"A learning experience is one that tells you, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.'"Some people learn by reading. Some people learn by observation. Some people learn off the telly. Then there are those who just have to grab the electric fence... The human mind is an interesting thing. When we put our hand on a hot burner or put a penny in a lightsocket, what's left of us tends to not want to do that anymore. We learn from our mistakes. Characters in a story usually begin their journey with little actual experience in the real world. Somewhere along the way, they figure out how to manage. There is usually something either said or implied that being in a constant life or death situation has forced them to find some way to survive. By default, they usually become damn good at it. When the time for action has come, the time for preparation has passed. Sometimes your Training from Hell is not enough. Other times you have no training whatsoever. This is often how someone Took a Level in Badass. Some are so good at this that they have Awesomeness by Analysis, maybe to the point of being an Instant Expert. Maybe, somewhere along the line, they learned Mortal Kombat. This is a staple of MacGyvering, the devices they make work because they have to. The Crazy-Prepared person is either this way because of past experience, or because they want to avoid the bruises associated with it. And this is implied with a person who has Seen It All — they have experienced it personally. Truth in Television: want to learn German, live in Germany. Want to learn Japanese, go to Japan. Regularly communicating in the native language in order to pay for transportation, food, rent, etc. is more efficient than a couple hours several times a week in a classroom. If you're wrong, you don't get what you need. Formal teaching is still useful to cover situations and areas that do not turn up every day, to spot errors, or correct bad habits. Both kinds of "hard work" drill in the knowledge. There is a good reason why a leader needs to know what it is like at ground zero. In Video Games, especially RPGs, this is what they are trying to simulate with Experience Points, especially in the more complicated leveling methods where performing an action repeatedly gives you more points to allocate to that skill area. See also the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. Compare/contrast Hard Work Hardly Works, The Only Way They Will Learn, Sink-or-Swim Mentor, Book Dumb, and Wax On, Wax Off.
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Anime and Manga
- Samurai Champloo
- Mugen has a bizarre fighting style. Jin (who is a classically trained samurai) even notes how his style is impractical, yet is one of the few men Jin could not kill easily. Mugen made mention that he grew up in very violent conditions, (living in a prison colony and being a prisoner himself) which forced him to figure out that style on his own. It works for him.
- In the final two-parter, the two face off against Kariya. Mugen goes first and Kariya notes that while his movement make his swordplay unpredictable it leaves too many openings that a trained swordsman can easily get through. Adding that Mugen needs to learn to adapt more in certain conditions. In the final battle he takes this to heart which allows him to off Umanosuke by using his scythe against him. Conversely, Jin faces off against another classical trained samurai who is better at the style than Jin himself. This leads to a breaking with the style in order to triumph.
- A foundation of Dragon Ball Z. Doing some Training from Hell so that My Kung-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours often leads into a Determinator moment. As Goku once said to Gohan, "Power comes when there is a reason. Create your reason."
- Spirited Away uses this in the classic gentle Studio Ghibli way. Chihiro has to fend for herself. She has friends, but the story is about how she grows during the process.
- Lyrical Nanoha: Nanoha figured out her magical powers by trouncing the Monster of the Week after school, and crossing magic staves with Fate. Yuuno mentions that she naturally synchronizes better with Raising Heart then himself. Also the Intelligent Device runs training programs mentally to fill in the gaps. She's naturally powerful, which means that she can make up for her lack of skill via sheer brute force when she needs to, though she would pay for doing that too much in time.
- In Pokémon, Ash doesn't get anything right in the first story arc (Indigo league), often getting his badges after losing the first gym battle and having to help out the gym in some fashion later on. As the series progresses, he gradually gets sharper and more creative with his methods, both in training and battling his Pokémon ("Use Pikachu" and "If that doesn't work, use more Pikachu" won't solve all of his problems).
- Ironic as he kept using Pikachu on Team Rocket, despite them using something that's shock proof (which they've done since, what, the fifth time he faced them?) As Meowth pointed out in one episode, "You'd think he'd learn by now".
- A lot of the goofing off Taichi does in Digimon V-Tamer 01 is just that, but occasionally he'll try an experiment with seemingly no beneficial outcome that he later can build on. He keeps a lot of notes too.
- Vagabond is about how Miyamoto Musashi goes from a naturally gifted hothead to a true badass after he gains experience, being humbled before overcoming the challenge; when he's going to fight all of the remaining Yoshioka, he actually thanks them (silently and by himself with a silent prayer) for giving him the past year to learn, develop and grow.
- Generally, most of the cast in Mahou Sensei Negima! opt for Training from Hell (with the occasional Awesome by Analysis). The former private soldier Mana Tatsumiya, on the other hand, thanks to a youth spent in combat, can boast the skills and instincts above what the rest of the warrior-heavy class have managed, befitting a mercenary of her ability. Evangeline also counts, having learned to use magic and her vampiric abilities at age ten, then going from there.
