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Martial Arts, Taekwondo, Writing

The Burgar Rating System

I recently put up a picture on showing an application for a move from one of the ITF patterns. The application is, to be honest, awful. It’s one that I use to indicate what is an awful application, and why is it awful. Aside from the obvious “that looks awful, it would never work”, I use a rating system that was devised by the amazing Bill Burgar (www.billburgar.co.uk), aka the Burgar Rating System.

A number of people commenting and contacting me directly didn’t seem to have heard of this system, so I thought I would look at Chapter 6 of my book, take the salient points and put them up here for your pleasure!

The Burgar Rating System (BRS)

Burgar’s criteria

Bill Burgar is not someone most taekwondo practitioners will have heard of. This is mainly because he is a karate practitioner. Bill has done what very few people in modern martial arts do today. He spent five years looking at one pattern and seeing how he could apply the moves in a street self-defence situation. When he found a technique he then scored it using an excellent measuring system to see if it actually was practical for use on the street. Aside from designing an effective rating system, he also wrote an amazing book that chronicled not only his journey through the techniques, but also his thought processes and how he arrived at the stunning the conclusion he did. Five Years One Kata is available from all good bookstores.

The criteria he used to score the techniques are listed below.

  • Proactive
  • Keeps Initiative
  • Maximises Safety
  • Maximises Redundancy
  • Workable with adrenaline
  • Works with instinct
  • Maximises Predictable Response
  • Unbalances the Attacker
  • Leads the mind of the Attacker
  • Low Maintenance
  • Range
  • Simple
  • Transferable Skills
  • Overall Balance of Pattern

The scale goes from total reaction through to pre-emption. The nearer you are to the pre-emption end of the scale the better chance you have of maintaining control.

The nearer you are to the reactive end of the scale the more you need to examine the application and see if it puts you in a position to be proactive. The nearer the application is to being reactive, the lower the score gets.

Keeps Initiative
The technique must ensure that the attacker can’t assert any control. This is coupled with pro-activeness but is applied at the end of the application to see how easy it is to flow into another proactive application.

If the application leaves you off-balanced and poorly positioned to continue being proactive it scores lower. If you can keep striking the attacker and keeping them both on the defensive and on the back foot, it scores higher.

Maximises Safety
Fights aren’t safe but there are good and bad places to be in during a fight. Being out of range is ‘safe’, being on the outside is ‘safe’ and off-balancing them is ‘safe’.

However, in order to ensure we are damaging the attacker we must take some risk, for example, closing the distance in order to strike them.

Maximises Redundancy
Applications must have built-in fail-safes so that if one part of an application doesn’t work the other aspects still cause the attacker problems (such as pain, injury, distraction, or unbalancing).

Workable with Adrenaline
Tunnel vision (often seen as a ‘stare’, or ‘giving someone the eye’, and which focuses your attention on your attacker, but also limits your peripheral vision), auditory exclusion (the loss of hearing), the loss of complex motor skills (the inability to perform highly technical applications for example), lack of ability to think clearly, muscle spasm (the shakes), instability in the lower limbs, and so on, are all signs of an adrenal dump. Therefore applications need to be able to work with these. Anything that relies on being able to see to the side or behind will score lower as would anything that required fine motor skills for example.

Works with instinct
When you go into autopilot you tend to do what comes naturally rather than what you’ve trained for (unless you have trained that specific technique at least a few hundred times in a concentrated time span). If you can marry instinct and application you have a better chance of performing the application as you’ve trained it.

Maximises Predictable Response
This is my favourite due to my Kempo background. Kick a man in the groin and there are certain things he will do, such as moving his head forwards and his pelvis back (even if you miss, they will be doing this to get out of the way). Their hands will also move down towards the area, either to ward the incoming blow or to grab the affected area. The more reliable a predictive response you get the higher this scores on the measure.

Unbalances the Attacker
Unbalancing sets us up to keep the initiative using our proactive techniques, or ideally to just run away. If an application leaves the attacker perfectly balanced, it obviously scores lowly.

Leads the mind of the Attacker
Any action that makes the attacker think about anything but attacking scores highly. One tactic might be to ask them what the time is. Whilst their brain is processing the question (and possibly looking for an answer), you have the opportunity to counter-attack them.

Low Maintenance
If an application requires very little practice in order to keep it at a workable level it scores highly. These are usually the simple, brutal techniques that are most natural in execution and easily visualised, for example an eye gouge.

Range Realistic
Does the application work within a realistic range (rather than kicking range for example) and deal with Habitual Acts Of Violence (HAOV)? This scores higher.

Habitual Acts Of Violence (HAOV)

Put simply, HAOV are the most common form of attacks that you are most likely to face in your area or country.

One area, for example, might see a high amount of swinging punches being thrown, another might see headbutts being a common way of attacking someone.

You simply need to work out what the most common threats are in your area and country and then work to counter them. Compiling the list can be difficult, but also makes for very interesting research and means that you do not waste valuable time concentrating on counters to attacks that you are unlikely to face.

KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Applications should be simple to perform under stress, simple to learn, simple to maintain and simple to perform under difficult conditions (such as a slippery street). The more moves an application has, the less likely that it is going to be able to meet these requirements.

Transferable Skills
The application should have skills that can be transferred to other tasks. If it does then when you are practicing the one application you are also practicing the other application. So, one defence for many attacks is going to score highly. Anything that relies on simple punches for example scores highly here.

Overall Balance of Pattern
This is based on whether you’re studying one pattern exclusively. In most modern patterns, analysis of applications is usually considered in isolation to the rest of the pattern and can give an uneven distribution of defensive techniques. For example, there may be a lot of defences against lapel grabs and swinging punches. Although they might be valid techniques you’ll get log-jam if you practice them all.

When scoring applications it does not matter whether you use the Burgar Rating System as outlined below, or a numeric system. If you do use a numeric system (decimal for example), then you are still going to have to define what is a ‘bad’ score compared to an ‘excellent’ score.

Very Bad
The first thing you need to do with this is ditch it. That is also the last thing you need to do.

This is not what you want to have as an application score. However, there are many ‘martial arts’ applications that actually score this. This is due to the way martial arts have become disassociated from true ‘fighting arts’ and have become ‘ways’. As soon as you remove the need to be practical from the equation, all manner of moves can be devised.

Although this is not excellent, it does not mean that the application does not have its merits and that it cannot be used practically.

Very Good
This is where all of your hard work is starting to pay off. You have an application that you can drill well, that comes to you instinctively, is simple to learn and maintain and which does the job.

There is no doubt whatsoever as to the effectiveness of the application. This application covers all the bases and, all being well, ensures that your attacker is neutralised as quickly and as safely as possible.

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7.



  1. Pingback: Applications – They need to be Practical | Matthew Sylvester - October 20, 2015

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