourists, they allways claims that this is "Viking martial arts"), but we have no evidence of those rules beeing in play from before 1500 (roughly).
    It's so sad that one cannot take things for what they are; EXCELLENT WRITTEN MATERIAL FROM 1200-1500! People allways have to drag the Vikings into it...

    Why not just taking it that one logical step ("Let's see if the moves shown in the sagas are plausible") -leaving the Vikings out of it? I sometimes suspect researcers; at least here in Scandinavia have to add that V-word into their research, just to get attention...

    Sometimes, we scandinavs suspect that Japanesse are nurturing the excaggerated myths surrounding the samurai. This suspicion is based on our own grooming of the "Viking" in order to profilize our small corner of the world to the unsuspecting tourist. One should never take stuff from scandinavia about vikings serious, except from serious research material. Some tribes in south east asia have a word for fooling anthropologs, and we scandinavs are not far away from doing the same; inventing a word for fooling foregin viking-lovers :(

    IMHO this thread had been so much better if it had read "Saga combat clip", leaving the Vikings out of it.
    Last edited: May 17, 2011
  20. Louie

    Louie STUNT DAD Supporter

    Hi Stolenbjorn

    "IMHO this thread had been so much better if it had read "Saga combat clip", leaving the Vikings out of it".

    Will keep that in mind for next time.... :)


Share This Page