Shaolin Monks - The Evolution of Animal Abuse

For centuries, the "Fighting Monks" of China, the Shaolin, have been revered for their mastery of the arts of war, the martial arts. The legends surrounding these monks are innumerable. It was claimed that they could walk through walls, disappear in broad daylight, defeat armed and mounted soldiers with their bare hands, and in general, kick the living shit out of anyone who pissed them off.

This was all well and good, and no problem for the Brothers Grymme during those days. We believe in kicking the living shit out of anyone who pisses us off, also, so as long as the Shaolin didn't get in our way, no worries.

Then, one day, we heard a legend that got our attention. A monk had developed a new strike which was being called the Iron Palm. The rumors claimed that he could "shatter the spine of a wild horse with a light, relaxed slap". Seeing the potential for a lucrative A.S.P.C.A. lawsuit, we sprang into action, starting our investigation on May 31, 742 A.D.


The first Shaolin temple was built about 495 A.D., by the Chinese Emporer Hsino Wen. At that time, the monks were simple holy men, who, had they known, would probably have been shocked by the depths to which the later priests sank.

Around 540 A.D., an Indian Buddhist priest named Bodhidharma came to this temple, and found that the monks were in horrible physical shape. He instituted a training program, based on Indian yoga practices, to improve the health of the Shaolin monks.


Wanting to start at the source, we began looking for Bodhidharma (who, of course, was dead by then). We discovered a Chinese sorcerer who claimed to have Bodhidharma's soul trapped in a bowl of rice, and said he'd speak to Bodhidharma for us, if we paid him. We killed the sorcerer (not for any real reason, he was just mouthy), then found the rice. We questioned the rice, and after holding a hungry duck above it for several hours and threatening it with soy sauce and MSG, it finally broke down and talked. It (Bodhidharma) detailed the training methods which had been employed when teaching the Shaolin. While it admitted that the things it had taught could possibly have been used for evil, that was not the intent at the time, and all the monks had signed disclaimers freeing Bodhidharma from any responsibility for the misuse of his training. Having cleared Bodhidharma of any wrongdoing, we pursued the investigation elsewhere. Oh, and ate the rice, as Marcus was pretty hungry by then.

We then went on to the temple itself, and observed the Shaolin monks for many years, living among them and pretending to be National Geographic photographers (as none of them had ever seen a camera at that point, they bought it).

The Shaolin were, in fact, killing the wild horses that roamed free and proud on the steppes of southern China. When we asked about the origins of this ritual horse-slaughter, we were told the real story behind Kung Fu, the reasons that a peaceful calisthenic exercise changed into a deadly fighting style.


In the early days of the temple, before Bodhidharma, the monks were surrounded by bandits and wild animals, who roamed freely in the hills and preyed on the monks and raided the temple. At that time, the monks were too weak to stop them, but after Bodhidharma, this soon changed. The monks gained the ability to fight back! They started aiming their exercises specifically at defeating their oppressors, so that they could live in peace.

The bandits soon learned to leave them alone, and left for greener pastures, holding up convenience taverns and donut shops, and were eventually caught and crucified on the side of the road.

The fierce animals, also, learned to respect and fear the monks, and to this day, gazelles and tree-sloths flee at the mere sight of a saffron robe.

All was well until the winter of 712 A.D. This was a long, cold winter, and other, fiercer, animals begin coming down from their normal homes looking for food. Even after the winter was over, some animals stayed in the area, attracted by the plentiful food and lack of other predators. The wild horses, in particular, became a problem. Their population quickly grew, as they devoured the lush grasses of the hills around the monastery, and soon giant herds of wild horses roamed the area, looking for trouble.

The horses made a serious impact on the monks, to begin with, by eating one of the staple foods of the Shaolin (who like good grass as much as the next man). But when the horses began to form herds (which, the Shaolin claim, were funded by illegal arms and drug sales), they also started harrassing the peaceful monks. We spoke to an old Shaolin priest, who remembered those days, and here is what he told us:

"My family was sick, and the horses, they would come and step on my feet, and biting my ears and nose, and they would laughing at me and offering me coupons...and the cobra, he spit in my eye..."
(At this point, the old priest went into convulsions, presumably due to the emotional impact of the memories, and died of a massive coronary.)

Unwilling to tolerate the ravages of the Wild Horse gang, the Shaolin monks began working on techniques to kill them. They started trying to develop a technique which would defeat this hated enemy.

The first attempt, the Trembling Finger, had no success (resulting, by the way, in an splinter faction of Shaolin monks who followed Pao Chen of the Nine Fingers).

The Gently Vibrating Fist also seemed ineffective (although it was later found to be greatly appreciated by village girls), as did the Gaze of the Elderly Cashier (which consisted of staring intently in a random direction and attempting to ignore the horses into submission).

Finally, a young monk discovered the Iron Palm technique (curing himself of masturbation forever, incidentally). He would quietly sneak up on a Wild Horse, raise his hand above his head, and let gravity pull it down. This had the startling effect of shattering the spine of the horse he struck! Crippled, the paraplegic Wild Horse soon died.

