Beyond OODA: Get More Out of the OODA Loop

Varg Freeborn’s second book, Beyond OODA, is now available in all formats — hard copy, digital, and audio. In it, he discusses each of the four letters in Col. John’s Boyd’s famous acronym (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) and how they factor into a person’s self-defense/protection strategy. It’s all very interesting, but what I find most compelling is how and why he treats the second O (Orient) of the OODA Loop. 

Beyond the "OODA Loop" by Varg Freeborn

Go beyond OODA with Varg Freeborn’s second book and learn how to better understand and exploit the OODA Loop.

Beyond the OODA Loop

Developing the Orientation for Deception, Conflict, and Violence

What is Orientation?

Boyd defined it thusly:

“[O]rientation is an interactive process of many-sided implicit cross-referencing projections, empathies, correlations, and rejections that is
shaped by and shapes the interplay of genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences, and unfolding circumstances.”

Understanding the OODA Loop: your ability to ORIENT yourself will make you far better prepared to utilize your EDC.
Understanding the OODA Loop: your ability to ORIENT yourself will make you far better prepared to utilize your EDC.

“Orientation is the Schwerpunkt. It shapes the way we interact with the environment—hence orientation shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act. In this sense, orientation shapes the character of present observation-orientation-decision-action loops–while these present loops shape the character of future orientation. The second O, orientation—as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences—is the most essential part of the O.O.D.A. loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.” Col. John Boyd, Organic Design for Command and Control

OODA orient: the 2nd letter of John Boyd's acronym

Beyond OODA, by Varg Freeborn

I’m not cool enough to be one of the people quoted on this book jacket, but don’t let that stop you from believing me when I tell you this is an excellent read (or listen)From the description: 

Beyond OODA is Varg’s follow-up to the best-selling Violence of Mind. Where VoM was a broad spectrum guide to violence and the preparation for it, Beyond OODA is a deep dive into the topics of orientation, violence mindset, perception management, deception, concealment, criminal behavior, and more.


Why You Should Read Beyond OODA

I haven’t finished reading the entire book (as of this writing) but thus far it has been a superb and sobering read. I picked the 2nd O topic because Chapter 10 (Mindset) had a particular impact on me, and not just me. Consider this screenshot of a message to Freeborn from John Richards:

Chet Richards (a contemporary of John Boyd) message to author Varg Freeborn
Chet Richards, a Col. Boyd contemporary, commenting on Varg Freeborn’s Beyond OODA: Developing the Orientation for Deception, Conflict, and Violence; signed hard copies initially available in June, with other purchase options (including eBook) available soon on Amazon. Richards himself is the author of Certain to Win and a well-respected SME. 

The significance of the OODA loop is obviously a gestalt of all four factors (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act), but Orient is arguably the most important one, not least because it’s the one you’re best able to hone before an Event. You won’t observe “it” until “it” happens, but you can prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically for your response to that observation ahead of time. This then segues into your D and A.

^^ That made sense in my head. Apologies if I bungled it.

OODA: Observe, Orient, Decide Act

The second O in OODA has stood for Orient since the 1950s when F-86 pilot Col. John Boyd developed his — long since proven — theory that attacking the mind (what we now refer to colloquially as “getting inside their loop) is the way to overcome an opponent even when you’re at a disadvantage.

It’s not an antiquated and prejudicial reference to something Asian, as a couple of outraged social media commenters somehow contrived to interpret. Orient, in this case, has a percipient, directional context. 

The second O in Boyd’s famous acronym is “OODA Orient”. It is the beginning of mindset. Rather than trying to explain it myself, I’ll let Freeborn do it (that’s kinda the point after all).

If Orientation is the foundation of mindset, what is Orientation?

“Your orientation is the collection of building blocks that construct your mindset. It is made up of all of the values and perceptions that you will process your decisions through. How you feel about violence culturally, what your personal values are, the attachments that drive your mission, the parameters of your mission, your experience level, and your confidence are all that make up your orientation. It is vitally important to understand how these values, beliefs, and perceptions shape your decision-making because decision-making is the product of mindset.

