A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decides to dedicate his life to serving all other living beings, or to be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live his or her life in prayer and contemplation. The concept is ancient and can be seen in many religions and in philosophy.
In the Greek language the term can apply to women, but in modern English it is mainly in use for men. The word 'nun' is typically used for female monastics.
Although the term 'monachos' is of Christian origin, in the English language monk tends to be used loosely also for both male and female ascetics from other religious or philosophical backgrounds. However, being generic, it is not interchangeable with terms that denote particular kinds of monk, such as cenobite, hermit, or solitary.
Chinese Buddhist monks have been traditionally and stereotypically linked with the practice of the Chinese martial arts or Kung fu, and monks are frequently important characters in martial arts films. This association is focused around the Shaolin Monastery.
In Thailand and Burma, it is common for boys to spend some time living as a monk in a monastery. Most stay for only a few years and then leave, but a number continue on in the ascetic life for the rest of their lives.
In Mongolia during the 1920s, there were about 110,000 monks, including children, who made up about one-third of the male population.