The Blue Collar OODA Loop

January 27, 2014  
Categories: Assorted Ramblings

You might not have to fight to the death if you avoid a fight to the death in the first place. Lots of people talk about the OODA loop. Fewer truly understand it. Fewer still can explain it to friends, family and the “everyman.” The Blue Collar OODA Loop is something for everyone who wants to maintain situational awareness and the will to stop or avoid a threat as the situation demands. Today’s guest author is Matt Jacques of Victory First. He’s going to explain the “Blue Collar OODA Loop.” Mad Duo

The Blue Collar OODA Loop

Matt Jacques

There is a lot of talk about mindset; how to prevail when you have made the decision that you are going to fight, in whatever kind of situation you are in, to ensure you WIN. Mindset is extremely important. Without proper mindset, you are destined to curl up in the corner or accept the fate someone else chooses for you. I am just as strong of an advocate as the next guy for mindset, but right now I want to discuss something equally important. I want to discuss situational awareness. How do you optimize your chances to avoid getting to the point of fighting to survive?

Notice the normal, recognize the out of ordinary.    Recognize, Evaluate and Decide.

What does that mean? It is a watered down / blue collar version of the classic OODA loop. Colonel John Boyd was a genius (at least in my book),and I do not want to take anything away from his work. I just want to translate it into a simplified / “blue collar” train of thought. Something a little easier for the “everyman” to relate to.

The OODA loop was something Colonel John Boyd ironed out as a fighter pilot years ago. He was able to work it so fast, he was nicknamed “40 second Boyd.” As an instructor he could defeat any pilot in less than 40 seconds in an air to air combat simulation, starting at 30,000 feet with the opponent behind him. Within 40 seconds, he could reverse the roles and have the other pilot within guns distance or he would pay them $40.

He never lost.

The OODA Loop consists of:

Observation: Collection of data by means of the 5 senses.

Orientation: Analysis and synthesis of data to form one’s current mental perspective.

Decision: Determination of a course of action based on one’s current mental perspective

Action: The physical playing-out of your decisions.

Most folks would not be able to tell you the origin of the OODA loop, nor could they tell you the specific points and how each one pertains to your situational awareness on the ground, day to day.  I want to give you a couple of things to think about – and how they should apply to your daily life.

We are aware of things that are out of the ordinary at a very early age. Young kids will cry when picked up by a stranger. Toddlers hide from people they do not know….because these things are not a normal occurrence in their lives.  As parents, we teach kids right from wrong, and how to stay safe by avoiding possible dangers, IE: stairs, poisonous insects and animals, a hot stove, and not to cross the street without looking both ways. The list goes on and on. As we grow to adults, we take that for granted, and dismiss things constantly because they MIGHT be dangerous or harmful. We do this without complex, conscious thought.  As a law enforcement FTO (Field Training Officer), I was responsible for making sure new police officers would look at the everyday things happening around us and decide if it was something that made sense or if it was out of the ordinary. They also needed to be able to tell me, at any point without warning, the street we were on and a close cross street. I used to tell them, believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

Understand how the OODA Loop applies to your daily life.

A few years ago, one of my sons was with me as we were driving down the same quiet country road we frequently took to go home. The road was an unlined country road with no shoulders and, having no street lights, was dark. My son has seen it hundreds if not thousands of times. On that night, a young male dressed in all dark clothing stepped out of the tree line on the passenger side of the road and onto the road. He was waving his arms above his head, walking towards the truck. There were no cars in sight, no other people around, and I immediately knew it was out of place.

In the spirit of self-preservation during a questionable situation, I will consider you a bad guy until proven otherwise.

I slowed to stop since he was now in the middle of the road and approaching the truck. The man briefly stuck his right hand in his hoodie pocket and removed it – I could see his hand was empty. As we slowed, my 14 year old son says “Dad, he is going to rob us.”  I’d had the same thought just seconds before him and had already unbuckled my seat belt. As we stopped, I told my son to sit still and to not say anything as I drew my handgun and held it below the window across my lap.  I left the truck in drive and as I rolled the window down I asked the man what he wanted. He told a story of how he’d wrecked a go cart and couldn’t get it out of the ditch. I noticed nothing and he told me that is was, “further down the road.” I told him I couldn’t help him and that he needed to go home, get help and stay out of the road. I told him to step back from the truck and we pulled away. I saw a go cart in the ditch about 30 yards down the road.

