Physical Education and the Problem of Integrity

  December 05, 2023   Read time 5 min
Physical Education and the Problem of Integrity
Education in medieval Persian society also stressed physical training. In terms of age grading, physical education began with the local games of childhood and youth and continued with the individual's participation in zurkhana (House of Strength). 

The zurkhaneh building was dome shaped; the field area of the gowd occupied the center section and lay three-fourths to one meter below the ground level. The goivd, generally hexagonal or octagonal in shape, covered 9 to 25 square meters in area and accommodated twelve to eighteen athletes comfortably. Four smaller areas were located above the level of the gowd\ the most elevated one was reserved for the morshid (the athletic leader) and his drum; the second space provided a place for the athletes to dress, the spectators sat in the third location, and the fourth was used for storage.

In one way or another all members of the community supported the zurkhana. Although the upper class did not participate in its activities directly, they contributed money for its maintenance. The middle class constituted the active membership of the zurkhana; and as respectable members of the community they all had their own jobs or professions, and many were guild members. Some became outstanding athletes, a few of whom received recognition from the king. All gained prestige for their participation in religious and national ceremonies, and the morshid himself was a respected citizen. The zurkhana not only provided athletic facilities but offered religious inspiration to everyone. Members treated It as a sacred place: when they entered or left it they kissed the ground. Every member had to be a good Shi'a Moslem, and before entering the building he customarily performed the vozu (ablution). As a group the members fasted during Ramazan and attended en masse funeral services or other events in the community.

A young man might joia the zurkhana while still in his teens and through a series of hierarchial steps he could eventually become a local or even national hero. Not only physical prowess but moral qualities and community participation determined advancement. A beginner (taze-kar}^ after he had gained familiarity with the rules of the zurkhana, became a regular member (nowkhaste). To be eligible for the title of Junior Pahlavam [notv-che-Pahlavan] he had to learn the general pattern of exercises aad engage in wrestling the highest purpose of the zurkhana. Those who were respected community leaders or heads of other zurkhanas might attain the honorary title of Pahlavan. The best wrestler among them could become the king's wrestler (Pahlavan-e-shah] .

The morshid greeted the members in a manner fitting their position. When a taze-kar entered the gowd the morshid said simply, "Koshamadid" (Welcome), and for a nou'-khaste he might repeat the same greeting twice and any senior members present would join in. The now-cbe Pahlavan was addressed with both "Welcome" and such salavats as "Praise be to Allah, Muhammad and Muhammad's family." A Pahlavan, being a senior athlete and a community leader, received a more ceremonious greeting. The members sometimes presented him with bouquets and the warshid beat his drum in a special commanding was (a?mal vared'i] so as to announce the arrival of an important personage. The Pahlavan sometimes led the exercises himself.

When a nationally known Pahlavan entered, the morshid not only drummed the news but announced loudly enough for all to hear, "May a man's life be good from beginning to end." At this point the athletes all stopped their exercising and asked him to enter the goivd and lead them. If he declined, they requested his permission to continue. The Pahlavan customarily replied, "May God give you the opportunity. May Ali grant you victory." Then the athletes began again, and the morshid performed his most heroic songs and verses in honor of the occasion. The men joined him in reciting verses from the Koran, Shahname or Sa'di's moral verses. After the athletic program the members prayed for their teachers, for their patron, the morshid, the independence of their country and finally for the success of Islam.

Generally, those of the same rank practiced their exercises together, although custom decreed that the leader belong to a higher order. The morshid encouraged each group with special words of praise. To the taze-kars he occasionally called out, "Mashallah" (By God's will-). For the now-khastes and the noiv-che Pahlavans he repeated a salavat. If the wrestlers were young he said, "Curse be upon the evil eye/' and if they were old he uttered, "May Ali be your companion/' or "Praise be on Muhammad/*

The men performed calisthenics or exercised with special equipment; they also massaged one another. The main sports equipment consisted of the mil (club) made in different sizes, and the kabadeb (two-arched pieces of iron with short iron chains attached). The takhte-shena was a sturdy wooden plank about fifty centimeters in length and ten centimeters in width, and a strip of wood was attached to each end to raise it several centimeters off the ground. The athlete, keeping his arms and legs straight, let himself down so that his chest came to touch the board. The men raised and lowered themselves in this way to the rhythm of the morshid's chanting or to the beating of the drum. There were several variations of this exercise. The mils provided a second series. With a club in each hand, the athlete first held the clubs against his chest, then raised them above his shoulders, next lowered them to the level of his buttocks, and finally made a half circle to bring them back to the level of his chest. The action was repeated again and again. At other times the athlete picked up smaller, lighter clubs and tossed them into the air, much as in juggling. In using the kabadeh the athlete lifted it with both hands. In gaborgge he lifted it with both hands above his head and then tilted it to the left or right side: this action shifted the chains from one side to another and developed a sense of belance in the performer.