"Surviving for hundreds of years ain't just for show, you know."-Chachazero
- Jack Rakan. His general attitude tends to make people think that he's just naturally strong and talented, and has never had to really work for his wins. Nothing could be further from the truth: he was an ordinary boy who was in near-constant combat for over forty years. Negi realizes there's really not a whole lot that could catch Jack off-guard; since the guy has seen every trick in the book.
- After Negi's and Rakan's match, some of the fans started quarreling about who was better. A fight broke out. Onlookers started betting on the outcome. The draw had the highest stake.
- Parodied in Ranma ˝, where Genma wanted to teach Ranma the legendary Cat Fu martial arts style. Being unfamiliar with its methods, he decided to wrap Ranma in bacon and sausage and throw him into a bin filled with starving cats. Ranma learned nothing (at least at first) and in fact gained a crippling phobia of cats because of it. It was later shown that he did learn Cat Fu, but has to go into a psychotic break-down from his cat phobia to reach it unconsciously.
- On a funny note, it didn't teach Genma anything, as he tried to "cure" Ranma's phobia by throwing him in the bin again (this time with sardines).
- Guts of Berserk has spent his entire life fighting from childhood on. While his training as a mercenary from childhood made him quite the badass against any human he met, the skills that he acquired in Demon Slaying were born out of pure experience, desperation and survival instinct, his first experience being with Zodd, then with Wyald after Griffith's rescue, and then with a whole mess of monsters from hell out to eat him alive during the Eclipse.
- In Katekyō Hitman Reborn!, the entire point of setting up Shoichi Irie as the main enemy of the Future Arc, and having the Vongola storm Merone Base was so that they would gain more strength in order to defeat the true Big Bad, Byakuran.
- Yuu from Holyland does this most of the time fighting on the street. Sometimes he has to be manually taught by others, but mostly he figures it out by this. For example, he used what he learned fighting a judoka to know what to look out for against another grappler and started using more kicks after he found that he was damaging his hand from over-reliance on his fists.
- In Happy Yarou Wedding, Kazuki thinks he can wipe the floor with Yuuhi, but Yuuhi is quick to point out that he's never been in a real fist fight before. Yuuhi may not be trained in martial arts, but his experience gives him the edge over Kazuki.
- Due to the circumstances of the story, any training Ichigo Kurosaki of Bleach undergoes tends to be relatively short, from a few days to a month or two. Because of this, his real progress happens through the various life-or-death fights he finds himself taking part in. While he does get regular power ups, he also becomes gradually more skilled as the story goes on.
- The two sisters in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, particularly the older one, understands about being poor with no food very well unlike those who haven't, such as the sons of the noblemen being taught by the Crimson Scholar. When one of them nonchalantly mentions how the nobles will take care of their people in times of trouble and famine, the older sister comments that they must have never starved before.
- In A Certain Magical Index, Touma Kamijou has never received any formal training, but has picked up street fighting skills from a lifetime of defending himself and others from bullies and street thugs. His various fights also help him pick up patterns and weaknesses in people's fighting styles and powers. However, he once got curb-stomped by Motoharu Tsuchimikado, who mocked him and said self-taught street fighting skills cannot compete with elite martial arts training.
- In some versions of Green Arrow's origin, he develops his incredible archery skills as a result of being stranded on a desert island and having to learn how to use a bow in order to survive.
- X-23 demonstrates in Wolverines that she's learned from what happened when Daken and Elixir tried to fight Siphon during The Logan Legacy. The next time she has to deal with him she packs a shotgun.
- During the final battle with Sinister in issue 17, upon watching Sabretooth's frontal assault on Sinister being effortlessly defeated by a force field or energy blast, Laura's own attack is much more successful; she ambushes him instead and pins his foot to the catwalk he's standing on from below.
- Spider-Man relies on his spider powers, web-shooters, Spider-Sense and environment to combat his foes.
- In the backstory of Dungeons and Drow Harry Potter is one of several apprentice wizards sent off to fight in a war and the only one to return (the rest having died or fled). He easily kills the Guildmaster and the five wizards with him once he does return as all of them were rich and/or nobility so never went to war and learned all the dirty tricks and unusual spells wizards in the army learn. Of course, it helps that the Guildmaster apparently bought his position rather than earning it.
- In the Worm x Bloodborne crossover Hunter, Taylor comes to learn to defeat Father Gascoigne this way. She learned how he moved, shot, and struck, dying and respawning several times until she finally killed him.
- Many Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories have one or more characters be well versed in various ancient languages and melee weaponry (such as Xander in Teal'c's Wish) by virtue of all the time spent pouring over ancient texts for information and fighting demons respectively.
- In Fates of Ice and Fire, even though Prince Oberyn Martell has never met Arya Stark before, he quickly sees through her magical disguise and warns his companion to wash her hands after she touched Arya's ball in case it was poisoned. He explains that he's faced assassins from the House of Black and White in the past, so he's familiar with some of their tricks.
