The training hadn't even started yet.
"Okay, Dave, I'm gonna teach you to swim. Now don't be a wussy! (throws Dave into the lake) That's it. One arm over the other. Uh... Crap! Christopher, go save your brother. (throws Christopher in)"
The good news? There's no Training from Hell
with this guy. The bad news? That's because there's no training at all with this guy, at least, not before you've already survived a pretty critical situation
The Sink-or-Swim Mentor
is a bit of a Social Darwinist
: the strong survive, so it's best to cull the weak as quickly as possible. So instead of training a student for any length of time, this mentor throws them in at the deep end, where his own life - or that of others - depends on his success.
Well, maybe that's a bit extreme. This character can exist in any type of setting, and it's unlikely that an accountant or receptionist would have lives depending on them. They might walk in the door only to be thrown an important project though, and be warned that a major client is relying on its completion.
This mentor is definitely at his most dramatic when lives are on the line though. He hands the hero the tools of the trade, be it a sword, a scalpel or a gun, and tells him to get on with it. Often this mentor is such a cool character that it isn't until Fridge Logic
kicks in that the viewer thinks "Wait a minute...if the mentor's that good, why didn't he just save those people himself rather than sending a teenager to do it?"
Occasionally justified in that the main character needs to be able to cope in that kind of situation in order to progress with his vocation; a dragon slayer who needs constant instructions is going to be turned into a kebab before he can say "Now what?" Sometimes, though, it seems as if the mentor is just stoking his own ego, forcing his student to prove themselves "worthy" of their tuition. Generally, however, a benevolent mentor will remain close by during the test-crisis, ready to assist when the students get in over their heads (but not a second before). If they're really feeling generous, the mentor will craft their own realistic crisis simulation so that the students can be tested without any undue risk (naturally, the student will be unaware of that detail until the end
Usually, after the initial crisis is resolved, the real training
begins. If you're unlucky, this just consists of more of the same, but in ever-more-dangerous situations.
Sometimes overlaps with being a Trickster Mentor
or a Fair Weather Mentor
. In the case of the latter, chances are that the poor student won't last long. He'll be tested so constantly that he's bound to fail at some point, in which case he'll be disowned. Their reliance on testing their student secretly means that a Stealth Mentor
can easily be mistaken for one of these, until they reveal that they haven't just been throwing them to the wolves. See Also, Die or Fly
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Anime and Manga
- Lisa Lisa from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure puts Joseph Joestar through a number of grueling exercises, including placing a "breathing correction" mask that forces him to either breathe in the proper manner required to use Hamon or suffocate, and kicking him down a pit and forcing him to climb up an oil-drenched pillar. It was necessary because she did not want her own son to die at the hands of the Pillar Men
- Bleach overlaps this with Training from Hell, while Ichigo trains with Urahara. The only difference is that rather than having real enemies trying to kill him, Urahara and his associates attempt to do it themselves. First lesson: defeat an opponent who will kill you if she manages to land a single punch. Second lesson: We'll separate your soul from your body, chuck you in a hole, bind your arms, and make you climb out before you turn into a Hollow. By the way, if you fail, we have to kill you for safety reasons. Third lesson: Knock my hat off with your sword. Of course, I'll be trying to kill you with my sword the whole time. Urahara's reasoning is apparently that if Ichigo fails here, he'd end up getting killed anyway, so he doesn't have anything to lose. However, they didn't have time for traditional training, having only two weeks to invade Soul Society single-handedly and rescue Rukia, so the more extreme "do or die" method of training was warranted.
- The teachers of the Team Summer A candidates in 7 Seeds. They teach them basic and intermediate survival skills, including randomly grabbing a student from behind, asking how they'll get themselves out of this mess. Things reach the peak during the Final Test, when the teachers completely abandon the students and give them vague hints which may or may not help them survive, just so they can see which of the students will survive to be chosen to be sent to the future.
