"Before Enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. After Enlightenment, carry water, chop wood."
— Buddhist Saying
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, and 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.
Commonly subverted/parodied when a mildly Genre Savvy hero initially assumes he is receiving valuable training, only to realize that he is just being made to dohis sensei's chores. Double Subverted if the sensei tells him that this realization is the valuable lesson.
Named for the most famous example, Mr. Miyagi's training of Daniel-san in The Karate Kid. Daniel was expecting some rigorous "This is how you punch, this is how you kick" training from the get-go, but instead Miyagi tells him to do various chores, and shows him the precise ways he wants those things done. After painting the house, painting the fence, sanding the decks and waxing a small fleet of classic 1940s cars, Daniel was ready to quit, believing he was being used as a slave. Miyagi then demonstrated that those chores were to build up strength and muscle memory of how to perform various blocking actions, as well as testing how much patience he had. THEN Miyagi showed Daniel how to punch, kick, etc. (He also gave Daniel one of the cars!)
On the realistic end, this can be an effective training method in regards to strength and motion, but is no substitute for the real training to follow.
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 your training, it's When You Snatch the Pebble. The teacher is often a Magical Asian. 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.
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On Dragon Ball, Master Roshi takes it to comedic excess when he forces Krillin and Goku to work long hours delivering milk on foot, sowing fields with their bare hands, and doing chores at construction sites, all the while wearing weighted turtle shells. He makes a few bucks off it, too. It does really build them up fast, however. Dragon Ball was fond of this trope and repeated it frequently, often setting Goku to a mundane but laborious task to retrieve an item that would increase his power, only to reveal that it was the task itself that increased his strength.
Occasionally the teacher would admit from the get-go that that was what was going on. When Goku first went to train with King Kai in Dragon Ball Z, he found that the gravity was so impressively strong that he could barely move (precisely, ten times the gravity of Earth). King Kai told Goku that he'd be ready to train when he could catch Bubbles the monkey, and later, use a mallet to hammer Gregory the cricket on the head - because, obviously, it'd mean that he'd strengthened enough that he could move well enough in the high gravity for the training to be any good.
The gravity of Kai's world was also the same as that of the planet Vegeta, homeworld of the enemies Goku was training to fight. As Kai noted, Goku would never be a match for them if he couldn't handle the same gravity they did.
Another notable instance of it was when Goku had to snatch a drink from Korin's sacred water. Similar to King Kai, Korin made Goku work for it (not to mention the feat of simply climbing to his tower). At one point Goku was tempted to cheat and drink it while Korin was asleep and couldn't keep it away, but he refused and went back to sleep (Korin was apparently awake the entire time, and silently approved). Eventually, Goku managed to get the water only to learn that it was ordinary tap water. Later, Tao Pai Pai tried to do the same, but Korin decided he was unworthy of training and just handed the water over without a fuss. To further the point home, Korin even provided Tao with a ride back down the tower, so as to prevent him from gaining any sort of training from him (normally climbing up and down the tower was part of Korin's programme).
A filler episode has Kuno trying to get the ingredients for Happosai's "speed of light elixir" where the actual training was getting the notes with the formula hidden in places he has to be really fast to get away with without getting beaten (girl's locker rooms, clothes lines). The training made him faster but the formula wasn't just worthless, it made him weaker and sick because it was made from the dirt under Happosai's nails.
In another instance involving Kuno, this was actually inverted and parodied: turns out that he had gone to Watermelon Island, where he trained under a waterfall by dicing watermelons as they came down from upstream. Eventually, he got so good at it that he'd chop up watermelons to tiny cubes entirely by reflex, attaining a speed and destructive potential that even Ranma couldn't get past...! But it turned out that this Training from Hell wasn't meant for combat at all, it was all so he could woo girls at the Smashing Watermelons game —devoting valuable training and (accidentally) earning great skill in order to do something completely mundane.
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.
A subversion from 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, which is followed by his training which can be summed up in one sentence: "Be nice to Pokemon."
Played straight in an episode 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.
Rosario + VampireDouble Subverts it, when Moka nabbed a magic-cancelling whip so Inner Moka could come out and play, and they she 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. A subversion of the usual subversion, as, despite the "task" not having been meant to teach him anything, it proved valuable anyway.
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, just to get to start Izumi's Training from Hell for alchemy you need to survive in the wilderness for a month with just a knife and to find out the meaning of "all is one, one is all". The thing is that by nearly dying you realize how you're just part of an endless cycle of life which can easily move on without you, and how alchemy is a miniature replication of such a cycle through a circle of your own body. This was training her teacher required her to do, shown in one volume's gaiden to actually be a subversion: the guy she asked to be apprentice was the brother of the guy she wanted to learn alchemy from, and he thought she wanted hand-to-hand-combat training. Double subverted because she had gotten so much out of the training that she Curb Stomped brother-sensei's ass.
