Wax On, Wax Off

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"Before Enlightenment, carry water, chop wood.
After Enlightenment, carry water, chop wood."

An odd form of training passed off by an unorthodox master on a skeptical student. Sometimes comes disguised as a set of chores, but just as often is a general exercise that promotes a valuable physical or mental attribute in a strange way. Always dismissed as a waste of time early on, but appreciated later. Often, this also serves as a lesson to the skeptical student to trust the master and do all the crazy things the master asks without questioning, by demonstrating that the master really knows what he's doing and is in fact effectively teaching the student.

May be time-compressed in a Training Montage or Hard Work Montage. This is an integral part of Improvised Training, due to the low cost involved.

It's commonly subverted or parodied when a mildly Genre Savvy hero initially assumes he is receiving valuable training, only to realize that he is just being made to do his sensei's chores. Double Subverted if the sensei tells him that this realization is the valuable lesson.

Realistically, this can be an effective training method regarding strength and muscle memory; however, it's no substitute for the real training which will inevitably follow.

The trope is named for its most famous example, Mr. Miyagi training Daniel in The Karate Kid by, among other things, waxing a small fleet of cars. Subsequent uses of the trope might reference this phrase or scene.

Compare Training from Hell, Taught by Experience, I Know Mortal Kombat, Chekhov's Skill. May also double as a form of Physical Fitness Punishment. When the mundane task comes at the end of training, it's When You Snatch the Pebble, and often Look What I Can Do Now!. The teacher is often a Magical Asian or an Old Master. Compare to Fence Painting and contrast with Mooching Master, where the teacher is more concerned with getting free labor out of disciples rather than training them. An Old Master who uses this tactic may pretend to be a Mooching Master.

Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Dragon Ball franchise was fond of this trope; the hero Goku is often given a mundane but laborious task to retrieve an item that would increase his power, only to find that it was the task itself that made him stronger. By Dragon Ball Z, he's wised up to this sort of thing — or so he thinks, because nobody really trains him the same way twice.
    • In the original Dragon Ball, Master Roshi goes to comedic excess when he forces Goku and Krillin to work long hours delivering milk on foot, sowing fields with their bare hands, and doing chores at construction sites, all while wearing weighted turtle shells. It really does build them up fast, but Roshi is more excited by the few bucks he makes off it.
    • In Dragon Ball Z, King Kai admitted this was going on from the start. The gravity on his planet is ten times that of Earth (and the same as that of the planet Vegeta, home of his next opponents), so when Goku arrived there, he could barely move. King Kai told him that when he could catch Bubbles the monkey (and later, hit Gregory the cricket on the head with a mallet), he was ready for the real training.
    • Korin trained Goku by challenging him to climb his tower and snatch a drink of his sacred water. It doubled as a Secret Test of Character when Goku had an opportunity to steal it from an apparently-sleeping Korin; Goku refused, and he passed that bit. When Goku finally got the water, he found that it was only ordinary tap water. And he still had to climb down the tower. Interestingly, when Tao Pai Pai tried to do the same later, Korin found him unworthy of training, handed him the water without a fuss, and even insisted on giving him a ride back down the tower just to deny him anything to show for it.
    • By Dragon Ball Super, Goku is very used to this trope and assumes that he and Vegeta having to change the god Beerus' bedsheets while he's sleeping — a surprisingly dangerous task — is another example of the trope. Vegeta informs him otherwise; Whis is doing the actual training, and this is just ordinary housework.
  • Ranma's training in Ranma ˝ started here and escalated to lunatic levels of difficulty and danger.
    • Ranma's rival Ryoga also undergoes this type of training, getting boulders thrown at him to learn the rock-crushing Bakusai Tenketsu technique. As it turns out, Bakusai Tenketsu only works against rigid objects like rocks, but getting hit repeatedly by swinging boulders eventually makes the fighter Nigh Invulnerable. And it was all a Batman Gambit from Cologne to freak Ranma out enough so that he would train on his own and become a better suitor for her granddaughter.
    • In filler, Happosai trains Kuno by having him get the ingredients for his "speed of light elixir" from some strange places (like the girl's locker room), which would require him to get faster and tougher. It works, but the formula was so bad (being made from the dirt under Happosai's nails) that it undoes the training.
    • Kuno also tried training by going to Watermelon Island, standing under a waterfall, and dicing watermelons as they came down from upstream. He got really good at it, chopping watermelons to tiny cubes entirely by reflex, and getting stronger and tougher than Ranma himself! But it's subverted because the entire point of the training was to impress girls by Smashing Watermelons.
  • InuYasha. Parodied in a filler episode. When Inuyasha wanted to get stronger and power up his Infinity+1 Sword, he went to the sword's creator, Toutousai, for training. Toutousai is both The Wonka and an Eccentric Mentor at the best of times. As a result, when his response to Inuyasha's request is an off-hand comment about wanting a bath, Inuyasha — with atypical gusto — starts cutting firewood, hauls water, and works the bellows to heat the fire, believing that Toutousai has put this trope into effect and that it's all part of training. And then he discovers that Toutousai was being serious: he really did want a bath. Cue wrecking ball mode.
  • Pokémon:
    • Brock and Ash meet Bruno, a member of the Elite 4 who agrees to train them. He gets them to do a ton of chores. Brock assumes this all has a deeper meaning, but Bruno just wanted his chores done. His actual training could be summed up as "Be nice to Pokemon". Or perhaps "You can't get something for nothing."
    • Many seasons later, Kalos gym leader Korrina has difficulty getting her Lucario to listen to her during Mega Evolution, so she journeys to meet Mabel, a family acquaintance with a loyal Mega Mawile. After an initial battle to test her, the training turns out to be over a week's worth of flower arranging. It pays off in the end, as the training needed wasn't physical but rather the need to understand the teammate's differing perspective when battling.
  • In Pokémon Special, the Daycare Lady locks Gold into a cage full of dangerous looking Pokemon. Gold's Cyndaquil ends up evolving thanks to fighting them, and Gold immediately shouts his thanks. Turns out the old lady was just too lazy to look after the Pokemon herself and was using Gold to give them some exercise.
  • In Rosario + Vampire, Moka nabbed a magic-cancelling whip so Inner Moka could come out and play, and they both took Tsukune out on a shopping trip around town, which led to attacks from the rest of the Harem. Tsukune figures out how to remotely sense demonic energy as a matter of survival, which everyone concludes was her motive. No, it turns out she just wanted to do some shopping as her True Self.
  • Genesis of Aquarion loves this trope, and parodies it whenever possible.
  • When the heroes of Get Backers want to learn to use Divine Design, they get a witch friend to help them learn the basics of magic. The first task? Stacking eggs.
  • Takumi from Initial D, or so he thinks, starts out driving at 4:00 AM as fast as possible while delivering his dad's tofu to the peak of Mount Akina and drifting to prevent the tofu from rolling around, in order to return home ASAP and catch a little snooze before going to school.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Izumi's Training from Hell for alchemy is preceded by a month of survival in the wilderness with just a knife, the purpose being to find the meaning of "all is one, one is all". By undergoing a Near-Death Experience, trainees learn that they're part of an endless cycle of life which could easily move on without them, and that alchemy is just a miniature replication of that cycle within one's own body. She herself learned this from her own teacher, who according to one gaiden volume did it because he thought she wanted hand-to-hand combat training. She really wanted her trainer's brother to train her, but in the end she learned enough to curb-stomp him anyway.
  • Subverted in Medabots, which had a chapter in which Ikki and Metabee did Dr. Aki's housework. Ikki thought it was this trope, but the good doctor later admits that this served no practical purpose.
  • Ayane's High Kick: When Ayane accepts Kunimitsu's offer for training, he declares that the first step is for her to build the training ring, to help build her physical strength and stamina.
  • A filler episode of One Piece uses a craft variant. A young kid who had only worked as a dishwasher on a Marine ship kitchen accidentally destroys the weekly (and almost legendary) curry lunch for the officers, and the head chef forces him to make a new batch on his own as punishment. With Sanji providing some subtle clues of his own, the kid learns that the observations made as a simple dishwasher have given him the fundamental skills to cook the meal.

     Comics 
  • MAD spoofed this trope by having Mr. Miyagi explain that finishing off enemies is the same as finishing off floors. And if he gets the shit kicked out of him, Daniel-san now has a nice place to recuperate.
  • In Usagi Yojimbo:
    • Usagi's training as a kitten had his old master Katusuichi, pretending to be a Mooching Master, making Usagi do all manner of chores for over a year before he even let Usagi touch a bokken. Turns out he was actually testing Usagi's patience and resolve to become a swordsman.
    • Katusuichi also started hitting Usagi with a bamboo stick at random times, day and night. Although the rabbit kitten feared his teacher had gone mad, he only later noticed that it helped develop the lifesaving habit of being constantly alert for danger.

