80/20 Rule

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Pareto's Law and the Martial Artist

An excerpt from "75 Down Blocks - Refining Karate Technique"©

by Rick Clark

   Pareto's 80/20 law is a statistical discovery I think has considerable relevance in the study of the martial arts.  In brief, over 100 years ago, Vilfredo Pareto discovered a relationship that manifests itself repeatedly in larger systems.

  In its most basic form, Pareto's 80/20 law states you will get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your effort.  In the business world, for example, it implies you'll get 80 percent of your business from 20 percent of your customers.  In the academic world, it implies you'll get probably get 80 percent of your research results from 20 percent of your time spent in the library, or 20 percent of your fieldwork.

  When you first encounter this 80/20 rule, you may get the mistaken idea the ratio between effort and results should be exactly 80/20.  This is not really the case; the actual percentages vary from case to case.  Rather, this ratio should be thought of as a guide, designed to remind you of the disproportionate effect of effort compared to results.

  As you begin to recognize the 80/20 patterns that exist around you, the application of Pareto's rule will become apparent in everyday situations - in personal relationships, financial dealings, and national and international events.

  In this chapter, I hope to demonstrate a few ways in which you can use the 80/20 rule to help you analyze and improve your martial arts training.

Why Do You Study the Martial Arts?

  One immediate application of the 80/20 rule covers the motivation of individuals who begin taking martial arts classes.  Over the years I have been involved in the martial arts, I have been curious as to why individuals begin their training.  I have also posed this question to many instructors.  While I haven't conducted a scientific survey on the issue, I am reasonably confident in my conclusions - ­out of all the good reasons why someone would start to study the martial arts, most people begin for the purpose of self-defense.  In other words, self-defense, which is just a small part of the range of possible reasons, is the primary motivation for the vast majority of individuals who take up the martial arts.

  There's a sharp contrast between this perceived need for self-defense skills and the actual incidence of violent crime.  For example, if we look at the risk of violence to an individual, it is extremely low.  Mattinson (2001) noted that only 3 percent of the adult population of the United Kingdom was a victim of stranger and / or acquaintance violence in 1999. ( Of course crime rates will vary from country to country, but I would guess the statistics are relatively consistent in countries that are economically and culturally similar.)

  I would guess if we had asked prospective students - especially those interested in studying the martial arts for self-defense  what percentage of adults were likely to be a victim of a violent attack, they would have responded with a much higher number.

  This type of information can serve as a bit of a reality check.  Remember, only 3 percent of adults were victims of violent attack.  Another way to look at this is only 3 percent of the population had any real need for self-defense, while the other 97 percent didn't really need self-defense training.  Here we have an example of Pareto's law - in reverse!  Out of the large percentage of martial arts students motivated by their perceived need for self-defense, only a very few will actually have to deal with violent crimes.

  In general, the more you know about the incidence of violent crime, the more likely you'll be able to avoid it.  For example, 7 out of 10 violent incidents occurred during the evening or night.  To be even more specific, half of the incidents occurred between 6 P.M. Friday evening and 6 A.M. Monday morning.  Another way to look at this would be 70 percent of the violent assaults occurred during the evening or night.  More than 50 percent of the assaults occurred during only 3 of the 7 days of the week.  Clearly, if you want to reduce the likelihood you'll become a victim of a violent assault, you should exercise greater caution during these times.

Developing a Plan of Attack 

  The rule also comes in handy for planning what facets of a martial arts system to study or emphasize - especially if your primary motivation is self-defense.  If you look at the complete range of ways you can be attacked, it seems infinite - which makes planning a defense very difficult.  Yet, if you stop to look at the statistics behind this assumption, it turns out there are a limited number of ways in which you are likely to be attacked.

  In other words, out of a large number of potential attacks, you are really only likely to encounter a limited number of techniques.  If your primary concern is to learn or teach self-defense, you can use this knowledge to determine what kind of attacks you should concentrate on during practice.  This allows you to devote a larger portion of your training time to practicing attacks you might reasonably expect to encounter.  To put it in terms of Pareto's Law - 80 percent of the attacks will be based on 20 percent of the possible attacking techniques.  And it makes sense that 80 percent ( more or less ) of our training time would be spent practicing defenses against that 20 percent

  It's generally accepted that law enforcement officers face more situations requiring skills in self-defense than the average individual. Law enforcement is one of a small number of occupations that subject an individual to greater than average chances of being a victim of a violent assault.  If you are a taxi driver, a convenience store clerk, bartender or bouncer you can also expect to be at greater risk.  I've chosen to use statistics describing attacks on law enforcement personnel for several reasons, the major one being, in today's world government agencies have collected and compiled data that is readily available.

  If you look at the data describing the methods used to assault law enforcement officers, you will be able to generalize (with great care) as to how likely an individual in the larger population is to be assaulted - and therefore which techniques to emphasize in your training.

