The Ooda Loop & Hema

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The OODA Loop & HEMA
This is not a reworking or rewording of any historical master’s writings, nor some kind of new Rosetta Stone, there is nothing new under the sun and to think otherwise is a fallacy [1]. This short paper simply describes the decision making process that all combatants make; the feedback cycle between decision-maker and the environment, how we can use this model as a tool to aid and improve our actions in the fight and in scholarly interpretations. The OODA Loop touches upon an astounding amount of pertinent concepts of fighting (and warfare). Within the model speed, power, accuracy, initiative, the Reactionary Gap, and Situational Awareness are covered outright or by proxy. It only makes sense to attempt to aptly apply it’s principles to Historical European Martial Arts, as the data and teaching of it is already present under different terminology in the period sources. I am all for more powerful and effective tools in my proverbial MEYER kit bag and as this model has been hailed as a highly focused guidance for effectively applying a multiple of Sun Tzu’s principles in The Art of War [2]. It may be the missing mental link for some practitioners to fully grasp what the Fechmeisters were talking about.

The OODA Loop & HEMA
C. VanSlambrouck

"Knowledge is not power. Power alone is power. What knowledge does is provide the means to determine where to focus that power, for maximum effect." - Carl von Clausewitz [3]

The gears of war turn throughout the Ages as combat perpetually evolves. This evolution of weapons and tactics does not include a change in the process, the intent or the results. Combat is violence and a constant series of decision (making) cycles regardless of the scale in which it is conducted. To be ever more proficient physically and mentally is the goal and few things outside of (historical) study and sweat bear such fruit. In search of this goal, as martialists we know the need to harness and improve our Fingerspitzengefühl [4], as it is an improvable skill (Richards, 2010), not some kind of third eye or an equally unattainable sixth sense. More topically specific, we also know not to go into the fight with plans to utilize particular techniques since, no plan survives first contact [5]. A self created catalogue of pre-conceived or pre-constructed tactics or maneuvers clutters the mind and slows or stalls not only the mental processing of the battlefield environment [6] but the physical application of violence as well. As such, it (a busy mind) effectively shortens the Reactionary Gap [7] and degrades combat effectiveness. One of those areas outside of sweat and historical study that we can turn to, as practitioners of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) to improve our combat proficiency is the lesson learned from USAF Colonel (ret) John R. Boyd’s OODA Loop. Boyd is one of, if not the most important figure in modern military theory, and contributed to the development of Command and Control (C2) concepts. Those unfamiliar with him and his works should not be surprised , his name is virtually unknown [8]. Boyd was a tactical and strategic thinker and Warrior for nearly Thirty years [9]of honorable and decorticated military service. [10] He was a true patriot to his country in the vein of a rebel Spartan [11], a maverick, an ace fighter jet pilot, as well as being a proper genius. Boyd had proved himself as a skilled pilot in the Korean War, then trained in and then taught for the Fighter Weapons School [12], the USAF version of Top Gun before he went on to work at the Pentagon. Boyd created and contributed to many things of note [13] but the focus here is on his work on decision making. Boyd created a timeless verbalization, a decision making model of combat called The OODA (ü-`də) Loop or Boyd Cycle. The OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) is clear, concise and most importantly an effective explanation of what happens in combat. That said, since the OODA is...
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