Top 10 Amazing Facts About The Original Siamese Twins

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Top 10 Amazing Facts About The Original Siamese Twins


Chang and Eng Bunker, the original “Siamese Twins,” lived a very interesting and storied life together. Those lives sadly ended in an ironic tragedy not even Shakespeare could come up with. The conjoined twins were much more than just an interesting “oddity,” since they had a stellar stage career together as world-class acrobats, were successful businessmen, and were once considered to be the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Soon after arriving in Boston in 1829, the strange yet endearing duo started performing for large crowds all over the United States and eventually Europe in carnivals, freak shows, and circuses. They performed with other human rarities, such as “Zip—The Man Monkey” and “The Amazing Wolf Children of Australia.” Even though many thought they were fake, Chang and Eng were permanently connected below their breastbones by an appendage consisting of ligaments and cartilage, about 13 centimeters (5 in) long and 5 centimeters (2 in) wide.


10Myth: Chang And Eng Were Siamese

Contrary to popular belief, Chang and Eng were not Siamese, even though they were born in Thailand (then Siam). The twins were born on May 11, 1811, in a floating riverside house in a small fishing village about 70 kilometers (44 mi) southwest of Bangkok. From recent research, we know that the boys weren’t Siamese at all. Their 35-year-old mother was half Chinese and half Malayan, and their father was full-blooded Chinese, so Chang and Eng were more Chinese than anything.

At their birth, the two highly superstitious midwives who were present shrunk back in obvious fear and horror at the sight before them. There was a large tube of flesh connecting the two baby boys. The twins came out with the umbilical cord wrapped around them, but their mother untwisted it, probably saving their lives by doing so. After this, she positioned them so they could stare into each others’ eyes, Chang on the left and Eng on the right. Chang was always a bit shorter than Eng, and his back curved away slightly from his twin brother.

9Chang And Eng Were The Original Siamese Twins

Chang and Eng 1

Photo credit: Wellcome Trust

In Chang and Eng’s time, people were still very superstitious of many things, so conjoined twins were naturally thought of as “the work of the Devil.” One must keep in mind that medical understanding was still very much lacking around the globe back then. For that reason and more, the Bunker twins were at a disadvantage right from birth, and it got even worse when a cholera epidemic took five of their brothers and sisters as well as their father. This made the twins solely responsible for supporting the family, and the family-owned preserved duck egg business wouldn’t support them.

This inevitably led to 1829, when at age 17, the twins found themselves on a ship sailing for Boston. With help from a translator, they quickly picked up bits of English and were said to climb a ship mast as fast as any crewman aboard. Once in Boston, they were billed as the “Siamese Double Boys” and were instantly popular. It wasn’t long before the famous moniker “The Siamese Twins” was coined, and they became famous around the globe. “Siamese twins” was eventually used as a term for all conjoined twins.


8They Succeeded Under Prejudice And Terrible Odds

Chang and Eng 2

Photo credit: Wellcome Trust

Although once billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” for their amazing acrobatics and showmanship, Chang and Eng were badly persecuted in their own country. As conjoined twins of mixed decent, they were picked on and bullied throughout their childhood. Much more damaging, though, was when they were blamed for the previously mentioned cholera epidemic, which killed 30,000 people, causing dead bodies to jam up in the river. In fact, the lyrics to a song called “Living Curse,” written in Singapore, recite the twins’ ordeal of almost being lynched by an angry mob because of this mass superstition.

Twice in their career, the twins were managed by the famous P.T. Barnum, infamous for his mantra, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Surprisingly, they apparently did great while with him. At the same time, Herman Melville called them “monsters” and likened them to characters in Moby Dick. Theyendured all of this in spite of their preforming privately for dignitaries such as Russian tsar Nicholas II and English matriarch Queen Victoria.

7They Were Thought To Be A Strange Animal At First

Chang and Eng 3

Photo credit: Wellcome Trust

Chang and Eng’s lives probably would have been mundane and uneventful had it not been for Robert Hunter, a British sea merchant who first saw them when they were still children. At first, Hunter thought they were some kind ofweird animal swimming across a river. But when he realized he was looking at twin boys, he quickly realized their potential for profit and talked their parents into letting him take them west to the United States to put them on display. Even with Hunter’s quick thinking, though, it still took five years, $500 for the boys’ mother, and an American sailor to get them legally out of Siam. A ship captain named Abel Coffin helped Hunter to persuade the king of Siam, Rama III, to let the twins go to the US by allegedly bribing him with a troupe of dancers and a telescope.

As children, with much encouragement from their mother, Chang and Eng exercised religiously, working to choreograph their movements. In doing so, the pair soon stretched the ligament binding them to a length of 13 centimeters (5 in). This allowed them to swim, walk, run, do gymnastics, and even handle a boat with true skill. As custom of the era dictated, they were also able to bow in unison the 18 times required when introduced to king Rama III. The twins were very adept at walking on their hands, which turned into their signature act and a crowd favorite just about everywhere they went. By way of their precision acrobatic performances, Chang and Eng were wealthy before they turned 30.