    Films — Animated 
  • The eponymous Po in Kung Fu Panda, who eats when he's upset, is taught kung fu by Master Shifu via eating dumplings with chopsticks; largely because Shifu discovers, quite by accident, that when Po is thinking about food, he's capable of feats that, when he's thinking about kung fu, he's not even aware exist.
  • Parodied and subverted in Surf's Up, in which Big Z has Cody doing ridiculous training exercises to help him "learn how to surf". Cody finally figured out that Big Z was playing practical jokes on him, and later learned that the real lesson was to relax and just have fun.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Karate Kid movies:
    • The Karate Kid (1984) is the trope namer. When Mr. Miyagi agrees to train Daniel, Daniel thinks he's going to get practical karate training from the get-go. Instead, Miyagi tells him to do various chores — not just waxing cars, but also painting the house, painting the fence, and waxing the deck. Miyagi also showed Daniel the precise way he wanted everything done. Daniel nearly quits, thinking Miyagi is just a Mooching Master, before Miyagi demonstrates that these chores were to build up the strength and muscle memory necessary for performing karate blocks (and was also a way to test how much patience he had). Then Miyagi showed Daniel how to punch and kick. As a reward for persevering, Daniel even got one of the cars.
    • By The Next Karate Kid, Hilary Swank's character calls Miyagi on his bullshit and refuses to wax anything. Undaunted, he achieves the same result by having her babysit kids who constantly fire toys at her, forcing her to practice her reflexes and blocking motions.
    • In The Karate Kid (2010), Mr. Han has Dre continually take off his coat, hang it, drop it, pick it up, and put it on, using Dre's attitude to enforce the strength and posture needed. Dre initially interprets this as punishment for his attitude towards his mother, until the Wax On Wax Off kicks in later. Dre calls out Mr. Han on not knowing Kung Fu, and Mr. Han starts an impromptu spar to show Dre he was building up muscle memory. As you can see when Mr. Han starts punching at Dre, he is performing blocks and other evasive maneuvers with every step. For several cycles, Mr. Han says "jacket on, jacket off". It's also actually explained in this movie why the teacher uses this indirect teaching method: to get Dre to understand that Kung Fu isn't just a way of fighting, it's a way of life:
    Mr. Han: Kung Fu lives in everything we do, Xiao Dre. It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket, and lives in how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu.
  • In the film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Rip Torn's character uses a few exotic methods to improve the "Average Joes" team's dodging skill, including crossing a busy street, and throwing wrenches at them.
    "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!"
  • Kill Bill had a more realistic portrayal of how martial arts schools used to do this, showing the Bride carrying buckets of water up a large set of stairs as part of her training.
  • Parodied in Mystery Men, where the Sphinx trains the eponymous squad with a series of bizarre physical feats justified by odd wordplay:
    Mr. Furious: Why am I balancing a hammer on my head?
    Mr. Furious: Then why do I have these watermelons on my feet?
    The Sphinx: *beat* I don't remember telling you to do that.
  • Parodied in the Karate Kid rip-off Showdown. The martial artist master is making the hero clean toilets, and the hero is like "I get it, this is like Wax On, Wax Off, right?" The response? "No, this is toilet cleaning."

  • Parodied and subverted in the Japanese movie Waterboys. The boys' high-school Synchro-Swim team seeks help from a local Sea World dolphin trainer. He makes them clean all the aquariums, under the guise of it being muscle training. Later, he takes them to an arcade and gives them $50 to play Dance Dance Revolution, as a lesson in getting in sync. Both times, it works, but he just does this to get work done for free and get rid of them.
  • In Drunken Master, Jackie Chan plays Wong Fei-hung, a young punk who is punished by being put under the brutal training of Su Hai Chi, an alcoholic with a style known as the Eight Drunken Immortals. Su Hai Chi appears to delight in putting Fei-hung through Training from Hell. It starts with being flipped around, tripped over, and knocked down repeatedly. Then it transitions to transferring water between four giant barrels with a bucket, while balancing atop the barrels. Later, it moves to filling one bucket with water from another using only a teacup — while the empty bucket is on the top of a pole, the full bucket is on the bottom of the pole, and you do it by wrapping your legs around the top of the pole, hanging upside down, and doing upside down situps. Last, it's performing katas in time with your instructor, with your hands roped to his, as he slams poles against your wrist running down the length of the cord. So how is all of this supposed to aid in defeating the Big Bad? Well, being forced to flip over builds up your balance by getting used to tumbling around, since much of Drunken Boxing is acrobatic. The barrel exercise builds up balance, back and ankle strength. The teacup exercise builds up the upper leg and abdominal areas. The cord exercise is to help Fei-hong remember the katas, employing his strength from the previous exercises. Having his wrists slammed with the poles is necessary since it he'll be doing a lot of blocking and striking using his wrists alone. And crushing walnuts quickly becomes useful for outright lethal strikes, like crushing the throat.
  • In Sgt Kabukiman NYPD, Harry learns to control his powers by sorting a huge pile of rice, practicing coming up with haikus, and taking a whole bunch of Groin Attacks. Not typical.
  • Mentioned (but not done) in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. While cleaning April's apartment, Mikey, who's cleaning the counters, asks his brothers to watch him.
    Mikey: Watch this! (A la Miyagi) "Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off. Wax on-"
    Raph: (Stops him) Mouth. Off!

