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The ancient training of Iranian warriors that continues to this day

Tehran, Nov 18 (EFE) .- For centuries it was a training for warriors of ancient Persia and today the “zurkhaneh” – strength houses – survive as a discipline that combines physical exercise and religious fervor in Iran. A mixture of gymnastics, aerobics and juggling, the “zurkhaneh” has a history of at least 600 years. In modern Iran they face competition from modern gyms, preferred by young people. In the “zurkhaneh” Shir Afkan, in the south of Tehran, about twenty men swing huge clubs weighing several kilos in an octagonal shaft, characteristic of all powerhouses. Shortly after, one of them begins to perform a kind of dance or aerobics moving on the tips of his feet and turning on himself, while the other athletes observe him in a circle inside the well. All this, to the frenetic rhythm marked by a drum. “This exercise was to warm up before a battle,” explains Mayid Masumí, owner of the “zurkhaneh”, which his father opened a century ago. At the age of 73, Masumí began practicing this sport at the age of four and has run the powerhouse for decades. The ancient gymnast explains that the instruments of this discipline were weapons in ancient times: maces, heavy shields that are raised lying down or some pieces of metal that resemble bows. “This sport was a training for warriors,” he says. ORIGINS The first references to the “zurkhaneh” date back to the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736), but it is estimated that they are much older since they combine pre-Islamic elements, belonging to Zoroastrianism, the predominant religion in Iran until the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. Over time this practice became a training for civilians, a public spectacle and a competition that was held before the kings. Today it is a strongly ritualized exercise full of tradition: the door of the powerhouse is too low to force those who enter to lower their heads “to avoid arrogance, pride and selfishness,” according to Masumí. Each time a gymnast enters the well he must touch the ground with one hand, which he kisses afterward. When initiating juggling or dancing, young gymnasts should greet the head of the “zurkhaneh” with one knee on the ground and greet the other athletes. RELIGION And of course, religion is now also part of the discipline. The athletes salute Muhammad and chant the names of the imams of Shi’ism, the prevalent Islamic sect in Iran, in addition to praying at the well. “We saluted Muhammad maybe 30 times during an hour of training. Every movement is a salute to Muhammad, ”Hosein Peikanfar, a 65-year-old resident of Tehran, told EFE. Peikanfar, who has been practicing this sport for more than four decades, explains that they celebrate religious festivities in the house of strength with the singing of hymns and prayers. In addition, there is a belief that if wishes are made at the well, they are fulfilled. For this reason, sometimes people come to ask the gymnasts to pray to ask for the cure of a sick person or the solution of a problem. “Many times they give us a handkerchief with which we wipe the sweat from our faces and then that handkerchief is rubbed over the sick face to heal,” says Peikanfar. “And people heal,” says the athlete. Masumí, the owner of the force house, points out that the practitioners of tradition tend to be very religious people. “All those who are here are from religious groups: they all pray, they fast in Ramadan, they whip each other in mourning ceremonies for the imams,” explains Masumí. And for this reason, he believes that there are not many young people attracted by this tradition. “Young people have different tastes, they are interested in skiing or bowling,” he says. But, perhaps because of that religious aspect, the theocratic Iranian government has promoted force houses in recent decades by opening dozens of them. Still, Masumí is not optimistic. His house of force was inaugurated by his father a century ago. His son plays the drum during training and his seven-year-old grandson plays the sport. But the powerhouse lives on the donations of the participants. In addition, Masumí opened a modern gym that with about 200 people a week doubles the number of attendees at the powerhouse, both located in the same building. “When I die it is possible that my children close it and dedicate the space to something else. That has already happened with other power houses, ”laments Masumí. Jaime León (c) EFE Agency

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Ryan Reynolds will spend more time with his daughters during his professional break