- A Brighter Dark, Corrin basically forced this on herself by purposefully putting herself into situations where she would have to fight for her life. As a result, she's much more powerful from the start than she is in the original game, being able to so far out-duel everyone she's had to go against besides her older brother, mainly because he was Taught By Much More Experience.
- This Bites!: How does Chopper know how to throw scalpels so well? No, Kureha didn't teach him; he just examined all his memories of her throwing things at him, and replicating her technique.
- A Horse for the Force sees Ranma teaching jedi how to fight by fighting them. Shaak Ti, who spars with him the most, is shown to be considerably more skilled than other knights despite being new to the rank. Her Force Sense in particular is far more honed due to her need to keep up with the much faster Ranma. Lastly, sparring against Ranma tends to teach Combat Pragmatism such as when Shaak Ti sparred with fellow knight Kit Fisto and won by punching him in the face then hitting his wrist to steal his lightsaber. As a result of both the spars and her adventures with Ranma, Shaak Ti is acknowledged as a Jedi Master after being a Knight for slightly over a year.
- Ash in Challenger beats the top ten students at a Pokemon prep school because his knowledge and skill come from dozens of pokemon battles against other trainers, including Gym Leaders who know how to counter their own weaknesses. By contrast the knowledge and skill of the students comes from reading books and battle simulators, which leads to many of them being unable to deal with unorthodox tactics or even dodging attacks.
- In Dragon Knight, much of Xander's fighting ability comes from fighting. When he avoided fighting the women at the fort (due to still having the mentality one shouldn't hit women), he's forced to fight each of them and learn how to counter their fighting style on his own. Lastly, when he kills an infamous highwayman, Xander keeps his eye on the body until he hasn't moved for over a minute and his eyes gloss over, due to almost being killed once by an imp he merely mortally wounded.
- In Xendra, pouring over ancient tomes allows Willow to test out of so many language classes at UCLA (including ones they don't even teach) that after her first year of college she already has a bachelor's degree in languages and linguistics. Likewise, Xander tests out of three different language classes and his day job at a construction company gives him a leg up on his business and management classes.
- Earlier in the story, Xander tries throwing a chakram at Angelus, who catches it easily. Xander later makes a chakram that has the blade on the inside then starts inscribing all his chakrams with crosses so any vampire that catches them will regret it.
- Harry Potter in The Havoc Side Of The Force notes that everyone he does a job for tries to screw him over the first time. As a result, he's taken to setting up precautions to prevent and/or counteract such attempts. Though even before he grew wise to such tricks Harry made sure no one was stupid enough to try it a second time.
- All of Hari's associates in Itachi Is That A Baby have learned to dread Hari referring to anything as "Interesting" as anything he finds interesting tends to be of the "May you live in interesting times" variety.
- In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Ash retains all of his memories after being sent back in time, and he's able to put his knowledge to good use to re-train his Pokémon.
- In the start of Pacific Rim, Raleigh almost gets killed because he assumed a Kaiju was dead when it wasn't. Later, after taking down another Kaiju he says "let's check for a pulse", which is to say that he disembowels it with his energy cannon.
- Cast Away is a great demonstration of this. A pudgy Tom Hanks struggled for a while figuring out how to hunt for food, gather water, and build a fire. After a large Time Skip, you see him slimmed down and very efficient at all of those, in addition to making his own rope.
- Iron Man had Stark forgo the thorough safety inspection on his Mark II suit because he wanted to use this trope. The lessons he learned from were used as a Chekhov's Gun later on.
- Whereas Stane can't hit the broad side of a barn once his targeting computers are... "disabled".
Stark: This looks important! (yoink)
- Carried into The Avengers. After the electrical discharges from Whiplash's weapons were able to disable his suit in Iron Man 2, Tony has upgraded his suit further to absorb excess electrical energy, which he can then channel into his repulsors. He uses this feature against Thor.
- Tony functions on this trope. Each of his suits are improvements on the previous one, correcting old flaws. It goes both ways because a good deal of the danger comes because Tony will often not think ahead and be unprepared for easily planned for scenarios - Tony's fight against Whiplash, for example would be much easier if he packed spare laser cartridges and most of in Iron Man 3 could have been avoided if he bothered to store some of his extra suits in Stark Tower.
- Whereas Stane can't hit the broad side of a barn once his targeting computers are... "disabled".
- Platoon has Charlie Sheen's character develop from a shell shocked recruit fresh from basic training into a capable soldier... unfortunately.
- Star Wars: Luke Skywalker's advancement in The Force can be attributed to this. Without the classic training of the monk-like Jedi, he learned by improvisation and sometimes hard lessons.
