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Master-Apprentice Chain
A proud tradition of Ninja and Hair-gel.
"You forget that he was once my apprentice, just as you were once his."
Count Dooku, regarding Qui-Gon Jinn, to Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

In fiction, a common revelation is that the protagonist and antagonist were trained by the same mentor. This is occasionally taken even further by the revelation that another important character is the one who trained the mentor, and so on up the line.

When done well, this can add to the drama and development of the story and characters. It also allows for the comparing and contrasting of characters using similar skill sets at varying levels of mastery. When done badly, it can come off somewhere in the range of an Ass Pull or Contrived Coincidence. Either way, it's generally a concession to the Law of Conservation of Detail.

As noted above, an inevitable result of this chain, if it gets long enough, is one link having to fight another. Also, the problems of one of the prior masters may end up dropped in the lap of the latest disciple.

Chains should consist of at least three characters who can be connected in a straight line (in other words, character A trained character B who went on to train character C). The chain can branch out in more than one direction, but just one master training two apprentices doesn't count.

Depending on how Master Apprentice relationship is depicted, this can lead to not-blood related version of Badass Family. See also A Pupil of Mine Until He Turned to Evil. If two generations of such a chain team up, it's a Student and Master Team; see also Rule of Two. Frequently deals with the Sempai Kohai dynamic.


Anime & Manga
  • Naruto, as pictured above: The First and Second Hokages (not pictured) > The Third Hokage > Jiraiya > the Fourth Hokage > Kakashi > Naruto > (informally) Konohamaru.
    • Sasuke and Sakura connect to the chain as well through Jiraiya's two fellow students, Orochimaru and Tsunade.
    • There's also the all important Jiraiya > Pain link. In fact, Pain thinks Naruto should consider him his Sempai.
    • Not to mention Minato > Obito.
    • From Iwagakure: Mu (Second Tsuchikage) > Onoki (Third Tsuchikage) > Deidara
  • A smaller chain would be Ranma ˝, with Happosai > Genma Saotome and Soun Tendo > Ranma Saotome and Akane Tendo.
  • One Piece's: Luffy's pirate role model Red-Haired Shanks was once an apprentice pirate on the ship of the Pirate King Gold Roger. They even passed down the same hat.
  • Dragon Ball provides several good chains.
    • The primary one begins with Mutaito, who taught Masters Shen and Roshi, the Crane and Turtle Hermits. Master Roshi went on to train Son Gohan, Sr. and, between them, taught Son Goku. Finally, Goku found a disciple at the end of the series in Uub, the reincarnation of Majin Buu.
    • As for the Crane Hermit, he went on to train Tenshinhan and Chiaotzu.
    • One could also make an argument for Piccolo > Son Gohan > Videl.
    • Master Roshi's other student, the Ox-King, taught his daughter Chi-Chi, who trained her second son, Son Goten.
    • Also Goku(+ the teachings from his chain) and Piccolo (Namekian techniques) > Gohan > Goten, combined with Vegeta (Saiyan techniques) > Trunks gives Gotenks one of the most versatile move-set of the entire series, probably only passed by Cell who could use Frieza's techniques as well.
      • At some point before the "Son Goku and His Friends Return" special Gotenks also picks up Tien and Yamcha's moves, either by observation or training.
    • In the alternate future (meaning, the future that would have happened without any time traveling arcs), Piccolo > Son Gohan > Trunks.
  • The Hokuto Shinken style from Fist of the North Star is passed on through a singular line of successors that spans over 1,800 years and 64 grand masters. At the tail end of the chain is Kenshiro, who inherited the deadly martial art from Ryuken (Kasumi Ramon), who succeeded his older brother Kasumi Kenshiro, main character of Fist of the Blue Sky, who learned the art style from his father Kasumi Tesshin.
    • It's worth noting that the chain has a number of offshoot links - each master of Hokuto Shinken teaches several students, but only one will learn the full art, while all the others must either abandon the style, be crippled, or die. Needless to say, not every student accepted those terms.
  • In Tenshi Ni Narumon Mikael is a mentor to Noelle, just as Raphael was a mentor to him.
  • There is an example in the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist. Ed and Al were trained by Izumi, who was trained by Dante. The symbol on Ed's coat, Al's armor, Izumi's collarbone, and Dante's wall seems to be a sort of crest, to indicate who studied under whom.
  • The Saint Seiya anime has the Aquarius Gold Saint > the Crystal Saint > Hyoga. In the Manga, Aquarius Camus was Hyoga's mentor instead.
  • In the Saiyuki anime and manga series, this is how the Tenchi Kaigen sutras are passed from one sanzo priest to another (at least in East Asia, it may work differently in Tibet). Of the current crop of sanzos, Ukoku and Genjyo both inherited their sutras directly from the sanzos who trained them, Koumyou and Goudai, respectively. Koumyou and Goudai both studied under Abbot Jikaku (not a sanzo but still one of the most powerful Buddhist priests in China up until his death) as novices, making a 3-generation chain on either side of the current Minus Wave conflict.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Tonpeti taught William A. Zeppeli, Dire and Straits the Ripple technique. Zeppeli went on to mentor Jonathan Joestar, shortly before Straits adopted and mentored Lisa Lisa, who decades later would teach William and Jonathan's grandsons, Caesar Zeppeli and Joseph Joestar. Dire had no successors that we know of.
  • Bartender: Wakui Tsubasa is at the end of the chain Kaze Gorou -> Sasakura Ryu -> Wakui Tsubasa, and is shown a great deal of respect as Kaze-sensei's first grand-apprentice.

