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All Monks Know Kung-Fu

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Catholic monks' favorite pastime.

"I kick arse for the Lord!"
Father McGruder (the Kung Fu Priest), Braindead

The main features of Christian monastic life are prayers (frequently chanted) and scholarship (reading, writing, healing etc.), sometimes corporeal penance for some Orthodox monks (e.g. flagellants, heavy fasting, etc.).

The main features of Buddhist monks from Shaolin are chanting, meditation and kick-ass martial arts prowess (which they originally learned from retired soldiers who became monks).

For some reason, fiction authors sometimes can't see the difference.

It's not uncommon (usually in fantasy settings) to see a Christian or quasi-Christian monk (often complete with robe, hood, tonsure, Christian name, etc.) whose main defining skills are one or all of the following:

  • Bare-hand (and bare-foot) fighting
  • Shaolin-style fighting with staves, nunchakus etc.
  • Any types of Ki Manipulation
  • Having (and building, strengthening etc.) a very tough body

It seems that you're supposed to be able to do Shaolin-style things just because you're... well, a "monk".

Make sure not to confuse this with examples of Shaolin-based monks who know kung fu, which is perfectly justified, since these particular monks learned from former soldiers, and practiced combat in secret or disguised as religious rituals (since it was generally illegal). But, if these Shaolin-based monks are supposed to belong to a Crystal Dragon Jesus religion, then these examples may belong here. Examples where every Chinese monk knows kung fu also belong here, seeing as how most Chinese monastic orders do not engage in any martial arts training.

This is the sister (brother?) trope of Nuns Are Mikos. Compare to Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting, when everybody seems to know kung fu (most Chinese didn't). See also Enlightenment Superpowers for a result of all that meditating. Also compare to Not That Kind of Doctor ("all guys called 'doctor something' know medicine"), Open Heart Dentistry ("all medical doctors know every medical discipline") and Omnidisciplinary Scientist ("all scientists know every science"). Thematically related to Church Militant, Religious Bruiser, Warrior Monk (duh) and Bare-Fisted Monk (duh). ... And sometimes the one knowing kung fu isn't just a mere monk, but our Lord and Saviour Himself...



