How is Martial Arts Training Controlled by the 10% Rule?


Dear Friend,

There is a vital rule to martial arts training called the 10% rule.  When you understand it, your training changes instantly in both martial arts and qi gong.  You understand why some approaches to training fail horribly, and why others produce consistent good results.

3 Applications of 10% Rule in Martial Arts

First Application

The 10% rule applies in the number and duration of repetitions for any physical activity like kicking and punching or posture holds.

It basically states for every ten reps that you are able to do sequentially, you will get 1 rep that you can use in a fight.  The reason for that 90% drop is the stress of being in a combative situation, and the fact that you are being actively opposed.  Most modern schools or recreational trainers do reps of twenty with significant breaks between sets or even between reps.  At most these rep numbers give the person the ability to execute 2 real techniques.

Second Application

The 10% rule also applies to complex processes or sequences (i.e. things that are hard to do).

Let’s take locking, for example.  Only about 10% of what you need to do in an ideal world for a lock is going to get done in a lock.  If the lock will not work when you are only 10% right, then that lock will not work.  If you must go through a long set of steps, let’s say to disarm a weapon, only about 10% of those steps are going to get done.  If the disarm will not get done at that level of performance, then it will not get done.

Third Application

The 10% rule applies to an entire skill set too.

Only about 10% of what you know will be usable to you in fight.  Your mind will lack the ability to draw on the other 90% of skills.

What does the 10% rule lead to?

It leads to very short fights, with sloppy execution, using a very small skill set.  If you’ve ever seen free fights, you see what I am describing here.  If you want to be able to defend yourself for a long time, then you must execute high reps at all times.  This gives you more reps at your disposal.

As for 10% of a sequence or of your entire skill set, that’s a number that can be changed by repeatedly exposing yourself to the actual stressor, and by working repetition when the training situation is constantly changing.

Reasons Behind the 90% Collapse

Part of the reason the 90% collapse occurs is because most people train in an overly controlled environment.  In a real life situation, new variables and stressors are introduced by the situation itself, and as a result the mind is not able to process the new information and collapses quickly under the stressor.

A well-trained individual can execute about 50% of a system under stress.

Can The 10% Training Rule Be Altered in Martial Arts?

Yes and No.

In special situations, with an expert at extreme levels of performance, the skill of the expert can actually exceed levels of training.  For the most part, a person always behaves at a level much lower than that at which they train, and they never execute anything other than what they do in training.

There is what I call the magic assumption in self-defense, which is the thought that somehow you will become super-powered and do all the right things when you are faced with a threat.

Of course, under threat you will do exactly what you have done in training, only not as well (about 10% well, in fact).

Why Joy is More Important than Fear

I make a special point of integrating a lot of joyful elements into training and avoid hyper-seriousness.  There are 2 reasons for this joy approach.

One is that like most animals we learn combat and even health through play.  Play is a mechanism of learning.

Two, we do for long periods what gives us pleasure.  If training doesn’t provide pleasure, and your life is not immediately at risk, you will stop training pretty quickly.

The joy approach leads to some problems particularly with teens new to the training process in that they will go through bouts where the play is foolish or it conditions poor responses.  Such responses are a problem, because you do exactly what you do in training only not as well.  If you are doing foolish things, you will also do them in real life, in exactly the same way.

The lesson of the 10% rule is that our minds behave in very different ways under stress than they do in day to day living. 

People that have not been exposed to those stressors do not understand the difference in the two minds, and make many training errors as a result.  As training increases those stressors, the student starts to understand how he or she behaves under stress and the percentage changes.

How to Handle The Stressors

For the most part, I haven’t talked about qi gong in this article, but let’s take a look at it.  What does qi gong do?

Well, it dramatically and rapidly decreases a person’s stress responses.

In fact,  I’ve run several trials among trained students and first-time, walking in the door students with a galvanic skin response meter.  Those tests show drops in stress of about 90%.  Going to sleep will not drop your stress level the same amount!

Qi Gong changes the 10% Rule Directly

Stress changes the way you think and what you are able to do.  Much of the 10% rule is caused by the mind under stress.  A person taking qi gong regularly outperforms other people under stress, because the 10% rule changes for him or her.  It becomes a different number, with between a 10 to 70% gain in performance.

Of course, there are other factors that influence the exact numbers.


Warm regards,

  Martial Arts Master Mike Signature

Master Mikel Steenrod


P.S. Click here for  a Free Course giving you an overview on the martial arts


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