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90% rule

In the book
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown maintains that a 90% rule can be applied to most situations.
The rule is intended to facilitate good, clear decision making and remove dithering.

Applying the 90% rule

Imagine that you ranked any situation on a percentage scale... Buying a new coat?
Start by applying some criteria:

  1. How does the coat look aesthetically?

  2. How comfortable is it to wear?

  3. Is the coat the correct size/fit for your body shape?

  4. Does the colour suit your skin?

  5. Is it waterproof?

  6. Is it warm?

  7. Is it easy to clean?

  8. Will the style date?

  9. What do you plan to use the coat for?

  10. How functional is the coat?

  11. How often do you plan to wear it?

  12. How versatile is the coat?

  13. Can you afford the coat?

  14. Do you want to pay this much?

  15. How badly do you want it?

  16. Is the coat precisely what you were looking for or an approximation?

  17. Will you look back in 1 years time and be thrilled to own this coat?

Feel free to add your own criteria. Now score each question as a percentage, then calculate the overall percentage for all the questions. If the coat is a clear 90% score, then why not buy it?
If the coat is less than 90%, then keep looking.

Learn to focus

The purpose of the 90% rule is to discriminate between the things we sort-of want (or settle for) and the things we feel genuinely passionate about.
Instead of investing our energies arbitrarily, we become more selective. It is all about focus.


This is not actually about high standards; either ours or the students
. It is about passion.


Passion is a condition of focussed creativity. Channelling emotion into a positive action can imbue the activity with a
vigour that would otherwise be lacking.
A passionate person has imagination and drive. They exude a sense of purpose. They are highly motivated and do not need to be prompted/reminded/coached/praised.

The myth of multi-tasking

Multi-tasking is a jargon word appropriated from the computer industry. It refers to the process whereby the computer rapidly flicks from one activity to the next in quick succession.
When a human attempts this, they typically become vague, stressed and diffuse. Single-tasking is now considered to be far more productive and realistic.


You cannot be passionate about absolutely everything. In practice, you would get nothing done. Selectiveness removes the extraneous; enabling you to put more energy into fewer endeavours.

How well do you know tai chi?

The 90% rule should be applied to all aspects of learning tai chi. Ask yourself: how well do I know this exercise/drill/form movement?  Apply some obvious criteria.
If the answer is less than 90%, keep studying, ask for guidance and be patient with yourself.


We encourage our students to self-assess. This inspires people to take responsibility for their own progress and be honest about how well they know the material.
Should we do not agree with the student's opinion, we simply ask for proof. If they know the applications, they can perform them readily and easily against any opponent.

Tai chi fighting method

If your knowledge of any facet of tai chi is less than 90% you cannot use it in realistic combat. When you factor in fear, surprise etc, your chances of giving it your best will drop considerably.
You may lose 50% of your skill from panic alone. If your knowledge of a particular application was only so-so to start with, can you afford to lose 50% and still apply the skill?
At least with 90% or 100% ability in class, you can afford to lose a lot in real life and still potentially deliver a meaningful response.


A lineage candidate would need to exceed expectations in all areas of consideration in order to be accepted. Anything less than exceptional would be doomed to eventually mediocrity and failure.

90% in everyday life

The 90% rule ties in nicely with the willpower exercises explained in the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.
Instead of giving in to impulse and skilful marketing ploys, you mentally take a step back and weigh up the situation.
How passionate are you about what is on offer? Anything less than 90% is a waste of time and effort. This approach can be applied to pretty much everything in life.

I want to age with strength & dignity

If you want to age with good fitness, how passionate are you?
Self-assess. Apply the 90% rule. Your response should then be balanced with the concrete reality of your actual commitment.
Balance wishful thinking and talk against action. This is the truth of your convictions.

The trade off

Yin/yang is all about the act of balancing.
It also recognises that most things in life require some sort of exchange. For example: if you want to get good at tai chi, you will need to practice every day.
This will mean training tai chi instead of doing something else... There has to be a trade off. e.g. you give up an hour of TV and do an hour of tai chi instead. You cannot do both.

When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer.
"Give me the best piece of meat you have," said the customer.
"Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best."



The 90% rule can help you to determine what your priority is. Priority is an interesting word. It means that which comes first. You will note that priority is not plural.
The word 'priorities' is a contradiction in terms; you cannot have several things that come first.

Tai chi priority

In tai chi, your fitness comes first. Without good fitness you cannot train the martial art or enjoy everyday life. And if you do not practice, your fitness will not improve.

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Page created 11 September 1999
Last updated 16 June 2023