With this weapon at their disposal, the monks began a campaign to deal with the increasingly violent Wild Horses, whose overpopulation of the steppes had turned them into vicious carnivores. Within a decade, the Wild Horses gang had been broken up, and the horses returned to their natural habitats.


At this point, the Brothers Grymme were disappointed to find that the suspected abuse of animals had been in response to an obvious threat to the monks' well-being, and so would be considered justifiable in any court of the time.

We noticed, however, that the monks continued to kill wild horses even though they were no longer directly threatened by these animals. Intruigued, we continued our investigation for the next 12 centuries.

The wild horse population began to die, as young Shaolin monks, eager to prove themselves, searched the horses out and shattered their spines. It became more and more difficult to find wild horses, and so the monks would roam further and further from their temple.

This is how the martial arts came to Japan. As one Shaolin monk traveled, searching for horses upon which to practice his art, he was observed by Japanese soldiers. They followed him, watching him intently, and stole what they could from his style. Thus began a common practice, as the Japanese learned the form, but failed to grasp the essence.

Studies of the Japanese styles that sprang from this showed a belt ranking system, based on the type of animal a student was able to kill. The white belt, for example, signifyed the ability to shatter the spine of a dove with a light, relaxed slap. Below is a list of colored belt rankings, and the animals they represented.

White - Dove
Yellow - Chicken
Orange - House Cat
Blue - Fish
Green - Lizard
Purple - Monkey (Purple-painted Goat)
Pink - Pig
Brown - Llama
Black - Tame Horse
Red - Wild Horse

This led, of course, to the same types of problems experienced by the Shaolin in China. The animals became increasingly rare, and in one case, extinct. The once-great race of Purple Monkeys, who lived in caves in Japan, died out entirely (forcing the Japanese to change the animal associated with that belt, and spend countless hours painting goats for their students to "find" in the wild).

In the early 1800s, the Shaolin heard of the immense herds of wild horses roaming the plains of the New World, and so began immigrating to America, particularly the Old West. Here, they were once again free to shatter the spines of horses with wild abandon. They tore through the wild horse population like a shark through a swimming pool full of Spam. Having learned something from their mistakes, though, they diversified a bit and also practiced on buffalo.

As they were unfamiliar with the lifespan and reproductive cycle of buffalo, however, their plan backfired and nearly ended up killing the entire buffalo population. They were forced to return to horses, earning the hatred of the cowboys of the time. This was shown in the documentary series "Kung Fu". The Shaolin priest, Caine, wandered the Old West in a futile search for his brother (who had disappeared on a horse-hunt some decades ago). During his travels, he encountered many people who had met the Shaolin before, and lost horses to them, causing them to react with hostility to Caine. This gave him an excuse to kill them, assisting in the propagation of the fearsome reputation of the Shaolin fighting monks. Also note that, in this series, no horse was ever seen in more than one episode.

The cowboys, while they feared the Shaolin, also were greatly impressed by what they were capable of. They wanted to learn these skills, but were unwilling to kill animals like horses and bulls. They found a solution, by turning the style into a sport called "Rodeo" (based on the Chinese phrase "rho di o" which means "to die of shame").

In the early 1900s the automobile began to replace the horse. At first, the Shaolin tried to practice the Iron Palm on the horseless carraige, but found that Detroit manufacturers had anticipated this and installed protective plates called "bumpers", which prevented the monk from approaching the spine of the auto.


Modern observation shows that the techniques used by the Shaolin monk today are not all that different from those of his distant ancestors. As wild horses no longer exist in much of the world, however, the modern Shaolin practices on mechanical bulls. He will stalk the creature in its native environment, the Country-Western Bar, and drink beer to camoflauge himself, while watching the modern "Rodeo" practitioners attempting to die of shame. Then, at a lull in the action, he will approach the bull in the walking stance known as "Drunken Stagger", fall against the mechanical bull, give a mighty belch (for breath control), and lightly slap it with the Iron Palm technique. The crippling injury will not be noticed until the bull is ridden next, so the monk then staggers out of the bar and disappears into the night, before anyone can realizes the seriousness of the offense.

Again, the Japanese have attempted to imitate this style, and again they captured the form, but neglected the essence of the art. The first Japanese to observe the modern Shaolin immediately begin drinking in bars and staggering. They tried to use their own breath control methods, though, which eventually led to the invention of the Karaoke machine.

Americans trying to imitate this generally end up just drinking until they pass out, although some misguided souls will attempt to ride the bull.


We were about to expand our inquiry to include damage done to innocent trees and cinderblocks, when we were asked to stop our investigation. This polite request was delivered through a rather unique method. Marcus Grymme, lead investigative reporter (and Prophet) for the Brothers Grymme, woke one morning to find the shattered spine of a wild horse in his bed, wrapped in rice paper.

After discovering that a horse's cerebrospinal fluid tastes remarkably similar to a human's, Marcus brought the investigation to a halt.