6Myth: Chang And Eng Fought In The US Civil War

Chang and Eng 4

Photo credit: Wellcome Trust

In 1869, Packard’s Monthly printed a comic sketch by Mark Twain entitled “Personal Habits of the Siamese Twins,” which made some wild claims about the world-famous pair. Insinuating that he knew Chang and Eng personally, Twain claimed that the Bunker brothers had been fanatical enemies during the Civil War. He went as far as saying that they performed “gallantly” in battle, Chang for the rebels, Eng for the yanks, and that they had once taken each other prisoner at the Battle of Seven Oaks. Twain went on to claim that it took an army court to decide who caught who. Now, try to imagine their uniform. Or how about the pair standing there with muskets, trying to decide who was going to shoot who first—or if should they carry one gun or two?

Chang and Eng probably wouldn’t have lasted long on a Civil War battlefield, and Mark Twain likely knew that. He was well-known for his sense of humor, so this was obviously not an historical account. But what is true is that Eng was called up on a local rebel draft at the beginning of the war, but since Chang refused to join, the Confederate officer in charge had no choice but let them go, since he obviously couldn’t haul off just one. Another lesser-known fact is that two of the twins’ sons did fight for the Confederate Army.


5Myth: Chang And Eng Were Slaves

Chang and Eng 5

Photo credit: Wellcome Trust

Some have apparently believed that the Bunker twins were once slaves to their American business agents, but that turned out to be totally false. In fact, the Bunker twins never needed P.T. Barnum; he needed them. Research shows that they were always paid well for performing and managed to get quite rich doing it.

Their biggest career mistake was unknowingly buying land in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, which would lead them straight into the jaws of the Confederacy. In 1852, newspapers caught wind of the fact that Chang and Eng owned slaves and concocted a fabricated story making them out to be monsters. Several big East Coast newspapers printed flaming articles, describing how the twins abused their slaves and were “brutal slave masters” to them. The twins responded by printing a booklet containing a flaming statement of their own in dispute. Also included was an affidavit attesting to their outstanding qualities, signed by 13 members of their local community, who were also enraged by the lies.

While Chang and Eng did indeed own 33 slaves, they treated them comparatively well. Notably, they taught them to read and write, which was illegal and punishable by death in some Southern states by the end of the Civil War.

4Myth: A ‘Love Triangle’

Bunker Family 2

Photo via Wikimedia

A joke once made the rounds that Chang and Eng were caught in a “love triangle” and that they wanted to do battle over the situation. It was said that they challenged each other to a duel but couldn’t decide on the distance they would fire at each other from. The truth is somewhat less ridiculous.

Chang and Eng were attracted to the daughters of David Yates, a fellow farmer living on a neighboring plantation. A romantic dilemma was afoot concerning the Yates sisters, Sarah and Adelaide. Adelaide and Chang had fallen in love, but it took five years for Eng and Sarah to do the same. In Victorian era, the twins marrying two sisters was totally acceptable and made perfect sense, so in 1843, the foursome were married in a Baptist ceremony in the Yates’ living room.

News got out that back on the Bunker plantation, that the two couples had ordered a reinforced bed to be built to hold all four of them. So naturally, their wedding produced a national scandal, with people claiming the union was ‘bestial’ and reflected the warped morals of the Confederacy. It was reported that after a woman in Kentucky had conjoined twins, she blamed it on viewing photographs of Chang and Eng around the time she got pregnant. Regardless of the opposition to their marital state, the Bunker twins went on to sire 21 children between them, and they have over 1,500 descendants today.

3Myth: Chang’s Drinking Got Eng Drunk

Bunker Family

Photo credit: Mathew Brady

Forced to sleep literally face-to-face, the twins obviously had to get along, but that doesn’t mean they always did. They had two distinct personalities, and just like normal twins, there were opposite poles to them. Being forced to cooperate on everything in life, the twins bought a second house and alternated between the two distinct households, which matched their two distinct personalities. The two families would alternate on a three-day schedule, and depending on whose house they were in, that family was in full charge of everything, including where the other half was and what they were doing with their time.

A myth about the twins that occasionally shows up is that Chang’s drinking would get Eng drunk, causing the two to constantly get into drunken brawls and beat each other up. The truth is that Chang’s drinking did not affect Eng at all as far as the alcohol goes; Eng just didn’t like his brother when he drank, so they did argue a lot. There is an account of Chang threatening his brother with a knife once, but cooler heads prevailed, and nobody was hurt. But other than that, there seems to no evidence of either twin ever hurting the other physically, whether Chang was drinking or not.

2Their Last Tour In 1866 Was Their Worst

Chang and Eng 6

Photo credit: Wellcome Trust

Once they were in the US, the money rolled in quickly for Chang and Eng, but life was still costly nonetheless. In 1838, after a grueling and physically challenging seven-year tour across the country, they decided to take their first hiatus from show business. Rich enough to retire and exhausted from the tour, Chang and Eng had already become legal citizens of the United States, so they naturally resided in their new country. They took the surname “Bunker” from a good friend of theirs from Boston, bought a plantation in North Carolina, and melded into the agrarian life of the antebellum South.

