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Champions of Body and Mind

The old Persian traditional sport and exercise halls, known as ‘zoorkhaneh’, still survive in Tehran at the present time, albeit in much diminished numbers. They abound in rituals and tradition, all meant to help the process of raising men of integrity and character, chivalrous champions of great humility and nobility.


Permission has to be sought formally from the Master of the session and elders present to enter the exercise-pit, after ritual washing of faces, hands and feet. The Master keeps the rhythm and count of the exercise with his instruments, saying a religious phrase such as ‘Hail Ali!’ to get the sportsmen going. Each session is started with recitals from a heroic epic (Shahnameh), mystical poetry, or songs in praise of Imam Ali.


The pit is slightly lower than floor level, whilst the Master’s seat is slightly higher. There is an exercise leader standing in the middle of the group whom all follow and the Master guides. The traditional exercise equipment follows various traditional weapons, such as the spear, shield or bow in rough shape, but often is much heavier.


The particular traditional gym we visit in this multimedia package is known as Talachi Zoorkhaneh, after its founder, the well known sports champion , Ali Kiantash who took it over sixty years ago. His son, Mustapha Kiantash, now manages it and is our guide to the fascinating world of ancient Persian sport.

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