- Darth Vader is also an egregious example of this. We see Anakin falling into a 'I have the high ground' trap by Obi-Wan, which led to insta Life Support and Artificial Limbs Up to Eleven. Come Return of the Jedi, Luke uses this again to trap Vader and finish him quickly. A wiser Darth Vader simply destroys the platform, robbing Luke of his advantage.
- Batman Begins uses this entirely as its main story. Bruce went through the training, and when he came to forming the mantle of "Batman", it was from picking up his mistakes. After getting a military combat suit, he found that he needed something to soften a fall, which leads to the glider-cape. After getting gased by the Scarecrow, even though he was now innoculated against the effects, he was fully aware of what Crane was going to do. As Alfred used as a Call-Back quote from Bruce's father, "Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up."
- Despite having "teaching machines" they could use, in Battlefield Earth the humans decided to just learn to fly jets through experience. And they do it well enough to actually pose a reasonable challenge to the Psychlos.
- The Elite Squad (aka Tropa de Elite) combined this with Training from Hell: The latter half of a room-clearing obstacle course is actually a part of a real slum with real assault-rifle-toting criminals.
- Implied in the movie Sahara (2005). Dirk and Al Mac Gyver a boat to explode (LongStory), with a quick explanation that despite them calling it "The Panama Maneuver," they were actually in Nicaragua. After the boat explodes, an amazed side character asks the duo how they got it to work right the first time. Dirk sheepishly admits that it didn't work the first time...
- Discussed and played straight in Fearless (2006). The former occurs when Huo Yuanjia and Tanaka are having tea and Tanaka asks Huo if he thinks there is a "Ultimate Fighting Style" that can't be defeated. Huo responds with a no saying that "It's more like there are people who are all at different skill levels and experience.". The played straight part starts from the beginning of the movie where we watch Huo go through years of training and several fights building up his skill making him the badass we see near the end of the movie.
- Man of Steel: Since he lacks the formal training all Kryptonian soldiers undergo since birth, Superman had to rely on his own life experiences in how to control his powers. Even Jor-El said the only way to know how strong he had become was to keep pushing his limits. Zod might mock his Farm Boy upbringing, but in the end Superman manages to be a credible threat to Zod’s forces and save Earth. What he lacks in formal training, he makes up with adaptability.
- In A Brother's Price, the royal family learnt the hard way that it is no good to let their daughters marry a man who looks good and is of noble birth. After the failure of last time (the handsome guy turned out to be abusive), they are very careful about it and ask every single daughter for her consent - much to the chagrin of Ren. From her point of view, there are two problems with this requirement: Halley (missing) and Trini (very reluctant to remarry after the abuse she got from her now-late first husband). Eventually, all sisters agree to marry Jerin, a decision that makes everyone happy, as Jerin is a very good husband, despite his lack of noble birth.
- Played with in Dragon Bones: The only useful thing Ward learnt from living with an abusive father was how to hide his emotions and carefully time his actions so that he is the one who gets beaten instead of his sister, Ciarra. After his father is dead, Ward spends a lot of time trying to fix the stallion that his father turned into a fierce monster by mistreating it, making it unlearn the aggressive reactions caused by this. There is also Oreg, a slave, who learnt that saying his opinion is dangerous, so he hides behind furniture whenever he tells Ward something that could offend him. Ward would never raise his hand against him, but he doesn't know that. The wisdom gained from experience doesn't serve Oreg well, as Ward is different from others, and it would be better to tell him about weak spots instead of hiding them. Oreg suffers severe pain at least once, because he didn't tell Ward what happens if he doesn't obey an order.
- The Dresden Files:
- Harry Dresden's magical (and mundane) arsenal changes between books from his observations of what works and what doesn't. After getting his left hand burnt into uselessness because his shield spell stops matter and kinetic energy but not heat, he devises a new shield that stops just about everything (including heat, light, electricity, most sorts of magic, etc). After seeing Elaine's taser-chain trick in White Night, he comes up for his own version for when fire magic isn't such a good idea. Oh, and teaching his apprentice how to do magic gives him a LOT of ideas. There's also his upgraded 'knock people around' ring...
- He also stopped using his wind spell, ventas servitas, after the first few books. According to the author, this is because while wind is flashy and impressive, force magic (his forzare spell) is much more effective and versatile in almost any situation.
- One good example of this trope in action, that might be easy to miss: In White Night, the opponent turns off all the lights, so Harry does what any wizard would do: he calls up a supernatural light. However, this just makes him a target for the baddies, who immediately attack him, which was the the aim of the blackout in the first place. Two books later in Turn Coat, another baddie tries the same tactic in a room full of White Council wizards, and Harry is one of the few wizards not to call up light and make himself a target.
- In the beginning he had a single ring which stored up force, and could unleash it in a single large blast of force. It turns out that having a 'free' sucker punch of force that can be unleashed immediately when magically exhausted is useful, so useful that Harry decided more is better. He started adding rings to each finger, then tripling the bands per ring. By Changes he has 3 bands of force on each finger, 30 times the power of his original ring. If something is proven to work you should double down on it!