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Alive: The Final Evolution:
    • Most of the major characters in are given superpowers and pushed to the Despair Event Horizon by being quasi-possessed by suicidal energy beings from space and not actually committing suicide; a significant subset of these are brainwashed by one of the others, and become the main antagonists of the first half. The nicest of these is a really sweet Japanese Catholic priest who for reasons that are never even slightly addressed has probably the most killer karate in the series. His power is to turn people to stone. He doesn't use it much, but he kicks a lot of ass.
    • In the climactic battle of the first movement, Katsumata has him constantly fighting on the losing side, whichever that happens to be, because he's powerful, his doing this is both the most plausible and the easiest to arrange since he's the type to root for the underdog anyway, and the true evil goal requires as much combat and hatred and use of psychic powers as possible in the location where he's arranged for the battle to be staged so they can awaken the powerful thing in the lake.
  • Fate/Zero: Priest Kirei Kotomine utilizes the Chinese martial art Bajiquan, enhanced by magecraft.
  • First Squad features a Russian Orthodox kung fu monk.
  • Gendo from Maryuu Senki is a Buddhist monk as well as a martial artist.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • A Father Ted fic by A.A. Pessimal has Ted and Dougal discussing the more culturally specific aspects of the coming of Christianity to Japan. In a spoof of the works of James Clavell and others, the great missionary St Francis Xavier is depicted as a priest who seriously went native:
    FATHER TED CRILLY:- (smiles. Has he finally got an abstract concept into Dougal's head, first go?) Exactly correct, Dougal. The Church has been established in Japan since the old fifteen-hundreds.. All those goings-on on the old television the other night were exaggerated, you know how these television people like making a sensation, so. (He giggles, nervously). And we have some of the great warrior-priests to thank. Like the great Jesuit Saint Francis Xavier, who realised that to live and work and preach the faith to the Japanese, we had to live like them, dress like them, learn their language, teach by example.
    FATHER DOUGAL MAGUIRE picks up a book from the table. The cover is a garish illustration of a Catholic priest — at least he is wearing a cross — in orange Shinto kimono, striking a kung-fu pose. The title is lurid, in red letters: St Francis Xavier, warrior monk, stars in Death Fist of Christ: EXIT THE DRAGON! In smaller letters beneath: "Soon to be a movie featuring Bruce Lee as St Francis Xavier!"
  • The Misfits (Warhammer 40,000): Patreus learned a martial art called "The Way of The Leaf" while being raised at a monastery, which he uses to great effect during and after his Space Marine training.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Jackie Chan's kung-fu adventure Armor of God has a cult of evil Western monks he must fight at the end. Of course, this being Jackie, everyone knows kung-fu, but...
  • Do regular clergymen count? We hope so, because Father MacGruder from BrainDead will let you know he kicks ass for the Lord!
  • French movie The Crimson Rivers 2 features a monk (complete with outfit) committing murders, knowing martial arts, and doing parkour. He was played by Cyril Rafaelli, one of the leading parkour experts.
  • The 1998 incredibly low budget (verging on home made) Irish action film Fatal Deviation features a bunch of homeless monks in the real town of Trim helping the hero Jimmy Bennet (played by Jimmy Bennet) train for an ancient tournament in which he must defeat a member of the local "Drug Lords Gang" in order to break their power. Or something. The monks really have nothing to do with the plot.
  • The Gamers: Dorkness Rising is, in part, about a D&D campaign whose players are in a somewhat antagonistic relationship with their GM. One player insists on playing a Kung-Fu Monk, which he says that he can do because it's a base D&D character class. The GM complains that it can't work because the campaign takes place in a traditional European fantasy setting, but relents, on the condition that he play the character as being a Western monk who also has the character class's Kung-Fu skills.
  • Johnny Mnemonic has a Cyberpunk assassin played by Dolph Lundgren who dresses as a Franciscan monk and kills people with a dagger using his hand-to-hand fighting skills and cybernetics, all while spewing quasi-religious babble. This strange character has its origin in a line from Neuromancer, in which Molly states that the assassin who finally caught up with Johnny was "like a monk" due to his Zen-like calm. Molly is clearly thinking of Buddhist monks, but the filmmakers either misinterpreted the line or decided to put a spin on it.
  • One background event in Moonraker is Bond seeing monks practicing martial arts in a church in Brazil. Of course, since the church in question was a disguised MI6 facility, it's likely the monks in question weren't really clergy.
  • Friar Tuck in many Robin Hood films reflects his rather martial nature described in the original stories. Ironically, Film-Tuck's preference for the staff may be a nod towards this trope, as the medieval ballads of Robin Hood portray Tuck and Robin as duelling with swords, and the arming sword and buckler as the good friar's signature weapons.

