This was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on 05/2004 by some­one else, some­where else, and I copied and past­ed it to a word doc­u­ment for my own per­son­al ref­er­ence.  It goes into the states of aware­ness that I think all sub­ur­ban­ites should be aware of when mak­ing through their day in the sub­urbs or the city.  It is pret­ty long, but take a read below, it is pret­ty good…  I thought I would share this as I was recent­ly review­ing it again for myself.  

States of Aware­ness, the Coop­er Col­or Codes
Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper

Lieu­tenant Colonel Jeff Coop­er, cre­ator of the Coop­er Codes

Most peo­ple stum­ble through life, bliss­ful­ly unaware of the world around them. They remain pre­oc­cu­pied with thoughts of work, or per­son­al prob­lems, or how to get a date, or oth­er triv­i­al­i­ties, with no thought to their imme­di­ate envi­ron­ment.  By not pay­ing atten­tion to their sur­round­ings, they place them­selves in need­less jeop­ardy.

Go sit in the intake area in your neigh­bor­hood hos­pi­tal emer­gency room one evening, as an edu­ca­tion­al exer­cise. Observe the unfor­tu­nates who come in for treat­ment, and you will get an excel­lent illus­tra­tion of this point. About twen­ty per­cent of the cus­tomers are actu­al­ly sick-dis­count them. The remain­ing eighty per­cent are there because they were inat­ten­tive to their envi­ron­ment. These will be peo­ple who walked off load­ing docks, or stepped off lad­ders twen­ty feet up, or backed into run­ning machin­ery, or stepped into the path of a vehi­cle, OR allowed a thug to walk right up to them un-noticed and bean them with a brick.  You can be stu­pid, inat­ten­tive, and obliv­i­ous in your work envi­ron­ment day in and day out and get away with it until one day the odds catch up with you and you are injured. The same applies on the street. You can be stu­pid, inat­ten­tive, and obliv­i­ous and get away with it until your path hap­pens to cross the path of a crim­i­nal. The vast major­i­ty of crim­i­nals are oppor­tunists, who only strike when pre­sent­ed with a viable oppor­tu­ni­ty. Remove the oppor­tu­ni­ty and you remove the risk to you!

By learn­ing to observe your envi­ron­ment, con­stant­ly eval­u­ate it, and react appro­pri­ate­ly to what you see, you can achieve a large degree of con­trol over your fate. This requires you to learn to shift up and down a scale of readi­ness, just like shift­ing gears in a car, so that you can match your lev­el of awareness/readiness with the cur­rent require­ments of your sit­u­a­tion.  In a car, you shift gears based on the grade encoun­tered or the speed desired. On the street, you must learn to “shift gears” men­tal­ly, to match the threat lev­el encoun­tered.  There is a slid­ing scale of readi­ness, going from a state of being obliv­i­ous and unpre­pared to a con­di­tion of being ready to instant­ly do lethal vio­lence if forced. One can­not live stuck at either end of this spec­trum.

If you try to live at the bot­tom of the scale, you will fall vic­tim to an acci­dent or to a crim­i­nal, even­tu­al­ly. It’s just a mat­ter of “when”, not “if”.  On the oth­er hand, you can’t go through your dai­ly rou­tine with your hand hov­er­ing over your hol­stered pis­tol, ready to shoot if any­thing moves!  What you must learn to do is esca­late and de-esca­late up and down this scale as the cir­cum­stances around you dic­tate. This is an eas­i­ly learned sys­tem, and one that will help you be in the right frame of mind to deal with any con­flict you encounter.

If you should find your­self faced with a life-threat­en­ing attack by a crim­i­nal, as a typ­i­cal nor­mal per­son, you will be faced by three enor­mous dif­fi­cul­ties.  They are:

  • Rec­og­niz­ing the pres­ence of the preda­tor in time;
  • Real­iz­ing, inter­nal­iz­ing, and accept­ing that THAT MAN, RIGHT THERE, is about to kill you for rea­sons you do not under­stand; if you don’t stop him; and
  • Over­com­ing your reluc­tance to do lethal vio­lence against a fel­low human being.

Let’s look at each of these in turn. First, you have to see him and real­ize that he is a threat. Thugs are flesh and bone, and are not invis­i­ble.  Con­trary to pub­lic opin­ion, they do not beam down from the moth­er ship, attack you, and beam back up. They typ­i­cal­ly walk right up to you un-noticed because of the fog most peo­ple oper­ate in dai­ly. Learn to lift that fog and see the warn­ing signs ear­li­er, so you can be pre­pared.

Sec­ond, it is very dif­fi­cult for nor­mal, ratio­nal, social­ized, civ­i­lized peo­ple to grasp that they live cheek by jowl with peo­ple who are NOT nor­mal, ratio­nal, social­ized, or civ­i­lized.  There are peo­ple out there who do not care about your hopes or plans for the future, they do not care about your fam­i­ly, they do not care about the pain and suf­fer­ing they inflict-they just don’t care. They may kill you for the con­tents of your wal­let, so they can buy one more day’s sup­ply of drugs. They may rape you because they feel pow­er­less, degrad­ed, and abused except while they are degrad­ing and abus­ing some­one else.  They may kill you sim­ply to move up one rank in their street gang. Guess what? It does­n’t mat­ter “Why?”.  A typ­i­cal vic­tim reac­tion is, “But why would any­one want to hurt me?”.  Who cares why?