After building a life for themselves and gaining an unusually high status in the slave-holding South, they lost everything during the Union invasion of North Carolina in the Civil War. After their farm was destroyed, the twins needed to go on tour again in 1866 just to earn a living. By that time, though, they were in their fifties, and their stardom had diminished. On top of that, Chang was a bitter alcoholic, so their wittiness had also diminished as well, and their act reflected it. The tour of 1866 was a financial disaster.

1Myth: Eng Watched Chang Die

Bunker Grave

Photo credit: Shadle

On a frigid January night in 1874, Eng woke up to discover that his brother Chang had died sometime during the night, so the claim that he watched his brother die is not true. Eng and Chang were 62, and Eng’s last act in his final three hours was to make amends with his brother, now lying cold and dead beside him. Chang had suffered a stroke not long before, and complications from his alcoholism had also weakened him. Recent research suggests that the autopsy concluded that they shared one liver, so it is doubtful that the Siamese Twins would have survived the surgery to separate them later in life. Ironically, it is said that they may have been separated easily at birth, had there been a surgeon there to perform the surgery.

Although Eng passed away soon after his brother, in what was certainly a heartbreaking manner, their story did not end there and lives on to this very day. After the funeral and burial, the twins’ bodies were eventually dug up and sent to the College of Physicians in Philadelphia, where they were dissected and studied. Afterward, a death cast of their remains was made, which resides in the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia to this day—an eerie reminder of the original Siamese Twins and their shared legacy.

I live in Northwestern Pennsylvania in the United States of America, and in “one of the Original 13” I like to say, where I grew up with a fascination for collectibles like baseball cards, coins, stamps, and old bottles just to name a few. Always a self-starter, I’ve taught myself many different things and have ended up with a large variety of skills and hobbies in both old and new and have recently started putting them to use in the Internet. I have been writing in several capacities for several decades.

10 Horrors Of The Guillotine

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10 Horrors Of The Guillotine


From guillotine earrings worn by ladies of fashion to guillotine toys constructed for young children, the widow, as it was called, held the public in fascination and fear. People screamed for its use and, at the same time, worried about whether it caused unnecessary pain.

Guillotine executions were an industry unlike any other. Tens of thousands of people came to witness the executions and spent a good amount of money at local businesses and hotels. The events lined everyone’s pockets, from the High Executioner to the pickpockets in the streets.


10Botched Execution


It is bad enough that you are about to be executed, but imagine how you would feel in those last moments if they totally bungled the job? That is what happened to Kenatra (also called “Konatra” in some sources) in 1905.

Granted, the man was a murderer who had killed a fellow prisoner while incarcerated. But the French president wanted to make an example of Kenatra, and he left quite a lasting impression.

The usual executioner had passed away, and a new one was in place. This new guy was obviously nervous in front of a crowd of over 1,000 people. The first drop of the blade only scalped the prisoner.

On the second drop, the blade got stuck. Then, on the third and final drop, the head was cut clean off. But it flew into the air and landed about 1 meter (3 ft) away from the body instead of neatly in the basket. The whole affair lasted 15 minutes.



Guillotine executions were a form of entertainment for many people. According to a report from 1909, people started to pour into the square hours before an execution in Bethune, France. By midnight, there were 2,000 people waiting for the bloodshed.

Then the trains came in, carrying loads of people who wanted in on the sport. Hotels filled up, and so did the cafes as people drank to pass the time. By 4:00 AM, the appointed time of the execution, there was a crowd of some 30,000 people.

There were people in the trees. Some men brought ladders to sit on for a better view. Troops were there, holding back the crowd. No one wanted to miss out on seeing the execution of four men who were well-known bandits and murderers.


8Preparing The Prisoner


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In many old accounts of guillotine executions, the prisoner does not know of the day of his execution until roughly 30 minutes before he is about to get his head lopped off. He is shaken awake and made to dress. His feet and hands are often bound at this, and he is allowed to speak to a priest and take mass.

Then he is taken to a small room, called the toilet chamber, to await the appointed moment. While waiting, the prisoner is often given brandy or wineto help steady his nerves. His hair is cut short, and his shirt collar is ripped off.

At the exact moment of execution, the crowd begins to roar with anticipation. Two executioner assistants help the man up and out to the guillotine or to the cart that will take him to the guillotine.

7Off To The Turnip Field


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After the prisoner’s head was cut off, it landed in a basket filled with sawdust. The body was placed into a willow basket or coffin, and the head was placed between the legs. The body was then transported to the cemetery. It was given a brief funeral and buried in the “turnip field,” a section of the cemetery reserved for criminals.

At that point, someone had to claim the body or it was exhumed and taken to the medical school for experimentation. In some accounts, an unclaimed body was given last rites and taken directly to the medical school without a mock burial.

