The 80/20 Principle for Jiu Jitsu

80 20 PrincipleI recently finished reading “The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More with Less” by Richard Koch, and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I can apply that principle to my daily routine. In the book Koch posits that the 80/20 principle (first put forth by Vilfredo Pareto to describe the distribution of wealth in society) can actually be applied across many different domains in life. Essentially the maxim indicates that 80% of value is produced by 20% of the effort you put in. What this boils down to is that apparently we all tend to waste a lot of time on minutiae of detail but could achieve more by paying attention to the correct pieces of detail, and end up with more free time as a bonus.

As time management is one of my greatest challenges (I’m sure I’m not alone in this), I’m very interested in finding out if the 80/20 principle properly applied can bring me more free time. If I think about how this applies to jiu jitsu I can break it down by determining what techniques or principles would lead to the greatest results, in the quickest amount of time.

In jiu jitsu there are many, many techniques, and the list is ever-expanding as jiu jitsu practitioners invent new moves, tweak existing moves, and continuously experiment with what is possible in this martial art. So I think the best way to apply the 80/20 principle is to set some goals. What is it that I am trying to achieve by studying jiu jitsu? Do I want to be a world class competitor? Do I want to be a walking encyclopedia of jiu  jitsu lore? Or am I just looking for a solid and efficient body of technique that I can use to defend myself and loved ones if necessary? I think the latter.

My goal has always been self defense. And it seems like for self defense the basics are the best. I believe that identifying the core principles in jiu jitsu in the areas of control, defense and attack and really honing those skills would lead to the most effective self defense. I was talking with a training partner about this after attending a Henry Akins seminar this past weekend, and we were both marveling over the efficiency of Akins’ technique. Henry himself mentioned the Ryron Gracie/Andrea Galvao match as a good example of the efficiency of jiu jitsu, and in re-watching that it occurred to me that Ryron likely spends 80% of his training working on the 20% of jiu jitsu that works the best for him.

The trick of course is in knowing what that 20% is, and part of that would likely be different for each person based on their physical attributes, but I think it would be safe to start to throw out anything that wouldn’t work if someone were throwing strikes at you. A lot of the inverted techniques, berimbolo, etc. probably aren’t the most efficient use of time in the pursuit of self defense (though those techniques are super cool, and it is important to be aware of them, in other words, spend 20% of your time on the 80% of stuff that won’t work as well for you so you at least aren’t taken by surprise when someone throws those techniques at you).

Though there are a good amount of core techniques that would work across the board regardless of your physical attributes (guard retention, staying safe in side control, a couple of good takedowns), determining your full set of core techniques is probably going to be partially dependent on your physical attributes, your size, your speed, your age. Find 2 or 3 take downs that work against a smaller opponent, 2 or 3 that work against a faster opponent and 2 or 3 that work against a larger opponent, and practice those until you can do them in your sleep. Apply the same thinking to guard attacks, mount attacks, etc. You see the pattern here.

With all this fresh in mind I’m reminded of the overused Bruce Lee saying “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”, and I think that sums up the 80/20 principle perfectly. Determine the few things in your life (or in your jiu jitsu practice) that you can uniquely excel at, and focus almost solely on those things and success should come quickly.

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