Comic Books
  • In Daredevil Master Izo was one of The Hand's founders and a teacher of Stick, who was Matt's master.
  • Batman (Bruce Wayne) > Nightwing (Dick Grayson) > Robin (Damian Wayne)
    • Batman #700 introduces a chain of Batmen: Bruce Wayne > Dick Grayson > Damian Wayne > Terry McGinnis.

Fan Fiction
  • Things We Don't Tell Humans provides several excellent chains, most of them involving Terratron and Prowl at some point:
    • Terratron —> Prowl —> Bluestreak, Sunstreaker, Sideswipe, Barricade, Bumblebee, Faust, Optimus Prime, others; Terratron —> Arcee, Chromia —> Elita-One; Terratron —> Prowl —> Sunstreaker —> Skids, Mudflap

  • From the prequel trilogy of Star Wars we learn that it goes: Yoda > Count Dooku > Qui-Gon Jinn > Obi-Wan Kenobi > Anakin Skywalker> Ahsoka Tano (Ahsoka is introduced in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, which is declared to be the second highest level of canon below the movies.)
    • In the original trilogy, on his deathbed Yoda entrusts Luke with passing down what he has learned from Obi-Wan and him, thus it becomes: Obi-Wan and Yoda > Luke Skywalker > The new Jedi.
    • Darth Bane codifies this as the Rule of Two for the Sith, and they stick to it for over a millenium: Darth Bane> Darth Zannah > (lone Sith lords) > Darth Plagueis > Darth Sidious > Darths Maul, Tyranus, and Vader.
    "Two there should be; no more, no less. One to embody power, the other to crave it."
    • The Expanded Universe also subverts this, with Sidious and Vader each having other students, but none of them being "true" Sith apprentices. It also fills in several of the missing links in the chain between Bane and Plagueis.
  • Red brought up in this exchange when Moses has Cooper in an arm-lock;
    Moses: Kordeski trained you?
    Cooper: Yeah...
    Moses: I trained Kordeski.
  • The Rocky series has Mickey Goldmill > Rocky Balboa > Tommy Gunn (who later turns on Rocky in one of the standard plotlines associated with this trope).
    • A proposed movie Creed would have Rocky train the grandson of his friend/rival Apollo Creed.
  • It's not as obvious as the others, but Star Trek has Christopher Pike > James T. Kirk > Hikaru Sulu. Chekov also appears to be a protegee of Kirk at first, but takes a different career path after the second movie (moving into Starfleet Intelligence rather than becoming a starship captain himself).
    • Star Trek Into Darkness introduces Fleet Admiral Alexander Marcus, who talked Christopher Pike into joining Starfleet.

