The Stav

The Stav | What is Stav | Origin of Stav | Stav Philosophies | Weapon or Unarmed Training | Stav Stances | Stav and Asatru | Laug In Action or the Water of Life | Stav Haiku | Horse in Iron Age Society | The Stav Runes

Stav is a martial art and philosophical system which uses runes and Norse Mythology in its teaching. Stav was brought to the public by Ivar Hafskjold, who claims it is based on oral tradition preserved in his family for 44 generations, originating in circa 500 CE, though he has presented little evidence to back up this assertion.

The name “Stav” can be considered as a pun or play-on-words, meaning both ‘stave’ e.g. as in a ‘rune-stave’, a runic character or rune, and also ‘staff’ e.g. as a physical weapon employed in the martial art.

According to Ivar Hafskjold, the term “Stav” was his family’s informal name for their martial and runic practices, and comes from the expression sette stav (to set staves), which was how the training was described when he grew up. In the 1990s, Ivar Hafskjold took on four personal apprentice students; Shaun Brassfield-Thorpe, Kolbjorn Martens, David Watkinson and Graham Butcher.

All contemporary Stav teachers and instructors belong to a teaching lineage directly from either Ivar Hafskjold and/or one of his four personal students, each of whom are recognised by the Stav International organisation as “Stav Masters”.

Stáv is a Nordic style of martial arts based upon runic postures, using the 16 runes of the Younger Futhark Each of the runes can be found within the Stáv symbol above.


Stáv (pronounced st-arv) is a traditional European system which is designed to improve the mind body and spirit. It has been maintained and developed for over 44 generations by the Norwegian Hafskjold family.

Although based on an ancient philosophy, Stáv is a dynamic and evolving system that can be adapted to meet the requirements of the individual in today’s world. The principles have now been made available to a wider audience in order to preserve and enhance the system for future generations“.

Stav on some level resembles a Nordic form of Tai Chi, with the student beginning with ritualized stances resembling the sixteen runes of the Younger Futhark. Once mastery of the rune stances has been achieved, the student progresses to staff exercises. Stav is intended to be a flexible set of principles instead of techniques, focusing on finding the lines of attack and defense in any combat situation and exploiting them to the student’s benefit. Stav practitioners begin by using staffs or cudgels but may in time progress to use battle-axes, swords, wands or even to the bare-handed stage.

Stáv is a Mind, Body Spirit system, comparable to Tai Chi and Yoga, but originating through the traditions and mythology of Northern Europe, rather than the Orient. It developed through the Norwegian family, Hafskjold, and is often referred to as Hafskjold Stáv.

The system helps people improve and develop themselves by dealing with them holistically. That is Stáv works on the whole person: their physical body, their mind (both logical and intuitive) and their spirituality. Only by working with all three can people develop into complete, fully rounded individuals.

Stáv is a 1500 year old (living) runic tradition that has been preserved in Norway by the Hafskjold family. Stáv contains many aspects, including healings arts. Stáv Healing contains the use of postures, breath techniques, herbalism, joint manipulation, massage, counseling (via the runes) and many other aspects.

The stances have many benefits, many of which are only revealed once the stances have been performed regularly over a period of time. Two direct and almost immediate benefits can be obtained from the stances.

  • The first is that they exercise the body gently and without pressure. They are very low impact exercises which can be performed no matter what your age or ability. The stances can be modified to compensate for injury and disability in order to gain the maximum benefit from them.
  • The second is that they promote complete breathing using the whole of the lungs. This has shown to be beneficial to asthma and other respiratory ailment sufferers.

Regular practice of the stances brings other benefits including improved body posture, firmer stomach muscles and increased flexibility. Indeed those suffering from injury, stiffness in the joints and other restrictions to their movement can gain increased mobility and suppleness from performing the stances on a regular basis. The stances can also be a form of moving meditation which is useful for relaxation and in relieving stress and tension.

There are a limited amount of historical references that can confirm the orgin of Stav. Stav is mentioned briefly by Snorre Sturlason (in his collection of history and legends about the Viking age and the Norwegian kings). It is mentioned in “Nordic Culture Historical Lexicon”, under the chapter about “Kaupangen/Leidangen”.

There are also some description of “Viking martial arts” in “Kongespeilet” (Kongespeilet translates to KingMirror, a Manual from 1240 about how the upper class should behave). The other literature about Viking combat exercise and fights are written after the Viking age (between 1300 and 1400). However experts on Nordic history can’t give any more information on what Stav really was or how it was practiced.