If you’ve been around self-defence for a little while, you would have heard the term OODA loop. It stands for 'Observe, Orient, Decide, Act', and refers to how our brain makes decisions.
I have written about my interpretation of this here.
I refer to it as the 3P’s. I refer to it in this way not because I’m trying to be different or innovate, but simply because it’s easier for me to remember…
This concept is incredibly important to principle-based learning and problem solving, whether that’s in self-defence or in the ring.
The three P’s are as follows:
- Perception speed – This is the same as the first ‘O’ in OODA. It’s the time it takes our brain to register that something is happening. In other words, it’s the time our senses take to gather stimulus – see, hear, etc. – and send the stimulus to our brain. For example, I hear someone shout and immediately see a fist swinging in a wide arc towards my face.
- Processing speed – this is the second ‘O’ and the ‘D’ in OODA put together. This refers to the time it takes our brain to interpret the sensory data and decide what it needs to do. Continuing from the above example, it means trying to interpret what is happening and draw on previous experience and knowledge to come up with options – have I ever been in this situation? How did I handle it? Do I block or cover? I’ll block!
- Performance speed – this is the same as the ‘A’ in OODA. It’s the time it takes to execute the decision we’ve made. Following on from before, it’s how long it will take me to execute the block.
Fighting is, in a very real sense, all about disrupting this process in the other guy.
If any of these 3 ‘gears’ don’t work as well as they should, then you won’t be able to respond effectively and ultimately be defeated – whether that’s in the ring or when fighting for your life.
The analogy to gears is a good one. Think about trying to start your car in 3rd gear when parked uphill. Chances are it’ll stall. In much the same way imagine you are driving on the freeway and are slowing down to exit. If you go straight from 5th to 1st, your engine will do a backflip!
Where this gets even more complicated in the self-defence context is that unless you are aware of what is going on, you will have to start your process when your attacker has already cycled through the first few stages. In other words, they are on the ‘perform’ stage while you are only kicking in the ‘perceive’ stage. Furthermore, with every shot, you take you are likely to have your loop reset and the process started again from the beginning. This means that as you are trying to analyse and interpret one thing, the situation has changed and you now must do the same with another… and another, and another again.
Where this gets more complicated and is really the point of this article, is when you don’t have a frame of reference.
This is both contradictory to, and in unison with, much of modern Krav Maga. Yes, that sentence appears to be an oxymoron. Allow me to explain.
Two of the elements I emphasise when teaching Krav Maga are cross training and integration. This means having familiarity with a wide variety of tools and being able to transition from one to the other. Why?
When you get caught in a 3Ps cycle, your brain will start searching for a solution to the problem, with the first port of call being relying on previous experience. If that experience does not exist in your databank, then your brain will try and figure out the solution. This is definitely NOT what you want to happen when you are fighting. Imagine having to think about how to block a knife thrust while it is happening for real.
This contributes to the ‘freeze’ response we often see in attack victims. Their brain is trying to cope with what is happening, and in the meanwhile, their body just stays there waiting for instructions.
Much of the success of Royce Gracie and BJJ players in early MMA is related to this. They were doing stuff that many people didn’t have a frame of reference for. The sport is totally different today, and that’s because everyone has that frame of reference now. Being a phenomenal BJJ player is no longer enough, on its own, to be a top MMA athlete. This leads to another interesting discussion on how combative systems evolve and survive, and how the claims a system makes about its efficiency have an expiration date. I’ll leave that for another time.
The idea behind cross-training and integration is that you get enough experience in a variety of different skill sets and how they fit together. Striking, grappling (standing and on the ground), using and defending against a variety of weapons, dealing with multiple attackers, etc., are all important and should be included.
This means that if your training is done correctly, you should take less time to go through the cycle, as most positions will be familiar.
It does not mean that you need to have 5 black belts in different styles. It just means you need to have a solid enough frame of reference. Nothing more.
Again, this is counterintuitive. The more options we have, the longer it will take to cycle through them and find a correct the one, which defeats the purpose of cross training in the first place. So how do we solve this?
You can read about solving this particular problem here.
But going back to our cycle – we’ve established that a frame of reference is important.
What we need now is to figure out how to go through the cycle quicker so we can act quicker. The answer to that is pretty simple and is also what many of the Krav Maga short courses try to teach. As much as I don’t like the idea of short courses (for instructor qualifications, at least), the point they get across in this is actually valid.
Often you hear Krav Maga practitioners say that aggression counts for a huge portion of success in self-defence situations, and these short courses are often designed to teach you to simply go forward and attack whenever something happens. What does that mean?
When your cycle is reset, that should be a frame of reference. In other words, when your cycle is reset, you should identify that as something that is familiar and your brain should have a pre-programmed ‘perform’ action ready to go.
For me, that option is ‘smash primary targets’. If I feel my cycle being reset, I start attacking primary targets (head, eyes, groin, anything along the centreline really) as fast and as hard as possible. But that’s just me. For you, it could mean something totally different.
This is not an article about technique. The point is that you should program yourself to respond when you feel the cycle reset, whatever that means to you, your training and your reality.
For me, this also means training that focuses on principles rather than individual techniques. We need to identify our objective and work from that to find the techniques and solutions that suit us. For example, if my objective is to attack primary targets, I need to explore the ways I can do this with different techniques – but the principle doesn’t change.
If instead my response for having my cycle reset was a technique, I could find myself in a tough position. For example, If my response is to throw a right cross, then I limit myself only to those situations where I can use that tool, pending on timing, range, opportunity, etc.
So let’s quickly summarise:
- We need to work on all three steps in the cycle in order for it to work quickly. If one doesn’t work, the whole thing doesn’t work.
- We need to make sure we have frames of reference for many different situations so that we can go through the cycle quicker
- At the same time, we need to make sure we don’t overcomplicate things by introducing too many options or steps for each option, as that will increase the time it takes us to go through the cycle
- Our training should teach to recognise when our cycle is being reset
- If our cycle gets reset, that in itself is a frame of reference and should allow us to jump straight to the ‘perform’ stage with a programmed principle, such as attack primary targets, etc., rather than techniques.
- We should focus on principles, rather than the gross acquisition of technique.
- But… in order to think about principles, we need to understand and know techniques to a certain degree!
- This means we need to train from a ‘top-down’ approach. We need to identify our objective and use that as a guide to learning and experimenting with techniques.
Lots of seemingly contradictive and counterintuitive statements here, but I think you’ll find that when you think about this, it makes sense.
Again, this is nothing new or original. I’m just paraphrasing what I’ve read and learned so that I can understand it better, and hopefully, it helps you think about it too.
Some recommended readings on the subject:
Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller
Can I see Your Hands by Dr. Gavriel Schneider
Here's what it's about; Keep things simple. Look at the big picture first, and then at the small parts.
When you try and put together puzzle pieces, you start by looking at the picture on the box, right? Do the same here!
Stay safe, stay tuned.