  • Ranger's Apprentice has a slightly unusual version. Halt trained Gilan. Gilan became a full Ranger, and Halt took on another apprentice, our protagonist Will. Gilan then at various points helped teach Will. Will himself has helped train a few apprentices, but briefly and he wasn't their master. Word of God says Will will not receive his own proper apprentice until the last book.
  • Myth Adventures gives us a chain consisting of Garkin and later Aahz > Skeeve > Massha
  • The Dresden Files is developing a chain with Ebenzar McCoy > Harry Dresden > Molly Carpenter. McCoy also taught Harry's mother, and Turn Coat reveals that McCoy is part of a long one stretching back all the way to the original Merlin.
  • Harry Potter received more than the standard Defence Against the Dark Arts training - Lupin, for example, gave him some exclusive tutelage. Harry then founded Dumbledore's Army and passed everything he knew to them. Later Neville, formerly a trainee of the D.A., continued Harry's legacy.
  • Done by entire species in the Uplift series. A species is formally designated by its chain of uplifters and by those species it has uplifted, and a species' prestige in galactic society is largely determined by the prestige of their chain.
  • The Matthew Swift series has Robert Bakker > Matthew Swift > Dana Mikeda; as of the end of the second book Matthew has acquired another apprentice, Penny Ngwenya.
  • In the Discworld novel Lords and Ladies, Granny Weatherwax lists a series of witches, her master, her master's master, etc. Subverted in that only one of those witches had even been mentioned in any other book.
    • There's also John Keel > Sam Vimes > Sam Vimes (via time loop) > Virtually everyone else in the watch. And since Vimes's training is highly valued across the Disc, we can assume there are a few watchmen being trained by his graduates.
  • Fitz of Robin Hobb's Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies is at the center of a few of these. Fitz was apprenticed, in different areas, to Verity, Burrich, and Chade; later, Fitz becomes master to Verity's son Dutiful, Burrich's son Swift, and...Chade himself.
  • In Circle of Magic and Circle Opens there's Lark > Sandry > Pasco, Niko > Tris > Keth (and maybe Glaki), Frostpine > Kirel & Daja > Nia & Jory, and Rosethorn > Briar > Evvy
  • In Steve Perry's Matador Series, the chain of training in an unarmed martial combat form called "The 97 Steps" is Diamond > Pen > Khadaji > the Matadors. A Master/Apprentice reversal chain also figure into the works with Red teaching Khadaji to use spetsdods, then Khadaji teaching Red The 97 Steps. Additionally, one of the antagonists in the book, The Machiavelli Interface Massey, is revealed to have learned under Khadaji as well, by enrolling in the Matador's training school.
  • Since every clan cat in Warrior Cats has a mentor, there are often long chains of apprentice to mentor. This can get really convoluted when cats switch clans, seeing as the more recent ThunderClan medicine cats can trace their roots back to the early ShadowClan. Also, there are other funny coincidences.
    • Firestar, leader of ThunderClan was trained by the previous leader Bluestar, whose mentor was Sunstar, the leader before her.
    • Dustpelt trained both Squirrelflight and Ashfur. Ashfur hates Squirrelflight with his entire being.
  • In Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane series knowing a mage's Master-Apprentice Chain or 'line' tells you all kind of things about the type of spells they are likely to know and avoid.
  • The Exile's Violin: At the start of the story, Jacquie is a rookie under the wing of a veteran detective, Serge. At the end of the story, she has become the veteran and has her own rookie in Clay.

Live-Action TV

Tabletop Games
  • Ars Magica has a Master-Apprentice chain back (in theory) to the Founders. Every mage is nominally descended, parens to fidelius, from the Founder of one of the Twelve (or Thirteen) Houses, although adoption is common from outside the Order; only four Houses require direct descent. This is part of the basis for Hermetic social structure - if your master is revealed to have betrayed his oath, you have a legal problem. Further, if you go bad, your master has already sworn to hunt you down and slay you.
  • In Warhammer every Battle Wizard in the Empire can trace a chain back to the first Supreme Patriarch - Volans - or another of the original pupils of the High Elf mage Teclis, who founded their Colleges of Magic after the Great War Against Chaos some two centuries before the present day. Teclis himself trained at the feet of Loremaster Belannaer. Belannaer's tutors during the reign of Bel-Hathor the Sage have not been revealed, but it is possible that Bel-Hathor himself was among them.

Video Games
  • The second Knights of the Old Republic notes Revan had such a chain. However it may or may not be a slip up that Kreia and Arren Kae, the handmaidens mother, are both identified as having been both his first and last. Unless they are both the same person.
    • Kreia serves as the teacher of the Exile. In turn, the Exile agrees to unofficially train the Handmaiden in the ways of the Force, since this would technically not break the Handmaiden's oath to Atris about never learning the ways of the Jedi.
    • It should be noted that the Exile had several other proteges, though they don't qualify since the Disciple already had Jedi training, Visas Marr was a reformed Sith and Atton, Mira and Bao-Dur were convinced to develop their Force-Sensitive abilities, but recieved no formal training.
  • The Sith Inquisitor character in Star Wars: The Old Republic is part of such a chain: s/he is an apprentice to Lord (later Darth) Zash and, from Act II onwards, the master to the ex-padawan Ashara Zavros. Late in Act III, the Inquisitor also takes an official apprentice from the Sith Academy, much like themselves at the beginning of the game.
  • In the Street Fighter series, Ryu and Ken were trained by Gouken, who himself was taught by Goutetsu. Ken would later go on to (unofficially) take Sean in as his student (as well as begin training his own son, Mel), while Ryu would indirectly mentor Sakura (who based her fighting style on his own).
  • In Final Fantasy VII Angeal is the mentor of Zack and Zack is the mentor of Cloud.
  • From Ace Attorney: Marvin Grossberg > Diego Armando > Mia Fey > Phoenix Wright > Apollo Justice.
  • In the Modern Warfare series, a clear line of progression can be seen between the various viewpoint characters, going in the order MacMillan > Price > Soap > Roach. Unfortunately, the chain is cut short by the deaths of Roach and Soap.