  • In Neal Stephenson's Anathem features the mathic societies, where the inhabitants study various academic subjects such as logic, math and philosophy rather than religion. There is one society in the Ringing Vale that also studies the science of combat and developed a form of sci-fi martial arts. Their study is known as "vale lore" or "vlore." One of the main characters, Lio, is considered odd for studying vlore as a member of another mathic society.
  • Brother Cadfael, of the eponymous series by Ellis Peters, is a 12th century Benedictine herbalist. However, he used to be a sailor and soldier, having participated in the First Crusade, and can still kick ass if required. It's made clear that Brother Cadfael's fighting skills are justified as part of his backstory rather than a standard skill for all medieval monks (although several monks are quite competent in a fight thanks to manual labor like forestry or farming).
  • The Abellican Monks from R. A. Salvatore's Demon Wars series are a Crystal Dragon Jesus religion with very strong martial traditions (one of them, Marcallo De'Unnero, was considered one of the top hand-to-hand combatants in the world). However, not all of the monks follow this path, only those who actually plan on serving as holy warriors. The majority are fairly typical western priest/scholars (with perhaps a bit of Sinister Minister thrown in, depending on whether the Abellican Church is currently corrupt or not). Oh except there's their magical gemstones, which have a different ability depending on what kind of gemstone it is (rubies shoot fireballs, hematites heal, and various other things). Marcallo for example uses a tigerseye to grow tiger claws.
  • In the Discworld all Monks do indeed know Kung Fu of one sort or another. This ranges from the various time based martial arts of the History Monks (literally becoming The Speedster by manipulating time itself) to the Battle Clowning of the Fool's Guild (who can use rubber balloons and ladders to literally deadly effect if sufficiently provoked). Possible subversion in that the only one to know the legendary art of Deja Fu isn't actually a monk at all, but rather the Almighty Janitor.
  • Monachomachia (War of the Monks) is a satirical poem from the 18th century written by Poland's leading Enlightenment poet Ignacy Krasicki. It’s the story of a feud between two religious orders – the Carmelites and the Dominican Order. At first, it seems that the two orders are going to engage in a polite, philosophical discussion in order to establish which of them is better suited as teachers. However, the discussion is quickly transformed into a regular brawl, complete with shoes, tankards, and belts used as weapons.
  • Redwall might be a borderline example, as the superpowered Abbey Warrior usually starts out as a novice in the Abbey and quickly becomes awesome at swordplay, and even the ones who aren't warriors tend to be able to hold their own in a fight. The abbey is also notably lacking in any actual religion whatsoever. And most of the order don't generally know any combat skills; when Abbey natives do, it's generally because they retired there from more warlike lifestyles, like blind Cregga Rose-Eyes, who used to be a giant berserker and pulls this out to only slightly less devastating effect when her home comes under attack. Why beasts keep attacking the only thing resembling a fortress in leagues when it has no significant wealth to justify the investiture of effort...
  • Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood stories is usually depicted as a capable warrior. In the ballad recounting Robin's encounter with "the curtal friar," we are told explicitly: "The friar had on a harness good, / And on his head a cap of steel, / Broad sword and buckler by his side, / And they became him well." Some versions of the character suggest that Tuck had soldier training, which would have given him experience with various medieval weapons as well as unarmed combat.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Derry Girls: Sister Michael is a Catholic nun in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. She goes to judo on Fridays. This is not treated as part of her being a nun, but rather as a comical contradiction to it.
  • Doctor Who: Shows up in "Tooth and Claw". When the monks announce they're taking over a mansion, they reveal orange robes under their cloaks and do a dramatic, slow-motion leap over the heads of the astonished housekeepers. Normally orange robes are worn by Buddhists, while frocks were worn by Franciscan friars — which are quite different from monks. Neither Buddhists nor Franciscans should have had a monastery in 19th century Scotland.
  • German TV-show Lasko – Die Faust Gottes (i.e. Lasko - The Fist of God) is the embodiment of this trope. It's about a soldier who turned into a monk after some backstory in Kosovo. He now works for the secret order Pungus Dei to help people in distress. It all started as a regular movie that even got released in UK under the name Lasko Death Train and later turned into a series.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In the Robin Hood legends in England, one of the closest followers of the renegade knight/outlaw is Friar Tuck, who in most iterations of the legend is the usual fat, jolly, laid-back monastic with a semi-detached attitude towards his religion. But the padre to the Merry Men is also no slouch with weapons and fighting when he has to be, and is deadly with the quarterstaff stave.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) 1E included a class called the Monk, inspired by the Kung-Fu monk. Many players, and not a few adventure writers, however, made them out to be some form of Western monastic. This version was in print by 1978. Later editions featuring the Monk class make very sure that the Asian influence is clear.
    • Dragon ran an article on "variant monks" that included Buddhist, Shinto, Knight Hospitallier and Franciscan friar, noting that they lack the martial arts skills of the "standard" monk.
  • The whole point of becoming an Immaculate Monk in Exalted is to reach enlightened understanding of Essence... So that you could learn Celestial Martial Arts and kick asses of rowdy gods.