  The Federal Bureau of Investigation ( FBI ) has collected much of the information needed for such research.  I have reproduced a very small amount of their data from Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted ( 1978 - 2000 ).  Data has been summarized to give a total number of law enforcement officers (LEO) killed or assaulted in the United States.  It is clear law enforcement officers are more often assaulted with personal weapons - fist, hand, foot, elbow, knee and so on - than any other weapon. ( 82.73 percent ).  From these statistics, it is clear the 80/20 rule operates in this context - out of the broad range of possible attacks, a small number of techniques are used in the great majority of incidents.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 1978-2000

Total Law Enforcement Officers Assaulted  1,278,987  100%

Personal Weapons ( hands, feet, elbow etc. )  1,057,959  82.72%

Other Dangerous Weapons  126,624  9.90%

Firearms  62,498  4.89%

Knives or Cutting Instruments  31,906  2.49%


  If you are going to design a program to teach law enforcement officers self-defense techniques, it is obvious it's very important to teach skills that correspond to the actual needs of the officers.  Given the number of attacks involving "personal weapons" ( hands, feet and so on ), close-quarter combat techniques designed to meet an empty-handed attacker should play a dominant role in any such training program.

   Consider when subjects apply some type of weaponless tactic against a law enforcement officer, they do so with the full knowledge the officer is armed with a firearm.  It would also seem logical the suspects would attack the officers most often with percussive techniques ( punching, kicking and so on ) in an effort to disable the officer as quickly as possible.  Yet just the opposite is true:  73.29 percent of the time an officer was grabbed in some manner, as compared to 13.65 percent of the time when an attacked resorted to a percussive technique.  Surprising information, but invaluable if you're planning on training for self-defense.

  The following chart details the unarmed tactics used when law enforcement officers are attacked.

Suspects' Use of Weaponless Tactics in 7,512 Arrests

Arrests    Percent of Arrests               

No Tactics Used  7100  94.51.54 %

At Least One Tactic Used  412  5.4846%

All Arrests  7,512  100%

Types of Tactics

Spit  74  7.2125%

Grab  114  11.1111%

Twist Arm  128  12.4756%

Wrestle  262  25.5361%

Push / Shove  166  16.17.93%

Hit  66  6.4327%

Kick  74  7.2125%

Bite / Scratch  39  3.8012%

Pressure Hold  16  1.5595%

Carotid Hold 12  1.1696%

Control Hold  21  2.047%

Other Tactic  54  5.2632%

Number of Tactics  1,026  13.66%

Tactic Where Suspect Grabbed, Pushed, or Shoved

Grab  114  15.160%

Twist Arm  128  17.021%

Wrestle  262  34.840%

Push / Shove  166  22.074%

Pressure Hold  16  2.128%

Carotid Hold  12  1.596%

Control Hold  54  5.2632%

Total  752  100%

Percussive Tactic Used

Hit  66  47.143%

Kick  74  52.857%

Total  140  100%


*  Since some arrests involve the use of more than one tactic, the percentages under type of tactics do not add up to 100 percent.  Taken from "Use of Force by Police:  Overview of National and Local Data,"  p.34, October 1999, National Institute of Justice.


  From this data, we see the unarmed assaults officers experience most commonly are:  spit, grab, arm twist, wrestle, push/shove, hit, kick, bite/scratch, pressure hold, cartoid hold (choke), control hold, or other tactic.  To summarize the date for ease of use, we can say there are four main types of attacks one would be most likely to encounter in a self-defense situation.  They are:

1.  A grab

2.  A push

3.  A punch

4.  A kick

  It seems likely these are the kinds of attacks, probably used in combinations, which you will be confronted with, if you need to defend yourself.  This information is invaluable if you study the martial arts for self-defense.  Each of these four groups of techniques can be analyzed so you can develop effective self-defense techniques.

  For example, if you look at a grab, there are only a few ways an individual can commonly grab you.  They are:

1.  A same-side grab, where an opponent grabs your left side with his right hand

2.  A cross-hand grab, where an opponent grabs your right side with his right hand

3.  A two-handed grab.

  Breaking this down even further, the location of the grab will probably be your:

1.  Wrist

2.  Forearm

3.  Upper arm

4.  Lapel

5.  Throat

  Of course, there are other ways to garb someone - you may find yourself being grabbed by the leg or ankle.  But in normal situations this would be somewhat unlikely.

  If you look at kicks, it would seem to me you would most likely be attacked with a variation of a front kick, since the front kick is the most natural kick we practice.  Roundhouse and side could be encountered, but a jump spinning reverse side kick would have to rank very low on kicks one would expect to encounter.

  Could you encounter this kind of attack?  Of course - there are enough people today who have taken martial arts lessons to have a working knowledge of this type of kick, and there enough people who have watched martial arts movies to perhaps try this kick.  But once again, in a normal situation this would be an unlikely attack.