6Man’s Head And Dog’s Blood


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When asked if beheading was painless, Anatole Deibler, the High Executioner of France in 1907, gave an account of a gruesome experiment performed on one of the guillotined prisoners:

Two doctors got permission to conduct the experiment on a freshly chopped head. ‘They made a ligature in the left carotid artery, adapted a tube of [natural rubber] to the primitive right carotid, and branched the other end in the central terminal of the left carotid artery of a large, robust living dog.

There was a spigot to regulate the blood torrent. When all was ready, they turned on the spigot. The dog’s blood shook the tube as it dashed in, spreading hot and alive through the whole vascular network of [the] head. The white, dead face became ruddy; its expression cleared as if awakening; the eyes opened with a look of astonishment; the lips trembled, as if trying to speak.’


5A Question Of Pain


While thousands of people would gather to witness guillotine executions, there were some who questioned whether beheading was painless. In the early 1800s, experiments were done on hundreds of cows, calves, and sheep to see if the animals suffered after being beheaded.

After all the senseless bloodshed, it was concluded that animals suffer greatly after decapitation:

During the first minute after execution, the facial muscles were agitated byfrightful convulsions, the mouth alternately opened and closed, the respiratory organs of the face worked, and the animal appeared to experience intense agony and an imperative desire to breathe.

4Doctors On The Scaffold


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An 1862 report said that several doctors were allowed to stand on the scaffold while three prisoners were being guillotined. Their purpose was to prove that the brain remained alive after it was severed from the rest of the body.

As each head was lopped off, it was handed to a doctor. The first head, with tongue sticking out, was left alone for eight minutes before the tongue was pricked. The head reacted by drawing in the tongue and grimacing in pain.

The second head, that of a woman, had tears coming from its eyes. After 14 minutes had passed, the victim’s name was called and the eyes moved in the direction of the voice. The final head was slapped after being severed, and it reacted with a look of anger.

3The Village Idiot


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There is always that one person who has to test things out for himself, such as the medical student who believed that the yoke on the guillotine was not strong enough to hold a struggling prisoner. While he was visiting Madame Tussaud’s wax exhibit, he decided to test out the guillotine in one of the displays while no one was around.

The medical student put down the yoke and, to his surprise, proved his theory wrong. There was no way he could get out of the yoke. With the blade gleaming above him, he did not want to risk sending his own head into the basket of sawdust below his head.

A couple approached the student, and he asked for their help. But they thought it was an act and part of the display. Eventually, an attendant spotted him and released him from his plight.

2The Original Addams Family


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Sanson held the keys to where a guillotine was permanently erected in France. As a result, he would often receive English visitors to his home who wanted to see the guillotine up close. He would always oblige them and kept a few bales of hay around to give demonstrations.

One time, an English family brought along their three young daughters. Sanson took them to the guillotine and showed them how it worked. But the youngest daughter was not satisfied with just the demonstration. After Sanson answered her numerous, morbid questions, the girl asked to beplaced into the guillotine.

He complied, but then she insisted that he tie her up like a prisoner. He did as she asked. Again, she wanted more and asked to be placed in the neck piece and planked. Sanson looked at her parents, and they replied, “As she has taken a fancy to have it done, do it.”

Sanson placed the girl in the yoke and was worried that she would ask for the blade. Fortunately, she did not. However, it is unfortunate that the article published in 1888 did not give the girl’s name so that we might learn what became of her.

1Beheaded Drama


While Hamlet may have had a lot of eloquent words to say to Yorick’s skull, this particular brother had nothing nice to say.

In 1909, a man hid himself among a group of medical students and sneaked into the Lille Faculty of Medicine. There he found the head of his brother on display in the amphitheater, awaiting experimentation.

Approaching his brother’s head, he yelled, “Wretch! So this is how I find you! You have covered our whole family with dishonor!” At that point, the brother went to strike the head but collapsed to the ground with raw emotion. He had not seen his brother in four years and had only just discovered that his brother had been beheaded for committing murder.

Elizabeth, a former Pennsylvania native, recently moved to the beautiful state of Massachusetts where she is currently involved in researching early American history. She writes and travels in her spare time.

10 Actual Practices Of The Shaolin That Will Blow Your Mind

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10 Actual Practices Of The Shaolin That Will Blow Your Mind


The Shaolin are a historically secretive people. From their humble beginnings in the Henan providence of China, their culture has continued to push the limits of the human mind, body, and spirit.

After a terrible fire in 1929, much of their scarcely recorded history was lost. But a monk named Jin Jing Zhong compiled decades of living knowledge. With blessings from the head of Shaolin, the Training Methods of the 72 Arts of Shaolin was created. You might question how many of these were real, but they’re all fascinating.

10Pulling Out Nails
Bo Ding Gong


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Drive a nail into a plank of wood, then remove it with three fingers. A student will practice this for months. If one can remove the nail easily with the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger, then one can progress to removing the nail with the thumb, ring, and pinky finger. Immeasurable strength from even the weakest appendages is a true axiom of Shaolin training. Every finger on both hands must be trained to produce large bursts of strength as well as matching muscular endurance.