    Gamebooks 
  • In The Crimson Tide, you can spend some years in a monastery. If you try and learn martial arts, you get some added combat skill. If you work in the laundry or the kitchens, you finally discover that you've been training in the Wax On, Wax Off style. Using this style later in the book makes fights far easier, and you last longer in hopeless Bad End combat scenes. It's also a prerequisite for getting the Golden Ending.

    Literature 
  • Discworld
    • Parodied in Mort when the hero, as Death's apprentice, is told that if he wants to understand the secrets of space and time, he must muck out the stables. After considering various reasons why this might be part of his training, he comes to the conclusion that it's because Death was "knee-deep in horseshit". A Double Subversion, though, as Death insists that, by realising this, Mort has learned something: always see things for what they are.
    • Similarly, in Thief of Time, Lobsang Ludd is being taught by Lu-Tze, an Old Master who is content to be a humble sweeper. After several days of sweeping up the temple, he confronts Lu-Tze:
      Lobsang: I mean, I understand how it works. The master makes the pupil do all the menial jobs, and then it turns out the pupil is really learning things of great value ... And I don't think I'm learning anything, really, except that people are pretty messy and inconsiderate.
      Lu-Tze: Not a bad lesson, all the same.
    • Granny Weatherwax is also a major believer in Wax On, Wax Off, not just as training for young witches (such as Eskarina and Tiffany), but as a permanent part of a professional witch's repertoire.
  • In David Eddings' Belgariad universe, the arch-wizard Belgarath learned the Functional Magic of "The Will and The Word" from the reclusive Physical God Aldur in this way. Aldur kept setting his young apprentice to various menial, pointless, and increasingly strenuous tasks, culminating in him ordering the young Belgarath to move a boulder out of his way, since he couldn't be bothered to step around it. Inspired by this, Belgarath did the same thing to Garion, who tried lifting the boulder. Newtonian physics still worked, apparently, and Garion found himself in a rather deep hole.
  • In Warcraft: The Last Guardian, a Warcraft Expanded Universe novel, the first task that our hero faces when attempting to become the wizard Medivh's apprentice is to clean, fix, and sort out his library. This turns out to be a Secret Test of Character, since an apprentice is supposed to know the contents of the library inside and out, have the patience and humility to do some physical work every now and then, and know which books are actively harmful.
  • In A Game of Thrones, Syrio Forel trains Arya Stark for Braavosi-style fencing by having her do things like catch the stray cats roaming the castle at King's Landing (to increase her speed and reaction time) and walking around the castle on her hands (to increase her balance and awareness of the surfaces she's moving on). Subverted in that she understands the purpose of it all and appreciates it.
  • In E.W. Hildick's The McGurk Mysteries series, Jack McGurk (leader of a band of kid detectives) frequently came up with "training exercises" that also got the other kids to do his work for him. For example, raking the yard to match leaves. The point, as McGurk explained, was to look for leaves that didn't match the trees in the yard. Really, he was just getting the others to rake the yard so he didn't have to.
  • In By the Sword, Kero's training with Tarma begins with a whole lot of chopping wood. She doesn't seem to resent it, but she does eventually get curious when Tarma starts having her chop wood that's been set up in oddly specific configurations, at which point Tarma finally gets around to explaining the specific purpose of the exercise: to develop the specific muscle groups that she'll be using to swing a sword.
  • In A Matter Of Thorns (Realms of Infamy) by James M. Ward, a Knight Errant explains his approach:
    Sir Ganithar "the Hammer": You must learn to serve me. Loyal service is as important to a squire as the arts of war. Do you understand, boy?
    Tomkin: Yes, sir, I'll always serve you to the best of my ability. I'll do whatever you tell me to do, Sir Ganithar.
    Ganithar: No, no, lad. That's not what I want. Try to anticipate what I need. Anticipation is vital in a warrior, too. Figure out what I need and respond to me before I ask. I'll teach you to do the same to your foes. That's the way of a good warrior.
  • The Wheel of Time does this to Avhienda in The Gathering Storm. The Wise Ones load her up with useless chores and punishments for seemingly no reason at all. After a few weeks, Avhienda gets fed up and quits. This turns out to be the Secret Test of Character, teaching her that at some point she has to stand up for herself.
  • In the Circle of Magic series, ambient mages have to study and learn everything about their affinity, including the tedious chores.
