The ancient Shaolin Temples may be compared to a martial arts university. Each temple had several Shaolin Masters who were experts or specialists in a particular area of training. Thus, the students could learn from the best in every field. There were 3 classes of Shaolin devotees namely monks, priests and practitioners. The most difficult part was to gain admission to one of these temples. Young students had to wait outside the temple for an eternity before they were accepted or rejected based on their temperament and attitude based on the monks discreet observations. They had to endure months or years of doing menial chores before they were accepted as disciples. Those accepted would receive an education in philosophy, fine arts and the martial arts.
In order to graduate from the temple, they would have to exhibit phenomenal skills and pass through 18 testing chambers in the temple. If they survived the first 17 chambers, they would have to grip an iron couldron with their bare forearms and have the raised relief of a tiger and dragon burnt into their arms. These marks were the signs of a true Shaolin Master.
For thousands of years the Shaolin Masters drew upon their experiences to refresh and renew the Shaolin art with new styles and forms of training. At the same time, the priests and practioneres instructed worthy laymen in various styles. In time, many of these laymen initiated their own variants of the training they had received. The priests and practioners also brought back to the temple innovations in the martials arts that they encountered in their travels.
The following are the various temples that existed at one point in time and a brief list of styles attributed to have been developed by them.
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