Optional Traits

Advantages: Combat Reflexes; Enhanced Parry (Shortsword or All).

Disadvantages: Reputation (Ruffian).

Skills: Fast-Draw (Sword); Knife; Main-Gauche.

Shaolin Traditions

The Shaolin Temple's visible traditions are its students' orange robes, shaved heads burned with a pattern of nine small dots, and physical fitness (imparted by years of martial-arts training). These things are familiar from TV, movies ... and actual monks. The People's Republic of China reopened the long-closed Temple as a cultural center. It's a popular destination for visiting martial artists, who train there or with any of the many unaffiliated teachers who live nearby. In the past, of course, one had to join the Temple to train there.

Historically, entry into the order was fairly mundane. Impressing the resident monks with your seriousness about the vows, and taking those vows, would be the only requirements. This might still be difficult; it's said that Bodhidharma sat outside the Temple for years, seeking entrance, until his gaze burned a hole in the mountain. On the other hand, the Temple did have a reputation for taking in wanderers, political dissidents, and other refugees - often rebels against the ruling Manchu Dynasty - if they were willing to take vows. Some of these monks might be more concerned with the world outside than with meditation or prayer. This reputation and the presence of politicized monks (both refugees and long-time acolytes) led to many conflicts with the government.

Movies and TV shows prefer a more exotic "admission test." Typically, one must either fight some or all of the monks (usually in ascending order of skill), or take unrealistically severe vows of obedience. Most of these fictional treatments also require a "final exam" before one is considered a true monk.

The TV show Kung Fu had its own, now famous, version of the "final exam." After training for years, students had to pass an ordeal involving an oral test on Buddhist philosophy, a maze filled with "attack dummies" and traps sprung by surprise, and other tricks designed to trip up the unwary and unskilled. Finally, the candidate had to lift a red-hot cauldron weighing 500 lbs. and carry it a short distance. On the sides were raised markings that branded the carrier's arms with a dragon and a tiger, marking him as a Shaolin monk. This is Hollywood rather than reality - but it certainly suits cinematic Shaolin monks!

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