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Ivar Hafskjold: Stav


Ivar Hafskjold

Ivar Hafskjold is a man currently living in UK. He has been training all his life in the relatively unknowed art of Stav. He is now a leading authority in this fighting style which he the 44th generation of master.

What is Stav?
Traditionally the origin of Stav goes back to the 4th century AD, though there is no way of proving this. The system is a compilation of ancient North-European, pre-christian knowledge that includes among others medicine, crafts, philosophy, magic, mythology and martial arts. The core is 16 stances that mirrors the runes of the Younger Futhark with the rune named "HAGL" as the central rune.

What is a rune?
What is a rune? I would probably need a whole book to explain that, but to keep it simple it is a North-European writing system, an alphabet. There are several versions with from 33 to 24 to 16 runic "letters", but they all start with the "letters" F-U-TH-A-R-K so it is called a futhark, like the alphabet starts with A-B (alpha-beta) and is therefore called an alphabet. Stav uses what is called the "Younger Futhark", using 16 runes. Now "rune" basically mean a mystery, and though they can be used to write with, they are generally used for magic and divination like the Chinese pictograms were originally used.

These are the runes of the younger futhork as used in the Hafskjold-Stav tradition.
photo taken from

Would you say Stav is more of a religion than a fighting art?
It depend on what you want out of it. To me Stav is basically a philosophical and educational system, others see it as a pure fighting art, while for others again it is mostly seen as a healing art. A few people would find comfort in it as a religion, but this is not the main purpose of Stav. The real purpose of Stav training is to be able to see reality; what Zen Buddhism would call satori.

Can you describe the way you train?
As stated the core of the system are the 16 rune-stances. Anyone wanting to learn Stav will be taught these, and will ideally be doing them once or twice a day for the rest of their life. One moves slowly from stance to stance while deep, abdominal breathing is co-ordinated with the movements. This is regarded as moving meditation, and some people are satisfied to do all their training at this level.

However. if one wants to develop the martial aspect of Stav, one starts training with weapons; the two main teaching ones being the walkingstick and the staff. The first represents weapons being used with one hand, the other any weapon being used with two. There are no hard and fast rule how to train, as traditionally a teacher would tailor his teaching to the student's need, but these days we tend to start with teaching seven guards together with six cuts and one thrust. One cuts or thrusts from one guard into another one along three lines.

Later there are five principles of strategy being taught and the student will then develop his or her own tecniques using the stances or combinations of stances. The effeciency of these are tried working with a partner who will attack along agreed lines, but there is no sparring as such in the system, as it is felt that this will develop bad habits as you cannot spar without limiting yourself. Later a student will mostly concentrate on one or two weapons, the main ones being, apart from the staff and the walkingstick, the battleaxe, the longsword, the shortsword, the spear, the wand and the knife, but actually any non-projectile weapon can be used. Some Stav exponents also train with the longbow, and later in unarmed combat, especially together with the wand or knife.

The eventual goal of Stav training, whether martial arts, crafts, medicine, or in fact any other Stav teaching, is to try to see reality, with skills in these arts being a very useful by-product. You could also call it a training course in magic, as one try to enter a different mindset from the ordinary one.

How did Stav continue to exist to this day?
Stav as I learnt it was/is a family system. The teachings were wholly oral, though they were supported by a general knowledge of mythology, runology and history. There were no school as such with scrolls and books; you just learnt in everyday life by watching and listening and training with your elders. There were never any specific time or class, you just absorbed without hardly noticing that you were taught. As Stav is now also taught outside the family we have to a certain degree adopted a more formal way of teaching, though my son is still learning the traditional way.

Does your mystical ways affect any of your martial arts training?
Yes, the main purpose of training in Stav is to learn to see reality, whether one concentrate on Martial Arts, crafts, healing or "magic". There are no tecniques as such, just principles, an understanding of lines and the stances. The ideal is too be able to handle any situation without the conscious mind being involved.

Do you imitate the movement of each god that a rune represents
Each stance copy a rune, by moving from stance to stance techniques can be created spontanesly and then forgotten. (One can know the movements of animals, but not gods.) In practice a teacher will suggest certain combinations for certain situations, but they are just suggestions, and you are not encouraged to become a carbon copy of your teacher, as the body and mental make-up will be different from person to person.

How many Stav masters are there around the world?
There are exactly 5 Stav masters worldwide, with another 14 instructors qualified to teach Stav. Most are based in the UK,but there are some in Australia, USA, Sweden and Japan.

what are the five principles of strategy being taught to develop ones techniques?
The trell priciple: Withdraw until opponent is overextended, then attack.
The Karl " : Stop the opponent, but do not follow if he withdraws.
The Herse " : Stop the opponent and control him, so he cannot withdraw or continue the attack.
The Jarl " : Put the opponent in a position where neither he nor you can attack.
The Konge " : Counterattack before the opponent has launched his attack.

Are there any ressemblances/differences, as far as you know, between Stav and other martial arts?
My knowledge of other Martial Arts is limited to Japanese ones, but I believe Stav differs from most in that it has no tecniques, but any possible tecnique can be created if one understands the stances, the lines and the principles. Because of this Stav can resemble any Martial Art, while still being different.

To learn more about Mr. Hafskjold or Stav, check out Stav International
Last Updated on Thursday, 29 April 2010 13:58  

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