- The master Lyu-Ui in I Wish was this, especially towards K. He once actually took him to a cliff, asked him if he can swim and, when the answer was No, shoved him off the cliff and into the water. The purpose was to teach K the emotion of "getting a shock" but it actually is a Sink or Swim example.
- Eriol from Cardcaptor Sakura combines this with the Stealth Mentor trope.
- Gravitation: K and Tohma, while not really mentors in the strictest sense of the word, figure that the best way to promote Bad Luck and inspire Shuichi is to throw the band in front of television cameras at the first available opportunity. This continues well into Shuichi's career, with most of the jobs that K lines up for him being done on the spur of the moment. Perhaps justified (or at least lampshaded) by both K and Tohma's assertion that a true star should be able to cope with this kind of pressure all the time.
- Biscuit from Hunterx Hunter. The first part of her training of Gon and Killua consists of having them fight for two weeks with a lunatic serial killer who is, by her own statement, stronger than either of them individually. If they don't manage to land a clean hit on him in those two weeks? She'll kill them herself.
- Kalos Eidos in Kaleido Star subjects Sora to extremely hard Training from Hell to get ready for her roles, and at one point he even fires her when she fails to meet his expectations. To be fair, the Stage's super star Layla was subjected to similar training, and at some point she tells Sora that Kalos told her and Yuri Killian that they'd be fired if they didn't win the Circus Festival. And that was when Yuri and Layla had pretty much reached their peak of popularity and techniques, unlike Sora who still had a way to go.
- In Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, pretty much every single mentor Tsuna has had? It does tend to pay off, though - each time Tsuna goes through a life and death situation, he tends to come out with more badass weaponry.
- Meta Knight in the Kirby anime isn't afraid to defend himself, but very rarely intervenes much beyond exposition and small pieces of advice when Kirby is facing the Monster of the Week, leaving Kirby to copy an ability and get with the ass kicking, or Tiff to figure out the problem, or on occasion with other characters as well. Tiff frequently calls him out on this, but eventually gives up.
- In The Law of Ueki, the rules say that a god candidate (the mentor) can't help their student in battle. If they do, they get sent to Hell. The end result: A bunch of junior high school kids with relatively useless or restricted supernatural powers running around, who are essentially making things up as they go along. Kobayashi more so than the others. He didn't tell Ueki anything about the tournament until the poor kid had already gotten into a fight, and even then he only spilled because Mori and Ueki broke into his house. To be fair, though, Koba-sen did say he only participated in the first place to test Ueki's sense of justice, and energetically told Ueki to drop out of the tournament and live his own life the way he wanted to before suffering the Mentor Occupational Hazard.
- Mahou Sensei Negima!:
- Evangeline foists this on Asuna to get her to use her Kanka ability correctly. She dumps Asuna in the Himalayas, essentially forcing her to figure out the technique or freeze to death. The scary part is that this was the admissions test. Asuna was left with a (presumably) enchanted bell with which to "tap out", and her refusal to do either that or die of exposure was what convinced Evangeline to start training Asuna for real. Evangeline stayed in the mountains for the entire time, just in case something went wrong (presumably something along the lines of Asuna passing out from cold before being able to ring the bell). However, Asuna did pass out from cold before ringing the bell. Twice. The first time her repressed memory of how to use Kanka saved her, but by all rights she should never have woken up the second time. When she did wake up she was covered in ice, unable to move, barely able to think, almost too far gone to reactivate the kanka and save herself. Chachazero even said "she was almost dead, too!" If Eva had actually been there to save Asuna, that would have been the point to pull her out.
- Later on, Pseudo-Eva does this to Negi: either beat your Superpowered Evil Side into submission, or die trying. He actually does die, repeatedly, but thankfully this is in a mindspace where that kind of thing isn't permanent.
