Boyd's Moral, Mental and Physical Dimensions of Conflict: Interact-Isolate...and Understand!

JOE COLD STREAM 2 As a law enforcement officer and prior military man, my experience and training to deal with dynamic encounters always stemmed around the physical realm of conflict. For the first half of my career I spent just about all my training time learning how to defend myself and others through shooting and fighting. I learned how to use OC (pepper) spray, handcuffing and impact weapon techniques, shooting rifle, pistol, and shotguns. I practiced basic, intermediate and advanced firearms skills, which evolved into raid and close quarter battle tactics. The defensive tactics side of the physical training entailed, pressure point control tactics (PPCT), ground fighting and military combative methods of defense. Law enforcement and security training still spends most of their training time focused on the physical realm.

This type of physical skills training became the focus of the profession and is necessary at times. There should be a lot of training time dedicated in these areas to ensure when direct conflict and force utilization becomes necessary, it can be applied reasonably, safely, efficiently, effectively and justly. It helps officers survive the dangerous and deadly encounters they face on the streets.

The law enforcement equipment industry developed products with the physical realm of conflict in mind as well, bulletproof vests, OC spray, tasers, beanbag rounds, pepper ball guns, capture nets, more advanced firearms with more firepower etc, etc, etc. all this and more to increase our advantage in the physical realm, of conflict. Again I repeat, necessary tools, I am thankful we have at our disposal. Yet despite all the equipment and the training surrounding it, law enforcement and security officers still die and are injured at a rate higher than most professions.

This fact, as well as a heartfelt obligation as a use of force and officer survival trainer I began research into what we were missing as trainers in our efforts to give those officers we teach the advantage they need. This research led me to the works of experts in our field such as Chuck Remsberg, LT. COL Dave Grossman, Bruce Siddle, Loren Christenson, Alexis Artwohl, Gabe Suarez, Rex Applegate, and Dr. William Lewinski and a multitude of others who have dedicated themselves to the development, safety and proficiency of officers who protect and serve the private and public sectors. I have also conducted hundreds of informal and formal interviews of both law enforcement and security officers who work in the environment where conflict and danger are always lurking.

This research and conversations led me  to a concept I believe is the critical component to survival and winning conflict. The concept is a tactical decision making methodology and attitude developed by COL John Boyd. The concept is not new, its development by Boyd spanned 40 years, from the Korean war where he began his quest into understanding conflict, how it unfolds and how we deal with it to seek the advantage and the initiative to win.

It is important to note Boyd's theories are still being developed and refined by the likes of Chet Richards who worked with Boyd and has written the book Certain to Win The Strategies of John Boyd Applied to Business Boyd’s work was written about and adapted by Maj Don Vandergriff in Raising the Bar Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War The United States Military Academy, Department of Military Instruction (DMI), West Point, New York, is now using Don's book as a guide for its instructors on how to develop leaders. Also the research of Frans P.B. Osinga resulted in a book titled Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theories of John Boyd all of Boyd’s work in one complete package with insights into the work by the Author. All these works including the two biographies on John Boyd The Mind of War John Boyd and American Security by Grant Hammond and Boyd the Fighter Pilot who Changed the Art of War Robert Coram have helped me in understanding the importance of these strategic principles as the apply to conflict awareness and decision making under pressure. They are great resources for those part of this group wanting more details and insight into Boyd and his theories. 

The concept I found to be key developed by Boyd is the OODA Loop also known as the Boyd Cycle. Boyd described conflict as “time competitive observation, orientation, decision and action cycles.” We will discuss the Boyd Cycle in much greater detail later on, but its premise is that of situational awareness and management. It entails understanding of what Boyd called the three dimensions of conflict; the mental, moral and physical and developing a strategy in “a game in which we must be able to diminish an adversary’s ability to communicate or interact with is environment while sustaining or improving ours.”

Boyd’s next question was how do we translate and apply this strategy to our environment and the climate we find ourselves in. For Boyd it was in understanding the mental, moral and physical dimensions of conflict and to ‘analytically break up the adversary’s system and look for ways to apply the strategic principle and achieve isolation”. Again this goes back to interaction with your environment and understanding climate of the situation and applying methods to as Boyd said: “Attack the enemy’s thought process and shattering his morale and decision making capability.”

This done through understanding the moral, mental and physical dimensions of conflict, interaction with the environment and your adversary, then isolating your adversary’s thought process through fluid OODA Loops which gives you the time advantage and “the ability to operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than an adversary, which enables one to fold adversary back inside himself so that he can neither appreciate nor keep-up with what’s going on. He will become disorientated or confused.” This allows you to take advantage of the opportunities presented and control the situation.

Let’s look at how Boyd describes the three dimensions and how we isolate and interact within them:

Physical represents the world of matter-energy-information all of us are a part of, live in, and feed upon.

· Physically we isolate our adversaries by severing their communications with the outside world as well as by severing their internal communications to one another. We can accomplish this by cutting them off from their allies and the uncommitted via diplomatic, psychological and other efforts. To cut them off from one another we should penetrate their system by being unpredictable, otherwise they can counter our efforts.

· Physically we interact by opening up and maintaining many channels of communication with the outside world, hence with others out there, that we depend upon for sustenance, nourishment or support.