- The advantage was demonstrated in Skin Game. Hannah is a powerful mage, who can work fire magic much better then Harry. However, in combat she turns out to be much weaker then Harry because despite raw magical talent, she doesn't know how to adjust her tactics on the fly, and she commits everything to offense without knowing how to defend herself. Harry clearly states that she isn't in his league as a fighter because she hasn't learned from fighting in real battles as he has.
- In the Eisenhorn books, after the title character binds Cherubael, he finds that it keeps running wild at the worst possible times. Eventually, he triple-binds it, deeming the subsequent loss in power acceptable for the greater docility forced on it.
- Scourge from Warrior Cats was thrown out onto the streets and learned this way. It led to him becoming a brutal killer with no remorse.
- Most of Robin McKinley's protagonists have to do this. Even in the rare stories where they have an actual mentor teaching them things, for some reason the final confrontation always comes down to a desperation move with no conscious thought behind it (often grabbing the nearest magical artifact and just chucking it at the villain).
- In Dark Lord—The Rise of Darth Vader, set just after Revenge of the Sith, Vader's lava bath has forced him to rein in his temper and learn to affect a veneer of callousness. He also has to adapt his fighting style due to the constricting weight of the suit.
- Journey to Chaos: Kallen Selios schools all the academy mages at the New Scepter competition because of her vast degree of experience fighting monsters in the wild in addition to all the research she has done. When one lives or dies by their magical ability (power, technique, knowledge, etc.) then one is simply better than another who has only done classroom demonstrations.
- In Ranger's Apprentice, Will goes from a talented novice to a top-level Ranger through years of training and several missions.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- This, along with a heaping helping of natural talent, is subliminally given as the reason why Willow went from a newbie in magic to becoming the worlds most powerful witch in the space of four years.
- Wesley defines his Took a Level in Badass from this trope. His first appearance on Buffy had him as an arrogant rookie from the "Watchers" academy (which wasn't too much different than what Giles was in the first season). By the third season of Angel he grew a permanent five day beard and while not as strong as The Hero, he was a fairly badass smart guy.
- Gunn learned this way before we even met him. He led an urban vampire hunting team made up entirely of local gangs. He had apparently been doing it for years and has had a relatively high life expectation compared to the better funded Watchers council and even the various Slayers.
- Buffy herself. With every passing season she gets more experiencing in dusting vampires and other nasties, which means it gets easier and she becomes capable of more. She goes from having trouble with 2-3 vampires in Season 1, to killing 20 at once with a giant stake in Season 5.
- Scrubs has this throughout its entire run, but most notably in the first episode where J.D. is knowledgeable and has a good bedside manner, but is so inexperienced and panicked by the prospect of making a mistake that he can't even touch a patient, much less adequately treat someone. As an interesting contrast, his best friend and fellow med school graduate Turk jumps right into the "learn by doing" philosophy, but makes certain mistakes at the start and isn't always as good as he imagines himself to be. Dr. Cox has to (unwillingly) become his J.D.'s mentor and role model and trick/force him to work on patients before J.D. starts getting real experience and learning how to become a good doctor.
"Four years of pre-med, four years of med school, and tons of unpaid loans have made me realize one thing... I don't know jack."
- Inverted with a character on House. An applicant for House's diagnostic team was revealed to not have actually gone to med school. He worked as an admissions officer at Columbia University's medical school and audited every class multiple times, and so had a large understanding of the textbooks and medical theory. But he never actually worked with patients or was actually trained to do certain procedures, not to mention didn't even have a medical license. Sneaking around that limitation is what led to House figuring out his secret. House ends up firing him but not because of the deception but because his opinions and ideas were too similar to House, which the latter doesn't want in an assistant.
- Stargate SG-1 had elements of this, very much in the style of the Apollo 13 accident. Characters would come across a problem, spend a whole episode dealing with it, and then end with them saying, 'Okay, now we don't let that in the future.' For example, invisible aliens took control of the Stargate, because they'd found out the passwords by spying on the base. At the end of the episode, hand scans were put into the protocol. This adaptability was a major reason humanity became very powerful very quickly.
- Doctor Who plays this straight as an arrow. In the early days, the Doctor would blunder into a situation and have to figure out how to solve it. Eventually, he became a master of the Indy Ploy and almost every other entry on the Gambit Index, as well as exploiting the fact that he has a time machine with incredible resources. Nowadays, if the Doctor is acting like he has no idea what's going on, chances are it's Obfuscating Stupidity.
Stand Up Comedy
- This seems to be a theme in Christopher Titus's work.
- Unknown Armies allows players to put a free point into a skill on a matched roll.
