Guest Post

The Viking Spirit, Part II – Winning the Battle (Guest Post)

by Abby E


On May 19, 2015, I had a badly degenerated hip replaced with a titanium prosthetic. On September 20,2015, I picked up a sword for the first time in my life.

I had been looking forward to learning Viking combat for months, but I was still worried that I wasn’t yetstrong enough to handle any form of martial art whatsoever. Nonetheless, I decided I would go and see what I could manage. I was pleasantly surprised.

About ten or twelve people came and went that afternoon. Some were members of Torvik, others were prospective members, including me. One of the more experienced fighters, K, handed me a metal helmet and a sword and another loaned me a pair of homemade leather gauntlets to protect my hands.

The whole thing felt so weird, but I got used to it very quickly.

K grabbed a bearded axe and led me a little way from the clusters of Viking enthusiasts who were still chatting and asked me to hold the sword in whatever way felt comfortable. I seemed to prefer holding it perpendicular to the ground, which is primarily a defensive way to hold a weapon. He then gave me the basics on where to hit – and where not to hit – how to strike, and how to block. I managed all of the blocks relatively easily, but for some reason, when he came in for a straight body-blow, I continually misjudged and used the wrong blocking method. In sparring, too, I failed to block just about every body blow, which suggests that had I been a real Viking, I probably would have been gutted in battle.

However, as my second trainer, J, taught me, sometimes the best defense is to just be out of reach, andI got better at dodging blows I couldn’t block. I still lost more arms than I could count (probably because I didn’t have any fingers left to count them on). I also learned how to use a shield and how to get around an opponent’s shield. The Torvik members constructed their own circular shields from wood, metal, and leather. Each shield was twelve to fifteen pounds each but could take a hard blow from a weapon and absorb almost all of the force. However, they are designed to be gripped by a single handle located smack in the centre, so if you struck theshield on one side, it would tilt. This could provide an opening for a strike, but the shields were huge and I was not particularly fast, so it was tough to get past my opponent’s shield and weapon combined. Additionally, it’s pretty easy to hide your weapon behind the shield so that your opponent can’t see what you’re doing. Sneaky.

When I was holding the shield, I realized I was not strong enough to hold it up for more than a few minutes. The protection it offered was impressive, but I soon became fixated on not dropping the shield and wasn’t able to either attack or defend myself properly, so those exercises didn’t last long. I did manage to get in a few attempted strikes when my opponents used their axes to pull the shield away from my body. In both cases, my trainers were only using one weapon at a time, so while their weapons were occupied, I had the opportunity to attack, although I’m sure I still would have been disemboweled had my opponent carried two blades. I really gotta work on that not getting killed thing.

All told, this was incredibly fun and challenging, and I had no trouble with my hip. My calves hurt from all the shuffling and, Odin’s beard, my arms hurt, but the new joint did its job beautifully. I’m going to have to do this again. And next time, I’m going to make sure my opponent spills his guts, instead. Or maybe the time after that.

Whatever. Shut the fuck up, doubtful inner voice.

I may not be graceful, but I still have all my innards. So far.
I may not be graceful, but I still have all my innards. So far.

Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She isnot a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.

Guest Post

The Viking Spirit, Part I – Waging the War (Guest Post)

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.

It's all about that axe!
It’s all about that axe!

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.