It appeared he was telling the truth, but a few minutes earlier, absent any evidence of his story, I was nearly certain he was up to no good. In the spirit of self-preservation during a questionable situation, I will consider you a bad guy until proven otherwise.

What is situational awareness?  It is taking notice of your immediate and surrounding area.

Recognize, evaluate and decide. We see things, be we need to quickly analyze, and dismiss normal activity. RECOGNIZE what you are looking at.

Undertanding the OODA LoopRecognize: You are a rational person, would you do that? Would you walk out into a dark street in dark clothes with a truck approaching at 45 miles an hour? There was nobody else around, no visual reason for it to happen, and very out of place.

Evaluate: What is the reasoning for that person doing that? No car accident, no obvious distress, not hitchhiking… and if he was, that would have been the first time in 6 years I’ve seen a hitchhiker on that road. So as we quickly dismiss the possible rational reasoning for him being out there, I can start to think that he may be up to some sort of criminal activity.

Would someone do this to carjack or rob someone? Absolutely. Now the hands have to be evaluated: are they empty, are they in his pockets, can I see a weapon?  In this instance, can you justify clearing kydex?  I can. I didn’t brandish it, I never pointed it at him, but action is faster that reaction, and it is the hands that kill. It may have been a little more difficult in the daytime, but in the dark it is easy for me to keep the weapon out of sight until the time comes when I needed it.

He is at my window. Now, we can address the Decide step. I decided that I still was not going to help him, since I still had not seen the go-cart he mentioned, and I was not convinced that he was completely truthful. (Believe none of what I hear, question everything.)  I gave him the advice to step away from the truck and walk back to his house for help. I also mentioned it was unsafe doing what he did and he could have been run over. He decided he would walk back across the field to his house.

I could have exited the truck and confronted him (the cop in me was telling me that inside my head). I don’t necessarily want to fight from the disadvantage of the driver’s seat, but I am in control of an 8000 pound truck. If I am justified in shooting him when he poses a deadly threat to me or my son, I can articulate why I killed him with an F250 instead of an M&P. These thoughts, examinations and prescriptions are all done extremely fast. The human mind can evaluate and sort information faster than we realize, but we have to start recognizing, not just seeing. You may look at it, but not for what it is… is it “normal”?

The human mind can evaluate and sort information faster than we realize, but we have to start recognizing, not just seeing.

As a police officer, I was very good at doing just that… analyzing things that would possibly go unnoticed by most. On one very cold night, 0330 in the morning, all unoccupied cars were frosted over – why is that one in the middle of the used car lot clean? Turns out it was a grand larceny in progress. On another cold night, I saw exhaust from a vehicle in the same conditions, in the lot of a repair shop. Turns out it was the lookout for a burglary in progress. Another time, I even noticed a man driving down a busy street with a black ski mask on, in the summer. He was just leaving a robbery, there was still a gun and robbery kit in the car.

Recognize it as out of the ordinary, Evaluate it in the context of normalcy and a potential threat (I still can’t think of a RATIONAL reason for the ski mask in the summer) and Decide… Wearing a mask in public in Virginia is a crime. For a LEO, time to make the stop. For a citizen – prepare to fight, flee or report it as prudence dictates.

You would be surprised how many people don’t notice this sort of things. Folks need to do more than see, they need to recogize.

There was a group of us in “jump out” gear one morning at a convenience store. We literally watched a guy walk towards the front door and pull a ski mask over his face. We split up, I entered the back of the store and the rest started a perimeter. I observed him enter a busy store, go to the ATM and use a few cards to withdraw money. Periodically looking around the store, WITH A SKI MASK ON IN JULY…but nobody was alarmed, nobody fled or called 911 or reacted at all.  He left the store after about 60 seconds of several withdrawal attempts, and the rest of the team intercepted him as he left the store. He was a burglar who stole the cards and obtained the PIN’s for a few. You see the problem? Not one person recognized a potential threat.