- Continuum's skill system is explicitly built on this, with points accruing each time the skill is rolled if players don't decide to take a short cut
- Sykers in Deadlands: Hell on Earth took years to train Before The End, with new Psychic Powers being added to a Super Soldier's repertoire once every year or so, on average. It's possible for Player Characters to become sykers much more quickly, to say nothing of adding new abilities. What's the difference? Experience. Keeping your melon intact while the horrors of the Apocalypse are breathing down your neck teaches you damn good. Or you die. Either way, you'll have learned something!
- When making a unit in Brik Wars, you have to find out what does and doesn't work. Your unit may have a Fatal Flaw that you didn't think about until someone exploits it (ie having a creature that can replicate itself every turn at the cost of defense, then getting set on fire and dying in the first round). It takes several games to really know how to utilize your Cost of Production points.
- It's an unofficial but often-suggested rule in The World of Darkness games that you can only spend experience points on skills or abilities you either used in the sessions that got you the points or put some foundation work in on (for new abilities), or which you have at least been using frequently. (All games suggest either that or require you to burn time training between adventures — how often this is enforced varies from group to group.)
- Paranoia: Happens a lot with experimental equipment. Just because you have security clearance to test the equipment doesn't mean you have security clearance to read the instructions, which just leaves repeatedly invoking "What Does This Button Do?" (and hoping the answer isn't "activate the Self-Destruct Mechanism").
- How character points can be spend in GURPS. Basically, if you spend an adventure where some skills are used/useful, you can use earned points to buy them. There is even a "quick learning under pressure" rule to let you learn the basics of a skill after trying to use it in a stressful situation if you succeed at an IQ roll.
- The basis of Chaosium RPG games, there are no experience points. Instead when you use a skill, there is a chance you may learn something depending on your intelligence roll, if you succeed then your skill improves. There's also the possibility you may learn the wrong lesson from experience and your skill actually takes a hit as you develop poor habits or whatnot.
- Noticeably zig-zagged in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Reading books, handing in quests and kicking ass makes you smarter. However, you absorb fate (you can Screw Destiny in a world where fate rules all) when you kick ass. In other words, killing an enemy makes you gain XP from combat and also absorb their fate (what they could become if you didn't kill them.) and can use that fate to increase your skills (from Alchemy to Stealth and also combat moves) giving a in-universe reason for the player learns through ass kicking.
- The Quest for Glory series both subverts and plays this one straight. In the first game, you get to define the abilities your character starts with, and each class has specific skills that can or cannot be used. The only way to increase skill in something is to use that skill (which makes sense: you get better at climbing by climbing stuff, better at swordplay by swinging your sword and so on). The subversion comes later in the series, starting with the third game, where the Thief character can be taught the acrobatics skill and immediately becomes proficient in it within seconds (though not necessarily good at it, that takes practice). In the fourth game, Fighter and Paladin characters can read a book and instantly learn how to climb. Mages subvert this from the first game: finding a magic scroll and reading it instantly imparts the spell to the mage, although it is at a low skill level. At least half of every game in the series (there are five) is spent just practicing your skills.
- The skill level system itself is very vague. Having 10 points in Weapon Use means you can use your weapon, but you'll miss a lot, whereas having 100 points (in the first game, at least) means you'll rarely miss...but you'll still miss occasionally. Generally speaking, it's possible to complete the game with low skill levels (depending on the skill and the character, of course), but certainly not recommended. Getting that Last Lousy Point in a particular game can also be a frustrating experience, since skills level up slower as they reach the Level Cap. Quest For Glory 5 completely subverts the skill system, however: as long as you're the right class, you can do anything in which you have skill. The numerical values mean very little.
- In the first Devil May Cry (not so much the sequels), files are kept on every enemy encountered, and descriptions of their attacks as well. For every new attack you witness, another section is added, usually with an explanation on how to stop/avoid it. Oh, and by the way, there are files on BOSSES, too...well, except the last one. Shame...
- In Monster Hunter, there are no Experience Points to speak of... the experience belongs to the player. An experienced player with horrible newbie gear can and will be more successful than a newbie with great gear.
- Much like Monster Hunter above, Demon's Souls and Dark Souls drill the players not just how to fight, but remember enemy placement, trap placement, enemy aggression range, weapon moveset, etc. An experienced player can tell what another players' rough stats are from what he/she equips and then deduce what needs to be done to counter it, usually in order of seconds. There are more than enough anecdotes of seasoned players zipping through the game in a fraction of the time they required to do it the first time around.
- A case of a boss who does this in-game: Mr Freeze in Batman: Arkham City seems at first like a typical "impervious unless attacked in a certain way, but never learns to cover that weakness" sort of boss. Turns out he isn't; each sneaky trick Batman can use on him will only work once because he will alter his attack pattern to cover that particular weakness, forcing the player to do the same: "I can adapt my strategies, Batman. Can you?"
- In FTL: Faster Than Light, your crewmen directly become more able at the stations they're assigned to.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Dragonborn's skills are treated this way in-universe - your skills increases when you get tutored in their use by a trainer or read a book regarding their use, but most of your leveling up is done by applying those skills to someone's face. Every time the Dragonborn swings a sword or casts a spell, they learn how to do it a little better.
