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OODA Loop and self-defense

ooda loop


The expression OODA loop or in Italian cycle OODA or Boyd cycle refers to the decision cycle “observe, orient, decide and act“.

It was developed by Col. John Boyd who is a military strategist in theU.S. Air Force and who has applied this concept to combat phases, often in military operations at a strategic level.

Now the same concept of OODA is often applied in different areas also to understand business operations and learning processes but finds a great job if we talk about self-defense and self-defense you bare hand that armed.

This approach fosters agility of reasoning about raw power in dealing with human adversaries in all kinds of contexts.ooda loop


Ooda loop overview

The OODA cycle has become an important concept in the following contexts such as legal litigation, the working environment, law enforcement, military strategy, etc.

According to Boyd,decision-makingmanifests itself in a recurring cycle of the type: processo decisionale

Observe- > Orienta- > Decidi- > Agisci“.

table ooda loop

An entity (whether it is an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to events that are unfolding and doing so faster than an opponent, can thus “enter” the opponent’s decision-making cycle and take advantage of him.

There are many situations in which the first act acquires a significant advantage and one of these is self-defense.

Frans Osinga argued that Boyd’s views on the OODA loop are actually much deeper, richer and more complete than the common interpretation of the idea of the” OODA rapid cycle

Boyd developed the concept to explain how to direct his energies to defeat an opponent and survive.

He emphasized that what is believed to be a “single loop” is actually a set of interacting cycles, which must be kept in continuous operation during combat.OODA Loop and self-defense Fighting Tips - Street Fight Mentality & Fight Sport

He also showed that the battle phase has a major impact on the ideal allocation of the fighter’s energies.


Boyd’s diagram shows that all decisions are based on observations of the evolving situation, mitigated by the implicit filtering of the problem being addressed.

  • The first ‘O’stands for “
    “, which are the raw information on which decisions and actions are based. The observed information must be processed in order to guide it to the decision-making process. In the notes of his speech “Organic Design for Commandand Control “, Boyd said:
  • “The second O,“Orientation”– as a result of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition and previous experiences – is the most important part of the OODA cycle, as it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act. (John Boyd)

As stated by Boyd and shown in the “Orientation” box, there is a lot of filtering on information thanks to our culture, genetics, ability to analyze and synthesize, and previous experience.

This is something that you can’t underestimate and from a personal defense perspective it’s often something you need to change and that a self-defense instructor has to rebuild because it’s related to things that might make you make choices that aren’t appropriate to the kind of danger and violence you face.

The OODA cycle is designed for a singledecision makerand therefore lends itself well to self-defense.

Even when you are more than one person the thing is complicated and the situation is generally much more complex than shown, since most decisions in some group contexts where it is a group of people who observe and orient, each of whom brings their own cultural traditions, genetics, experience and other informational characteristics.

This is where decisions often get stuck, which doesn’t lead to winning, because:

To win, we should operate at a time or faster pace than our opponents – or, better yet, enter the time cycle, or ring, of the opponent’s “Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action.”.. This activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable), thereby generating confusion and disorder among our adversaries, as they will not be able to generate images or mental shots that keep up with the threatening, and faster, patterns or transient rhythms of the opponent with whom they are competing.” (John Boyd)


The OODA cycle, which focuses on strategic military requirements, has been adapted for business and public sector business continuity planning.

You can compare it with the“Plan-Do-Check-Act”(Plan Do Check Act – PDCA)

or Deming Cyclecycle.

Here’s how one of Boyd’s colleagues described him in “John Boyd, USAF Retired, Father of the F16” (John Boyd, former USAF, the father of the F-16):

«The key is to obscure your intentions and make them unpredictable for your opponent, while at the same time you are clarifying his intentions. That is, you have to operate faster to generate rapidly changing conditions that prevent your opponent from adapting or reacting to those changes, and that counteract or destroy his awareness. Therefore, a jumble of confusion and disorder must occur to cause an excessive or insufficient reaction to conditions or activities that seem uncertain, ambiguous or incomprehensible.HarryHillaker

What is the ooda loop for?