Western Animation
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra have several:
    • Sky Bison > many generations > Gyatso > Aang > Tenzin > Jinora, Ikki, Meelo, Korra
    • Badgermoles > the original Earthbenders and (separately) Toph > Aang, Lin, Metalbenders
    • The Moon > many generations > Pakku (and Hama) > Katara > Aang, Korra, presumably Kya
    • Dragons > original Firebenders, Sun Tribe, Iroh > Zuko > Aang, with the dragons also directly helping all of these characters

Real Life
  • This trope is Truth in Television as regards the birth of Western philosophy. Aristotle was taught by Plato, who was taught by Socrates, from whom several other strains of Philosophy (such as Stoicism) occasionally claim mentorship. Just to cap off the chain of historical celebrities, Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander the Great.
  • Homer to Virgil to Dante. Sort of, Virgil saw Homer as his greatest inspiration and Dante felt that Virgil had been his guide in the epic poetry but none of them ever met. John Milton, read all three of these poets assiduously in their respective languages and set out to surpass them and the age of great epics doesn't end with Milton...
  • Truth in Television in music: Teaching has always been considered part of the job of every eminent musician. For instance, virtually every professional pianist today is a seventh-, eighth- or ninth- generation pupil of Franz Liszt.
    • Organists (especially French ones) consider their "pedigree" a mark of pride. As with pianists, most organists trace their lineage back to Franck, who (with a little bit of juggling) traces his back to Johann Sebastian Bach.
  • Conservative news media has had this chain: National Review (specifically Bill Buckley) -> Rush Limbaugh -> Fox News
  • Conservative politics works this way. Bill Buckley (again) -> Barry Goldwater -> Ronald Reagan.
  • Documented for mathematicians and many scientists by The Mathematics Genealogy Project. Some of the lineages of student-and-advisor have been traced back more than 500 years. For example, Steven Hawking's advisor-tree traces back along one branch to George Hermonymus, who taught the ancient Greek classics at the Sorbonne in the 1470s.
  • Lineage can be important in certain martial arts, and different lineages of the same martial art will practise it in a slightly different way.
    • Since the 14th century there was a German school of sword-fighting descended from the pupils of master Johannes Liechtenauer, and other school of fighting in various countries and time periods. Unfortunately the line of masters who knew the art was broken when the weapons they taught fell out of fashion, and all that was left were the books in which they wrote their teachings. Today there is a new plethora of fencing organizations trying to revive historical European martial arts from these old fight-books and establish new chains of masters and apprentices.
  • Christian churches that follow the episcopal form of church government (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran) generally use the system of Apostolic Succession, which is a variant of this: each priest must be ordained and each bishop consecrated by a previous bishop, with a chain that would eventually lead back to one of the Apostles, who were chosen by Jesus Christ himself. There are Lutheran denominations that do not hold to the doctrine of Apostolic Succession; only those characterized as "High Church" preserve it. The Methodist churches, which are breakaways from the Anglican, also have very complicated views on the subject.
  • In traditional Japanese arts, a tradition called iemoto is respected, where the sensei who leads a particular lineage of the art selects one of his apprentices to be his personal successor. The iemoto is essentially considered a family, and becoming the successor effectively means being adopted by the sensei (if there wasn't already a blood relation). Like everything else related to the traditional arts, this is extremely Serious Business.
  • Lau Kar Leung, Master of the Hung Gar style and Hong Kong cinema superstar, is at the end of the chain: Lau Kar Leung < Lau Cham < Lam Sai Wing < Wong Fei Hung (Yes, that Wong Fei Hung).
  • Several of Nintendo's leading lights have such a chain. Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the Game Boy and several respected franchises, was a mentor to Shigeru Miyamoto, who is now in charge of nearly all of Nintendo's first-party titles. Miyamoto, in turn, mentored Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Kirby and Super Smash Bros., and Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokémon.

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