The historians of nearly every Asian martial art acknowledge Shaolin, as the ancestral art. The Shaolin temple system was actually a martial arts research institution, with thousands of monks working 12 hours a day to perfect the art of self-defense.
In the final analysis one must look at the fighting effectiveness of a martial art. Shaolin Do stays true to its temple roots as an art of survival, not of sport. If one is to determine the lethality of an art, one should look at the techniques being practiced. All Shaolin Do forms have neck, knee, and elbow breaks. They utilize strikes to vital areas (pressure points) and teach multiple attacker strategies. In order to survive a multiple attacker situation, every blow must be capable of completely disabling a person. That ability only comes from iron bone (palm, shin, forearm, etc.) training, great strength (internal and external), and a complete knowledge of the human anatomical weak points. Compare this to many of the competition and sport oriented martial arts so popular today.
Black belt degrees one through four are considered beginners, while fifth degree is called associate master. Once a person reaches sixth degree they are considered full masters. The rank of ninth degree is considered a Grandmaster, but the position of tenth degree is held by only one person; the highest of the Grandmasters. While there can be many 9th degrees (there were often ten in a temple), there can be only one 10th degree. This person is given the awesome responsibility of assuring the continuation of Shaolin, in its purest form.
Since its creation, Shaolin has collected, refined and retained over 980 katas (forms), representing more than 50 different open hand systems and many different weapons. Contrary to the popular belief that Shaolin monks only practiced the hard styles, every major form of internal kung fu was practiced in the Shaolin temples. This includes every major family of Tai Chi and Pa Kua, as well as Hsing Ie and the very rare Liu Hsing (shooting star). Shaolin monks also possessed an awesome body of knowledge on esoteric Taoist and Buddhist Chi Kung (breath training) and Nei Kung (internal training) techniques.
In the Shaolin temple there were only four recognized levels; student, disciple, master, and grandmaster. Our Great Grandmaster, Ie Chang Ming, introduced the use of colored belts to divide the material between student and disciple into five levels (White, yellow, blue, green, and brown) One form from a new animal and weapon system is taught at each level above white. Keep in mind that for a student to pass into the next rank, he/she must perform all the material for their present and all previous levels.