Think about daily life. Is it “normal” to wear a heavy jacket or gloves in the summer? A hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses in a convenience store? What is the weather like? At your residence, do you normally get people knocking on your door? If they do, take a look out a window. Are they possible salesmen, religious folks with literature, Girl Scouts with cookies? Or are they two people with nothing in their hands, looking around furtively…do they seem nervous to you? Whispering between themselves?  Strange car down the street? Do you even know what cars are normal in your neighborhood? Be mindful, a large percentage of residential burglaries are started by the suspects innocently “knocking” on the front door to see if anyone is at home. If you don’t answer, you may have your back door kicked in shortly after that. (Oh, and knuckledraggers: furtive.)

Stop and RECOGNIZE a possible problem. Evaluate some “possibilities” for normal activity. If you cannot recognize or justify it as a rational or normal activity, then think of a few possible reasons for criminals to act that way, and you need to decide how to address those reasons in case you’re correct. Arm yourself and call the police. Arm yourself and verbally answer through the door. See if they can rationally justify knocking…or,, do nothing? Those answers are ones you have to decide. Situations will differ from your life to mine. A car that is not owned by me or invited is very out of the norm where I live, so suspicion is always there, but I am also always armed. My decisions are different from someone in a neighborhood, townhouse, apartment or urban setting, particularly if they are unable or unwilling to go armed. First, however, you must recognize something is different or wrong, no matter how you are going to respond.

Pay attention to where you are in the world. If you get into a wreck, do you have the ability to give a good description of where you are? Give 911 the approximate mile marker on the interstate because you just witnessed or found an accident?

You were just a victim of a robbery, or had to use force to repel a robbery or violent action, can you give a good location of where you are?  I would often tell my rookies to stop where we were and give them a scenario:  Dark, middle of the night on a street… STOP, I just got shot, we were in an accident and I am unconscious…. Simulate calling it in….WHERE ARE WE? If they couldn’t do it, it was a gig on the daily progress report.

Remain aware.

I don’t want you to insert paranoia for situational awareness. There is no need for you to do through life day to day with your hand on your pistol, skittish as an abused animal.  I want you to keep your head up and your wits about you. I want you to understand the Blue Collar OODA Loop and practice it. Walk down any street and notice all of the people with their face down looking at their phone, updating social media status, texting, you name it – are they remotely prepared or situationally aware?  With the propensity for violence increasing, you need to remain alert.  If those people were to be targeted for the now popular “knockout game”, they would never have seen their assailant coming. If they were knocked unconscious, they would have absolutely nothing for a suspect description.

Notice the normal, RECOGNIZE the out of the ordinary. Recognize, Evaluate, Decide….  Remain vigilant.

Final thought – If you’re interested, read Boyd: The Fight Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.


Read Fight Like a Girl: Practical EDC vs. Frumps & Rucks:

Read Are you a soft target?

Read Every Day Carry vs. Every Day Ready:

Read Mindset: more than acronyms and color codes part 1:


About the author: Matt Jacques is the training director for Victory First Consulting. He recently left the service of the Department of State’s DSS (Diplomatic Security Service), where he was the Operations Chief for FTU (Firearms Training Unit) to begin teaching full time. A former Marine MP assigned to the Presidential Helicopter Squadron, he spent over a decade as police officer, undercover detective and SWAT team member before surviving a near-fatal injury inflicted by a wanted felon that forced an end to his LE career. Following his recovery, “Jake” spent two years as the Senior Manager for Weapons Integration and Training Operations with FNH USA, where he was involved in every aspect of the SCAR program as well as all development and training aspects of the M249, M240 and the FN SPR sniper rifle systems. He is currently the host of Make Ready TV, the host of 2 Panteao DVDs and appears frequently on Trigger Time. You can follow Victory First Consulting on the web or via their Facebook page.


Mad Duo

Mad Duo

About the Author


  1. Harris Leojack

    I’m not sure OODA was intended to be an echo chamber for paranoia

  2. Mark Pengelly

    As both a tactical and civilian healthcare provider I’ve been using, and advocating the use of the OODA loop for years. It becomes instinctive and calming. When things seem overwhelming it often only takes a few brief seconds to put a formed plan together. And using the loop a process of situational triage can take place where awareness and finaly action come to fruition. I wish I could have met Boyd. I’m no academic but to have a few moments, and a beer with this man would be time very well spent.


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