- In Naruto, this seems to be a common form of instruction. The main character learned water walking at the boiling hot springs, weapon training always seems to include real weapons, and after a long Training Montage fails to help him perfect his ninja Toad Summoning, his Trickster Mentor Jiraiya shoves him into a Bottomless Pit hoping that the fear of death will allow him to summon a toad big enough to straddle the pit. The weapon training at least was justified, with ninja as military forces. Traditional training methods tended to involve carefully choreographed full-contact kata with weapons which could at least cripple, the theory being that until you had experienced being on the wrong side of a lethal attack a few thousand times, you weren't emotionally prepared to handle a real battlefield.
- One Piece:
- Luffy's Bad Ass Grandpa, Garp, followed this Trope pretty closely as he threw Luffy down a bottomless ravine, left him alone in a jungle at night, and tied him to balloons to send him up into the sky as a child, all to make make him and his big brother (who it is hinted also went through similar ordeals) into "strong Marines". Needless to say, the minute he leaves them with a friend, they run off and become pirates when they hit their late teens! It should be noted that the age that both of them left their home to adopt a life of piracy was 17. Dangerous Seventeenth Birthday, much? It should also be noted said friend was a mountain bandit. He was asking for it, really.
- Dracule "Hawk-Eye" Mihawk seems to have become one for Zoro, of all people.
- Ranma ˝
- Consider the ever-so-brilliant martial arts teacher, Genma Saotome. Genma's shown methods of training his son have included hurling a nest of agitated wasps at him and watching the poor bastard fend for himself, dragging him to a cursed training ground simply on the basis that it was dangerous and without finding out why it was considered dangerous, and reminiscing about how, when Ranma was a child, he routinely forced him to fight for every scrap of food he got, remorselessly eating Ranma's food if he couldn't defend it. He also admitted that he tried to "cure" Ranma's Neko-Ken induced cat phobia by throwing him into the pit of starving cats again. When told about some of this, even the borderline sociopathic Nabiki disapproves, proving that sometimes Even Evil Has Standards. Coupling this with his willingness to simply throw Ranma into trouble and expect him to sort things out, often with barely any idea what's going on or why it's happening, he could border on Fair Weather Mentor. If it weren't for his moments of Idiot Savantdom, it would be the conclusion of most fans that not only was Ranma lucky to survive, he's gotten as good as he has despite Genma's training, not because of it. And as bad as Genma is, Happosai is worse; his nature as a Fair Weather Mentor is an obvious fact.
- Cologne is just as bad, even if she (sometimes) means well. The training for the Bakusai Tenketsu (swinging multi-ton boulders at the trainee until he can make them explode with a finger) and the Hiryu Shouten Ha (wrapping the person in "memory-metal" that will shrink, seize up, and lock down, turning him into a human pretzel if he sheds the slightest amount of heat) would be deadly if these people weren't Made of Iron, and if they end up knocked unconscious from the blows, or drowning in a hot spring, well, that's their fault. Only by learning the fundamentals of these techniques on their own can the trainee even withstand the training itself.
- Interestingly, as Ranma's mentors are either this or a Fair Weather Mentor, Ranma himself seems to take the Sink or Swim method. For example, in the Fine Dining arc, his needs to learn to jab accurately and quickly with his utensils, and his training plan involves setting up buckets and pots of hot and cold water so that if he fails, he turns back into a man in a very restrictive iron corset. Granted, the iron corset part wasn't voluntary, but the point still stands.
- Rurouni Kenshin had Hiko as a mentor, whose idea of training was "beat Kenshin senseless with the Technique of the Day, and then beat him senseless with the appropriate counter-technique when Kenshin attempts to duplicate the effect". He also acknowledges that he could defeat Shishio in the blink of an eye, but considers leaving the mountain where he lives as a hermit to be too much effort. (He does, however pull a Big Damn Heroes moment to help save Yahiko from getting killed.)
- Seens to be the only way to train someone in Twelve World Story... Of course, the main character is a Jerkass so it's alright.
- In Dragon Ball Z, Piccolo abandons Gohan in a dinosaur filled desert for six months to toughen the kid up for the real training (Although he keeps an eye on the kid, secretly giving him food at one point).
