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Connection Between Persian Martial Art Zoor Khane And Turkish Wrestling

The history of Iranian zoor khane is shrouded in mystery and legend. The only recorded evidence of its existence in Persian-speaking countries (i.e., most of the middle Asian countries that were part of the former Soviet Union, Iran, and Afghanistan) dates back no more than 150 years. There is, however, other evidence that places zoor khane among the oldest extant martial arts in the world.

Such evidence is found in other countries that have been influenced by Iranian culture. One of the main aspects of zoor khane has always been wrestling -- specifically oil wrestling, which is performed by two people whose bodies are soaked with oil. This type of wrestling is still very popular in Turkey, for example. Turkish wrestling is taken directly from zoor khane. Its rules are similar to Iranian wrestling, and even the attire of traditional Turkish wrestlers is the same as that worn in zoor khane. Moreover, Iranian words are still commonly used in Turkish oil wrestling. For example, the general Turkish (Ottoman) term for oil wrestler is the Persian word paehlaevan, which means "champion" and is also used in reference to the best fighters of zoor khane. Also, in both Turkish and Persian, the term used for oil wrestling itself is the Persian word pishrow, derived from the Persian verb pishraftaen, which means "to progress"; a pishrow is someone who has made progress.

The introduction of Iranian wrestling to Turkey occurred under Ottomans, probably in the 16th century. There is recorded evidence that a big wrestling tournament was organized in 1591 on the basis of friendship and to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a peace treaty between the Turkish sultan and the Persian shah. It was held on Turkish territory, and this was probably when Iranian wrestling attire was introduced to the Turkish sport. One Turkish story holds that it was the eldest son of the Ottoman sultan Orhan who introduced oil wrestling to Turkey as early as the 14th century. Although the latter cannot be confirmed, we can be certain that a martial art existed in Iran at least as far back as the late Middle Ages.

-- D. H. Luijendijk

from "Zoor Khane: History and Techniques of the Ancient Martial Art of Iran"

Quoted on Thu Sep 8th, 2011