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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Short Circuiting The OODA Loop

Short Circuiting The OODA Loop

The call had come in of a trespasser using the laundry at an apartment building. It was the sort of call we all rolled our eyes and cursed the ever liberal city council of Santa Monica for drawing all the stinking bums from Los Angeles county.

Regardless, patterns of movement established through years or knowledge tended to keep you safe so bullshit call or not, I parked my war wagon a few doors down and walked up to the laundry room adjacent to the alley.

He was standing there washing his clothes. A typical LA street dweller…but something about him was different. I could not put it into words if you had frozen the frame and asked me to describe it. It was the way he moved maybe…or his build – not overly muscled, but not malnourished. Something told me at the instant he turned to look at me that I was in serious danger.

The transient was in his mid thirties, and walked over to me, hand out stretched as if to offer it in handshake. “Hello officer, I knew you’d be coming by”, he said as he approached. I could see he was not armed and both his hands were in view. But damn something felt totally wrong. As he moved the last few steps toward me, his eyes shifted to my holstered Glock and he reached for it in a lunge. ……..


The OODA Loop, or Boyd’s cycle, is much used and abused in the training, combatives world today. Some trainers go as far as to totally plagiarize Boyd without any attribution given, while others, with zero practical experience, seek to adapt his theories with no basis for the adaption. Sadly, in the land of free speech, just because one can speak his mind does not mean one’s words have any worth…mine included for that matter. But the worth attributed to a man’s words is based in part, on what he has actually done, and in the context that he is speaking.

So if a man is making a statement, and bases the validity of that statement on say…his Pro Football experiences, one would assume that if the problem at hand is similar to what a quarterback for a Pro Team faces, his assumptions are valid…but maybe not so much if the issue is a single man lifting a weight, or surfing a big wave…or fighting another man in a ring.

We know that we all process information as Boyd discussed in his studies. That cannot really be changed. But some of those processes can be short cut. Specifically I am referring to the Orientation phase of the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act). Let me explain.

In a book by Malcolm Gladwell titled Blink, the author discusses how we make those split second, gut-based decisions. He calls it Rapid Cognition. No, its not a gun book. Rather it is a business book. The sort of book that more struggling gun instructors should read...if they wanted to stop struggling and actually become successful. But back to the point. Gladwell mentions that we make split second decisions on a daily basis. He tells of a meeting between Wall Street traders and USMC Generals and how they were so much alike in their ability to make snap judgments and decisions (one with lives the other with money) that is was amazing to watch them interact.

The problem Gladwell mentions, is when we seek to put words to the feeling…or when we try to analyze what we are seeing or feeling. Observation can certainly be heightened by, as Nike says, “Just Doing It”. The Decision, and Action phases are a matter of training and willingness (topics not strange to WTers.), but it is the Orientation Phase…the area where we seek to make sense of what we are seeing, that we can make up the most time.

And by simply accepting the initial impression we get from a particular individual or location, without stopping to be able to preemptively “articulate to the jury” why we feel that way, we may very well be able to move faster through the cycles. And as one member here is fond of saying, speed is, in point of fact, life.

Oh, the rest of the story? Yes, of course.

I more felt the situation than saw it. I actually had some fear after it was all over as to how I would explain it. As he reached for my gun, I dropped my front leg back and swept my right hand up and over with the C Cell Maglite I carried in my sap pocket. That light had not worked in years and I carried it simply because they had outlawed saps. It hit him hard on the crown of the head with the sound a watermelon might make as it drops from the plastic Safeway bag onto your driveway.

He went down hard, unconscious and bleeding and so fast I was still not certain of what had happened or why. He was still alive, although barely. I had hit him that hard. Turns out he was a parolee at large that had assaulted and disarmed a police officer a few years before.


Listen and act upon your first impressions gents…they will rarely be wrong.

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Comments 14

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A very good article and very well explained. Thank you.

George M.

Trusting your gut is huge. Its not something that can always be explained, but its rarely wrong.

Oohrah... Perfectly legit imho but the cop gets crucified in CA
For striking a perp with an aluminum impact weapon and, OMG,
in the head no less. These are actions indefensible to the coats in
SoCal but, nonetheless, good guy gets to go back to his family and BG
gets to go back to jail.

In Los Angeles, there was so much political correctness distaste for self-defense with flashlight, that the big lights were banned. L.A. teamed up with a flashlight manufacturer to make a plastic barrel, much smaller light. Nice flashlight but deucedly poor for defense; much too big to be used as a yawara, much too short to be swung like the old aluminum lights. Ironically, the high tech light was developed just in time to be vastly eclipsed by better technology: a different company developed a similar size light that recharges in less than a minute!

Before I go searching in all the wrong places, where can I purchase Gladwell's book - "Blink?" Thanks, Merrill

Should have shot and killed him. . . OK I'm just a dreamer.

I had a former boss send me a copy of Blink earlier this year, and I recently finished reading it. As I started reading your post, I thought of exactly that book...before I got to the part where you talked about it. Imagine my delight to hear a gun guru speaking like the well-read person we all know he is (doff of the hat to you, Gabe). I'm focusing on trusting my instincts in every area of my life, not just combatives, and I'm finding it yields powerful, immediate, and surprising results.

I am trying to visualize the police officer's response. Since he "dropped [his] left leg back and swept [his] right hand up and over", is it safe to assume he was left-handed and carried on the left side and the mag light was carried on the off-side? Thanks.

Well, I suppose he could have surrupticiously drawn his back-up gun with his left hand to shoot him down the moment the suspect put his hand on the cop's holstered weapon. Then he'd have the fingerprints to prove what the perp was trying to do when he was shot.

My kids will from time to time ridicule me for the judgments I make about their friends from only a few moments of interaction. They however have learned over time that my "gut" - both metaphorically and literally speaking - has seldom been wrong. Train - and trust the gut - i.e., spidey-sense.

Fighter Pilot Mantra: "Speed is Life" (repeat rapidly)

Fascinating; just listening to Hannity today doing a piece on Gladwell's book Blink! Describing tipping points and how it may only require the direct action of a single, fast thinking individual to effect vast change.

If you walk the world one level up (as we should) you're doing the "Observe" part all the time and are most likely well into "Orient" most of the time. Just takes practice, persistence, and perspective; no paranoia required when you're fully "armed".

SF; Greek
Old(er) fighter pilot

This is why I still carry a full sized flashlight as primary illumination source and not a polymer compact and have for 23 years. Also use a level 2 security holster with a retention guard. This is also why I teach my Rookies to ALWAYS ask 2 questions in their own head in this order on contact. 1) Can I win a fight with this suspect and 2) can I win a foot chase with this suspect. If you answer NO to either question, take the neccessary actons to be able to answer YES.

Very Very goood. Very routine call gone way bad, all most. Lead with the gut feeling always, just be able to articulate your actions

Bottom line. If you use a full sized flashlight in accordance with straight baton techniques you can not be found negligent in your actions. Carry a full sized tool and use it as you would a straight baton. Large muscle and nerve groups as focal strike points.If your target moves and you make contact elsewhere, to bad. As long as you can address preclusion in your report as to why you were where you were in the force options table...

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The Suarez International Blog is a "warrior lifestyle" publication dedicated to the modern excellence-seeking martial enthusiast. Every article and video will feature the most up to date weapons, tactics, technology, and training methods available today. Not limited to merely "guns", we include articles on international adventure travel, extreme physical training, and living well in the modern world.