    Video Games 
  • In Ancient Domains of Mystery, the Monk class is not just a class with strong unarmed combat bonuses, it is in fact completely unrelated to religion, even though religion plays a significant role in the game. The only classes with religion-related bonuses and abilities are Priests and Paladins; Monks are exactly as inherently religious as any other melee class.
  • Korean indie fighting game Asura Cross, Father Faith, a western / Christian monk, is very adept at fighting using his punches and kicks.
  • In Dark Age of Camelot the friar class can best be summed up as "a brawling healer".
  • Diablo III monks have an eastern orthodox appearance and speak in an eastern European accent, but use a fighting style more similar to stereotypical East Asian martial arts. This is less a case of not doing the research, though, and more a case of deliberately combining things in an unusual way. Besides, have you seen the beards of an Eastern Orthodox priest or monk? Those things should require a permit, they're so badass!
  • Dungeon Keeper 2: The Monk there looks like a stereotypical Catholic monk: fat, round-faced, with a tonsured head and dressed in a brown robe. He is a skilled bare-hand fighter.
  • Inverted in the English dub of Dynasty Warriors: Taoist monk Zhang Jiao is characterized as a televangelist.
  • Might and Magic:
    • The seventh game starts off playing it straight with its Monk class. But then it confuses things further, as one of the promotion paths for Monk is Ninja of all things.
    • In Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Monks from the Western European-style Castle are dressed in hooded robes and... throw fireballs. Their upgraded version, Zealots, also have no penalty in hand-to-hand combat. Somewhat complicated by the fact that the most direct influence on Heroes 3's Monks were... Heroes 2's Druids, who were pretty much the exact same unit (including clothing), only with another name and in another castle.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Monk has been a standard class throughout the series (at least until Skyrim did away with classes). Hand to Hand tends to be the main combat skill of the class, though Blunt Weapon also gets a boost. Given the Everything Is Trying to Kill You Adventure World-nature of Tamriel, it is actually fairly justified for even religious orders to have some ability to defend themselves.
    • True for the Blades, an order of knights sworn to protect the Emperor as spies and bodyguards, although it's less kung fu and more swordfighting. Retired or undercover Blades frequently take on the role of Monks. In Oblivion, Brother Jauffere is actually wearing a habit and working in a priory when you meet him. While carrying a sword on his back.
  • The Monk class in Final Fantasy games is usually an aversion, being almost universally Asian-styled. Even when there's no obviously Asian culture from which it might hail.
    • E.g., in Final Fantasy Tactics, which takes place in a Crystal Dragon Jesus Medieval Europe. There are Samurais and Ninjas there, too...
    • Although in Final Fantasy XI, there's a "far east" which, although we never see it, is clearly implied to be a thinly-veiled Japan analogue. It's also the origin for the Monk, Samurai, and Ninja techniques (although for some reason, the medieval French nation of San d'Oria picked up the Monk training and adapted it for their own use). There's even a neat in-story justification for why, of all the beastman races, only the Yagudo have Samurais - they have good relations with the far east.
    • Final Fantasy XIV also has a far eastern setting in Othard and Hingashi, which are styled after China and Japan, respectively. The Monk job, however, does not hail from there, but rather from the city-state of Ala Mhigo in Gyr Abania, a desertous region that has more in common with central Asia and the Middle East.
  • Fire Emblem is a notable aversion for an Eastern RPG series. The Monk class in the GBA games are indeed a combat class, but instead use Light Magic and have no physical prowess whatsoever. Fire Emblem: Awakening added War Monks but they count as a Warrior Monk with an axe. Played straight in Fire Emblem: Three Houses where War Monks returns as a DLC class and specialize in the new Brawling weapon type.
  • Lunar: The Silver Star makes the party White Mage, apprentice priestess Jessica, the third strongest character in the game, and she can fight with her fists. Her strength is underutilized in the last third of the game however, in that enemies hit so hard she must be kept on constant healing duty.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2
  • Ragnarok Online has a Monk class which branches off from the Acolyte class (The other choice of advancement being the Priest). They're still associated with the church of Prontera, but they forgo holy powers in favor of obliterating things with punches and ki attacks, and have a typical martial artist look to them.
  • In Touhou Project when it came time to assign fighting styles in the fighting game spin-off Touhou Shinkirou ~ Hopeless Masquerade, of course the Buddhist monks of the Myouren Temple turned out to specialize in martial arts. They even made a game mechanic out of Buddhism being associated with melee attacks. Oddly enough, Taoism is associated with lasers.
  • Lei-Fei, from the Virtua Fighter video game series, is a Chinese monk and a master of Shaolin kung fu.
  • In World of Warcraft there are various different types of enemies inside the Scarlet Monastery. The scarlet monks? They fight bare-fisted, wear headbands and kick spellcasters to interrupt them. The Mists of Pandaria expansion introduces shaolin-style monks as a new character class. This is justified by the simultaneous introduction of the pandaren as a new playable race, obviously based heavily on east-Asian cultures.

  • Subverted in Beneath the Clouds. Genza is an old man and gets beaten up pretty badly when bandits attack his travelling party.
  • Averted and lampshaded in Girl Genius with the monks of the Corbetite Railway:
    Brother Ulm: We climb! Shimmy up Humungulus while he's still holdin' the devilish thing! Let's go!
    First Monk: Uh... we're not really that kind of monk, Brother Ulm...
    Second Monk: Sure, and you're thinking of those crazy Eastern guys who can run up buildings!
    Third Monk: Oh, aye — and they can kill a man just by rippin' his head off!
  • Machelle from Gods World is an unarmed combatant and wears a robe resembling that of a western medieval monk.
  • Impure Blood has Dara, although its unclear if her skills are due to her monk training or not. Her other abilities were present before her training.
  • Parodied in The Order of the Stick, specifically in the prequel On the Origin of PCs:
    Belkar: Hey, listen buddy, sure you can hire Friar Tuck over here—
    Monk: Not that kind of monk, actually!
  • Discussed in Rob and Elliot, when Rob proudly admits he beat up some Buddhist Monks, who weren't as tough as he expected. Elliot informs him that Buddhist Monks are pacifists, and he was thinking of Shaolin Monks. Rob scoffs, then his face falls.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Played with in the Futurama episode "Godfellas": Leela attempts to challenge a group of monks for their radio telescope (so that she and Fry can use it to find Bender), and the monks immediately assume fighting stances. Leela is about to back down, when they reveal that they are strictly non-violent and practice martial arts solely as a form of meditation, then immediately surrender.
  • The titular Super Monk in this short film. Later redone as a soda ad.