- That's actually a step up from Piccolo's first act as 'mentor'- namely, he threw the poor kid at a mountain to demonstrate that little Gohan had power.
- Fullmetal Alchemist:
- Izumi's idea of survival training is to drop off two preteen boys to a deserted island but watching them from afar in the first anime and the manga and coming back in a month.
- And as she points out in the manga, her master's idea of survival training was to dump her in the frozen tundra of Mt. Briggs for a month. She survived by breaking into a nearby fortress for supplies. Without alchemy. And said fortress, we later learn, is staffed by some of the biggest badasses in the series. Yeah, Izumi swam. Granted that said survival training didn't really have anything to do with alchemy, the one who sent Izumi out to do the same wasn't even realizing she wanted to be an alchemist.
- In the first anime and the manga, when she threw Ed and Al on the island, she did leave someone with them to make sure they didn't starve to death. He also was under Izumi's orders wear a disguise and fight them at every possible opportunity, so yeah. In the manga, he even cooks them some fish when it looks like they're too tired to go on. All this before she even accepts them as students. Had they failed, she would've sent them home before they could even begin their training.
- In Kino's Journey, Kino's mentor sent her on a journey to the original Kino's homeland, telling her to visit a specific house and tell the occupant there the purpose of her journey. Turns out, said mentor had been asked for weeks to go shoot the insane serial killer living there, but ostensibly thought it would better serve to teach Kino to defend herself and kill if necessary. Kino didn't seem to mind all that much. The time spent with her master likely explains a lot about Kino's character.
- A Zen parable tells of a burglar who promised to teach the trade to his son. He takes the son to a rich and well-guarded house and shows him the way into the center of the house. Then the father excused himself, went outside, and promptly raised the alarm, alerting the entire house to the intruder - and sauntered on home. At dawn his son arrived, panting and exhausted but alone. "Why did you do that to me? I had to use all of my wits to get out of there!" The father said, "And that was our first lesson on burglary."
Live Action TV
- The Doctor from Doctor Who tends to treat his companions like this sometimes. Especially Doctor number 1 played by William Hartnell.
- Claude, from Heroes, while trying to teach Peter Petrelli how to use his powers, pushed him off the roof of a skyscraper to try and activate his flight ability. It didn't work, but he got better.
- Dr. House has proven to be this sort of teacher in the fourth season, running a two-month "interview" that involves throwing the applicants at the nearest mystery disease and standing back until they solve it. Subverted in that this strategy got a patient killed.
- NCIS: Ziva's father, in a not-at-all-funny or even particularly heroic version. Apparentally, he drove his children blindfolded into the middle of the forest and had them find their way out.
- In the LOST episode "Hearts and Minds," Locke ties Boone up and leaves him in the woods with the monster approaching. (Of course, it's vague how much of this truly takes place and how much is a hallucination.)
- In Psych, Henry often uses (or attempts to use) sink or swim methods on Shawn; justified in some ways, as Shawn is a huge slacker with a history of giving up when the going gets too tough, and this is sometimes the only way to get him to follow through on anything. Of course, it seems he's a slacker in the first place because the harshness of his dad's sink or swim teaching basically beat it into him that unless he's better than the best, the effort wasn't enough. Irony.
- Dr. Cox is mainly justified in this approach; he wants his interns to learn, as quickly as possible, that lives depend on them, and that eventually they must rely on their own skills rather than outside assistance. Despite his Dr. Jerk persona though, he's one of the more benevolent variations on this mentor. He's usually standing by, ready to help if absolutely necessary, rather than leaving the interns on their own to cope with the pressure. Though Cox's help would be partly motivated by the fact that he is legally responsible for the actions of his interns and early year residents.
- In seasons 8 and 9, JD has become this. It comes up explicitly in season 9 that he picked it up from Cox.
- Christopher Titus's Jerkass father holds to a philosophy that his kids will be tougher if he doesn't protect them from their mistakes in any way. As an example of how far he takes this philosophy, a flashback shows him refusing to prevent a kindergarten-aged Chris from playing with an electrical outlet. When Chris gets shocked, his father simply says, "Bet you're not gonna do that again."
