Many have heard about the Shaolin Temples, but few know the details of Shaolin training. Shaolin monks were subjected to trials an average person would consider insurmountable.

After 20 years of grueling daily workouts, a monk earned the opportunity to take the final test. The candidate did not receive any instructions or guidance for the exam.

Image credit: Yaoleilei (

Image credit: Shi Deru (

This last test was conducted in a maze, whose entrance gate was closed and sealed behind him. Withdrawal was not an option and the only chance was to move forward. The labyrinth was composed of several dark rooms—walls were slippery, wet and cold, and water was dripping from the ceiling.

The candidate encountered rats, poisonous spiders and reptiles, fending off dangerous scratches and bites. The cave was full of pits, a place where most people would have stumbled. One wrong step could lead to death. 

Certain traps triggered arrows and spears when someone passed, and from the ceiling, stones and axes fell without warning. Macabre shadows appeared in the half-light, revealing skeletons of those who had failed to move on.

In some places the road narrowed so much it was almost impassable. The most important thing for the candidate was the mastery of fear. This thing, once achieved, gave the monk the necessary mental control to continue on his way.

After a long time, the candidate arrived near the end of the maze; he was forced to shield his eyes from a hypnotic light that numbed the senses. In this bright room, his eyes observed weapons of various shapes and sizes, from which he could choose just one. 

Going further, a door shut behind him, leaving him again lost in the dark. This new room was full of flesh-eating scorpions and beetles. The intruder was instantly attacked, considered as food. If he could move across the room, his weapon was used as a lever, pushing it into the wall.

Thus he entered the last room, whose walls were circular and so well sealed that the door could no longer be found upon closure. The only clue in this dark room was a thin air current that was bringing in a waft of smoke. He followed it, climbing to the ceiling, where there were two openings approximately at neck level. 

Once there, he placed his hands and shoulders in both openings and grabbed a huge hot metal pot. The wall suddenly began to rotate.

The hard entry gate of the Shaolin Temple turned slowly on its axis, placing the candidate outside the maze, but also outside the monastery. 

He now wore two dragons on his burned forearms, proof of passing the final test—the master diploma of Shaolin Temple.

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” 

Bruce Lee

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