Over time, the nails are driven deeper into the wood. When this becomes easy, the wood is dampened before the nails are inserted, and they are allowed to rust. An advanced student in this technique would train by removing rusted nails driven in to the hilt with two fingers, or perhaps one. The fingers of the student must possess the strength to depress the wood itself to successfully remove the nail. Upon mastery, the fingers will be strengthened enough to take on more difficult techniques, such as the Diamond Finger.

9Striking With Foot
Zu She Gong


Photo credit: Wikimedia

If someone has ever told you to “go and kick rocks,” it probably was not in a pleasant way. That exact activity, however, is step one to this Shaolin discipline. Anyone who has, accidentally or otherwise, lost the inertia battle to a heavy object knows the toe-shattering pain it can cause. Zu she gongbelongs to the hard force of yang, and students will begin training this technique by kicking small rocks like soccer balls—in bare feet.

The purpose of this mastery is to develop the strength and resilience of one’s foot, until kicking a pillow would feel the same as kicking a boulder. In combat, it is said in Shaolin texts that one will be able to kick an opponent as far as the stones one trains with. Such a hardened, developed kick to the lower portion of the body immediately shatters the opponent’s balance. A kick such as this to the head could easily be deadly.

8Skill Of Light Body
Jin Shen Shu


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Though the “Skill of Light Body” has become a popular mythos in martial arts films, it is a very real Shaolin practice. Shaolin testaments make reference to men of 100 “jins,” or 50 kilograms (110 lb) resting on branches like butterflies or bees—even gliding like sparrows. This is a truly fascinating practice of Shaolin, complete with a very unique and seemingly impossible training routine.

The training begins with a massive clay bowl filled with water and a student walking along the rim carrying a weighted backpack, perhaps with lead soaked with pigs blood. Students will walk along the rim of this bowl every day for hours. On the 21st day of each month, a “calabash-sized” dipper of water is removed. Additionally, more iron (or bloody lead) is added to the backpack. While the water initially prevents the bowl from tipping and swaying, it becomes increasingly difficult and awkward for the student to navigate the circumference without falling in, out, or over.

The apprentice must continue this until the backpack weighs a total of 5 JINS (2.5kg), and the bowl is entirely empty. When the student can master this, the process is repeated, the large clay bowl is replaced with a large wicker basket filled with iron chips. More weight is added to the backpack, and one must repeat the training until the basket is entirely empty.

These are just the first two steps. Advanced training methods include walking across grass without crumpling it. Further training is exclusive knowledge passed orally through generations. In 2014, a monk managed to run atop a lake on sinking plywood planks for over 385 feet (118m)

7Skill Of A Golden Cicada
Men Dan Gong


The Skill of a Golden Cicada is also widely known as “The Iron Crotch,” and it is not fun.

Initial training beings with intense meditation, aimed to clear the mind of all distain and anxiety for the literal torture to follow. A benchmark, albeit strange, of this mental training is being able to spontaneously summon an erection during meditation—but by concentrating qi to the base of the navel, not by having inappropriate thoughts (hopefully).

From here, the de-sensitivity training beings. One must flick one’s own testicles. Thousands of times. When this is no longer painful, the training upgrades to more extreme methods, which can involve rolling pins, punches, kicks and even blows from weapons directly into the crotch. Some monks even tie ropes around their testicles, pulling great stone weights across fields to master this skill. With careful healing and massage therapy to the tissue, damage to reproductive health can be reduced but inevitably not prevented.

As odd it is may seem, this technique can be combined with the broader family of iron techniques to strengthen all weak points of the body. This can render a monk’s external surface uniformly resilient to strikes. The strength to accomplish the Skill of a Golden Cicada is truly something to behold.

6Method That Reveals The Truth
Jie Di Gong


Photo credit: Wikimedia

At its core, this technique is a series of difficult evasive and tactical tumbles. Falling face down upon a stone floor without flinching, somersaults thatcontort and warp the spine, and even maneuvers that “bounce” the student off the ground are steps on the road to mastery. When one has mastered these “eighteen somersaults” one may progress on to an additional 64 more complicated (and dangerous) tumbling techniques.

Great masters who have perfected this technique can do an uncountable number of somersaults in an uncountable number of ways. Not only does is this said to strengthen Qi, but skin, bones and muscles grow stronger as well.


5Ringing Round A Tree
Bao Shu Gong


A student will require an unusual training partner for this study—a fully grown tree.

The exercise is simple enough; wrap one’s arms around the tree, and pull until your energy is entirely expended. After the first year, progress will begin to show. The first step to mastery is the ability to shake loose a few leaves of the tree. Another year of the student shaking leaves from the tree must pass—the same intensity, without stopping. The student must continue throughout their life with this practice, only reaching mastery once they havecompletely uprooted the tree

Even the small trees used for this training requires immense, constant force over the course of years to loosen the roots. If a master of this practice ever clasps his opponent as he does the tree—fatal injury can occur easily.