In a law enforcement and security encounter the physical realm Boyd describes, are the people involved (both sides of the competitive environment) and the climate of the situation (what is happening?), taking into account strengths and weakness i.e. size, reputation, strength, and skill level. Do you know the adversary? Are there multiple opponents? What is adversary’s emotional state? What verbal and non-verbal (body language) signs and signals are being sent? Is the adversary compliant or threatening? Is the adversary armed or not? What is the adversary armed with? Is the adversary concealing a weapon? Is the situation progressively unfolding or is it a spontaneous rapidly evolving situation? Remember to consider these factors as they apply to you as well.

The physical is also the environment, the location, is it a building, a wooded area, a vehicle, a home? Etc. Who is more familiar with the area? Who has the advantageous ground, which of you is better positioned? Where is the cover or concealment? Are there escape routes for you and adversary?

Mental represents the emotional/intellectual activity we generate to adjust to cope with, that physical world.

· Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their OODA loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on.

· Mentally we interact by selecting information from a variety of sources or channels in order to generate mental images or impressions that match up with the world of events or happenings that we are trying to understand and cope with.

The mental side of conflict is interesting and complex in that, you cannot explicitly gather information on the mental patterns or thought process of your adversary. Will he comply? Will he fight? Will he negotiate or not? Is he being deceptive or sincere? Therefore you must have advanced knowledge and some understanding of psychology and physiology in an effort to make implicit judgments as to what’s unfolding. This advanced knowledge helps you read the metal aspect of conflict through body language (physical) and recognizing the signs of stress and anxiety as they relate to the situation & Then develop an appropriate strategy and utilize various mental, moral and physical methods to take appropriate actions.

How we process information the observation, orientation, decision and action cycle is part of the mental dimension of conflict, but it is weaved throughout and effected by all three realms. When risk is low and time is plenty we use the intellectual part of the brain (forebrain) and make explicit, informed decisions. When risk is high and time is low or critical, we automatically, a natural uncontrolled response, revert to the mid-brain or respond instinctively through pattern recognition via our OODA loops and make decisions based on the Recognized Primed Decision Making process

Physiologically our body’s again, based on risk stake and time, reacts and the survival stress response also know as fight or flight occurs. When time is plenty and risk is low we can better control our emotions and slow the situation down allowing time to control survival stress and make more prudent decisions.

When time is low and risk is high let’s say for example; in a physical or armed encounter survival stress is more pronounced. In this state the body automatically reacts, again uncontrolled and naturally and will show its effects physiologically with a higher heart rate and breathing. Those involved in this type of conflict will suffer perceptual distortions that manifest themselves as tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, slow motion time, fast motion time, temporary paralysis and fine motor skill depletion. Those involved may suffer memory distortions for parts or all of the events. Survival stress reactions therefore affect our mental state and hence our decision making. Obviously this varies from individual to individual, based on training and experience and the ability of the individual to adapt to the changing conditions.

The mental side of conflict is what I call “silent evidence”. It does not show itself explicitly in words or actions, it is judged implicitly by the adversarial side based on experience and the ability to recognize the obvious anomalies in patterns and subtle signs and signals of anxiety and stress that manifest themselves physically. If you know what to look for and you are aware and alert you can see these signs, often not overt and obvious to the untrained. The physiological, psychological research and cognitive science shows these reactions to stress are indeed part of the process of conflict and decision making. We must do all we can to understand it if we are to seek the advantage in a competitive environment.

Moral represents the cultural codes of conduct or standards of behavior that constrain, as well as sustain and focus, our emotional/intellectual responses.

· Morally our adversaries isolate themselves when they visibly improve their wellbeing to the detriment of others (allies, the uncommitted), by violating codes of conduct or behavior patterns that they profess to uphold or others expect them to uphold.

· Morally we interact with others by avoiding mismatches between what we say we are what we are and the world we have to deal with, as well as by abiding by those other cultural codes or standards we are expected to uphold.

The moral side of conflict is the rules and principles we live by. The laws that govern our actions and that most agree are the standard. This is also based on cultural differences and past experiences and can be thought of very differently based on our different cultures, experiences and our perception of the world we live in. This fact shows itself through how we handle ourselves ethically, and within the laws set by society.

In an effort to understand Boyd’s theories surrounding conflict and getting the competitive edge you must understand the moral, mental and physical dimensions of conflict and how they interact and are weaved throughout a strategic and tactical situation if we are to (1) avoid conflict, (2) de-escalate conflict where it has already manifested itself and (3) succeed in implementing our adaptive strategy to resolve it.

COL John Boyd’s Definition of the Art of Success

Shape or influence the moral-mental-physical atmosphere that we are part of, live in and feed upon, so that we not only magnify our inner spirit and strength, but also influence potential adversaries and current adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success; Yet be able to Morally-mentally-physically isolate adversaries from their allies and outside support as well as isolate them from one another, in order to: magnify their internal friction, produce paralysis, bring about their collapse; and/or bring about change in their political/economic/social philosophy so they can no longer inhibit our vitality and growth.

Next post the Boyd Cycle (OODA Loops) will be discussed.