OODA Introduction – Rory Miller

This might be a little technical, but I’ll try to catch you up quick. The OODA loop has become the standard nomenclature for combative decision making. In essence, each person must Observe what is happening; Orient to the observations- basically interpret the sensory input; Decide what to do about it; and Act.

This isn’t new- I remember one martial arts instructor from long ago who had the “Four P’s”: Percieve, Present, Plan, Perform. My sensei taught it as the elements of speed – perceptual speed, interpretation by experience, the decision tree and then neuromuscular speed. It isn’t new or even fresh, but OODA has become standard.

Clarifying example:
O: You see a fist suddenly growing larger (observe)
O: Hey, that must mean it is getting closer! I’m being punched! (orient)
D: What should I do about it? Block or duck? Duck! (decide)
A: Duck! (act)

I was taught these as the elements of speed with the caution that reactive moves, such as blocking, rarely work because the bad guy is on step four when his action triggers your step one. His “act” is the first thing you “observe”.

Time is most critically lost in the two middle steps. In the orientation step, inexperienced people try to gather too much or too little information. In combat or self-defense, the usual problem is to try to get too much information. I need to know where his good targets are and my available weapons. That is all. Martial artists tend to also want to know how he reacted to their last attack and what he is likely to do next. That’s chess thinking, not brawl thinking- predicting what the thread will do in four moves is useless if the intervening three moves are stabs. The most fatal orient decision in an ambush is the “why” question – “Why are they doing this?” “What does this mean?”. You won’t get an answer and if you did get an answer it won’t help you. But many, many victims freeze right here, with the ‘why’.

Decide is the second time waster. There’s a thing called Hick’s Law which states that the more options you have, the longer it takes to choose one. Makes sense. I call this the Brown Belt syndrome. It’s what happens when you have too many cool ways to win and you get your ass kicked while you are weighing options. The way to grow past this is something I call “meta-strategy”. Again, this is something I’ve back engineered from the people that consistantly make it work, not something I’m reasoning out.

The people I know who consistantly do well in ambushes or have often beaten the maxim that action is faster than reaction have one thing in common. They have a group of techniques that form the core of their strategy that they DO NOT SEE AS SEPARATE TECHNIQUES. Mac has hundreds of disarms and counter-attacks, but when he is surprised he “de-fangs the snake”. He can and will do it in a hundred different ways, but in his mind it’s just one thing. James “does damage”. Again, hundreds of techniques that are all one thing in his brain. I “take the center”.

Operant conditioning is critical in self-defense because it is possible, in certain situations including surprise attacks, to cut out the middle two step and develop an automatic, reflex-level response.

Two or more people in conflict have their OODA loops activated and they feed off of each other. My actions are your observations. When what you observe changes, you must re-orient. If I can conclude my loop faster, I not only act faster and get more damage in, but I also throw you off your loop. If you start to swing and I hit you in the face, most people will stop their swing to re-orient.

The closer the events reflect previous experience, the less time it takes to orient. If the event is completely new, such as a judoka experiencing his first leg lock, it is effectively invisible – there is nothing in the past to orient to (which explains the effectiveness of judo in 1888; jujutsu in America in the 1920’s, karate in the 50’s and BJJ in the 90’s). This is also the purpose of cognitive interrupts or context shifting: doing something, such as blowing a kiss or drooling that doesn’t compute as a fight. In short, you can attack the OODA loop as well as attacking the body.