Principles Are Your Answer Key


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 can Observe, Orient, Decide and Act best wins.

The OODA Loop was developed in the 1960s by United States Air Force Pilot Colonel John Boyd. Boyd, who having degrees in economics and industrial engineering, applied his higher education and logical thinking to the realm of tactics. In formulating his decision-making cycle, he drew from a variety of scientific theories.

Essentially, the OODA Loop is premised on the idea that we are in a constant state of uncertainty and therefore rely on mental models to help us make sense and order of our experiences. Mental models are patterns our brains have learned to follow. Sometimes these are referred to as schemas or hardwiring, where neurons firing repeatedly will form pathways in our brain. These pathways are physically set and reinforced within our brain tissues, hence the term “hardwired,” making the same actions easier to access in the future.

Models can be very useful if they work, but if they don’t, they can be counterproductive. If a mental model we are depending on doesn’t work, then it needs to be deconstructed and reconstructed. If we are not able to do this, or if we are relying too much on old models that have given us success in the past but are not working now, or if our adversary is able to deconstruct and reconstruct mental models better than we can, we will not succeed.

Using the OODA Loop can help us determine exactly what we need to do better than our adversary in order to gain the upper hand. The stages are all interdependent and continually changing; thus the loop is not a checklist but a process or continuous cycle.


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 frank 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.