Varzeš-e pahlavāni (champions' sport): Safavid-period manuscripts also report that warriors trained in the martial art of the varzeš-e pahlavāni (champions' sport). It is a martial art that was and still is practised in the zurxāne
(house of strength). In the past the zurxāne was called langargāh and also āmājxāne. The zurxāne is the place of strength, physical conditioning and the use of different methods of traditional training of Iranian warriors. At the same time, the zurxāne cultivates moral values and norms of etiquette. In the zurxāne one teaches the art of combat and the preparation of the fighting arts. All tools of the varzeš-e pahlavāni represent the weapons of a warrior. Practitioners of this art follow a code of rules of conduct based on the principles of javānmardi. The training was accompanied by a drummer-chanter who sang the poems of the epic of the Šāhnāme. Because of this type of training, it was possible to create a type of ideal warrior, a pahlavān, who was valiant, powerful, capable, honorable and an enemy of falsehood. This military training and chivalry played a very important role in social and political planning in Iran. Although is not an integral part of Razmafzar, we strongly recommend our members to train in this art.
Each zurxāne has a sardam which is a high platform near the entrance of the building. This is a circular area with a diameter of about 2-3 square meters with a height 1 meter higher than other people's seats. This is the place where the moršed (literally a spiritual guide or an instructor, but here it refers to a person who directs the activities and sings the songs in the zurxāne) sits, uses his drum and bells, and sings songs from the Šāhnāme or poems that praise the first Imam of the Shiites, Emām Ali. The sardam is decorated with pictures and portraits of champions, saints representing athletic justice and dignity. The varzeš-e pahlavāni consists of the following parts:

1) Garm kardan
(warming up): Warming up exercises consist of moves that are very important to avoid injuries to athletes when they start training with the heavy training tools or equipment of
varzeš-e pahlavāni. These warm-up exercises are also done in intervals between the training with the equipment, such as push-up exercises on the wooden plank or workouts with the wooden clubs or the steel bow. Similar to other types of exercises with tools, warm-up exercises are accompanied by the songs of the moršed.

2) Sang (wooden shield): A sang (stone) is a representation of a separ (shield) and is used as the first tool at the beginning of the varzeš-e pahlavāni. Originally, sang was called sang-e zur (power stone). In the past, a sang was made of stone. Today, they are made of two wooden planks and are equipped with handles. The wooden handles, which are positioned in the middle of the sang, are covered with felt so that the hands are not injured while training. Each sang is 110 cm long and 80 cm wide. The wooden plank has a thickness of 6 cm. Each sang weighs 35 to 40 kilos, and together weigh 70 to 80 kilos. The athlete puts a blanket or a carpet down and lies on his back. Then, he takes the handles of both sang so that each hand is holding one sang. There are two types of training with the sang . . .

3) Kabbāde (steel bow): The kabbāde is made as a whole bow of iron or steel with an iron chain in place of a bowstring. The bow also has rings or coins attached to the string (zeh). The kabbāde is 150 cm long and weighs 20 kilos. It
has a chain (resembling a
zeh or bowstring) of 160 cm length. There is a qabze (handle) in the middle of the body of the kabbāde. This qabze is 20 cm long. The process of training with a kabbāde is called kabbāde zadan. The right hand holds the handle of the kabbāde, and the left hand holds a metal rod placed in the middle of the chain/string. Holding the kabbāde in the opposite direction meaning the left hand on the handle of the kabbāde and the right hand in the middle of the chain is also possible. Then, the kabbāde is held above the head, and the athlete swings it above his head to the left and right side of his body.

4) Taxte-ye šenā (wooden plank used for push-ups): The wooden plank that
is used for push-up exercises is called taxte-ye šenā. This is a wooden plank, 1 meter in length and 10 cm wide, that has two triangular, wooden supports. Taxte-ye šenā is used for push-ups.

5) Mil (wooden mace): The mil is a wooden mace and is based on the weapon mace. That the purpose of the training with the mil was to develop the muscle groups used in mace fighting.   Training with a wooden mace is called milgiri or milvarzi. The weight of a training mil weighs between 5 to 50 kilos, but for training in the zurxāne, the weight of a mil normally ranges between 8 and 25 kilos. Each athlete holds two mil, one in each hand, and in time to the rhythm of the drum and song of the moršed, he swings his mil over his shoulders by turning to the left and then swinging the right mil and turning to the right and swinging the left mil.

6) Pā zadan (footwork): Footwork is performed without the help of any tools. Originally, these different types of footwork exercises were meant to train the warriors for speed and dexterity for the battlefield and additionally, these exercises are nowadays used for the footwork in Iranian wrestling. The athletes stand up and perform many stepping exercises, among them avoidance exercises, helping them become fast and more nimble. When observing the exercises it is clear that these were meant to train the warriors to avoid the strikes of the weapons of their opponents.

7) Čarx (whirling, rotating leap): To perform this exercise, one athlete moves to in the middle of the go’d and begins spinning around, starting slowly and turning faster and faster. This exercise comes from the customs of the ayyārān who held one xanjar (dagger)in each hand and spun themselves around to inflict damage in a melee and escape afterwards.

8) Košti (wrestling): Additionally, one practices traditional wrestling in the zurxāne.

9) Praying: Praying plays an important role in the varzeš-e pahlavāni representing the piety and humbleness of the practitioners. Praying is done after the workout and represents one of the oldest of customs in the zurxāne.

For more information on this martial art and traditional sport see Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Historical Martial Arts of Iran

© M.Khorasani Consulting