Tag Archives: formlessness

OODA-PISRR, Part III: Formless Fast Transients

This is your waveform


This is your waveform on fast transients


Any questions?

begins his epic briefing, , describing the need for fast transients:

In other words, suggests a fighter that can pick and choose engagement opportunities—yet has fast transient (“buttonhook”) characteristics that can be used to either force an overshoot by an attacker or stay inside a hard turning defender.

Yet while mere fast cycling is important.

Idea of fast transients suggests that, in order to win, we should operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries—

A better strategy is to aim for getting inside the enemy’s head

or, better yet, get inside adversary’s observation-orientation-decision-action time cycle or loop.

The purpose is to hide the form of the fighter, creating a confusing, menacing, ambiguous, unpredictable disorder

Why? Such activity will make us appear ambiguous (unpredictable) thereby generate confusion and disorder among our adversaries—since our adversaries will be unable to generate mental images or pictures that agree with the menacing as well as faster transient rhythm or patterns they are competing against.

This is not simple optimization for speed. If a fighter wanted to optimize for speed, he would merely practice his routines so he could act without thinking (bypassing decision in the OODA loop) and rope-a-dope when attacked (so one can bypass subversion in the PISRR loop). His cognition loop would then be:

The Fast Fighting Machine: Non-Deciding, Non-Developing

Rather, this is optimizing for formlessness.

The OODA-PISRR cycle, the Social Cognition Loop, was previously displayed as a circuit:


It could also be shown to be a wave with a unique form

Vertical Axis is kinetic Energy, Horizontal Axis is Time

All merely going faster would be do is decrease the cycle-time of the waveform. It would definitely be menacing to face an enemy going fast. But not confusing, ambiguous, or unpredictable.


Fast transients rely on appropriate use of Decision and Subversion to get inside the enemy’s cognition loop and make your waveform disappear.

As John Boyd said in Patterns of Conflict, describing the Mongol Horde:

By exploiting superior leadership, intelligence, communications, and mobility as well as by playing upon adversary’s fears and doubts via propaganda and terror, Mongols operated inside adversary observation-orientation-decision-action loops.

In a similar way, by exploiting decision and subversion, the winner operates into the enemy’s cognition loop.

As Chet Richards quoted Sun Tzu in Riding the Tiger (previously featured on tdaxp):

Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness;
Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness;
Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.

Victory with OODA is not just going fast, its using decision and subversion to deprive the enemy of the patterns needed to detect you. By acting in ways that are incoherent to one’s enemy’s, one’s waveform becomes confusing, menacing, ambiguous and unpredictable

One reaction is to create what Boyd called “many non-cooperative centers of gravity” in the enemy, making his waveform disappear too. But while the winner’s waveform is merely apparently chaotic, the enemy’s waveform is chaotic.

Next, the enemy ceases cycling, paralyzing him in one cognitive state. Visually


Of course, not all transients are fast. Until they are.

OODA-PISRR, a tdaxp series in four parts
1. The Social Cognition Loop
2. The PISRR Cognition Loop
3. Formless Fast Transients
4. System Perturbations

Chet Richards on Formlessness and Orientation

Chet Richards on Formlessness and Orientation

Describing , Tom Barnett wrote:

Chet, whom I write about in BFA, is an intense fellow who lives and breathes national security like few people you’ll meet. He’s also more systematic in his thinking on the subject of military strategy than anyone I’ve ever heard speak, and I’ve heard a lot.

Dr. Richards recent accomplishment involve applying the logic of to business and military strategy. His business-oriented website, Belisarius, was recently featured in a tdaxp article on 5GW, while Chet’s military-oriented site Defense and the National Interest has long been on the tdaxp blogroll.

A noted author, Chet’s books include Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd Applied to Business and Neither Shall the Sword: Conflict in the Years Ahead.


As Dr. Richards has been kind enough to help tdaxp before, I asked his help when questions on Boydian logic on Liberal Education. So I asked him. Part of his answer surprised me.

