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John Boyd's OODA Loop For Self Defence

Eclectic Self Protection (ESP) - North London Martial Arts & Self Defence
Published by in Self Defence · 1 November 2018
Tags: JohnBoydOODALOOPSelfDefenceEclecticSelfProtectionNorthLondonMartialArts&SelfDefence
ESP OODA Loop



The second premium model covered under evaluation and awareness is the OODA Loop. The OODA Loop is an acronym used to describe the process that we use when responding to some type of stimulus, and was formulated by Col John Boyd in the 1950’s. Boyd was a fighter pilot in the Korean war and used the OODA Loop to train pilots under him. The training resulted in a 10:1 kill ratio. Col. Boyd believed that even at a disadvantage, a competent pilot could overcome his opponent by attacking the mental process or state of mind. The OODA Loop stands for Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (Figure B).

1 Observe

This is the stage where an event is just beginning. We may observe a person stepping out of the shadows, a group that splits up when we come into their view, or a person seemingly following us. The process of decision making cannot even begin until there something being observed. This brings us right back to awareness, as awareness is the first major element of practicing good self protection. What is described above might go completely un-noticed if someone is engrossed on their smart phone or has their head phones in listening to music. It is better to have 360 degree environmental awareness than to be sucker punched from behind.

2 Orient

Assuming we are aware enough to notice something beginning to happen, the next step is orient. An example of this stage is the following : A person steps out of the shadows. Our brain would straight away determine whether or not we know them, if they appear threatening, and other things such as our position relative to theirs, as well as whether or not we are about to bump into them. These are going to be determined by the most healthy people without the need to consciously go through a list of questions. Someone properly trained may even instantly note whether the person stepping out from the shadows had anything in their hands. This level of training takes time, but is very nice to have, and worth the effort to develop.

3 Decide

Once the information is processed, the actual decision must be made. The brain is going to decide what to do, but the more we clutter it with information and different choices, the longer this stage of our process will last. People should be aware at this point of ‘Hicks Law’. At the basic level, Hicks Law states the more options you have, the longer it will take to decide on one. If we are able to keep it down to few choices, we will be much better off in just getting through the stage quickly. At this stage it is important to understand that there is no perfect choice, even if there seems there is.

4 Act

In this stage, you have decided on an action and now you must put it into play. The single most important piece of information is that you are being attacked and you must act. It’s important to note this is not an exact science. You are testing your hypothesis and must constantly adapt and rearrange your model as the information.

5 Using The OODA Loop To The Advantage

Understanding the OODA Loop will allow you to use it to your advantage by making your assailant get stuck in the observe-observe-observe short circuit. In self-defence, we want to get through the OODA Loop and keep the attacker in the loop. Therefore, for example, in ESP our weapon disarms always have a strike or destruction in them. If we just use leverage and attempt to take the weapon away, the attacker can observe, orient, decide and act to pull the weapon back or fight for it. If while the attacker is observing and orienting to our defence and 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 orienting about the strike we knee them in the groin and start the loop all over again for them. Keeping the attacker in the loop while we are on the action phase of the loop is a big step towards winning the encounter.




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