    Real Life 
  • Meditation is heavily attributed to Buddhism and Hinduism but is also wide-spread in Christianity. Similarly to eastern practice, ancient monasteries and abbeys were often founded in isolated places to encourage meditative discipline, and it remains an important part of monastic life. Jesuit daily practices, born of military discipline, have been more popularized than most but aren't the only examples. The Benedictine Rule requires five hours of meditation a day, in the form of reading scripture, Gregorian chanting and Psalms.
  • In the Middle Ages, retired soldiers often entered monastic orders and earned money for the community by educating young nobles and others. Several mediaeval and renaissance manuals of arms show monks as teachers; a community with a resident master-at-arms would attract more pupils. There were also many orders of Warrior Monks that existed beyond the more famous groups such as The Knights Templar, The Teutonic Knights and The Knights Hospitallersnote . They usually preferred to fight with swords and armour but unarmed combat was taught as well as weapons training. They were also a solution for the old question of what to do with younger or illegitimate sons. These groups were given special permission to take up fighting in the name of the Church.
  • There was a story floating around a while ago that St. Thomas Aquinas and several other such figures taught their students boxing to prevent them from resorting to knife-fighting. It would imply that these priests knew a bit about boxing.
  • In 6th century Alexandria, if there was a tavern brawl or a riot, it was even odds as to whether it was started by the "organized" gangs of charioteers, or by monks disagreeing over a fine doctrinal point.
  • Shenoute of Atripe, leader of a large Egyptian monastery in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, was known as a harsh and violent disciplinarian to his charges. He was also not above riding into town on a donkey to beat corrupt landlords and ecclesiastical opponents with his staff. Some of his monks are reputed to have worked as thugs in the employ of the bishop of Alexandria, intimidating his political and theological opponents, and sometimes even attacking them in the desert.
  • Father Sergio Gutiérrez Benítez wrestled professionally for 23 years in Mexico as "Fray Tormenta" ("Friar Storm") to fund the orphanage he runs. As such, he was the very loose inspiration for Nacho Libre, but that's hardly his fault. Apparently, he still wears his mask for his day to day priestly work. Think we also know him as King from the Tekken series. Because when you think "priest who runs an orphanage", you think "Tombstone piledriver".
  • Sufi orders in some districts during periods of political decentralization have had a history of developing relationships with local tough types and/or taking on lots of particularly tough disciples in order to keep order and/or take tithes.
    • The Safavid kings of Persia, first to unite Iran, descended from a bizarre one of these that developed to slightly cultish levels over a matter of generations before conquering the plateau. The man who did this was fifteen at the time, and also showed the good sense to convert his people to a more standard variant of Shiism than the bizarre messianic one around which his order was actually founded.
    • The Taliban also originated as a shot at a modern iteration of this tradition in the midst of civil war, although without the Sufi part. As recruitment and mortality increased, the degree to which a given member was actually talib decreased. Although the fact that the early ones actually were refugee taliban and had spent most of their lives without stable home life or much exposure to women in any capacity was almost certainly part of the problem with the insane propriety laws in the areas they pacified.
  • Many of the pivotal figures in European Swordsmanship, such as Johannes Leküchner and Hanko Döbringer, were clergymen. Also, the oldest preserved Fechtbuch, I:33 (also known as the Tower Manuscript and Codex Walpurgis), has illustrations of a man in a priest's robe teaching swordsmanship. While the evidence of a martial arts tradition is spotty, it is clear that plenty of priests knew how to handle a blade.
  • Medieval European monks, depending on the order, lived a regimented life, performed physical labor, had a relatively varied and nutritious diet for the time period, received better-than-average medical help if need be, and were expected to avoid excess (read: avoid unhealthy habits). All of these do not translate to martial prowess per se, but are likely to produce strong, tough individuals of good health — which in turn probably translated to better chances in hand-to-hand combat than that of, say, an average peasant.