On Implicit Guidance & Control in the

In a real-time operation, the “Implicit guidance and control” link from Orientation to Action should control, most of the time (95-99%). Important to recognize, though that this is not a reflex, not a direct Observation – Action link. It goes through Orientation, which is where previous experience and intuitive analyses/synthesis come into play.

The key to the Decision box is the subtitle, “Hypothesis.” The Decision block is the learning phase, where you try things out and learn from the result. It is part of how the loop shapes future Orientation. What you learn becomes a part of your (previous) experiences as well as affecting the types of analyses and syntheses you are able to perform. It is still operating even in the middle of a fight, although at a reduced level, since you will learn somethings about your opponent in the contest. However, it is most active in training, where you can try new things and learn without getting killed. All the hours of training that the martial artists go through is to program their Orientations so that the vast majority of the time, effective actions flow smoothly and rapidly from Orientation. A formal decision mechanism would be too slow. In fact, one thing you would like to do is force your opponent to make explicit decisions, i.e., force him out of what he can handle intuitively. Operating inside his/her OODA loops is one way to do just that.

On Formlessness.

“Larry, one of my commentators, noted that it’s no so much formlessness, as the absence of an especially-notable form. I thought that was interesting.”
– Dan tdaxp

It is most interesting. One can look at formlessness in several
ways, including:

1) The form is there, but it’s hidden or disguised. I’m pretty sure this is not what Sun Tzu had in mind, since a competent opponent using his intelligence (Chapter 13) would discover it. Not to say that camouflage or dummies, etc. aren’t extremely useful, but they aren’t what “formlessness” is about. So in that sense, I disagree with Larry. It’s not so much whether the form is notable, but whether it’s there at all. [compare against this and that -- tdaxp]

2) One can take different forms, depending on the situation. This is most effective when you have more than a small set of forms (“stances”) to choose from. In the extreme, you have infinitely many, like water or a gas. I think this is a much more powerful interpretation. Also, water, although soft and formless, can destroy entire cities under the right conditions.

3) Related to 2), you may not have a “form” per se, but you have a culture / climate that allows you to find and exploit opportunities. So you don’t worry about your “form,” but about the organizational climate. Continuing with the water example: It can also penetrate the smallest crevice and so over time bring down the strongest wall. Watts goes into some detail on this point. Infiltration tactics in maneuver warfare is a good example.

4) And then there is the time element. Perhaps you have a form, even a transitory one as in 3), but you can change it more rapidly than the opponent can figure it out. This change could be organic, as in reconnaissance pull. So as far as the opponent is concerned you are formless. In particular, there is no “form” that his intelligence can discover, as Sun Tzu warns, and if he does discover one, it won’t be the right one by the time he can do something about it.

5) Related to 4) you have a form, but it is cheng. Your ch’i in that case could be the “formless” component. Or maybe it’s the other way around … The rapidity with which you can switch between these now becomes important.

On Fast Formlessness

” …if someone is inside your loop, they are not easy to see. In more ways than not, a true 4GW warrior is hidden. “
– Larry

Everybody who has studied this stuff has made a similar observation. If, for example, you employ an attrition-based doctrine, and you come up against someone employing maneuver warfare (which, incidentally, can include guerrilla warfare), you won’t understand what hit you. You may well think you’re winning up until the time the enemy breaks down the door to your palace.

Larry’s comment is especially pertinent to 4GW, since there you may well not even realize you’re at war.

5GW: Soundless + Formless + Polished + Leading

Riding the Tiger: What You Really Do with OODA Loops,” by Chester Richards, Belisarius, October 2002, http://www.belisarius.com/modern_business_strategy/richards/riding_the_tiger/tiger.htm.

Chrome,” by VNV Nation, Matter + Form, 12 April 2005, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0007X9TTI/102-4292267-8637755?v=glance&n=5174 [buy the cd].

I won’t say that between Sun Tzu, Musashi, and tdaxp, you shall learn everything you need to about 5GW.


But add VNV Nation’s Matter + Form, and you probably will.


