There are two words that tend to be widely used (or abused) as more or less synonymous in the martial art circles, even though they really are not. Those are effectiveness and efficiency. Without going into too much linguistic fuss, the former denotes the capacity/ability to achieve a desired goal, while the latter means that the same goal is accomplished with the least possible expenditure of energy and/or time. In other words, using a wheelbarrow to take a bag of cement from your house to your shed would be effective AND efficient, but using a 16-wheel truck to do the same could be effective, BUT highly inefficient. Now, this difference has implications on a couple of levels in one’s training and performance.
First and foremost, we see that the efficiency is only measured in relation to effectiveness, i.e. there can be no efficiency if the effect is not achieved in the first place. That in turn, if though about with an open mind, might mean the entire paradigm change in certain arts/styles. Namely, there are plenty of schools around teaching the arts that base their entire identity or uniqueness (marketing as well) on being very efficient and requiring little strength, hence “ideal for both sexes and all generation”. However, if you take a look at the technical material they teach, you will easily see that it is utterly unable to first do what it is meant to (stop and attack, immobilize the threat…), so the whole efficiency gimmick is just that, usually translates as “we offer gain without pain”.
When analyzed from the standpoint of training methodology within any single fighting system, this dichotomy implies certain chronology in training. Basically, it says that we first need to make sure that our techniques (or drills, training methods of any sort) are effective, i.e. accomplishing the predefined goal (so, you need to think it out and actually define the results you wish to achieve), and only then work to “streamline” the performance and make it as efficient as possible”.
Now, let’s move on to a higher level of looking at things (self defense in this case) and take a look at what does it mean strategically and tactically. One of the basic shortcomings of working on efficiency is focusing entirely on a single move or technique and its motor components, i.e. physical characteristics. So, if one is working on a punch or kick, they will try to transfer the greatest possible amount of power into the target, while wasting the least possible amount of time and energy. In case of blocking, the thing is pretty much the same. However, we really need to consider at least one more aspect – all the techniques in a fight/match should be taken in their context; the strikes (attacks of any kind) should also be such to not expose us to a counter, or at least such that we receive as little damage in return as possible. Same with the defensive maneuvers, they are more efficient if leaving us in a position to counter effectively. Of course, it would have been more efficient to have had deescalated the situation verbally, or maybe run away…
By the same token, single direct attack is more efficient than a faint followed by the real attack, but only if both manage to actually achieve the goal, that is, to place the technique properly.
Just to see how relative and dynamic these notions are, take a look at the following video clip:
If we assume that the “attacker’s” goal was simply to hit the victim in the head, then one might argue that it was achieves, so the chosen technique was effective. However, if he had punched him, instead of kicking, it would have been more efficient. But, if we assume that the goal was to knock the other man down, than the attack was both ineffective and inefficient…
As a final observation, in the context of putting together a curriculum for a self-defense course, it would probably be both most effective and efficient to disregard the efficiency! That, of course only applies to hose coursed that are limited in duration, because, you want your attendees to get out of it with some effective stuff, while the efficiency may not be that important for those circumstance. However, in a martial art club or a regular training group, I have to agree with the words of Systema instructor Kevin Secours, who says “there’s no excuse for being inefficient”.