The OODA Loop

Observing the performance of airmen during the Korean war, Col. John Boyd set out to discover what it was in a pilot’s combat training that separated success from failure. His conclusions led to the OODA Loop.

Observe – Orient – Decide – Act

He found that after a pilot observed a threat he would next have to orient his thoughts before reaching a decision and then taking physical action. Orientation here is the critical element which relies mostly on previous experience and training. Boyd believed that Soviet pilots were slower at taking action than US airmen but not because they had less training. In fact he learnt that too much information could itself lead to hesitation.

In modern martial arts, many people are of the opinion that creating perfect responses to specific scenarios simply slows you down. It is as though your hypothalamus has too much data to process. Boyd discovered that it is more effective to train a limited number of reactions; each of which work reasonably well against a broad range of threats. For example, bursting forward with a ninety degree block and a strike to the face.

OODA Loop - F-86 Sabre
An F-86 Sabre fights a Mig 17.

Boyd also found that the most common problem during the orientation phase is denial. When normal people are faced with extraordinary events they typically cannot believe their eyes. Reactive training can help. For example, being struck with a pad and hitting back as a response to the stimulus. However, if you ever do come across a really bad situation; believe it.

– Ian