In this article I will show how important elements of the 5th Generation of Modern Warfare were described by Sun Tzu and Miyamoto Musashi. I will tie these into my own previous writings on this blog. Additionally, just as Myke Cole reflected 5GW theory off cartoons, I shall shine it through music to emphasize the key points.

I’ve been reading a lot of educational psychology for my studies at UNL, such as Elkind’s All Grown Up and No Place to Go and Weisberg’s Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius. I wanted to reading something meatier, so I turned to DNI‘s Suggested Reading List and found Dr. Chet Richard’s Riding the Tiger.

The article goes on to describe how to use the loop in business, but to me the first part was most interesting, because it seemed to focus on 5GW. , or , is the next generation of modern war.

In my first post on 5GW, I wrote:

If traditional war centered on an enemy’s physical strength, and 4GW on his moral strength, the 5th Generation of War would focus on his intellectual strength. A 5th Generation War might be fought with one side not knowing who it is fighting. Or even, a brilliantly executed 5GW might involve one side being completely ignorant that there ever was a war. It’s like the old question of what was the perfect robbery: we will never know, because in a perfect robbery the bank would not know that it was robbed.

and in my second 5GW post:

In 5GW, secrecy is vital for success. While this has always been true on some levels, secrecy has never been vital on the grand-strategic level before 5GW. In 5GW the enemy’s knowledge of your existence all but ends your plans.

So I was delighted, while reading Richard’s Riding the Tiger, to see similar themes in Sun Tzu:

Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness;
Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness;
Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.

Soundless. Formless. Remember those.

And Sun Tzu’s Japanese doppelganger, Miyamoto Musashi (as summarized by Richards)

Yet, he specifically intended for his words to apply to more than just swordplay, and even there, he insisted that victory would go to the master of strategy, not to the strongest swordsman, nor to the fastest, nor even to the fighter with the most polished technique.

The focus, however, is never on defending, but on regaining and using the initiative so that you can lead your opponents where you want them to be.

Polished. Leading. Remember those.

These themes are echoed in VNV Nation‘s new track, Chrome


I’m saying nothing for the good of myself
but I’m still talking and you’re not listening


resort to shadows till your body expires


for each and all a chrome disguise…
embody promise in a sheen so pure


prompts for action force reaction

I’ve also discussed these elements in detail on tdaxp


But of course if parts of the world know they are being attacked, they will try to fight back.

So to win the SecretWarrior must walk without rhythm to avoid the worm of hurtful information.


In contrast to “hearts and minds,” 5GW focuses on the enemy’s “fingertips and gut.” “Fingertip feeling,” what the Germans called fingerspitzengefuhl, is the ability to know without thinking. This is what Americans call “gut feeling.” To a certain extent, it means a commander trusting his intuition. It is critical in 5GW because fingertip feelings, or “hunches,” will be the only way for the enemy to sense the fighter.


To put it in OODA decision cycle terms, the guard Observes a loosely dressed woman, orients this with knowledge of previously so-dressed women, acts by watching more, observes information in the context of believing he is watching a loose woman, etc. Thus the SecretWarrior gets inside the head of the Yakuza boss’s guards. The 5GWarrior rearranges the mind of her enemy, changing his fingertip-feelings into something better for her.

Just as the 5GWarrior must struggle with her physical appearance to be only a girl, the SecretWarrior must also struggle with her beliefs to appear to be only a girl.


SecretWar, or 5th Generation War, relies on leveraging power while minimizing visibility. A successful 5GW operation would be able to subdue or subvert a government without being noticed. Therefore it is appropriate that Stratfor, started by the author of America’s Secret War, outlines a way for SecretWarriors to subvert corporate America: shareholder activism.

A polished 5GW army will soundlessly and formlessly his enemy to where he wants him to be: and that will be the end of the 5GW. The loser will never know he lost. A repeated 5GW victim may sense his illness, but with 5GW attacking his Observation capacity, the victim’s response will probable make his situation worse.

in desperation dreams any soul can set you free
and I still hear you scream
in every breath, in every single motion
burning innocence the fire to set you free

your actions turn conquest to dust
in portents of fate you foolishly place trust

And that is the 5th Generation of Modern Warfare.