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 the trunk.

Any prudent operator or trainer will question and challenge the principles of their own system and when they do, they will learn that although the language, terminology and tactics may vary slightly, its all pretty much a different pile of the same stuff.

In like 500 BC, Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War“, citing the first known script of the principles of war drawing evolution, regurgitation and development by every major military contender up to present day. However, the law enforcement community didn’t recognize more specific operating guidelines until the birth of 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 succeed in combat the one who is 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, in that he observed an officer had to go through four distinct stages. He first had 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 him the bad guy the upper hand.

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.

These are only two examples of principles that serve as excellent litmus tests for the operating methods we employ.

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.

Solid 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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