The OODA Loop also serves to explain the nature of surprise and modeling operations in a way that unifies Gestalt psychology, cognitive science and game theory into a comprehensive theory of strategy.

Utility theory (the basis of game theory) describes how decisions are made based on the perceived value of taking a given action.

The OODA loop shows that before making a decision (the Decidephase), the person must first obtain information (Observe) and determine what it means for him and what he can do about it(Orient).

In this way, the utility sought in the Decide phase can be modified by influencing the information received by the opponent and the cognitive model applied to orient itself on it

Writer Robert Greene wrote in an article titled “OODA and You”:

«… the correct mindset is to let go a little, to allow some of the chaos to become part of your mental system, and to use it to your advantage simply creating more chaos and confusion for the opponent. This channels the inevitable chaos of the battlefield against the enemy.” (Robert Greene


The OODA cycle and self-defense

Imagine you’re walking down an unknown street in a neighborhood in your city.

You’re“in yellow code”and you’re paying attention to what’s happening around you (this is very good).

You’re watching.

Suddenly your attention is drawn to something that is strange/different/unusual/ecc.

Now you’re focused on this particular thing that happened.

At this point, you have to decide what to do.

You will build an option in your head where if this or these people do this I do this I do this action (change road, escape, attack, etc.).

So if they cross that imaginary line, you’ll act as you’ve decided where without worrying or changing your mind, act and run to do whatever works and benefits.

Don’t wait for the next event.


OODA’s watch and self-defense

Think of the OODA cycle as a clock with:

  • Observe at 12:00,
  • Orient at 3:00,
  • It decides at 6:00 a.m.
  • Act at 9:00.

The new day starts at midnight, so we have to start with Observe.

This is the most critical step.

If you’re not watching, you may not see that “out of place” thing, and you won’t decide what you’re going to do or act before it’s too late.

The people who have chosen you as prey have watched you in the crowd and turned their back on you, decided what they’re going to do and they’re probably doing it.

If you’re not paying attention, how likely you are that you’ll be able to react before they actually do what they’re going to do.

Probably not much.

Remember, the action beats the reaction.

At best, paying attention, the aspiring striker should notice that you have noticed him and decide that you may not be the best target.

The aggressor is also going through the same cycle.

Attackers tend not to want a fight or be seen, so if you see them and they know they will probably choose to go ahead as there are a lot of people immersed in their smartphones or other distractions.

Now if you imagine the OODA cycle as a clock if the attacker is already at 9:00 (or step4) and then “you have not yet started the day at 12 o’clock” (because you are not paying attention) it will be very difficult to recover before something happens.

If you pay attention (12 o’clock), you’ve seen the attacker (3 o’clock), you’ve decided what you’re going to do (6 o’clock) and you’re doing it (you’re also at 9:00) you’re much more likely to react in a timely and effective manner.OODA Loop and self-defense Fighting Tips - Street Fight Mentality & Fight Sport

An example of an ooda loop

You’ve been approached by someone who seems intent on hurting you and is looking for something in his pocket.

What would you think they’re doing? Looking for a paper handkerchief to blow his nose? I’d bet not.

A reasonable person might conclude that he might be looking for something to hurt you with.

Now your decision might be going to take something in his pocket I push him against the wall and run or you’ll do a preemptive strike by hitting him just as he puts his hand in his pocket and is discovered on that side,

At that point if they are willing to do something against you they have to start again in their OODA sequence.

It means they have to find you again now and decide what to do, so do it.

At this point I hope you don’t have any more problems because you ran away or laid him down.

So, since you are prepared and at 9:00, doing something to them and sending them effectively at 12:00, you have disoriented them because their plan has been interrupted, modified and they have to change it but this time allows you to do other things to you too.

This always happens in everyday life, imagine someone who wants to talk to you about some episode that happened, you already know, you see that he comes towards you to talk to you, he starts and interrupts it, do something and someone interrupts this communication or something changes his concentration – then you think “now what I was talking about?, what did I want to tell him”, you are interrupting his cycle of ooda on what he wanted to tell you , now it has to rebuild the cycle.

It’s the same thing.

Even in combat sports the information is followed in real time and the fighter does not have time to process it consciously; he reacts because he is trained, and his conscious thinking is directed at supervising the flow of action and reaction, continually repeating the OODA cycle.

