HomeI was recently pointed to a blog post about applying the Pareto (80/20) principle to BJJ. Seeing as my gym is named for this principle, a response seems appropriate.

The idea behind the Pareto principle is asymmetry. Obviously, not everything is the same. There are a small number of good things, a large number of mediocre things and a small number of bad things.

In the martial arts world, the theory is that 20% of all techniques account for 80% of success

The above quote from that blog post illustrates the mistake that many people make when trying to apply the 80/20 principle to BJJ.

There are fewer good techniques than there are mediocre and bad techniques. And good techniques, by definition, are those that give success. So the quote is correct but it’s not the whole story.

The missing piece of the puzzle is that techniques only account for about 10% (90% of statistics are made up on the spot) of the total movement in a roll. Think about that for a second.

Using the most effective (or highest percentage) techniques will only improve your jiu-jitsu up to a maximum of 10% if we use my made up number from before.

Most people are taught BJJ purely as a collection of techniques, which leads them to think that BJJ is only a collection of techniques. Ironically, this is why BJJ is so successful. A mediocre instructor who teaches bad techniques can only harm an athelete’s performance by 10%. As there are obviously fewer good instructors, most good athletes are skilled despite their instructor not because of him.

So what is the 90% of BJJ that isn’t techniques? It’s:

  • predicting the way your opponent is likely to move
  • timing
  • positioning
  • posture
  • grips
  • pressure

These skills are difficult to teach, which is why most instructors don’t/can’t attempt it. The good news is that these skills will automatically develop during rolling.

Getting back to Pareto. To get good at BJJ, you focus your time developing the skills that will have the biggest benefit. This means alive training with progressive resistance.

The best way to develop these necessary skills is with a partner who gives you appropriate resistance. Your partner should try to make you feel challenged, not bored or frustrated.

Your partner will vary the type / level of resistance as you drill.

e.g. If drilling a takedown, your partner will give different resistance each time. Sometimes moving back, sometimes turning left, sometimes right. Sometimes pushing your head, othertimes wrapping the body. Sometimes doing nothing at all.

The secret to applying the Pareto principle to BJJ is not what you train. It’s how you train.

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