Subverted in Medabots, which had a chapter in which Ikki and Metabee did Dr. Aki's housework, and while Metabee told Ikki that they were, Ikki thought they were doing a Wax On, Wax Off deal. Later on, when they fight... The good doctor tells them they were doing his chores and that it served no practical purpose.
Ayanes 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 learn a craft variant. A young kid who had only worked as a dish washer 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 dish washer have given him the fundamental skills to cook the meal.
Averted in Saiyuki. Kouryuu is constantly seen sweeping up leaves when speaking to his master- but this seems to be because he wants the courtyard to be clean and there is nothing to suggest that Koumyou even asked him to do it.
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.
As mentioned above, The Karate Kid. Inverted in the third sequel starring Hilary Swank when Mister Miyagi teaches a new kata... how to do the waltz.
Also played straight in the third sequel when, after Swank's character calls Miyagi on his bullshit and refuses to wax anything, he gets a similar job done by having her babysit a bunch of kids who constantly fire at her with their toys, giving her no choice but to practice her reflexes and blocking motions.
In the reboot, 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. Shaolin Kenpo calls these "Wing blocks" because they resemble a wing motion. For several cycles, Mr. Han says "jacket on, jacket off".
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!."
A realistic portrayal of how martial arts schools used to do this was in Kill Bill when The Bride as part of her training had to carry buckets of water up a large set of stairs.
Also parodied in the film Mystery Men; the Sphinx trains the eponymous squad with a series of bizarre physical feats justified by odd wordplay, as seen in this exchange:
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.
The titular ursidae-member 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 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 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 learned that the real lesson was to relax and just have fun.
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. It works, but it's obvious that he was just using them and didn't think it would help. Later, he takes them to an arcade and gives them $50 to play Dance Dance Revolution, as a lesson in getting in sync. Again, it's fake training and he drives off, singing happily that he's finally dumped them. However, he runs out of gas and returns to get his money back, thereby discovering that his false improvised training worked again.
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 being forced to fall; 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 it 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 alot of blocking and striking using his wrists alone; and crushing walnuts quickly becomes useful for outright lethal strikes, like crushing the throat.
Played surprisingly straight in Sgt Kabukiman NYPD; to learn how to control his powers, Harry must sort a huge pile of rice by variety, practice coming up with Haikus, and take a whole bunch of groin attacks. Okay, so maybe not that straight.
Mentioned (but not done) in the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. While cleaning April's apartment, Mikey, who's cleaning the counters, bids his brothers to watch him.
Mikey: Watch this! (Ala Miyagi) "Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off. Wax on-"
Raph:(Stops him) Mouth. Off!
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 good ending.
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 learnt something significant (something to the effect of "Always see things for what they are").
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...
And of course, Belgarath used the same thing for Garion. When Garion moved the boulder, however, he tried lifting the thing. Newtonian physics still work, apparently. Garion found himself in a rather deep hole.
In Warcraft: The Last Guardian, a WarcraftExpanded 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 and have the patience and humility to do some physical work every now and then.
Also to show that the student can tell which books will eat/incinerate/otherwise main him/her.
In A Game of Thrones, Syrio Forel trains Arya Stark for Braavosi-style fencing by having her do things like forcing her to chase and 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.
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. It turns out to be the double-subversion variety.
Specifically, the Wise Ones begin loading Avhienda up with useless chores and punishments, seemingly for no reason at all. After a few weeks of this, Avhienda gets so fed up that she angrily tells the Wise Ones that she doesn't deserve any of it and isn't going to put up with it any longer. This is apparently how they determine when their apprentices are finished with their training.
Its more of a triple subversion. The double subversion is supposed to teach humility, but her training was to teach her to stand up to the Wise Ones
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 and used 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.
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.
Live Action TV
R.J., of Power Rangers Jungle Fury 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.
Also in Juken Sentai Gekiranger, a shorter version of the Power Rangers version above (only one task, which taught the hero how to be a better bull-rusher). Ostensibly, fighting the monster corresponding to the one in the Jungle Fury example.
The masters in Gekiranger tend to do this alot, particularly in the early episodes. Sometimes they are upfront about why they are doing the mundane task, sometimes they're not. A few examples: Ran and Retsu learning to play the piano in order to get better at charging the Geki Bazooka, Jan helping with cooking to learn patience, and Ran fly-fishing to use the Geki Hammer.
On How I Met Your Mother Marshall succesfully 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 says "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!" to which Barney replies "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 bizzare example of what supposedly was common in 19th century Orthodox monaceries. 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, the obedience is dear."
Very similar to the punchline of a Soviet army joke. The drill instructor orders rookie soldiers to sweep the street with crowbars. "Why not brooms?" asks one soldier. "We can't make it clean with crowbars!" — "It's not to make the street clean" — the DS responds. — "It's to make you tired". Because idle hands are the devils' playthings, more so for soldiers, still more for rookies.
