Principles Are Your Answer Key


Principles are the foundation of which all our tactics are built.

If you consider that our operating tactics are like branches of a tree, then the principles are its trunk.

Prudent trainers and researchers should challenge the principles of their own system and when they do, they will learn that although the terminology and applications may vary,  its all derived from the same sources.

Sun Tzu wrote ‘The Art of War’, citing the first known script of the principles of war and combat, This initiated evolution, regurgitation and refinement by every major military contender up to present day. However, the law enforcement community didn’t recognize more specific operating adaptations until adopting the O.O.D.A. loop in the 1960s.


The O.O.D.A. loop is the brain child of United States Air Force pilot and academic Col. John Boyd (ret.) who noted that to combatant who can Observe, Orient, Decide and Act first and most effectively wins.

In his ground breaking and brutally no nonsense book Sound Doctrine; A Tactical Primer, Charles “Sid” Heal, speaks most aptly to this critical thought process required to be successful in combative situations.

According to Boyd’s theory, conflict can be seen as a series of time competitive, Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) cycles. Each party to a conflict begins by observing itself, the physical surroundings, and the enemy. Next, it orients itself. Orientation refers to making a mental image or “snapshot” of the situation. Orientation is necessary because the fluid, chaotic nature of conflicts make it impossible to process the information as fast as we can process it. This requires a “freeze frame” concept and provides a perspective or orientation. Once there is orientation a decision needs to be made. The decision takes into account all the factors present at the time of the orientation. Last comes the implementation of the decision. This requires action, then, because we hope that our actions will have changed the situation, the cycle begins anew. The cycle continues to renew itself throughout the tactical operation.

The adversary who can consistently go through the Boyd Cycle faster than the other gains tremendous advantage. By the time the slower adversary reacts, the faster one is doing something different and that action becomes ineffective.

About 25 years later, Charles Remsberg, author of the Calibre Press’ Street Survival Series had similar deductions he termed The Thought Process. Remsberg observed that an officer has to do four things. He first has to locate the threat, react to the threat, make an assessment of the appropriate action and then initiate the action and control that threat.

The bad guy only needs to locate, react and attack the officer thus giving the bad guy the upper hand as he has less things to do on his roster.

Both tactical thinking pioneers recognized the importance of initiative during combative encounters as well as the series of time sensitive processes to shape our tactics.

The O.O.D.A. loop and the Thought Process are two of the more prominent theories which when applied properly, as invaluable litmus tests for the operating methods we employ.

The understanding principles such as these is so important because nothing is more debatable and drags our training day down to a dead crawl like the discussions over which tactics are best.

Principle based thinking improves our training because they serve as our answer key. Principles give our tactics an anchor point to ask the pertinent question, such as with the OODA loop, will this tactic allow us to observe, orient, decide or act better and faster than our adversary. If the answer is yes, the tactic is sound, if the answer is no, it is not.

Quick decisions can be made and we can move on.  

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