This approach favors the agility of reasoning about raw power in dealing with human adversaries in all kinds of contexts: Boyd has put this principle(ethos)into practice in his work for theU.S. Air Force.

One of John Boyd’s main insights into fighter combat was that it’s vital to change speed and direction faster than your opponent.

This could interfere with an opponent’s OODA cycle.

It is not necessarily a function of the aircraft’s maneuvering ability, but the pilot must think and act faster than the opponent can think and act.

Entering “into” his cycle, short-circuiting the thought processes of the opponent, produces the opportunity for the opponent to react inappropriately.


The OODA team cycle is complicated

OODA Loop and self-defense Fighting Tips - Street Fight Mentality & Fight Sport

Another example of a tactical level can be found on the field of team sports, where a player takes possession of the ball and must overcome an opponent who is taller or faster.

A dribbling or a bypass is unlikely to succeed.

Instead, the player can engage in a quick and elaborate series of body movements designed to confuse the opponent and deny him the ability to take advantage of his superior size or speed.

At a basic level of this game, this technique can simply be a series of fakes, with the hope that the opponent will make a mistake or open a space, but practice and mental focus can allow an experienced player to speed up his reaction time, enter the opponent’s OODA cycle and take control of the situation, causing the opponent to move in an unsuitable way. , thus putting himself in the lead rather than simply reacting to a movement of the defender.

Taking control of the situation is key.

It is not enough to accelerate the OODA cycle faster, as this only results in agitation.

The same cycle operates over a broader time horizon in a competitive business landscape, where the same logic applies:

decision-makers collect information(observe),make assumptions about the customer’s activity and the intentions of competitors (they orient themselves),make decisions and act on the basis of these.

The cycle is repeated over and over again.

Aggressive and informed application of the process offers a commercial advantage over a competitor who is simply reacting to the conditions in which they occur, or has little awareness of the situation.

Especially in the business world, where various teams of people work according to the OODA cycle, this often gets stuck at the “D” of ” deciding ” e no action is taken, allowing competitors to take advantage, or resources are wasted.




I hope this information gives you a different approach to mindfulness and gives you another way to look at security.

If you are an instructor, if you find it useful, I hope that you can integrate this information into your teachings so that others can benefit from it too and if you like to let you know the work I am doing through the blog.

This approach can help you in a self-defense situation where not deciding what to do is a condition you can’t afford and acting becomes critical.

Waiting for your attacker to act and for him to take the lead is an advantage you can’t leave him.

This way of thinking is a pattern that in a very stressful condition can help you speed up the process of action.

Stay Tuned, Stay Save, Self Defence is not game!



Con una passione per la difesa personale e gli sport da combattimento, mi distinguo come praticante e fervente cultore e ricercatore sulle metodologie di allenamento e strategie di combattimento. La mia esperienza abbraccia un vasto panorama di discipline: dal dinamismo del Boxing alla precisione del Muay Thai, dalla tecnica del Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu all'energia del Grappling, dal Combat Submission Wrestling (CSW) all'intensità del Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Non solo insegno, ma vivo la filosofia di queste arti, affinando costantemente metodi e programmi di allenamento che trascendono il convenzionale. La mia essenza si riflette nell'autodifesa: Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), Dirty Boxing, Silat, l'efficacia del Jeet Kune Do & Kali, l'arte della scherma con coltelli e bastoni, e la tattica delle armi da fuoco. Incarno la filosofia "Street Fight Mentality", un approccio senza fronzoli, diretto e strategico, unito a un "State Of Love And Trust" che bilancia l'intensità con la serenità. Oltre al tatami, la mia curiosità e competenza si spingono verso orizzonti diversi: un blogger professionista con la penna sempre pronta, un bassista dal groove inconfondibile e un artigiano del coltello, dove ogni lama è un racconto di tradizione e innovazione. Questa sinfonia di abilità non solo definisce la mia identità professionale, ma dipinge il ritratto di un individuo che nella diversità trova la sua unica e inconfondibile voce e visione. Street Fight Mentality & Fight Sport! Andrea


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