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.
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.
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. Or Morte. Or Dakkon. Or Ignus. Or just about anyone who knew Nameless in the past.
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 parts which are food ingredients, so 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.
This is used a few times in the Shenmue series. For example, the second game where Ryo has to clear his mind by catching leaves.
Pre-training for the military in Dwarf Fortress can easily follow the Karate Kid example, 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 This was due to an oversight on the developer's part and will probably be corrected at some point. 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 finally cleaning up what was left of the man was far easier than cleaning up the grime that had usually covered the floor, in fact the floors are so clean 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 you read this charming little story from, titled "The Axe Man," is a skill book. What skill does it raise? Axes.
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 out loud...
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 Chiaotuz 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.
Parodied on an episode of Johnny Bravo, in which the menial tasks really are just menial tasks, but let Johnny win the match anyway. (Much to Master Hama's disappointment. 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.
In the Kim Possible episode "Oh No! Yono!" Ron's showing Hana the "Flippie Dance" gives her the agility and acrobatic moves needed to beat Yono and Monkey Fist.
Penny Proud from The Proud Family goes through a spoof of the Karate Kid. Like painting the fences.
Grandpa does it to Jake in American Dragon Jake Long and all of the chores he forces him to do turn out to have combat applications (except for doing his laundry).
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..."
Then, while Jim was using it in a battle, the sword accidentally lets Jim know nobody ever defeated any adversary while using it.
In the pilot of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Princess Celestia employed this trope on her top student Twilight Sparkle; appearing to downplay and gently mock her fears of the imminent arrival of Nightmare Moon, and 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.
An episode of Storm Hawks 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, where 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 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.
Truth in Television: Less today than in the past, certain traditional martial arts dojos have a program of uchideshi - 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 General Inspection Party", where everybody cleans the entire barracks top to bottom, sometimes for hours at a time.
Attention to detail and self motivation are what most Drill Sergeants are trying to instill with a GI Party. If recruits can't follow simple instructions or take initiative in training, they would be useless in combat.
Weapon maintenance is perhaps a better example, since familiarity with the rifle's component parts does have combat application. Barracks cleaning may develop group coordination, but there are other, better ways to train it.
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.
Case in point: If you want to work at a traditional restaurant and you're not already a local big name, to actually prepare food there, odds are, you're going to wind up observing the kitchen from the dish pit for a few solid months before actually touching a single knife. This is well, as having a heaping mountain of ceramic, scraps and sauce hurled at you accompanied by strident orders teaches you the necessary sense of urgency for a cook like (or if) nothing else.
Or perhaps to teach the young chef that cleaning dishes and cookware is in fact, an inevitable part of cooking, and if you can't clean, you shouldn't cook.
Tae Kwon Do training can occasionally involve frog-hopping across the room, which helps build the muscles needed for jumping kicks.
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.
Other reasons include having the best talent, due to the unwavering efforts of men like Sam Gilbert to give cars, clothes, and money, and having the NCAA look the other way and go after schools that could threaten UCLA's dynasty.
Master Clark in Z Ultimate self defense (Formerly United Studios of Self Defense) that teaches Shaolin Kenpo actually has the quote, "Repetition is the mother of all skill". This is naturally why many defensive maneuvers or kenpo techniques (These are offensive in nature) are performed to the air as much as they are to someone who punches in.
The repetition idea is perhaps best demonstrated by a quote by Bruce Lee: "I fear not the man who has practiced ten thousand kicks one time. I fear the man who has practiced one kick ten thousand times."
Students of the United Studios of Self Defence can attest to how effective this method is. The end result is that you can perform the kenpo as easily as you can breathe. You can do your forms forwards, backwards, left-handed, and facing any wall in the dojo. You've learned how the body works so well, you can create your own kenpo based on what you already know, and figure out whether or not it would actually work without even practicing on a partner. This is so that if you ever get in a real fight, your mind doesn't have time to panic; your body just does what it's been naturally trained to do a hundred thousand times over.
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 - including bodily fluids. And other bodily 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.
The first day of of training at many culinary schools is known as "Dish Day". The brand new students will be taken to the school's dishware storeroom and told to take every single dish, glass, saucer, cup and piece of cutlery to the school's dish pit, clean and dry them, then return them to the store room. (The store room is cleaned at the same time.) While the students are graded on how efficiently they organize themselves to get the job done, the primary purpose is to instill in the student the idea that kitchen sanitation comes first before everything else.
Similarly, new graduates of cooking schools will go on to restaurant kitchens and almost always be assigned to "pantry" positions, where they basically do nothing but chop vegetables, make croutons, and other basic "scutwork" cooking jobs. In this way, they not only get a decent grounding in the basics, the chef in charge of the restaurant gets a good idea about their work ethic, patience, and ability to put up with the stresses of the kitchen without potentially ruining someone's meal.
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.