by Abby E.
Once upon a time, I was a cripple. Doing ordinary, daily activities like walking to the corner could be an Olympic challenge, and finding ways to keep active without breaking the bank or myself was tricky. However, through the miracle of modern technology, I now have a new hip and a new hobby – Viking combat.
To make a long story short(ish), I developed a fascination with Norse mythology last year, which led to some inspiration for a novel, which required research into Viking culture. I fell in love. I have no
Scandinavian roots, but after learning a bit more about daily life in the Viking Age, I realized that the
robbing, raping marauder image that is often associated with the Vikings is grossly inaccurate.
Yes, they did those things too at times, but their lives were mostly concerned with fishing, agriculture, and
trading. Their mythology is rich and nuanced; they had a strong sense of justice and mechanisms to
resolve legal disputes; and while it was by no means an egalitarian society, women were respected, and
free women could inherit land and divorce at will. Additionally, domestic abuse and sexual assault were
not readily tolerated. In Brennu-Njáls saga, Þjóstólfur discovered his foster daughter’s husband had
been abusive and severed their marriage ties with his axe.
Mind you some of the main sources of information, including the mythology and sagas, were largely
recorded by Christian scholars decades or even centuries after the end of the Viking Age. Additional
historical findings may help confirm or even verify various stories or theories about the Vikings, but for
now, these works are considered to be reasonably accurate representations of Viking lifestyle and
culture. And there is a lot to learn.
In the course of looking up fascinating facts online, I discovered Hurstwic, an American organization that
teaches Viking combat, but they did not have a chapter in Toronto and I certainly did not have the skills, knowledge, or drive to start one. (I have however, ordered their training videos, which should arrive next month.)
But I was certain there had to be similar organizations here. With another Google search, I quickly discovered Torvik, which recently offered its first public training session of the fall season. I was incredibly excited to participate – and incredibly nervous. It had been only a few months since my surgery, and I was still working on strengthening a number of badly atrophied muscles around my hip. I could walk long distances without the cane, but the muscles often became fatigued and sore. Sometimes I lurched a bit to compensate.
With help from my physiotherapist, I had been working to very literally get up to speed as soon as possible. I had told him that I wanted to get involved in Viking combat, which was the first he had ever heard of such a thing. He cautioned me that he couldn’t professionally condone my participation in this kind of sport, which is only fair since I have a permanently elevated risk of dislocating my hip and if I ever broke my right femur around the prosthetic, the injury would be difficult to repair.
However, he smiled and said it was really cool. So he’s been preparing me for the challenge with the hardest exercises he can give me, and on my last visit in early September, he raised the victory flag for my smooth gait and gave me some agility exercises.
I can do these exercises easily enough at home, but I realized I still had some serious mental barriers. Recently, while I was walking just outside my apartment, I thought about taking a few jogging steps,
which I’d done before without terribly serious consequences. This time, however, a little voice stopped me. No, it said. Too risky.
After sixteen years of crippledom, my brain has been trained to expect pain and injury.
So, four months and one day post-surgery, I headed out to try out Viking combat with these thoughts
haunting me. What if I still wasn’t strong enough to do this?
As is so often the case, I just needed to tell that little voice to shut the fuck up.
Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She is
not a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.