  There are three basic punches you might encounter:

1.  Jab

2.  Hook

3.  Uppercut


  Then, if you were to look at the targets where you might expect to be attacked, there are really only two:  the head and torso.  I would venture a guess that most of the time the initial punch delivered in a self-defense situation is to the head.  Could you reasonably expect a punch to the leg?  I don't think so.

  In general, it seems prudent to concentrate on practicing defensive tactics against techniques we can reasonably expect to occur.

  I would like to reemphasize the point you can logically expect to encounter only a relatively limited number of kinds of attacks.  And I believe the attacking techniques are predictable - they're probably the same today as they were a hundred years ago.  We have only a limited number of ways in which we can try to do harm to another person.  We have only two hands and two feet, and there are limits as to what we can do with them.

Making the Most of Your 20 Percent

  As you become familiar with the 80/20 rule, you will begin to see many more instances where there are clear applications in your life.  Time management may not be considered a natural subject for a book on the martial arts. However, how you manage your training time is relevant.

  Simply put, martial arts training takes time.  I would wager at some point in your life you have said something to the effect of, "I just wish there were more hours to the day."  We all sometimes face the problem of fitting everything we want to accomplish into a short 24-hour day.

  As an exercise, try to identify the things in your life that give you the most pleasure.  You'll probably find only a small part of your day is devoted to those moments.  For example, most people work a five day week - with only two days for rest and relaxation.  Our work (or school) commitment lasts 7 or 8 hours per day.  Factor in travel time of 30 minutes or more each way and you could spend 10 hours or more per day at work.  Factor in the 6 to 8 hours  of sleep you should be getting, and you end up with only 5 or 6 hours you can call your own.

  And, if you are responsible for taking care of others - if, for example you are a parent - you will need to make sure the family's meals are prepared, groceries purchased, cleaning, maintenance, and other chores are completed.  By the time all of our time is accounted for we may end up with only a few ours for ourselves.  The 80/20 ratio is starting to look more like 90/10!

  Time, as you can see, is a precious commodity.  It is therefore critical you maximize the way you use your time.  The amount of time you have to train, however, may not be as important as how you use that time.

  For starters, you can analyze and adapt your training to fit your specific needs - so you get more out of every session.  Know your needs, and your interests, and try to make them the focus of your training program.

  I would also like to offer you a simple tactic to make sure you get the most out of your development in the martial arts.  We all have limits on the amount of time we can spend training.  And we can expect to get a limited amount of time from any instructor.  They face the same limits on their time - divided by the number of students they're trying to instruct.  The primary responsibility for your development in the martial arts is, of course, yours.  And your instructor inevitably plays a major role in your development. However, you also interact with many other individuals who can enhance your martial arts training - both in and out of your dojo.  Use your time and relationships with other students and colleagues to see that you're all making the most of your precious time.

  Develop relationships with peers whom you respect - you can share your training experiences with each other and help each other make the most of your training time.  The following are some recommendations:

1.  Find mentors who are willing to help you in areas where you do not have expertise.  A good mentor would be an individual who is both senior to you in experience or training - and still willing to work with you!  You can even benefit from working with a mentor who is junior to you, if that person has developed an area of expertise in which you are lacking.  For example, if a member of your karate dojo is skilled in wrestling, you may want to have that person mentor you in the area of ground fighting.

2.  Become a mentor for others in your group.  Each of us has our own particular skill or area of expertise that would be useful to others.  Know what your skills are, and you'll know how you can help others as a mentor.  Teaching or mentoring others has its rewards for you as well - it almost inevitably leads to a clearer and more sophisticated understanding of the material you're teaching.

3.  Look for other skills or experiences you have that you can share to the benefit of others.  Perhaps you are a white belt, but have a career that provides knowledge that would be of use to more senior students.  For example, a white belt who is also a police officer would be able to share real-life examples of the kinds of violent situations people encounter.  Lawyers could help instructors understand the legal ramifications of what they teach.  Physicians or nurses can offer their knowledge in the field of medicine.  If every person is willing to offer his or her unique skills and knowledge to others, the additive effect will provide great benefits for everyone.

  In the end, you are responsible for making the most of your limited time - of getting the 80 percent effect for your 20 percent of the time.  You'll find picking and choosing how you spend your time and whom you spend it with can be a very powerful tool in your development as a martial artist.

  I hope the relevance of this discussion of the 80/20 rule is obvious.  In the second part of this book, I've taken the list of common attacks from the beginning of this chapter, and tried to show how the down block movement can be applied.  Rather than surveying all the different martial arts techniques that can be applied to self-defense, the book describes possible responses to the range of attacks you're most likely to encounter - with defenses against kicks, grabs, and punches - based  on variations in one central approach - the down block.

  Again, one small part of your martial arts repertoire can be employed in a large number of common self-defense situations.  And if you fit your training to that understanding, you should feel like the precious time you have for training is being used more efficiently and effectively.


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