Long story short, a long long time ago, like 495 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty when the Shaolin Temple was first built, there was only one kind of monk, the monk. These monks read scriptures, had prayers in the morning, and spent most of their time sitting down with a scroll in front of them (similar to the hard-working modern desktop cubicle fanatics). So as a result, they had similar problems to those who sit in front of their laptop all day; back pains, shoulder issues, flabby skin, weak physical health, and lethargic attitudes. A few yrs later, an Indian monk named Damo came to the temple and saw this, and he thought to himself “nah man, if y’all ain’t even physically fit, how can y’all carry out the road to enlightenment and spread the practices of Buddhism with passion and diligence.” So he decided to teach them meditative physical exercises similar to yoga, which concentrates on breathing and increasing the internal movements within your body, this combined with the physical labors of farming and cleaning the temple helped the monk greatly. As the centuries went on, it slowly developed into two groups of monks who both studied Buddhism, but one spends more time dealing with the scholarly and the academic called the Wen Sen, and the other group spends more time keeping their bodies strong and fit to protect the safety of the temple from bandits, called the Wu Sen.
And those have been the two groups of monks ever since, until recently. Nowadays, there’s a new breed of monks in town called the performance monks or the Biao-yan Sen. These people are more actors and super-skilled martial artists than actual monks, most of them don’t even have deep connections with the Shaolin Temple. But the deceptive part of this for tourists and non-insiders is that these performance monks dresses the same and has the same bald head as all the other real monks, and when they partake in activities such as drinking “gatorade”, consuming large amounts of red protein, going to KTVs and nightclubs, spending time with beautiful woman (materialistic activities that they have the right to partake in), it often sheds a bad light on the temple and the name of Shaolin. This is not to say that ALL the real monks don’t partake in these activities as well, some do, but at least they are very discrete and private about it and won’t do it within the vicinity of the respected temple. Most of these performance monks start out in small private martial arts schools all over the country or in Deng Feng, and after a few yrs of fundamentals, the super-skilled and athletically gifted ones with connection to people around/in the temple, are brought to Shaolin to try-out for the performance team, if they make it, they will practice and eventually travel the world and perform with real martial monks and fellow secular but “I am really good at martial arts and acting, so I made the team” counterparts like themselves, but to the foreign eye they are all monks.
The reason for the creation of this new breed of “monks” is the exponentially expanding popularity of Shaolin kungfu that just took off the late 1980s and is still going strong today. Skilled martial monks are scarce in numbers to begin with, and as the demand for more performances, shows, and martial arts schools increase all around the world, so does the demand for more martial monks. But skilled martial monks, well-educated in the culture and history of Shaolin, aren’t made in a year or even years. So to supply the demand for all these newly needed bodies, the Shaolin temple used it’s allure of a “better life” with opportunities to go overseas and perform to attract the athletically skilled and mentally tough and hardworking young men of rural China, who through martial arts are seeking not only a better life for themselves but also for their families back home. With the influx of the new performances monks, Shaolin has been able to spread its influence all over the world today from Europe to Australia, South America to Singapore, it is literally everywhere. Before this “Shaolin Fever”, neither kungfu nor Buddhism has attracted this much popularity in this many places around the world at this rate, it has truly helped to spread the Shaolin culture and sell the Shaolin Franchise as one of the most well-ran associations in the world, right up there with the NBA and the NFL (without the unions and the lockouts). And this is how we come to have a new breed of monks, and there is really nothing wrong with it, China has got to catch up and adjust to the world, and so does Shaolin. That is a fact. The End.
PS: Please note that what I write is purely my opinion and a projection of what I perceive to be the truth; a collection of fragmented personal observations, blurry interviews, and self-connected dots. So seriously, take this with a grain of salt, as you should with all things written by people with a mind of their own.