Stáv


The Stáv Martial Art (st-arv) is a Norwegian martial (part of Scandanavian) art based around the use of the staff and is also a religion created by the Norwegian Hafskjold family. Some say it's the northern european version of Qi Gong, Tai Chi or Yoga. Stav means Knowledge of rune staves. It deals with the training of the mind, body and spirit. It also deals with healing arts along with the fighting aspect. The basis of the art is the use of 5 principles which are related to the 5 classes (Trel, Karl, Herse, Jarl and Könge) and 5 elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Ice and Wind). In addition, they use 16 postures and associated breathing techniques and incantations ("galdor"). The 16 postures are the way the body shape will match the 16 runes of the futhark.

 

Origin of Stav

"[A] recent discussion on the origins of the term Stáv has been interesting and no doubt for some people confusing, so here goes with an attempt to explain things - I trust Ivar will correct any errors I may make here. Ivar's family, the Hafskjolds / Hosling, have practiced a martial art for as long as anyone can remember. This martial art centers around the use of the staff - in Norwegian, the "Stáv". The weapon is used to teach combat principals in general (thus methods for both the use of all / any weapons and for unarmed combat are drawn from staff-work).

"This martial art has, for want of a better term, always been referred to as simply "Stáv" within the family. However, as most of you will be aware, there is rather more to the Hafskjold's martial art than just weapons play. The basis of the martial art is the use of five principals which are related to the five "classes" (Trel, Karl, Herse, Jarl and Könge) and five elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Ice and Wind) but in addition to this the use of sixteen postures and associated breathing techniques and "incantations" (called "galdor"). The sixteen postures are used to make the body form the shape of the 16 runes of the futhark (in the variation used by the Hosling). When a rune is formed, be it carved in wood, written on paper, or formed with the body, it is both the rune itself (the "mystery") and a symbolic depiction of the rune - a rune-stáve.

"Simply, a "Stáv" is thus another way of saying "rune" and to practice Stáv is also to use the runes. This is at once a simple pun allowing one for example to infer the practice of either staff-fighting (which was publicly acceptable in Christian Norway) but also the use of runes (which was not). To those unfamiliar with the Stáv martial art it may seem like suggesting that staff-fighting and the use of runes is an awkward combination, however, the martial aspect of Stáv and the runic philosophy which informs the art are inseparable - no doubt having influenced each other to a great extent within the Hafskjold family.

"However, the Hafskjold tradition is somewhat wider than just a martial art, or for that matter the use of runes. The Hafskjolds also engaged in other activities such as herbalism and the practice of seid - it is my understanding that while these are traditional within the family such arts were not originally referred to as "Stáv" (for example, in the Hafskjold tradition seid has just about nothing to do with the runes and is a very different phenomenon).

"When Ivar first began to teach outside his family he referred to the tradition he was teaching as "Stáv". Initially he basically taught weapons work, concentrating at first on the staff, as well as the use of the runic postures. To those of us that expressed our interests in such things he also passed on his knowledge of seid and various other activities. Lacking any specific traditional name for the practices in general employed by his family, it became standard for us to refer to everything in the Hafskjold tradition generically as "Stáv". In this sense Ivar (and his students) are indeed responsible for coining the term "Stáv" as a way of describing the WHOLE of the tradition, but we in no way invented the term itself, which is indeed traditional (albeit a bit more specific).

"Things have become even more complicated in that having used the term Stáv to refer to diverse practices within the Hafskjold tradition, the term Stáv has also been used (and here I am as guilty as anyone) as a generic term to refer to what others might choose to call "Northern Tradition" or "Asatru" or "Nordic Pagan Philosophy" etc. I'm quite happy for anyone to state that this is a misnomer, and at one level it is (if we define Stáv as either a staff-fighting system based on the runes or as the Hafskjold tradition as a whole then anything beyond that is not Stáv) however, it is as valid a term as describing Native American traditions as "Shamanism" or all Chinese martial arts as "Kung Fu" - a definition that is at a precise level inaccurate but describes things in a way so that people generally get the gist.

"Of course this has in turn meant that in order to describe specifically the Stáv martial art some of us tend to now call it "The Stáv Martial Art" rather than just Stáv so as to avoid confusing a feature of the martial art with Stáv (the whole tradition) as a whole. And in turn, if one uses the term Stáv generically to mean something like "Norse Pagan Culture" one then finds oneself almost obliged to refer to the Hafskjold tradition as "Hafskjold Stáv" to distinguish it from, say, Icelandic runic traditions. I hope this goes some way to clearing things up a little but please post any queries.

In a sense, it is accurate to say that Stáv is both the term always used by the Hafskjold family and also that it is a modern invention - the point being that what has altered is the meaning behind the term not the term itself. Certainly the term Stáv was in use by the Hafskjold family before Ivar started to teach outside the family and it is referred to in the Hafskjold family's traditional poem which describes the activities that should be undertaken by. 

