80/20 RULE – as applied to Fighting Strategies:

80/20 RULE – as applied to Fighting Strategies:

by Pelatih Andrew Ewing



What is it about martial arts that attracts so many people the whole world over. Were you attracted to martial arts at a young age like myself where I became mesmerized watching Saturday Kung-Fu flicks on TV, where they incorporated high flying kicks, fanciful stunts, and colorful choreography? Were you engrossed by the hero who seemingly single-handedly fought off multiple opponents at once?

We all know martial art movies to have degrees of embellishments to their fights, but for many of us these aspects are what continue to attract and encourage us to this day to train in a martial art. As adults our interests have also expanded into finding ways to better defend ourselves, family, and loved ones, along with the health benefits associated with training.


My own interest have grown to include systematizing the artful side with the self-defense and fighting aspects, to allow myself  to be more efficient and effective in a fight.


My martial art journey has brought long hours of training, more hours of personal practice, along with many discussions of principles and ideas with instructors and students that have helped evolve the way I think about fighting and the arts.


One such idea introduced early on in my training in Pencak Silat Pertempuran (PSP), was the 80/20 rule as it’s related to fight intensity and self-control. That initial introduction has led to see the rule’s breadth of relationship with fighting, making a significant impact towards developing a PSP mindset for practicing efficient and effective fighting strategies.


What is the 80/20 rule?


Generally the 80/20 rule states that roughly 80% of results comes from 20% of the effort. (Figure 1.)

Figure 1.
80/20Rule1 photo Effort1_zps4pzju7x9.jpg
The rule has broad applications, I’m sure you’ve heard some of these:

  • 20% of store’s goods produce 80% of profits.
  • 20% of society holds 80% of wealth.
  • 20% of your carpet gets 80% of the wear.
  • 20% of customer generate 80% of the complaints.
  • 20% exercise and 80% diet, needed for weight loss.
  • and so on…


Seeing how the 80/20 rule states that 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results, the reverse of this rule is also inherently true, implying that the remaining 80% of your effort produces only 20% of your results; the inverse of which sucks! (Figure 2.). I don’t know too many people that want to work 80% harder and only have 20% of their results to show for it.


Getting the most results from the least amount of effort seems like a smart way to strategize.


Figure 2.
80/20Rule2 photo Effort2_zpsvmivuxw5.jpg
So, how do you apply the 80/20 rule for optimizing Fight Strategies, and get the most results from the least effort?


To work smarter not harder in a fight, first identify elements that have the highest possibility of occurrences, which in turn produces more opportunities for success. Elements with the least possibility of occurrences produce less opportunities and are categorized as such. Elements with least occurrences are still valuable, but relying on them too heavily focuses the greatest amount of effort where you’re working harder for the least results. You can and should use these elements with the least occurrences to help to bolster, back up, or create transitional opportunities, but for the benefit of the elements with the higher opportunities for success.


What fight elements have higher opportunities for success?


To help identify elements useful for optimizing fighting strategies, lets segment fight elements into two categories, “Strikes” (Including Punches and Kicks) and “Submissions (including locks, chokes, holds, and traps). While sweeps, throws, and possibly a few other element’s can most definitely end a fight, these elements are in a gray area, as these fluctuate between “strikes” and “submissions” depending on application. I’m going to exclude these items for argument simplicity. This isn’t a hard and fast rule though.


Let’s break down the elements statistically using records from professional MMA fights as an imperfect but readily available source to scrutinize more closely this rule as it relates to fighting strategy.

Figure 3 shows the “end method” used to win UFC fights in the years from 1993 to 2013. It’s broken up into four main “end methods”: “submission holds” which includes only finishes with submission techniques, “Strikes” due to KOs or TKOs, “Decision Win”, and “Decision Draw”, the last two together are inherently mostly due to strikes, but may including sweeps,throws, takedowns, and other scoring methods found in the UFC rules. The last three “end methods” make up just about 80% and fall into the previously identified elements of “Strikes,” while the first “end method” falls into “Submission” elements, and makes up around 20%.


Figure 3.
80/20Method1 photo EndMethod1_zpsvvsbpp6u.jpg
Figure 4 shows submission as an overall percentage of scheduled fighting events in the UFC between 1995 – 2010, excluding “The Ultimate Fighter” and “Ultimate Fight Night” events. Here you can see submissions “regression to the mean” were just around 20%.


Figure 4.
80/20Method2 photo EndMethod2_zps43x4ydeo.jpg
Of the “results” from both figures 3 and 4, 80% resulted in a finish by Strikes, 20% resulted in a finish by Submissions.


Through this imperfect analysis while applying the 80/20 rule, shows that for a typical fighting strategy (effort) employing both striking, and submission based applications, that roughly 80% of what can successfully applied in a fight are strikes, and 20% of what can be successfully applied in a fight are submissions.


How can you relate these results from the 80/20 Rule to fighting strategies?


The amount of effort you put into a fight should be wisely committed to elements that are known to have the greatest success rate.  You should analyze your training, calculate your performance, pressure test the results, and make the appropriate determinations for yourself. Don’t get caught into force against force scenario where you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The effort vs. results won’t pay off in the end.


While training and applying different locks in PSP, which for the writing of this article also fall into the “submissions” category, I was told “…don’t force the lock”. What was meant by this statement? If you’re attempting to apply a lock on an opponent where the lock just isn’t working, and you continue to try and force the lock and it still won’t work, then who is truly locked, you or your opponent? I would have to say you are! Forcing a lock causes you not to see opportunities and openings which the act of just attempting the lock could have created, this causes stagnation in your movement and predictability in your actions, causing YOU to be the only one who truly is locked in that moment in time, and quickly falling behind in fight timing.


It’s easy to overlook or ignore ideas and discussions heard during training for the focus on the physical, but ideas have power; use it as a constant daily catalyst to challenge yourself, to not get caught in the trap of high flying kicks, fanciful stunts, and colorful choreography that we all love to learn, relish in exhibiting, and clamber to master. They have their usefulness, but not to the detriment of efficient and effective fighting strategies; use it to produce maximum results with minimum effort.


Let the 80/20 Rule be pervasive in every aspect of your life, seek ways to apply this rule to ideas like stress management, personal relationships, or task management. The more you find ways to make this incredibly dynamic rule applicable to your daily life, the more flexible your brain will be for fluidity of thought, ingenuity to resolve, and opportunity to act, just some of what is exactly need in a fight.


As we say in Pencak Silat Pertempuran; Langkah Dari Batu ke Batu (Stepping from Stone to Stone).

Sean Stark
Founder of Pencak Silat Pertempuran. In looking for a martial art that was practical and artistic I found Pencak Silat. In silat I found an art that's organic nature allowed me to change it to make it culturally realistic and still allowed me to have the benefit of art and body culture.


  • User Avatar
    Philip Ledgerwood
    August 23, 2017

    Really enjoyed the article. I talk with my training partner often about “high percentage” and “low percentage” maneuvers. There may be techniques out there that are cool and even devastating… if you can pull them off, but because pulling them off is so improbable, or the circumstances that allow you to pull them off are so infrequent, they’re low percentage techniques.

    I think this shows why effective fighting tends to look basically alike at its core. People can be smarter about it or put their own technical twists on it, but at core, fighting looks like fighting, and the less that what you’re training looks like fighting, the odds are you’re spending time in low percentage techniques.

  • SilatSquad
    October 11, 2017

    Glad you enjoyed the article.

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