It is also critical that you apply the two-way principle here: what governs you is what also governs the enemy. They have an orientation as well, that is built by the same components.”  

An excerpt from the book: 

Preparing for Orientation    

It amazes me, having participated in and committed a considerable amount of extreme violence, that trainers and other “experts” literally skip over real orientation work and focus solely on technique and skill.

I find reality to be quite the opposite and I will give the fight bet to the guy with no technique but who has a highly developed orientation to violence over the guy with great technique but no orientation to violence. Every time. I’ve watched it happen. I’ve been the guy with no technique against trained arts.

So, I started using the term  “Violence of Mind”. There can be no effective violence of action without violence of mind.  It’s very important to emphasize the critical nature of the blocking of negative mental images that we discussed. Every great martial strategist from Miyamoto Musashi, to Sun Tzu, to Col. John Boyd has all said this.

I have a saying that I teach my students, “Your opponent’s mind works in very similar ways to your own. By defeating yourself, you have gained the insight necessary to defeat your opponent. What was difficult for you to overcome – mainly uncertainty – is also his most difficult enemy.”    

So the fighter that truly understands himself or herself, who has honest self-awareness, and like naturally occurring technique they develop naturally occurring confidence, can begin to understand their opponent in a way that few will ever see. This is the framework of that “feel” I speak of, which some refer to as non-conscious processing.

Just like the technique that naturally arises from hard work and adaptation of the raw principles, there is subconscious confidence that arises from hard work and experience that will naturally block the negative thought patterns, and also seeks to cause the negative thought patterns in the enemy. There are two results of this that are desirable: solidifying your own confidence, and the ability to break your opponent’s confidence.  

This is what Musashi refers to when he talks about mastering perception and “causing confusion by acting so that your opponent’s mind becomes uncertain” and “sends his mind in different directions, making him think various things, and having him wonder if you will be slow or  quick.”

It wasn’t just Musashi. Sun Tzu said, “Warfare is the Tao of deception.”

Of course, that deception was, by his descriptions, nearly always designed to gain the violence of action surprise, or wear the enemy down, for the express purpose to create enough uncertainty in the enemy’s mind to defeat him. This is why orientation, self-control, and the art of concealment are more important than any other skills in the long term. 

For so many to have read these words from these great violence analysts but give little thought to developing the orientation that allows these things to happen is perplexing to me. Boyd referred to Orientation as the “schwerpunkt“, the main focus, the most important.

And it is.

Few have seen the level and volume of domestic violence that I have and go on to be articulate about it. If they are out there, their voices are not being heard. What we have instead are a bunch of experts that are either trainees who have had little actual exposure to serious murder violence, or guys who have been uninformed by the government and given a supply chain, back up, a brotherhood, radios, and a disparity of force in almost all confrontations that is on their side.

Neither of these will create that orientation needed to adapt to street-level murderous violence one person can bring to you by surprise.  

For example, I have noticed many times how differently I perceive violence and its possible effects when compared to many of the professionals I have known. Ex-soldiers, SWAT cops, sport fighters…many of them seem to measure violence ability exclusively by things like strength, marksmanship, technique, or mat experience. To me, none of these things are measures of violence ability. They are measures of things that can ASSIST with violence ability

Violence ability also is not just the willingness to do violence either. I have come to believe over the years that true violence is something that lives in your heart, meaning it is deeply rooted in your orientation. It’s the difference between just thinking about fighting and beating a man in a show of force that is somewhat of a contest, compared to thinking about ambushing a man with a knife and delivering as many short, rapid strokes deep into his motherfucking neck as quickly as you can, because fuck him, that’s why.

This is the level of violence that I have known, not only in prison but also growing up and even in my childhood home.

This is violence that must come from the heart, it is totally void of any bluffing. It thirsts to destroy completely and thoroughly and does not need any sense of fairness to feel justified. It is very dark and only comes from conditioning and orientation that is starkly different than what you receive in training.  

