Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Personal Combat: Breaking the OODA Loop

By Ernest Emerson, Emerson Knives 

Hopefully, if you are involved in Law Enforcement, Military service or training in personal protection, whether as a profession or just for the safety of yourself and your family, you’ve heard of the OOODA Loop. If you have not, I suggest that you Google the acronym OODA, Lt Col Robert Boyd (the originator) or an article I wrote titled, “Extreme Violence,” Parts I and II. In the interim I will give you a very brief description of who and what it is. If you are familiar with the OODA loop them proceed with the rest of this article.

Please bear in mind that the OODA loop does not exist alone or in an isolated state. It is interwoven within the fabric of Fight or Flight, Situational Awareness, personal conditions of awareness, previous experience (or lack thereof) and of course, your own unique personality traits.

The OODA loops is the name given to the sequence of events that your human computer goes through as it processes the constant stream of data and stimulus that bombards your brain in your every waking and probably, non-waking moment.

It is probably not noticeable to us for most of the mundane and non-threatening events that we experience all of the time. It becomes very evident and very important when we are confronted with a high stress, dangerous or life threatening event. Knowing that the OODA loop exists and that we are all in effect, slaves to it, gives us the opportunity to analyze it, address it and with proper training use it to our advantage.

The letters OODA make up the acronym for the terms (in their sequential order) that describe the sequence;  Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.

Below is a brief description of the process.

Observe  Orient  Decide  Act 

Observe  The initial stimulus triggers a response.

For example, you are in a dark room and a TV set goes on unexpectedly.  It gets your attention and you look in its’ direction – whats that?

Orient  Identification of Stimulus

Oh, that’s the T.V. and that’s the Seinfield show.

Decide  Decision to Act / Choice of Action

I’ve seen that episode – I’m going to change channels.

Action  The physical act of carrying out the decision. You reach out and change the channel to another show.

This is a fixed sequence of events and if this sequence is started or engaged, it follows through from start to finish.

It can be speeded up slightly through training, most notably scenario-straining, but can not be speeded up past a certain point due to the fixed time of human cognitive analysis and the action / reaction sequence.

The only way that the OODA loop’s process can be speeded up is by removing steps from the process. Since I just stated that once the OODA loop process is started, it must always follows through fun start to finish, then how is this possible?

The answer is this; By having a pre-planned course of action. In other words, having a plan before the OODA process begins eliminates or removes two of the steps from the four step OODA sequence.  And these steps can only be removed through training. Specifically, training designed purposefully to remove those steps.

The two steps that can be removed through this training are, Orient and – Decide, leaving only Observe and act. This effectively cuts the fixed time sequence of the OODA loop in half. Through training, both physical and mental, these steps are addressed again and again at ever increasing speed so that when engaged in combat, there will be complete and immediate action without thought.  The phoenomena referred to by trained and experienced operators as “The Calm of Combat.” 

Here is an example as explained to me by my friend, former Navy SEAL, Larry Yatch owner and director of SEALED Mindset, a state of the art firearms and combat training school in Minneaopolis, Minnesota.

Next, when something seems ‘out of place’