4Iron Head
Tie Tou Gong


Photo credit: Wikimedia

There is a reason head-butting is forbidden in sports such as mixed martial arts—the risk of traumatic brain injuries. The iconic Shaolin “Iron Head,” however not only recommends these sort of blows but prescribes them as a regular training regimen. Students strengthen the frontal bones, temporal bones, and top of the skull to a near superhuman rigidity, rivaling that of stone.

The objective is fairly basic: Knock objects into your head, and your head into objects slowly and gradually over years to strengthen the bones in the skull. With dozens of micro fractures, combined with healing and repetition, the bones reshape to the pressure, and can become incredibly resilient. However, this can take dozens of years of daily practice to achieve, each time with the risk of permanent injury.

The first basic training regimen recommended in the methodology of the Shaolin involves wrapping one’s head in silk and gently banging the head against a stone wall. After one year, the student will remove a few layers of silk and continue the process for a minimum of 100 days; after that, the silk is removed completely. From here, students will practice with more extreme methods, such as knocking their skulls together for hours, cracking frozen blocks atop their heads, and even sleeping in headstand positions. Specific exercises and techniques to strengthen the temples, mouth, and eyes follow this technique as well.

In a rare example, a Shaolin monk has held an electric drill to his temple for 10 seconds and emerged unscathed.

3The Iron Bull Technique
tie Niu Gong


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Training for the iron bull technique, at the most basic level begins with scraping one’s own stomach. Daily and nightly, with the fingers and palms at first, and blades. This is done during training and rest alike. After sufficient skin hardening, one proceeds to strikes to the core and continue knife-scraping the stomach and obliques.

When blows no longer render pain, hammers are used. Wooden at first, gradually upgrading into iron. A monk will stand motionless as fellow students deliver full force blows to the stomach with iron hammers—this will continue for quite some time. There are more advanced training methods, such as “knocking a bell,” where a monk will absorb blows from alog battering-ram weighing hundreds of kilograms.

It is said masters of this technique will be able to endure strikes, cuts, slashes, and even stabs to the stomach without a single scratch—even the ability to withstand blows “delivered by the Immortals” themselves.

2One Finger Of Chan Meditation
Yi Zhi Chan Gong


Photo credit: Wikimedia

After 40 years of intense Shaolin training and meditation, Xi Hei Zi would wander the country, visiting every monastery in the northern and southern provinces, and no man was able to overcome him. The legend claims it is due to this technique.

At the very beginning when Xi Hei Zi started training, he hung a weight from a tree branch on a path that he traveled each day. Each time he passed the weight, he would thrust his finger into it—from the maximum possible distance, his fingertips just barely grazing the surface. The weight would swing. After years of this, and constant meditation, he discovered that when thrust his finger, even if he did not physically touch the weight, it would swing.

After this, he would meditate, while striking his fingers at lamps. At first, the flame would only sway, but he would practice for hours nonetheless. Soon, he could extinguish the flame. He would place paper shades around the lamp, and is said to have been able to pierce the paper and extinguish the flame from a distance. After 10 years of this training, he replaced the paper shades with glass ones. When he could extinguish the flame without breaking the glass, his aim was attained.

1Diamond Finger
Ya Zhi Jin Gang Fa

As a young man, the monk Hal-Tank visited Chicago, where he demonstrated his skill: a handstand—his entire body weight—atop one index finger. The weak muscles in the index finger should crumple, and the bones should snap under the strain. This is quite an amazing feat for a young man, but what truly makes this feat incredible is when the monk was documented performing this skill over 50 years later. Nearly 90 years of age, the legendary monk Hal-Tank was able to replicate his incredible one-finger handstand—his Diamond Finger. His poise is breathtakingly peaceful during the act—deep in meditation, he balances unflinchingly atop his fingertip.

Until his death in 1989, he was still the only man able to perform this technique. Though he is now deceased, this legendary monk provided a rare, documented demonstration of Shaolin skill and a fascinating glimpse into the world of Shaolin.

Richard is a freelance television and film producer based in Los Angeles, California.

10 Forgotten Women Who Secretly Ruled The World

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10 Forgotten Women Who Secretly Ruled The World


Throughout history, a few remarkable women managed to rise to the top of male-dominated societies and take power in their own right. Their names echo through history: Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, Wu Zetian. But it was more common for powerful women to need to cloak their rule through male puppets. These women have largely been forgotten today, even though behind the scenes they dominated some of the most powerful empires in world history.




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In the early 10th century, Europe seemed in a state of terminal decline. The Frankish Empire was crumbling, and the power of the pagan Vikings was growing. In the South, Muslims had conquered Spain and Sicily, while the nomadic Hungarians had swept across the Carpathians. Only the Catholic Church seemed to hold Europe together. And the Church was led by a remarkable woman: the senator Marozia.

Marozia was the daughter of Count Theophylact, the most powerful man in Rome. After his death, Marozia inherited his power base and declared herself “senatrix.” When Pope John X tried to challenge her, she threw him into prison, where he quickly and mysteriously died. She then installed a succession of puppet popes, with herself the real power behind the Throne of Saint Peter.