So, now you have to think about the deeper more esoteric developments of naturally occurring technique and confidence and realize that these do not just develop from wholesome training.

I know guys who have been shooting, stabbing, and shanking people for decades and they are amazingly effective fighters but have very little education or training. And this is a guy who you will look at and think, “I’ll beat the shit out of him” or “I’ll submit him quickly”, but in reality, while you may be more skillful than he is, he is much quicker and severely more oriented toward murdering you quickly and violently than you ever will be toward him.

It’s just how it is.

This is the difference between talking about sport fighting or even bar brawling, compared to going up against a seriously violent person. To bring it full circle, there are many killers out there who have achieved that “no-mind” level of ability in fighting without discipline and training. There was a time period in my life when I operated completely without rules.

There are always rules in a fight, but only IF you care about those rules. But for someone that doesn’t care about laws, consequences and even has no fear of death and no attachments on earth, operating without rules is pretty easy.  

The point I am driving at is that the things which we must defeat to achieve naturally occurring confidence and no-mind flow are mainly the negative images and thought patterns associated with our uncertainties (lack of confidence) and our attachments, which are affected by both our fear of losing our lives/freedom and losing people we care about.

The really bad guy has transcended those fears and attachments easily by removing the root causes of them altogether. I hated my life as a kid, and always said, “I didn’t ask to be born into this fucking shit”, so I legitimately kind of wanted to die. In a blaze of glory would have made it all the better!  

There are others out there who operate like that lifelong. Their orientation is one you cannot even begin to understand. The closest the student can come to this is to be guided into as much naturally occurring confidence and technique as possible, while also being guided in a serious orientation toward violence. Because that is truly a source of rock-solid confidence and capabilities.

This comes through conditioning and guidance from experience. Training should go after the root causes of adverse habits and traits. For example, don’t train to get better under stress as much as you should train to just not react with stress, period.

Don’t train to build confidence without addressing the causes of uncertainties, which is a combination of lack of confidence and your attachments to life, liberty, loved ones, etc. You cannot develop by staying shallow.

In all things in life, self-awareness is the first path to success.   

Chet Richards

Chet Richards was a close associate of the late US Air Force Colonel John Boyd. He was there as the concept of the OODA Loop was being developed and constructed the first graphics of the OODA Loop from sketches Boyd drew. Chet is the author of the widely read business book “Certain to Win” which was the first book to describe Boyd’s strategy in terms familiar to business leaders and show how the OODA Loop and associated Boyd concepts apply to today’s business problems.

Business is not war, but in its most competitive state it is a form of conflict, with companies seeking advantage in bringing products and services to market better and faster than competitors. If you dig beneath Boyd’s war-centered tactics you find a general strategy for ensuring your business is the one that wins. This fact is the entire reason our company, OODA, and this site,, was named as an homage to this operational decision-making model.

Boyd never wrote a business book himself, but he read and commented on every version of this book’s manuscript till his death in 1997.

Chet has consulted with a number of aerospace and professional services companies and has lectured at the Air War College and the Army’s Command and General Staff College.

Energy Maneuverability Theory

The E-M theory of aerial combat was created by Boyd and some contemporaries, including civilian mathematician Thomas Christie. The Energy-Maneuverability Theory has connections on several levels to Boyd’s key concept: the decision cycle that became known as the OODA loop. 

“Time is the dominant parameter. The pilot who goes through the OODA cycle in the shortest time prevails because his opponent is caught responding to situations that have already changed.” Harry Hillaker, Gen. Dynamics and US National Academy of Engineering, a primary designer of the F-16

David Reeder's Wu Tang name is Lucky Prophet. He is a retired AF veteran, former Peace Officer, and current Tier 2.5 writer-operator. Over the course of his career, he has worked a variety of military and lE billets, served as an Observer-Controller at the National Homeland Security Training Center, a MOUT instructor, and an MTT tracking instructor - all of which sounds much cooler than it really was. Although he only updates his website once in a very great while, he can absolutely be relied upon to post to social media (@reederwrites) at least once a month. -Ish.


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