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The OODA loop and self defense.

The one thing that really good and effective self defense training, close combat training, Police training, military training, etc that I have experienced has in common is that it teaches the student to fly through the OODA loop while keeping the enemy in the OODA loop.

So, what is the OODA loop (or Boyd’s Circle)? OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. When we do anything this process is what our brain must go through. We observe that something is happening, orient towards it (figure out what it is), make a decision as to what we need to do and then act.

The “OODA Loop” principle was developed by Lt. Col. John Boyd for aerial combat in the Korean and Viet Nam war era. John R. Boyd figured this science out as a young U.S. Air Force fighter pilot. John was cocky even by fighter-pilot standards…he issued a standing challenge to anyone who dared to try to defeat him in mock aerial combat. To make it even more of a challenge for him once in the air he would start from a position of disadvantage. He bet that he’d have his jet on the challenger’s tail within 40 seconds, or he’d pay them $40. Legend has it that he never lost. His amazing ability to win any dogfight in 40 seconds or less earned him his nickname “40 Second” Boyd.

What Lt. Col. Boyd discovered was that if he could keep the opponent in the loop, and he got through OODA, that he had a great advantage. For example, if the enemy was observing Boyd roll right, was orienting to this move but before he could decide or act Body rolled left it made that enemy have to start the OODA loop all over again.

As Boyd taught the principal and taught airmen to get through the loop (and keep others in it) he discovered that after five go rounds at actual air combat that pilot became virtually unbeatable. After five they would not get caught in the loop but would rapidly get through it and act first. He put science behind what pilots had somehow knew in WWI and WWII as they called a pilot who shot down five enemies an Ace.

As a ex serving police officer sometimes we were given access to some statistics around use of force encounters both in this country and abroad and as a personal safety and unarmed defensive tactics instructor these reports were eye opening to me. One report that came from America via the FBI was the L.E.O.K.A (Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted),we  discovered a chilling fact for Law Enforcement Officers. This report is based on interviews with all those who have been arrested for assaulting police officers. Remember how the pilots were virtually unbeatable after five times facing combat? According to this report the average person who attacks a law enforcement officer in a deadly force engagement has had an average of five uses of deadly force in their past. This is why RBT (reality based training) in martial arts is so important. Our brains do not know the difference between real events and events in training. Using scenarios and Redman training we could get officers through dozens of deadly force engagements…and learn from them!

In self defence we want to get through the loop and keep the attacker in the loop. This is why, for example, in Kali our weapon disarms always have a strike or destruction in them. If we just use leverage and attempt to take away the weapon the attacker can observe, orient, decide and act to pull the weapon back, fight for it, etc. If, while the attacker is observing and orienting to our defence we kick them in the groin or finger jab them in the eye their brain will automatically go back to observing and orienting. When they get to the orienting about the strike we then knee the groin and start the loop all over again for them. Keeping the attacker in the loop while we are to the action phase of the loop is a big step towards winning the encounter.

Steve Jones

Chief Instructor Dudley Port Academy.