In 931, Pope Stephen VII died and Marozia appointed her son, John XI, to replace him. By now, her power in Rome was complete, but she wanted more. In 932, she sealed a deal to marry Hugh of Arles, the king of Italy. The Pope was to declare the couple emperor and empress, rightful overlords of all of Europe.

But a tiny incident would derail all of Marozia’s grand plans. From a previous marriage, Marozia had a teenage son named Alberic who hated his new stepdad. When Hugh slapped Alberic in the face for spilling some water, it was the last straw. Alberic incited the Roman citizens to riot against the foreign Hugh, who only escaped by climbing down the city walls with a rope. Alberic then imprisoned his mother and took her place as the real ruler of Rome.



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After Genghis Khan died, power passed to his third son, Ogedei. He was an inoffensive alcoholic chosen mainly because his older brothers hated each other and would probably have started a civil war. Ogedei seems to have left much of the job of ruling to his wife, Toregene, as several proclamations in her name predate his death.

After Ogedei drank himself into an early grave, Toregene officially took poweruntil a successor could be elected. She proceeded to delay the election for five years while she ruled one of the greatest empires in history, stretching from China to Russia. The Seljuk sultan journeyed to pay homage to her, as did the Grand Prince Yaroslav, who died mysteriously after feasting with her.

While she ruled the empire, Toregene sought to ensure her power base by having her son Guyuk elected khan. Since everyone hated Guyuk, this required a massive campaign of bribery, which Toregene funded by imposing an aggressive new form of tax farming. She died in 1246, one year after finally securing her son’s election to succeed her.


8Kosem Sultan


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The most powerful woman of the 17th century came to Istanbul as a slave around 1600. She was Greek originally. But she took the name Kosem when she was sold to the imperial harem, where she soon became the favorite wife of Sultan Ahmed I. She made her first grab for power after Ahmed’s death, when she maneuvered his mentally ill brother, Mustafa, onto the throne.

Mustafa was quickly deposed by his nephew Osman, and Kosem retreated into the background for a few years. She returned in 1623 when her young son Murad IV became sultan. (Osman had been murdered by his Janissary slave-soldiers in the interim.) Kosem became regent during her son’s childhood, ruling the empire for over a decade.

Kosem again took power in 1640 when Murad died and was replaced with his mentally ill brother Ibrahim. (Mentally ill brothers were something of a tradition among the Ottomans.) She quickly found Ibrahim too erratic to control and organized his murder in 1648. After that, she continued to rule as regent for his young son Mehmed IV.



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After Mehmed IV took the throne, Kosem continued to rule as regent, modestly directing her ministers from behind an ornate curtain. This was deeply resented by the boy’s mother, Turhan, who thought the regency should have been hers. But Kosem’s power seemed unassailable. She commanded the personal loyalty of the Janissary Corps, and her vast estates made her one of the richest people on Earth.

To make matters worse, Kosem realized that Mehmed and his mother were beginning to show signs of independence and began making plans to have them killed. In 1651, Turhan was tipped off to a plot to poison the sultan’s sherbet and knew she had to act.

Turhan decided that the only option was a rapid palace coup, giving Kosem no time to summon her Janissary allies. On September 2, Turhan and her eunuchs rapidly attacked Kosem’s apartments and killed the guards. Kosem tried to hide in a closet. But she was dragged out and strangled with some curtains.

With Kosem gone, Turhan took the regency and effectively ruled the empire until 1656, when she agreed to transfer power to the Grand Vizier Koprulu Mehmed Pasha.



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Although almost forgotten today, Sorghaghtani was one of the most famous women of the 13th century. The Persian chronicler Rashid al-Din wrote that the “great emirs and troops” of the Mongols “never swerved a hair’s breadth from her command.” Meanwhile, an impressed poet declared that “if all women were like unto her, then women would be superior to men.”

Sorghaghtani was the wife of Tolui, the youngest son of Genghis Khan. When Tolui died, Sorghaghtani was appointed regent of his estates, even though her oldest son was already 23. She quickly established herself as a power player in Mongol politics and helped to place Guyuk Khan on the throne.

When Guyuk died in 1248, Sorghaghtani saw her chance. She formed an alliance with the powerful Batu, khan of the Golden Horde, and began a massive campaign of bribery to have her son Mongke elected Great Khan. In this she was opposed by Guyuk’s family, but Sorghaghtani was relentless and even personally oversaw the torture and execution of Guyuk’s wife, Oghul Qaimish.

Sorghaghtani was successful, and all four of her sons became powerful khans thanks to her years of careful planning and manipulation.




Ahhotep I lived in interesting times. In the 1500s BC, ancient Egypt seemed to be crumbling under internal pressures and a fearsome group of invaders known as the Hyksos. Ahhotep was the sister-wife of Pharaoh Seqenenre Tao, who was executed by the Hyksos in the 1560s. Analysis of his mummy reveals that his death involved two axe blows to the head and a dagger to the neck.

