Monks and martial artists are often depicted in artwork with tattoos or brands. There is no real historical precedent for any monastic institution giving or requiring tattoos from their disciples. In fact, throughout history in China, tattoos indicated a turn from normal society rather than a social rank within it. Monks who turned from their religious duties to practice martial arts exclusively sometimes became wandering mercenary warriors. These mercenaries were known to practice tattooing, but they are little more than legends concerning the birth of the triads. The only real precedent for this sort of thing happening with monks is the Shaolin's final test of the Mu Ren Chang, which is partially depicted in the famous opening of David Carradine's Kung Fu.
The ceremony of Mu Ren Chang was an ancient ritual of graduation that the monks of the Shaolin temple went through upon completion of the requirements of mastery. Its name translates as, the Hall of the Wooden Men, so named because the graduation candidate had to pass through its corridors which were supposedly lined with 108 wooden men, each triggered by some secret means to go off and attack the candidate unexpectedly as he made his way towards the exit. Reportedly, this hall was so deadly that there were students who did not make it through the first time they tried, their unconscious bodies requiring retrieval by the instructors who then nursed them back to health. Those who were successful in passing the wooden men reached the end of the hall to find an urn filled with hot coals. On either side of this great urn were figures that would be branded into the monk's arms as he embraced the urn to lift and move it from his path. Freed from the Hall of the Wooden Men, the new monk exited with the coveted diploma of Shaolin, branded arms bearing the dragon on the left arm, and the tiger on the right. This graduation ceremony reportedly hasn't been performed since 1911.
One of the best things about being a DM is getting to create your own world. You can decide how you want to handle monks and tattoos. Honestly, if you have experienced and creative players who are interested in monks or play monks as characters, then it would be best to work together with them to create the rules concerning monks and tattoos. Perhaps each temple gives a different tattoo or maybe some temples use branding, while others use tattoos. Regardless of what decision you come to about monks and their markings, you should consider that like the brands of the Shaolin, any marks or tattoos acquired by monks should be significant and specific. Enough talking, it's time for the list. Here are 20 Tattoos That Might Adorn Monks. Happy gaming!
A golden eagle with its wings extended and its talons thrust forward depicted in multiple shades of yellow and brown across the monk's chest and abdomen.
A multi-colored winged serpent tattoo stretches across the monk's body from the left ankle to the right wrist.
A fiery comet in various shades of yellow, orange, and red is tattooed on each of the monk's forearms.
Black tribal tattoos in a thorn pattern run across the monk's back, shoulders, and down his arms.
Ancient words of wisdom and sacred mantras for meditation are tattooed in a spiral on the monk's pectorals
A pair of silvery sais are tattooed on the outside of the monk's forearms.
A collection of small tattoos representing the power constellations cover the monk's arms and legs.
A colorful skull is tattooed across the monk's back. Upon closer inspection, the skull is made up of numerous small tattoos of different flowers.
Words of power are tattooed in thick black strokes upon the monk's hands and feet.
A draconic proverb is tattooed across the monk's back in red and black ink.
A thorny vine tattoo wraps around the monk's head and continues down her neck and around her torso.
Golden tattoos of dragon scales run up and down the monk's well-muscled arms.
Dwarven runes of power tattooed with gold and silver ink run up and down the forearms and calves of the monk.
Five ancient sylvan words tattooed in green, yellow, and black in a natural five-armed spiral pattern over the monk's breastbone.
A tribal bands in black and gold encircle the monk's forearms, biceps, thighs, and calves.
A glowing blue third eye tattoo sits in the middle of the monk's forehead.
A vibrant red compass tattoo centered on the monk's solar plexus stretches across both his chest and abdomen.
An intricate tattoo of a bronze dragon in flight, inked with numerous hues, covers back of the monk.
A beautiful, multi-colored sunrise tattoo dominates the monk's chest. The sun seems to rise straight from her heart.
Five ancient fey words of jiva are tattooed on the monk. One in each palm, one on each heel, and one on his forehead.