    • One example mentioned a few times is Daja (metal/heat mage) having to do the most tedious thing as a blacksmith; making nails. This is doubly so, as while the swords or sculptures or larger pieces she wants to do or learn will get her recognition (or are just more fun), the nails are the most useful thing she can make.
  • Subverted in the 1953 novel A Light in the Forest: True Son, an Anglo man raised by a native tribe, tells one of his young white relatives that in order to be strong, he has to chase butterflies and rub some of the powder from their wings on his chest, which he says is magical. One of the white men comments that the story is a good way to convince children to exercise, but True Son is surprised by the comment: he genuinely believes in the magical properties of the butterfly dust.
  • In The Inheritance Cycle, this is supposedly the way that Dragon Riders were taught to be aware of their magic. They were given incredibly arduous tasks to do (such as filling barrels using buckets — using only their feet) so that they would eventually get so frustrated that they'd spontaneously do something magical.
  • In Holes, this is the idea behind Madame Zeroni's deal. Elya is to carry a pig up to a spring at the top of a mountain each day, in order to impress a woman, with its eventual weight as a dowry. However, the true purpose is to have Elya carrying a gradually growing pig; over time, it would develop the muscles that would truly impress the girl. Subverted when the woman turns out to be stupid, and Elya leaves without her.
  • Bluepaw's training in Warrior Cats. Much of it focuses on boring tasks like gathering moss and cutting into smaller parts, to teach her patience, concentration and good control of her claws.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Power Rangers Jungle Fury, R.J. does this to bring Casey up to speed with the other Rangers, with the minor subversion that one of the tasks really was pointless, even though the other three weren't.
  • In Juken Sentai Gekiranger, the masters tended to do this a lot, particularly in earlier episodes. Sometimes they're upfront about why they're asking for a mundane task, sometimes they're not. For example, Ran and Retsu learn to play the piano in order to get better at charging the Geki Bazooka, Jan helps with cooking to learn patience, and Ran fly-fishes to use the Geki Hammer.
  • Parodied in an episode of Zoey 101, where a character is taught how to drive a car with manual transmission in this fashion.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Marshall successfully convinces Barney that he could pick up any chick he wanted in less than five seconds by going up to a supposedly "random" woman (actually his fiancee) in a bar and kissing her passionately. While retelling this story:
    Marshall: He went around for a week trying to get me to teach him how to live. I even got him to do my laundry once!
    Barney: I thought it was a Mr. Miyagi type of thing!
  • Parodied on Breaker High, where Jimmy is subjected to this kind of training just to learn how to make burritos.
  • In an episode of The Office (US), Michael unveils a movie he had been working on for years. In it, the hero has to learn how to play hockey and his mentor teaches him by having him mop the ice.
  • In one episode of Duck Dynasty, Phil does this to his grandsons under the pretense of training their reflexes and hand-eye coordination. They're initially skeptical, and by the end of the episode Phil has dropped all pretense and admits he's just getting them to do chores.
  • A Soviet biopic Ivan Pavlov: Searching for Truth (yes, that Pavlov) has a bizarre example of what supposedly was common in 19th century Orthodox monasteries. A novice is ordered to plant cabbage with its leaves in the soil and roots in the air. Later a monk explains: "The cabbage isn't dear to us, it's your obedience."
  • In Arrow, one of the flashbacks to the island where Oliver was stranded shows a similar training. In order to strengthen him enough to draw back the string of a bow, he is forced to keep slapping water in a bowl.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Briscoes get their workout from being out on their farm twelve hours a day and detest gyms. They're not above giving pro wrestling specific training to wrestlers visiting the farm but you'd better get used to jumping on bulldozers after chugging Natty Light.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Used (of course) in Exalted:
    • One of the Scroll of the Monk books had a comic depicting a martial arts student griping about his sifu making him slap water out of a pan for his special training. Then he slams his hand down on the table in anger and breaks it in half.
    • Taken to almost Trollish extremes in an Ink Monkey's supplement. "Secret Lesson Revelation" allows a Sidereal Sifu to use practically anything in this way, as long as they can make up some reason, however far-fetched, that it is true. Naturally, there is a comic where a Sidereal is abusing this to make a Solar clean his Demigod T-Rex stables.