- In Assassin's Creed III, Achilles directly refers to this when explaining to Connor why he was left behind in Boston in Sequence Five.
- In Mass Effect lore, getting the coveted N7 rank requires N6s to prove themselves in actual combat and not only survive but do so in "admirable and effective fashion".
- This can be an invoked trope on the part of the player, by rampant abuse of the Quick-save/Quick-load keys. Make a mistake during your last turn? Time travel to Set Right What Once Went Wrong!
- One of the features to be included in Civilization VI will have your faction research techs faster by doing things related to them. For example, having a quarry will boost research on Masonry, while settling coastal cities and building fishing boats will speed your way through naval techs.
- Your skills have a chance of improving as you use them in Darklands, expect your various weapon skills to shoot through the roof and your other abilities...not so much.
- Sonic the Hedgehog is able to defeat Perfect Chaos in his base form during Sonic Generations, while he had to go Super Sonic to beat him back in Sonic Adventure. He even cites this as a strength of his in Sonic Forces after managing to put up a decent fight against Infinite, who's Establishing Character Moment was curb-stomping Sonic and nearly killing him.
- Referenced in World of Warcraft when a book of secrets from an assassin known only as "The Bonebreaker" apparently started breaking the legs of her targets after being attacked by one who was Only Mostly Dead.
- The Order of the Stick prequel book "On The Origin Of PCs" deconstructs this trope by showing what happens if you take it too literally. Vaarsuvius, the future party wizard, is lamenting how their ascent to power is taking too long. Their friend Haley, the future rogue, tells them that if they want to get more powerful, they should just become an adventurer. V brushes this off, saying that killing monsters isn't going to teach them more about magic and the workings of the universe. Haley points out that she recently killed a bunch of kobolds during an adventure, and when she got back to town she was better at picking locks.
V: Next you'll tell me that cleaning your kitchen improved your Decipher Script ranking.
Haley: Hey, it might! You haven't seen some of the things growing in my kitchen; I wouldn't put language skills past them.
- Burk of Hero Oh Hero claims his only experience in fighting comes from wrestling with his brother and "defeating things". He's still capable of defeating enough wolves to have given someone with military training trouble.
- This is how Amical from morphE likes to teach his seedlings. On the first day of actual training a frustrated Asia chides him for not actually teaching them anything and just expecting them to do the impossible feats of magic because he'd shoot them otherwise.
- Governmental structures opposing the protagonist in Baskets of Guts learn from their mistakes. Also, Kingdoms' population derives some things from the war with Marasmir: all dead are to be cremated, sewers are clean even from dead rats and so forth.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent:
- Sigrun has learned to fight trolls by getting started at it at a young age and doing it all her life. This has led her to be quite Book Dumb, to the point of being baffled by other people's love of reading.
- Reynir has this as one of his few means of getting better at magic, as he became aware of his powers in circumstances that give him no access to a more experienced mage of the same magic tradition as himself.
- The Dimensional Guardians from the web fiction serial Dimension Heroes are more or less bumbling fools when they first stumble upon their Guardian powers, but gradually learn to control them as they fight, to the point that they're able to take down a dark force that threatens their very dimension.
- In Demonic Symphony this is given as a reason for Derek's continued survival
- The whole point of Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe is to teach new mutants how to control and use their powers, and defend themselves, even if they don't want to be superheroes or supervillains. Even a mage as powerful as Fey has to learn control, and all those spells. And PK bricks like Lancer have to learn how not to wreck everything they touch.
- In Worm, Rachel Lindt — known as Bitch to her allies and Hellhound to the authorities — learned to fight by spending years dodging the superheroes trying to capture her.
- In Death Battle, this is Fox McCloud's edge over Bucky O'Hare when it comes to ending wars.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: Nicole often relies on enormous physical strength and skill to save her family from constant disaster. Does she train? No, her (desk) job never leaves time for that. Nicole was a diligent student of martial arts... until she was about twelve. Since then, her life's been so hectic she had to get even stronger just to get by everyday. By contrast, Nicole's childhood friend-turned-rival Yuki trained all her life to get stronger, but never had to worry about providing for herself or others, and so Nicole has remained the more powerful.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- The entire show covers a little under one year, yet Aang learned three other bending practices, Sokka became a passable swordsman, Zuko increases his firebending and Katara has become a virtual waterbending goddess. Sozin's comet gives them added incentive. On another note, this is the reason Toph learned metalbending - because she really wanted to get out of a metal box.
- Aang, however, is a special case of this trope. The Avatar gets reincarnated repeatedly but with a different element each time but the same skill (muscle AND mental memory). It's less Aang learning but REMEMBERING all the skill from his past lives. He's being taught by experience. His own. Over MULTIPLE lifetimes.