- In another flashback, he is shown, quite literally, to be a Sink Or Swim Mentor. When the time comes to teach Dave to swim, he picks him up, tells him not to be a wuss and tosses him in the water. When Dave begins to sink, he tosses Christopher in and tells him to save his brother.
- In The West Wing, campaign staffer Donna Moss asks campaign manager Will Bailey for a promotion. Will responds by handing her a piece of paper with a short statement and introducing her to a crowd of reporters as the new campaign spokeswoman before walking off without another word.
- This trope occurs several times on JAG, usually it's part of either an ongoing court case, or a preliminary investigation, where an instructor may have pushed envelope too far
- Jor-El in Smallville isn't even content to wait and see if Clark sinks most of the time; more a Swim-Or-I-Release-The-Sharks Mentor.
- Yao Fei in Arrow. Quite literally — at one point he kills Ollie, then revives him at the moment he drops him off a cliff into a waterfall. His general training technique is to put Ollie in a fucked-up situation and tell him: "Survive."
- The Arrow becomes this briefly for The Flash in their crossover episodes, and Malcolm Merlyn is this for his daughter, Thea.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy and Spike take the Potential Slayers out for a night of instruction on vampire slaying. They watch in awe as Buffy dusts a nest of vamps, all the while passing on tips. The Potentials point out that one vampire is still undead, then turn to see Buffy and Spike walking out of the crypt and closing the doors, trapping them inside.
- Horatio Hornblower: Captain Pellew is hard on Horatio when the war starts and the young and inexperienced midshipman comes aboard the Indefatigable. Pellew doesn't approve that Hornblower challenged a fellow officer (a horrible and sadistic bully) to a Duel to the Death, and then let another officer fight the duel in his stead. Pellew naturally questions Hornblower's abilities. He assigns him as a division leader of a band of misfits, inherited from the very same bully Horatio challenged. Horatio, being The Hero, proves himself worthy, and Pellew shows he's a true Father to His Men who actually cares. Needless to say, no training was a Truth in Television for the Royal Navy of Regency England as Plucky Middies would be put aboard ships very young with no training. They simply had to learn as they went, though they had some classes on navigation and had to study for lieutenant examinations.
- Once Upon a Time: Regina describes Rumpelstiltskin's teaching method as this. She decides to take this approach herself when she starts training Emma in magic.
- Hells Kitchen has Gordan Ramsay train chefs to be able to work in the most toxic, hostile work environments in the world, by making the competition as bad as he can while avoiding a lawsuit.
- In the musical Camelot, Merlyn is taken away from Arthur's fledgling throne very early in the play, leaving Arthur alone to sort out the founding of the Round Table, his impending marriage, and the general prosperity of the kingdom. As Merlyn is leaving with the nymph Nimue, he bemoans that he cannot even remember if he warned Arthur about Lancelot and Mordred.
- More or less the modus operendi for the Gangrel clan in Vampire: The Masquerade. A Gangrel will usually embrace the target of their choice, then abandon them to survive their first winter without guidance. It's a weeding out process really; siring a mortal is relatively low cost, but caring for a fledgling can be challenging, risky, and time-consuming. So only those that can survive that long deserve to be taught. Not that the sire is the one to teach them, though. Usually it's the responsibility of whichever Gangrel finds them first. All Gangrel greet each other by asking "How Many Winters?", a question a newbie Gangrel is bound to get wrong. In that case, whoever found the neonate is responsible for them. So it's a Sink or Swim Mentor system where the mentors who do the mentoring aren't necessarily the ones who put them there in the first place.
- Fate/stay night:
- "Super awesome training isn't going to help you any, Shirou. Instead, I'm just going to beat the piss out of you until you react quicker." - Saber, summary. Actually, Tohsaka is a bit like this as well. Magical training amounts to making him open his Magic Circuit properly then saying "Go project stuff. No wait, don't. Somehow win without having to." Saber was trying to teach Shiro that he would never stand a chance against Servants, although he never quite grasps that fact. As for Rin, projection magic is extremely dangerous and overusing it would permanently cripple Shiro at best. And this is Rin we're talking about, so...