    Video Games 
  • Mage training with Mebbeth in Planescape: Torment comes in the form of three chores. With a high enough intelligence or wisdom, The Nameless One will even figure out the lessons all on his own. After it turns out that The Nameless One knows magic already from a previous life, Mebbeth comments wryly that he just shaved months off his training and that she'd been looking forward to having someone to foist her chores off on. Even funnier when you find out that Mebbeth is really Ravel, the person who cast the spell on Nameless in the first place. So if anyone would know he had training as a mage, it was her.
  • In possibly one of the most hilariously random quests ever, Summon Night: Swordcraft Story has your training under a great Craftlord involve running around collecting food ingredients, so that you can make a ladle, with which to cook some curry for him. Of course, it turns out that this was the first training that he had under your father, so it's half-revenge, half-valuable lesson. And the elemental version of the weapon is the best weapon you can have if you need to break an opponent's weapon.
  • This is used a few times in the Shenmue series. For example, in the second game, Ryo has to clear his mind by catching leaves.
  • Pre-training for the military in Dwarf Fortress can easily be this trope, with dwarfs spending days or months driving pumps, mining rock, cutting trees, carving rock, grinding grain, or any of a few different industries. On the other hand, it gets interesting when those same dwarfs build up their skills and expertise by tallying up every single rock in the fortress, or ordering the manufacture of several thousand bars of soap.note  Mining plays it straightest; the unmodded game uses a generic "axe" item for both combat and woodcutting, but using it on trees levels a separate skill from using it in combat. Pickaxes, for some reason, draw upon the "Mining" skill for both.
    • For the Adventurer, knapping develops agility, strength, kinesthetic and spatial Sense, and also produces sharp rocks to throw, developing additional attributes as well as marksmanship. Walking with a crutch trains endurance and willpower, and if your adventurer ever breaks or loses a leg, he or she will be able to grab a crutch and walk at their usual speed.
  • In perhaps one of the darker examples of this trope, there is a book you can read in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind that tells the story of a young orphan sent to live with his uncle on a farm and learn a trade from him. The Uncle gives him three chores to perform: dusting his bookshelves, ringing the bell to call farmhands, and scouring clean all the floors in the house. Each task had to be done perfectly; the bookshelves completely dust-free, the large iron bell rung loudly (and frequently), and the floors spotless. In his eighteenth year, the boy discovers that his uncle means to abandon the now-failing farm, and the boy with it, without teaching him anything. The boy silently picks up a heavy axe, to discover it doesn't weigh any more than the dusting rod he'd used for years. The dusting and bell-ringing gave him the strength and muscle memory to chop his uncle to bits, and cleaning up the mess afterward was so easy that no one could tell there had been a murder. Deciding he had indeed learned a trade after all, the young man eventually goes off to join the Assassin's Guild. Incidentally, the book that contains this story, titled "The Axe Man," is a skill book. What skill does it raise? Axes.

    Webcomics 
  • Double subverted in Fans!. Master Kana's training of Rumy involves making her do chores around the house. When she finds out she's just being used, she attacks Kana and they start fighting. During the fight, Kana reveals that he was trying to make her angry, so she wouldn't hold back while they fight.
  • In the discontinued webcomic Ghost Cat, one of the leads take up martial arts under his elderly groundskeeper, who teaches him the ancient art of "Do Mae Wohk" (say it aloud).
  • In Sluggy Freelance, this comes into play not with physical training, but with Mad Science. Irving Schlock has one of his subordinates work on various, overtly pointless projects, until Dr. Shankraft confronts him about it. His final project entails both the massive amounts of power and the accounting for size differentials that his previous works required. There's also a Secret Test of Character in the shape of a fire-breathing duck.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: In Meti's Sword Manual:
    To train with the sword, first master sweeping. When you have mastered sweeping, you must master the way of drawing water. Once you have learned how to draw water, you must split wood. Once you have split wood, you must learn the arts of finding the fine herbs in the forest, the arts of writing, the arts of paper making, and poetry writing. You must become familiar with the awl and the pen in equal measure. When you have mastered all these things you must master building a house. Once your house is built, you have no further need for a sword, since it is an ugly piece of metal and its adherents idiots.

