OODA loop

It should take you about 5 seconds to get the history of OODA. There are no less than 100 tactical ninja experts talking about it which is one reason why you’ve never heard me discuss it. That being said, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a worthy area of discussion.

OODA in an acronym that summarizes our decision making process. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.



Before we can respond to a threat we must recognize it. Therefore the reaction process begins with observation first. Believe it or not this is the biggest obstacle to most people is simply getting their head out of their phones long enough to observe their surroundings. We call this SA, or situational awareness.



An ambush (of which any premeditated attack would be classified) is comprised of three components: speed, surprise and violence of action. And an ambush is as dangerous as it is because it allows the attacker to move through the OODA loop further and faster than the target. By employing speed, surprise and extreme violence the attacker is seeking to end the engagement before the target can navigate through his own OODA loop.



Therefore maintaining SA or Observation helps the target not to get stuck in the loop by being able to see the threat and then acknowledge it.

This acknowledgment is what we refer to as Orienting to the threat. A loud noise goes off near you and you immediately turn toward the noise to determine its origin and danger level. Sometimes it’s gun fire, other times it’s a backfire from a passing car, or the crashing of pots and pans in the next room. But in either case further investigation is required to determine threat or no threat. If we disregard SA or the potential a threat could exist it means that when the noise occurs your mind will simply override the Orient step in the loop and assume the best. The problem lies in those few cases where it’s not the best possible outcome. In those cases your mind is stuck before it ever gets started and the attacker is allowed to push through the OODA loop faster and thus controls the outcome.


Once we’ve oriented to the threat a Decision must be made. Threat requires a response, but often time no-threat requires a response as well. Even in the best possible cases where a loud noise turns out to simply be a door slamming as the wind caught it, you still have to decide to return to the observe portion of the OODA process.


Act is the final step. It is the place in which we put our decisions into action. Those decisions have to be quickly and by imperfect people on less than perfect information. If you are in the realm of security those decisions can often have life and death consequences.


For a would be attacker he has already navigated the OODA process and up until the moment of attack sits in the place of Decision, waiting to strike. But in the case of the target, they reside no further along than Observe if they’re disciplined, but in most cases haven’t even started the process.


It’s often said that action is faster than reaction by approximately 1/4-1/2 second. But this is predicated on both parties already being in the same place in the loop and the attacker simply waiting for an attack cue. But in reality the target is often 2-3 behind the attacker in the process and thus must play catch-up to a larger deficit. This is where training comes in. Training not only decreases the time required to move through the process it also helps in that area of decision making I spoke about. Making those life and death decisions based on imperfect information typically goes better when we’ve made mistakes and learned from them. The only way we can attain this wisdom is by participating in training and making those mistakes.


There is never certainty in an ambush. Only decisions that suck less. By staying observant, being willing to orient to your threats and participating in training that helps aid in decision making and action you drastically increase your percentage toward a positive outcome and make the situation suck a little less.

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