- The Batman: The Animated Series movie Mask of the Phantasm had Bruce perform his first night as a vigilante in black clothes and a ski mask, yelling out police commands. He had all the training and gadgetry, but didn't really understand Batman's foundation of fear and intimidation. This is what leads him to being the poster child of Crazy-Prepared. This aspect of the movie was a homage to Batman: Year One, which used essentially the same thing.
- Batman Beyond sees Bruce Wayne's then-protege Terry go through a long process to learn how to properly be Batman. Early on he is dependent on his batsuit to survive; later episodes sees him learning from the constant hazards to the point that he's perfectly capable without it (and even wins a fight against the suit when it gets taken over by a hostile AI at one point).
- In the first season of Danny Phantom the title character has little control of his powers and has trouble taking on the weakest of his enemies. After three sesions of fighting, he is able to hold his own against the ghost gods.
- DuckTales (2017): Probably the reason why Dewey is so adventurous and outgoing. If he doesn't learn from experience firsthand, then it's missed learning opportunities in his eyes.
- Subverted by Ed in Ed, Edd n Eddy with his inability to grasp the concept of a fridge light despite a whole night of experiments:
Ed: Hello light...Hello light...Hello light...
- Superman: The Animated Series had Superman learn to adapt to various situations, such as getting a suit that was proof against kryptonite and skin contact for when that was necessary, or come back at an electric-powered villain coated in rubber.
- Ben Tennyson throughout the various shows. One episode has him being forced to enter and pass the Plumbers Academy just so he could keep working for them. Needless to say, his experience in the field caused him to pass fairly easily and quickly. Omniverse references this by giving him a new partner who is all training, but has no experience in the field.
- In Ultimate Spider-Man, this is why Spidey is recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D. and given four agents to lead: while he's essentially a Rookie Red Ranger to the more trained Iron Fist, Power Man, Nova and White Tiger, Spidey had a year of superheroics under his belt - experiences the four don't have to actively operate normal.
- Steve Irwin aka the Crocodile Hunter learned most of what he knew about wildlife, especially crocodiles and snakes, from his father and from working with and growing up around them in his family's wildlife park from a very young age.
- Bruce Lee developed the philosphy-labled-martial-art Jeet Kune Do specifically under the idea of using your personal preferences over set forms and attacks. It is more of a training method. He believed that you should do what you feel is most comfortable and that if an opponent knows the set fighting style you have been taught, they have an advantage. In fact, for this reason supposedly there was at least one aspect that he deliberately never taught correctly.
- The British Navy in the 18th and early 19th centuries put men off the streets aboard its ships of war and left it up to the officers to train them for sailing and combat. Likewise, midshipmen went aboard as children and were taught the requisite mathematics, navigation, and seamanship required to see them past their promotional exams by senior officers or, if they were unlucky, a schoolmaster or chaplain of some description.
- This is also why licensing for certain trades, including electricians, plumbers, and HVACers (at least commonly in the USA), requires one not only to pass a fairly lengthy test, but to have an already licensed master electrician, plumber, or HVACer vouch that you've had 2 years of apprenticeship working on the job under them. There are some things you can only learn by making that mistake on the job and having someone more experienced there to explain what went wrong/help you straighten out the mess/call the ambulance.
- IT and other computer professionals can relate to this as well. Many can only learn by doing, which leads to Malware being installed when you want to download a program to use or entire coding not working because of misspellings. Also, no matter how careful one may be, you're gonna brick a laptop/desktop or two just messing around with the registry or trying to remove malware.
- All chefs start as cooks. A cook must spend several years actually working the trade, including at least some of those years actually running the restaurant (or at least the kitchen of the restaurant) you're working in. Until then, you're nothing but a line-cook with a degree.
- Mythbusters is a case study of this. Usually, neither Adam, Jamie, Tory, Grant, nor Kari will have any formal education in the subjects they delve into, and tend to learn as they go. They have little trouble finding experts on the topic at hand, but usually only use them to get a handle on what they're dealing with and to gain whatever information they need to set up their experiments. Said experts will even often already know the answer to the question they are trying to answer, but that information is typically only called upon after the Mythbusters have tried answering it themselves, either to further confirm their findings, or as a backup in case their experiments go awry.
Adam Savage: "Failure is always an option"
- The famous Edison quote: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
- Why the Chicago Outfit's Tony Accardo was one of the rarest mobsters to never serve years or even a day in prison? Because he learned not to give the benefit of satisfaction to the press or let alone make him an easy target for the government, something he learned from his mentor Al Capone, who enjoyed giving what the press want until it ultimately backfired on him and resulted in an 11-year sentence for tax evasion. Even after retirement from organized crime, Accardo still learned to keep a low profile and still managed to thrive well in it.
- This is why we have the Old Master trope: Just about anyone can learn martial arts, but to become a true expert, it can take decades of practice, training, and combat experience, whether through sparring or real-life combat.