    Web Original 
  • Spencer's training of the gang in lonelygirl15 includes bizarre methods like hopping like a kangaroo, wandering around blindfolded, and playing '80s video games whilst eating candy. Jonas in particular is sceptical, but the methods are surprisingly effective. Well, except for the idea of plunging knives into a wall and pulling oneself up with them; that really was just an extremely dumb idea.
  • In Dragon Ball Abridged, when Tien, Chiaotzu, Yamcha, and Piccolo arrive on King Kai's planet, he sets Tien and Chiaotzu to the same training as Goku, lets Piccolo meditate, and tells Yamcha to wax his car. Yamcha assumes this trope is the case and launches into the task with gusto. Except Kai doesn't give a damn about Yamcha and just wanted to give him some menial chore to keep him busy.
  • The Atari Kid by Rooster Teeth Shorts employs this trope on a nerd, with a wise Dungeon Master as his Mr. Miyagi. The nerd is trained through Dance Dance Revolution, quickly plugging and unplugging cords on a computer, and inputting the Konami Code as fast as possible. All of these skills help him take down a purse snatcher.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied on an episode of Johnny Bravo, "The Clueless Kid" in which the menial tasks really are just menial tasks, but let Johnny win the match anyway. (Much to Master Hama's disappointment, as he'd bet against Johnny.)
  • The Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Sokka's Master" has Sokka seek sword training with Piandao. In addition to actual training with wooden practice swords, the training involves calligraphy, rock gardening, and landscape painting. Atypically, Piandao actually explains the purpose of these as he goes along (instead of afterwards), and Sokka performs them in very odd ways (for instance, when instructed to arrange a rock garden, he quickly makes a comfortable seat to lounge in). Piandao then teaches Sokka to use his eccentricities and Take A Level In Badass — by challenging him to a no-holds-barred duel in which Sokka's resourcefulness and creativity enable the beginner to keep stride with the master.
  • Kim Possible:
    • In "Oh No! Yono!", Ron's showing Hana the "Flippie Dance" gives her the agility and acrobatic moves needed to beat Yono and Monkey Fist. And little before that, Ron teaching Hana how to flip a page allowed her to deflect an incoming rock by using the same movement.
    • In "Job Unfair", Joe (a supposed janitor who is actually a Canadian master spy) teaches Kim the detailed operation of a vacuum cleaner, which turns out to be a model of the weather machine she'll need to disable during her mission.
  • Penny Proud from The Proud Family goes through a spoof of The Karate Kid, including painting the fences. The things she did alongside with the Chang triplets are actual training, and although the master is rather a lazy bum, he is actually fluent in combat. The more "advanced" school she longs to follow only teaches how to be cool like a typical martial arts movie without properly teaching actual skills.
  • Grandpa does it to Jake in American Dragon: Jake Long; all of the chores he forces him to do turn out to have combat applications (except for doing his laundry).
  • Parodied in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, where medieval Boss Delwapo has Billy do his chores for him as training for fighting a dragon. In a scene paralleling The Karate Kid, Billy finds out that Boss just wanted his chores done. Turns out he's a Fake Ultimate Hero, though. And Billy ends up not even fighting the dragon.
  • Parodied in an episode of Code Monkeys, "The Take Over", in which Dave trains under a Miyagi-esque sensei to prevail over Japanese competitors in a high-stakes eating competition. He assumes that he will be painting a fence, waxing a car, etc., but is instead instructed to eat such items as paint, wax, and sawdust to strengthen his stomach and make him able to eat anything.
  • Earthworm Jim played with this in its animation incarnation. Jim finds a enchanted sword in his vending machine sandwich, which vows to make a hero out of him. In the following scene, Jim drags himself on camera, wearily explaining that he'd performed such tasks as regrouting the bathroom and cleaning out the stables of the seven incontinent yaks. He then asks if the tasks were meant to teach him humility. The Large Ham sword mutters, uncharacteristically quietly, "I dunno, they just... needed to be done, I wasn't going to do it."
  • In the pilot of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Princess Celestia employed this trope on her top student Twilight Sparkle; she appears to downplay and gently mock her fears of the imminent arrival of Nightmare Moon, instead telling her to drop her books and make some friends. However, it is later revealed that Twilight making friends was a necessary step to eventually combat Nightmare Moon when she did indeed return.
  • In Storm Hawks:
    • One episode has the eponymous characters meeting Arygyn the Skeelur, who trains them to take on their upgraded enemies by taking them to an amusement park.
    • In another episode, Sky-Knight Starling is confused by the team's training, which mostly consists of children's games resembling paintball and keep-away. The group assures her the games are important, and they all come in handy saving a terra (even Finn's guitar playing!).
  • El Tigre: Trying to get out of doing chores, Manny tricked wannabe hero Albino Burrito into doing them thinking it was hero training. Then all he learned during the chores was indeed useful to defeat a rampaging robot built by Puma Loco.
  • Hexe Lilli: Heracles tells Lilli to practice grape stomping and painting walls because those are the motions required to throw a discus. He eventually ends up giving her tips on actually throwing a discus as well.
  • The Spongebob Squarepants episode "Squid's Defense" has Sandy teaching Squidward karate and telling him that in order to learn it, he must "master the movements of every day". He later fights his opponent with moves such as "watering Sandy's lawn" and "taking out Sandy's trash".

