High Percentage vs. Low Percentage

Steven Elmore
3 min readJun 17, 2021

One size fits all. This is a great concept when it comes to socks and hats but does not apply to self-defense techniques. It is often said that good technique will overcome size and strength. While this is true, there are limits to this statement.

Even with perfect technique and 8-year-old child is not going to be able control a 6 ft. 5 in., 300 lb., professional football player with a wrist lock or arm bar. A petite 5 ft., 90 lb., female will also have a difficult time executing certain techniques on this much larger attacker. Not impossible but highly unlikely.

This is where the concept of high percentage vs. low percentage comes in. My first instructor would use this concept all the time when teaching self-defense techniques. A high percentage technique means that it has a high likelihood of succeeding if done correctly. The size and strength of the attacker have little effect on the technique’s effectiveness.

A low percentage technique is one that requires other factors than just perfect technique. Typically, these factors are the size and strength of the attacker compared to the defender. These aren’t necessarily the only factors though. Flexibility, pain tolerance, being double-jointed, or intoxication of the attacker could also be a factor.

Generally, low percentage and high percentage techniques are the same for everyone. For people that have certain physical advantages such as size and strength, the low percentage techniques are still low, just not as low as for someone small to average stature. Of course, on the flip side, a high percentage technique for a big, strong person becomes an even higher percentage technique.

Perhaps a better way to think about this is using some simple mathematics. First give every technique an arbitrary initial, baseline value. Low percentage techniques are < 50% and high percentage techniques are > 50%.

Where A, B, C, …, Z are variables such as size, strength, flexibility, speed, endurance, or anything else that may affect the techniques effectiveness.

It is also important to note that we are assuming perfect execution of technique.

1 is the defender and 2 is the attacker. When all variables are equal between the two people, you get the technique’s baseline value.

When TEF < 0, the technique loses effectiveness with a greater loss occurring with a greater magnitude value. When TEF > 0, the technique gains effectiveness with a greater gain occurring with a greater magnitude value.

Sorry for going off on a nerdy tangent but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

So, what are some examples of high and low percentage techniques? The list below will give you an idea. Please note this list is not a complete one and the techniques listed are in no particular order.

So, you may be asking yourself, why even learn the low percentage techniques? For one, you can see from the examples above, that the high percentage techniques tend to be quite brutal. Not every situation will call for that level of brutality. Sometimes more control and compliance are in order.

In addition, even though the technique is labeled “low percentage”, it is still effective. Even high percentage techniques will fail and the more effective techniques you know the better. In a self-defense situation you will likely be using several techniques and will need to understand how and when to transition to the correct technique.

Be open minded when learning something and don’t immediately dismiss it as being an ineffective, low percentage technique for you. It could be that you don’t understand it fully yet. There are many techniques that when I learned them as a kid, I thought would never work for me. Now that I am older and more experienced, these same techniques are some of my favorites.

Originally published at https://masterelmore.com on June 17, 2021.