The Pareto Principle of 80/20

It is possible to apply Pareto’s principle of economics to almost any situation.  The principle states that 80% of the output of a company is done by 20% of the workers.  So when applying this principle to Jiu-Jitsu it is realistic to conclude that 80% of your success will come from 20% of the techniques that make up Jiu-Jitsu.  My experience has taught me that this is indeed the case.  Most of your success will come from a handful of techniques that you have appropriately developed through thoughtful practice, drilling and rolling.

I have long been an advocate of developing your Tokui Waza (favorite tech).  A Tokui Waza can be very simple such as an americana, guillotina, or even a sweep like the scissor sweep.  Likewise, you could also specialize in a complex guard or combination of techniques like the deep half, De La Riva, etc.  Over the course of acquiring mat time usually a practitioner finds a niche or a trump card that they consistently find themselves working into or even falling into with ease.  With some critical thinking and further development a favored technique can become your Tokui Waza.  You can enter your technique from a variety of positions or grips.  You can depend on it to get you out of trouble and you can apply it to the toughest of people.  I have always preached to develop a good understanding of the essence of Jiu-Jitsu(games sense), practical application of fundamentals, and your Tokui Waza.

Jiu-Jitsu Game Sense +Fundamentals + Tokui Waza = Winning Recipe

What is Jiu-Jitsu Game Sense?  Well to put is simply I will borrow the definition set forth in the book Play Practice by Alan G. Launder.   He states that games sense “means merely that players can get into the best possible position at the right time and make sensible decisions about what to do next.  Many players appear to have been born with games sense and seem to know intuitively what to do in a game.  Intuition, however is simply the ability to instantly access the distilled essence of past experiences to solve immediate problems.  Games sense is understanding in action.”  I liken this to being a student of Jiu-Jitsu.  You not only know techniques, but you also know tactics, strategic jiu-jitsu and understand how to make appropriate decisions based on match or fight situations.

Lots of people preach fundamentals fundamentals and more fundamentals.  But what does that mean in Jiu-Jitsu?  Well there are a variety of different philosophies and ideas about what it means to develop fundamentals or even what fundamentals are.  Many people consider various techniques such as an elbow escape, upa escape, straight armbar, etc. as fundamentals.  To me I define the fundamentals as three interrelated conceptual and psychomotor abilities.  They are:

  1. Base.  Base is a combination of balance, connection and weight distribution.
  2. Hips.  Hips in Jiu-Jitsu serve a variety of offensive and defensive uses.  Every single position includes proper use and positioning of the hips in order to maximize your leverage and/or pressure.
  3. Posture.  Where you put your arms and where you align or place your head and torso.  There is a bad, better and best place to be in every position.  Simple understanding the correct application of posture and body alignment can greatly aid in the efficiency of your defense and attacks.

I believe that techniques are just an expression of these three underlying abilities.  A technique is just a technique.  A position is just a position.  Anything you choose to put practice time into will yield some degree of improvement and in some cases expertise.  Master Caique once told me that you if you have spent enough time developing just one technique that you are dangerous for anyone.  But if you divide that practice time into many different techniques you will not have the same level of proficiency in any of them and you will not have consistency.  Remember the Credo of Judo: “Maximum Effeciency.”  My advice is to choose the techniques that give you the biggest bang for the buck.

John Danaher is the head instructor at Renzo Gracie’s New York Academy.  He has a published book on Jiu-Jitsu history with Renzo and he is a very intelligent and methodical leader in Jiu-Jitsu.  He did an analysis of all the major championships of Jiu-Jitsu since 1996 in an attempt to discover what techniques were consistently being used to finish opponents.  Here are the submissions that yielded the best results:

  • cross collar choke from butterfly guard
  • cross collar choke from mount
  • armbar from mount when the opponent defends the collar choke
  • collar choke from the back (arrow)

So back to the 80/2o theory.  If these positions are being used to finish the best Jiu-Jitsu athletes in the world then it would behoove us to reach a high level of application of these four finishes.

Some teams and professors of BJJ take a very mechanistic view and seek to develop “basics” which can be built on to reach “intermediate techniques” and then finally more complex positions.  I’m a proponent of the “Constraints led approach” to motor learning but that’s a different blog all together.  Some, like Lloyd Irving(another very successful and intelligent coach) have analyzed the major championships and developed a curriculum on what has the highest success rate within competition.  They then only practice those techniques he has decided will yield the best sportive results.  While this seems logical and can result in immediate success I think it takes away from the essence of Jiu-Jitsu and in the long run serves to stunt the growth of athletes.  My belief is your Jiu-Jitsu is your individual expression of an art.  No two people’s is the same.  As a coach I’m not directing a symphony, I’m facilitating growth and learning in any direction possible.  It should not be teacher centered learning but rather student centered.  My academy is not an assembly line.  It is a laboratory where people put in long hours testing new theories and applying old theories to their attributes.  Hopefully, they come up with their own concoction.

You should be able to survive and escape tough situations.  You should be able to apply all the common submissions from the major positions.  But if you need to push.  If you need to pull something out you should also have your Tokui Waza to depend on.

White Belt:

as a white belt you are increasing your motor map.  Learning as many new things as possible and carving out as many motor patterns as possible into your motor map.

Blue Belt:

Tokui Waza = 20% of your training time

Escapes,counters, others = 80% of training time.

Purple Belt:

Tokui Waza = 50% of your training time

Escapes,counters, others = 50% of training time.

Brown Belt:

Tokui Waza = 80% of your training time

Escapes,counters, others = 20% of training time.

One thought on “The Pareto Principle of 80/20

  1. What next??? Brown belt really is still the beginning/intermediate of your training if you consider a brown belt has 6-8 years of experience. I guess my question is do you continue to spend that much mat time perfecting your best moves? As a black belt how much time do you spend perfecting your favorite moves vs. weaknesses vs. new techniques/theories?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s