- Kiritsugu didn't even teach Shirou he didn't need to create a new magic circuit (something that could have killed him every single time he did it) every time he wanted to use magic.
- And from the Spin-Off, Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya, although usually played for laughs. How should we teach Miyu how to fly? Throw her out of a helicopter and see if she can figure it out before impact!
- Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright decides to take up this approach with his successor Apollo Justice in the fourth game. He actually respects the guy and knows he's got potential, but goes out of his way to offer no direct help so Apollo stays self-reliant. Which does make sense as in the first game, Phoenix did rely a bit too much on Mia for help. During the last case, Maya can't contact her spirit, leaving Phoenix to try to figure the solution himself.
- Beacon headmaster Professor Ozpin's very first lesson for the new student intake is about teamwork. He throws them all off a cliff, leaving them to devise their own landing strategy while already in mid-air. If they manage that, they will land in a monster-filled forest. His advice before the trial starts? Kill anything that moves or die, because he won't let the teachers intervene if any students get into trouble. Nice.
- Yang is in the early stages of becoming one. Her idea of teaching Ruby to socialise is to completely ditch her and run off with her own friends. Her voice actress explains that she's the sort of person "who would teach someone to swim by pushing them in the water".
- Klaus Wulfenbach from Girl Genius shows aspects of this towards his son. It could be seen as Training from Hell, but the tests aren't training; they're a blatant attempt to kill Gilgamesh if he can't take the heat. And Badass Bookworm Gilgamesh is up to the challenge.
- Jones of Gunnerkrigg Court plainly told her student she's going to instruct, but not spoon-feed ready solutions. Maybe this only means she doesn't feel it's her right to, but the detached precision is so much in her style that Annie suspected Jones is a robot and some fans suspect she's a goddess.
- In Panthera, you could argue that this is the relationship between Tigris and Onca. There's distinctly more "Sink Or Swim" than "mentor", though.
- Homestuck: The ever-divisive Vriska Serket tried to be one for Tavros. Key word: tried. She had better luck with another boy, John, whose powers successfully appeared when he was pressed to the limit.
- Then there's Typheus's training for John to master his newfound any-travel ability...
- morphE features Amical, an experienced mage who is training 5 seedlings. He activates their abilities by making them fight to the death and has accelerated them to fighting spirits in dangerous conditions within 48 hours of the pupils discovering what magic is. He has also used his gun on more than one occasion to motivate the seedlings to step up their game.
- In Pyrrhic Joshua's mentor, Sister Grace, was this, especially when it came to training him as opposed to his other brothers for reasons yet unknown.
- Jake the Dog in Adventure Time. Played quite literately too.
- Xavier: Renegade Angel, remembering his own youth, decides to alter his old childhood memories by imagining meeting his older self back then. He ends up being this to himself. It makes as little sense as it sounds.
- In Yin Yang Yo, Master Yo eventually fakes his death in order to force Yin and Yang to face Eradicus on their own. In this case, however, it's not his usual method, but because they weren't even trying to get stronger and were simply making him constantly save them.
- The Venture Bros.: Colonel Gathers was this kind of mentor in his early OSI days. When Brock complains that he can't swim well, Gathers "motivates" him by throwing live grenades into the swimming pool.
- When not being a trolling Trickster Mentor, Princess Celestia in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic serves as this instead to Twilight and her friends, and sometimes even fulfills being both Sink or Swim and Trickster at the same time. She's very content with sending the Mane Six to be risking their lives in various missions, whether it be driving off a smoking dragon, saving an Empire from the dark essence of a fallen king, or even taming a mischievous-malicious Reality Warper, all without getting directly involved. The only time she ever gets involved, as seen in "Lesson Zero", is when Twilight really screws up.