As far as the martial side goes, aside from the 16 rune-stances which are the basis of just about everything we do, the "core" aspects of the system are all drawn from the tradition as Ivar learnt it in Norway; these are 5 solo exercises with the staff (or in a single rather than double handed form, with a stick; there is some variation between the double handed staff and single handed stick but the methods are very similar) and 5 partnered exercises - the attacker (armed with an axe) making one of two forms of attack upon the defender, who is armed with a staff. These are related to the 5 "classes" and the 5 Norse elements (earth, water, fire, ice, wind) - The 5 partnered staff exercises in Graham's book are these exercises. To be perfectly honest, in some ways this could be considered "the whole of the martial art" of Stav (it might not seem like much, but it is basically enough!). Traditionally i.e. in Norway, aside from regular practice of the stances and the exercises I have mentioned here, the rest of the training consisted of "making it up as you go along"; basically the idea was (and still is!) that having learnt the 5 principles, one then tests these in various ways. This basically means that the attacker makes an agreed set attack (there are many & various options of what he might do of course) and the defender tests his defence against this (aside from with raw beginers in early training, the attacker is expected to counter any defence if at all possible - we keep this as "real" as possible and don't encourage "co-operation" between attacker & defender). Usually what was done was the defender would pick one of the 16 runes (and one of the 5 principles) and attempt to devise a defence based upon this, then test whether or not this works against a commited attack. Ivar learnt 19 specific defences of this kind from his family (I won't go into why 19, as that would be somewhat complicated!) although a) I don't think any of us (his personal students) actually use these as such in our teaching; b) Ivar has in fairness possibly adapted these due to his Japanese training (he says himself that having first learnt much of this around 50 years ago, he really can't be certain how much of the technical aspects he may have unconsciously altered) and c) these are basically just considered "examples" of what could be done (they all use the rune-stances and the 5 principles, but alternative "techniques" are just as valid). The staff was considered the "core" weapon (with the stick for single-handed weapon training) i.e. from the use of this one could adapt ones method to any other weapon, whereas if one trained in only e.g. the axe (where there is a tendacy to rely upon the blade not the manipulation of the line, and where there is not much option for e.g. reversing the weapon, end over end) then one could not develop "transferable skills" in the same way. This said, anyone might choose to specialise in a weapon for whatever reason.

When Ivar went to Japan and trained in Japanese arts, he basically developed his technical ability through training in these arts. I do not doubt his appreciation of the principles involved in Stav developed also! But basically he didn't change them to fit the Japanese methods.

When Ivar started teaching us (myself, Graham, David and Ronayne), he initially taught us basically as I have outlined above, plus a few solo staff exercises from Jo-Jitsu that he thought were especially useful. When we got on to the "making it up as you go along and testing this" side of training, Ivar naturally enough would suggest or show us various options for how one could use a stance or principal in a given situation. These were quite undoubtedly influenced by Ivar's Japanese training, some I gather being based upon Jo-Jitsu techniques, others of Ivar's invention but nevertheless influenced by his Japanese experience. We trained with exercises of this nature that Ivar had given us, and also developed our own applications and tested these against him (needless to say, some worked, most didn't!); our own improvisations were in fairness no doubt due both to our Stav training and also to prior experience in a range of other arts - but all of this was done with the intention of testing our use of the Stav principles.

So, to wind up a lengthy answer, the principles are Norwegian, much of the technical aspects we were originally taught by Ivar (which we all consider somewhat discardable as they are basically just illustrative and can be varied, adpated, etc) are based upon Ivar's joint knowledge of both the Norwegian art and his extensive training in Japan.

Techniques are vehicles to carry the student towards an appreciation of prinicple.

The first fundamental principle of Stav is that we work with the line, not the weapon. The weapons we train with are simply tools to assist us in discovering the lines and learning to 'see' them. The lines I refer to are the lines of the web of wyrd, the structure which holds the universe together in many dimensions.

the web

Students of Stav learn to use their web to maximum effect and to see the weakneses in the web of others. To teach this there are simple exercises. The basic cuts with the axe are performed not as a method of just seeking to strike a physical object, but as a means of cutting though the lines of a partner's web. The attacker advances over at least six paces and then cuts through the defender's arc of defence. The defender learns to take evasive action with a counter attack to an effective attack, or deflect a weak one. To build up to this the attacker may walk in with the axe already extended and seek to force the defender's axe off the line. It may seem like a trial of physical strength but a small person with a strongly focused will is always able to deflect the attack of a larger person if their will is not focussed. Which brings me to the second principle, Stav training aims to bring about a unity of mind, body and spirit.

The third principle is that there are five levels of response to any situation which relate to the five classes, levels or principles of Stav. We work with all six weapons of the martial aspect of Stav, the cudgel, axe, scramasax, long-sword, spear and staff. For each weapon there are five two person forms each one of which seeks to apply the five principles described above.