     Real Life 
  • Although this is less common today than in the past, certain traditional martial arts dojos have a program of uchideshi, or live-in students. Besides training two or more times a day, possibly while holding down another job or completing university classes, they are also responsible, under the direction of the senior students, for the care and upkeep of the dojo, for cooking their own meals as well as catering for guests, and keeping their rooms in tip-top order. The care and discipline they put into these tasks is considered to be just as much a part of the training as the martial art practice.
  • This is similarly true for training in the US military. Trainees are required to maintain the barracks area in addition to their regular training. This not only includes keeping their own rooms clean (which may include storing their clothes in a certain specific way), but also assigning specific people to carry out certain chores for a period of time (say, vacuuming the hallway for a week, or cleaning the latrine before lights-out). All this besides the weekly "GInote  Party", where everybody cleans the entire barracks top to bottom, sometimes for hours at a time. The point is to promote attention to detail and self-motivation. If recruits can't follow simple instructions or take initiative in training, they would be useless in combat. It's also useful in weapons maintenance, which requires close familiarity with a weapon's component parts.
    • The US Air Force Academy carries this a step further, requiring cadets to fill out forms evaluating each meal. By filling out the same form every day, cadets learn to complete checklists quickly and efficiently.
  • Apprentices of certain craftsmen would be put to various menial tasks in order for them to build the muscles or motor skills required for the craft. For instance, new chefs at a traditional restaurant typically spend a few solid months at the dish pit before actually touching a single knife. It teaches the importance (and inevitability) of cleaning dishes and cookware, as well as impressing the sense of urgency needed in being a cook.
  • Legendary basketball coach John Wooden would always begin the season's practice with a lecture on how properly to put on a pair of socks so as to avoid having them cause blisters during games. The attention to detail inherent in the lesson translated to fundamental soundness in all other elements of the game and ten championships in twelve years. It's one of the many reasons why there are few who disagree when Wooden is called the greatest ever to coach the game.
  • A shift toward emphasizing stability muscles has had several strength training regimens like Crossfit and sports-specific workouts add strongman-style exercises like flipping a tire or wringing out a wet towel.
  • A major part of any veterinary nursing student's training is kennel duty — walking dogs, scooping litter boxes, washing dishes, and cleaning cages — long before they're allowed anywhere near a microscope, syringe, or needle. Many prospective vet nurses wash out within the first several months because they can't handle the fact that 90% of veterinary practice involves cleaning things up, mostly bodily fluids and related products.
  • Anything in the entertainment industry will involve starting off at the "bottom rung": most crew members for film and TV start as production assistants moving furniture and passing out clipboards, while most actors start in professional productions as extras who may do little more than sit at a table in the background (probably unpaid) while still working the same long day as everyone else. Aspiring musicians may start as roadies and guitar techs, hauling gear and making sure everything's in tune while the band gets the credit. Someone who desires to work in the lighting department in a theatre will often be apprenticed (officially or otherwise) to an experienced tech who sends the new guy off to hang heavy Fresnels and plug stuff in. Being in these positions allows for excellent observation of everything that goes into making movies and music and everything else, and helps teach them the discipline and patience to work long hours in demanding jobs. If someone can't handle a 14 hour day of hauling stuff around or passing out release forms to extras, they probably can't handle the more glamorous job they want.
  • In music in particular, just learning the instrument can involve this type of thing. For example, wind instrument players often spend time doing breathing exercises or practicing embouchure while not touching their instrument. Singers make a lot of strange noises while warming up. And so forth.
  • When working at a library, the entry-level job of library page can be this. The bulk of a page's work is shelving the books, which most consider to be boring, menial grunt work. But part of the benefit of starting off there is gaining familiarity with both the Dewey Decimal System and where all these sections are locally. If your memory is particularly sharp, this can help in situations where the card catalog is inaccessible, such as when the software is being upgraded.


Alternative Title(s): Training Is Hard Work, Hard Work Is Training

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