The “OODA loop” That stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Developed by Col. John Boyd for fighter pilots as a way to train and understand how to stay one step ahead of your opponent in aerial dogfights. The OODA loop has been evaluated, researched, added to, subtracted from and generally discussed in great detail in many forms and on many

web sites. In some ways it can get really, really complicated, and detailed in many level and sub levels: should you decide to do so, but where we will stay, at a superficial level, it also has a lot of merit.

  • Observe – you must see what is happening
  • Orient – you need to process your possible reactions from the options you have available
  • Decide – you decide what action you will take
  • Act – you initiate the action
  • Then based on new information you again, and continually go through the process.

Here’s the problem, if you are up against another person, you are always reacting to their actions – and because you need to go through this process, you are taking time to get to the point where you are taking action – and as a result, they are always ahead of you. At the police academy, we would have safe guns (unable to fire real bullets) and we would hold them at our partners. With a quick and unhesitating motion, the “hostage” officer would be able to grab the gun and disarm the “bad guy” every time. The bad guy would be going through the OODA loop, and by the time they had started to react, their gun had already been taken away. Hesitate, or not do the technique correctly, and the delay would let the “bad guy” pull the trigger.

The key, is having actions already anticipated, and as such you are doing this naturally – if I were to start to hit you in the face, you would instinctively raise your hand(s) up to protect your face. You are only reacting, and eliminating two steps in the OODA loop. If you’ve had some training, you might also step to the side and initiate a counter attack – causing me to then have to go through the OODA loop to deal with that unexpected change in the plan.

In fighter jets, putting your opponent into their own OODA loop gives you the advantage in time and quicker reactions. In real world street situations, seeing the potential trouble brewing, and formulating a plan in advance – if they do this I’ll do that – can let you see their action and go directly to a reaction that was already planned, while they then need to process and decide what to do.

Now if your plan is to run, it won’t take long for them to decide to either watch you go or give chase. But if the reaction is to throw a handful of change on the ground or at them, and as they deal with that move several yards to the side, get behind cover, turn and then use that shopping cart or clothing rack as an improvised defensive tool, that will make them have to go through several OODA loops.

As a police officer, stopping a vehicle that was of concern, we would walk up on the passenger side of the car, wait for two minutes and watch before approaching the driver, or otherwise do something that was not typical or usual for that situation. If they had a plan to confront us, our action foiled their plan, and put them behind the curve in deciding what their next move would be.

One thing we did was called “Contact-Cover” – two officers, one does all the talking, and the other stands back and to the side. Any comments directed to the cover officer are ignored, the contact officer does all the talking and interaction with the people. This does two things. The cover officer’s only job is to watch the suspects. And they figure that out pretty quick, if they do anything – the cover officer will be ready. The other thing, the cover officer will move around as the contact officer is engaging the suspects. They saw him over there a moment ago, but where’d he go now?

If they had a plan to confront the officers, their plan is now worthless, they are constantly trying to process what is going on, and with two officers doing different things and moving around – they can never really get ahead of the OODA loop, and as such, kept at a disadvantage throughout the contact. You can do the same thing. Typical victims react in a typical way. Toss in some actions/reactions the bad guys don’t expect, and you can switch the advantage back to your side, and maybe enough to cause them to re-consider their choice in selected victim.

Walking back to your car in the parking lot at night, scanning and seeing a potential threat – moving up to orange in the color code and surveying your environment to develop a plan for that degree of alertness – and drawing your high powered flashlight into your secondary hand as you complete a subtle motion of clearing a cover garment so to have a clean and quick access to the firearm you are probably carrying. They will see even these subtle actions, and know what they mean. This may in and of itself make those who are watching you take notice that you are not a sheep – that you WILL resist, forcefully if necessary.

Seeing this, they might want to pick another target – because their plan did not include that reaction from you, and their OODA loops are not ready to deal with the options of action & reaction you are ready to present them with, and that may be enough to avoid an incident. Worst case, they will continue to move in, but remember – you know, now more than before, what their intentions are, and you will be ready to fight back. You just put them on notice they will pay a heavy price in they continue to pursue you as a victim.

To make the most of your awareness, and maximize your effectiveness in your role as Grossman’s Sheepdog, you will need to combine and integrate Cooper’s Color Codes with Boyd’s OODA loop. Staying alert, watching for the wolves, increasing your degree of alertness should a pack of wolves approach you, and then taking unexpected action to throw off the wolf’s plan. Then continue to put them off balance as you make them re-assess and undermine their original expectations. All of this combined to make it much more difficult for the wolves to successfully attack you the sheepdog.