After her husband’s death, Ahhotep became regent for her young son Ahmose I. As well as ruling Egypt, she seems to have personally rallied her husband’s forces to fight off the Hyksos and Egyptian rebels. After this feat, she began wearing the “Golden Flies of Valor,” a decoration given to distinguished Egyptian generals.

Her son later erected an inscription in her honor: “Give praise to the lady of the land, the mistress of the lands, whose name is (held) high in every foreign country, who has made many plans . . . who took care of [Egypt]. She looked after its troops, she guarded them, she rounded up its fugitives, brought back its deserters, she pacified the South and she repelled those who rebelled against her.”

Ahhotep lived to a ripe old age (perhaps around 90) and was buried with great honor, wearing the Golden Flies of Valor around her neck.



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Although she formally ruled with a series of husbands, Zoe was unquestionably the true ruler of the Byzantine Empire, which stretched throughout the Balkans and Asia. In fact, her only real rival was her sister Theodora, who eventually claimed the title of co-empress before Zoe could sideline her again.

Zoe and Theodora were the daughters of Constantine VIII. Since the emperor had no sons, Zoe was married to the powerful urban prefect Romanos, who became emperor when Constantine died. Zoe at once exiled her sister, poisoned Romanos, and married her chamberlain, who was put on the throne as Michael IV.

When Michael IV died, his nephew tried to seize the throne and exile Zoe. The palace was immediately attacked by an enraged mob who demanded their empress back. With the citizens of Constantinople behind her, Zoe had the unfortunate usurper castrated, blinded, and exiled to a monastery.

Unfortunately, the mob also demanded Theodora. Zoe was forced to accept her sister as coruler until Zoe outflanked Theodora by marrying Constantine IX Monomachus, who became co-emperor. Zoe dominated the empire until her death in 1050, after which her husband and sister continued to rule.



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Arsinoe was the daughter of Ptolemy I, a Macedonian general who had seized Egypt when Alexander the Great died. Arsinoe was married to Lysimachus, another general who had taken control of Thrace and soon became a key player in the wars between Alexander’s successors. Among other things, Arsinoe poisoned Lysimachus’s son by his first marriage and then had her own children murdered by her second husband.

Around 279 BC, Arsinoe fled back to Egypt, where her brother Ptolemy II had inherited the throne. She quickly proved the most formidable politician in the kingdom, having her brother’s wife exiled on false charges and then marrying him herself, scandalizing Greek society.

As queen, Arsinoe soon sidelined her brother and established herself as the effective ruler of Egypt. She was referred to as a pharaoh in official documents and issued coins in her name, depicting her in full pharaonic regalia. She and her brother were often depicted as Isis and Osiris in art, invoking ancient Egyptian traditions to justify their marriage.

Arsinoe died around 268, leaving behind a powerful cult centered around her worship. Her brother never remarried, although he ruled for another 20 years.

2Empress Wei


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Wei was the wife of Emperor Zhongzong, who ruled Tang Dynasty China in the early eighth century. Her husband had succeeded Wu Zetian, the only woman to rule China in her own right. Wei was said to be a great admirer of Wu and sought to emulate her power and ruthlessness.

Luckily, her husband was widely agreed to be a “timid and weak-willed person” who was happy to leave the business of governing to his tougher and smarter wife. She quickly built a powerful clique at court, including many of Wu’s former ministers. Anyone who opposed her risked death. On one occasion, the Minister of War brutally murdered an officer just for criticizing the empress.

After five years, Wei’s reign hit a problem when her husband suddenly died. (It was widely rumored that Wei had poisoned him.) With the official emperor dead, Wei knew that challengers would emerge to claim the throne. So she concealed his death until she could call in 50,000 troops to surround the palace.

Unfortunately, her enemies were inside the palace. Her husband’s sister and nephew, Princess Taiping and Li Longji, staged a coup one night. Wei tried to escape, but was killed by the soldiers she had ordered to surround the palace. They had decided they preferred to be on the winning side.

1Nur Jahan


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In the 1620s, the mighty Mughal Empire stretched across the Indian subcontinent. Officially, it was ruled by the emperor Jahangir. In reality, Jahangir was a weak, alcoholic, opium addict and true power rested with his wife, Nur Jahan.

This was no great secret: Nur Jahan issued proclamations in her own name and had coins minted bearing her image. She even held the royal seal, which was used to stamp all official orders.

A later visitor to the court wrote that women’s power “is sometimes exerted in the harem; but, like the virtues of a magnet, it is silent and unperceived. Nur Jahan stood forth in public; she broke through all restraints and custom, and acquired power by her own address.”

Her archrival was the general and minister Mahabat Khan. When Nur Jahan had his son-in-law arrested, Mahabat responded by seizing Jahangir in a coup. Nur Jahan personally led her troops in an attempt to seize him back and then organized a cunning escape plan. Mahabat’s gamble had failed, and Nur Jahan’s power was left unchecked.