Third, it will be dif­fi­cult for you to put your sights in the cen­ter of a human being’s chest and press the trig­ger, know­ing that you are turn­ing a ver­ti­cal, liv­ing, breath­ing per­son into a hor­i­zon­tal pile of meat. Don’t let any­one tell you that will be easy. As a soci­ety, we don’t want it to be easy, do we?  This is why legal­ly armed cit­i­zens don’t shoot peo­ple over argu­ments, or traf­fic acci­dents, and so forth. In fact, shoot­ings by armed cit­i­zens are almost always ruled jus­ti­fi­able by the author­i­ties, while almost a third of police shoot­ings are ruled ques­tion­able or improp­er. Pri­vate cit­i­zens are reluc­tant to actu­al­ly shoot, even when it is nec­es­sary.  You must over­come this obsta­cle if your life is on the line. You will have to real­ize that there are times when lethal vio­lence is not just excus­able, or jus­ti­fi­able, or accept­able, but actu­al­ly required.

For­tu­nate­ly, there is a sys­tem avail­able to help you over­come all three of these prob­lems. By learn­ing to use this sys­tem, prac­tic­ing it, and mak­ing it part of your dai­ly rou­tine, you can be assured of see­ing an attack in its devel­op­ing stages, and become both men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly pre­pared to defend your­self. Jeff Coop­er, who taught it at ‘Gun­site’ and lat­er gave an excel­lent video­taped pre­sen­ta­tion, first pub­li­cized this sys­tem, called the Col­or Code. I had the great good for­tune of being taught this by Jeff ear­ly in my career, and I can say with­out reser­va­tion that this sys­tem saved my life on sev­er­al occa­sions. Not what kind of gun I had, nor the brand of ammo, but this men­tal sys­tem. I feel so strong­ly that this is one of the most impor­tant weapons in your arse­nal, that I feel it is my duty to share it with you.

I men­tioned ear­li­er learn­ing to move up and down a scale of readi­ness, just like shift­ing gears. The scale con­sists of four men­tal states, which Jeff gave col­or names. The col­ors sim­ply let us con­cep­tu­al­ize and dis­cuss the basic men­tal states. You must learn to go up and down this scale as the sit­u­a­tion and cir­cum­stances around you change, as they invari­ably do as you go through your dai­ly rou­tine.

CONDITION WHITE - White is the low­est lev­el on the esca­la­tor. In Con­di­tion White one is unaware, not alert, obliv­i­ous. This state can be char­ac­ter­ized as “day­dream­ing” or “pre­oc­cu­pied”.  Peo­ple in White tend to walk around with their heads down, as if watch­ing their own feet. They do not notice the impend­ing dan­ger until it lit­er­al­ly has them by the throat.

You see exam­ples of this fre­quent­ly. When was the last time you saw some­one in traf­fic roll right up to a bar­ri­cade or stalled vehi­cle, then expect you to stop and let them into your lane?  They’re oper­at­ing their vehi­cle in Con­di­tion White. When a motorist runs over a motor­cy­clist and kills him, what are the first words out of their mouth? “I did­n’t see him.”  They’re not lying. They were so inat­ten­tive and com­pla­cent that they did not notice a 200-pound man on a four hun­dred pound machine right in front of them. When this same guy runs past a stop sign and broad­sides your car, killing your child, he will say, “I did­n’t see it.”.

These same guys will be the vic­tims of vio­lent crime, because the crim­i­nal tar­gets the inat­ten­tive, the com­pla­cent, the lazy, the dis­tract­ed, the pre­oc­cu­pied. Why? Because the crim­i­nal wants to get to him, get what he wants from him, and get away from him, with­out being hurt or caught. Who would be the eas­i­est per­son to do that to? Some­one in Con­di­tion White. I’m sure you’ve seen or read about the Miran­da card police offi­cers car­ry. From it they read off a sus­pec­t’s rights before ques­tion­ing him. Ded­i­cat­ed vic­tims car­ry a sim­i­lar card in their pock­ets. If they are still alive when the police arrive, they take this card out of their pock­ets and read from it, as fol­lows:

  • ” Geez, it all hap­pened so fast.
  • He mate­ri­al­ized right next to me.
  • I nev­er saw him.”.

So, when would it be accept­able to be in Con­di­tion White? When in your own home, with the doors locked, the alarm sys­tem on, and your dog at your feet. Then, you can turn off your mind, if you wish, because you have suf­fi­cient lay­ers of pro­tec­tion and warn­ing to enable you to get up, get your gear, and get your head run­ning. If you leave your home, you leave Con­di­tion White behind. The instant you leave your home, you esca­late one lev­el, to Con­di­tion Yel­low.

CONDITION YELLOW - This is a relaxed state of gen­er­al alert­ness, with no spe­cif­ic focal point. You are not look­ing for any­thing or any­one in par­tic­u­lar; you sim­ply have your head up and your eyes open.  You are alert and aware of your sur­round­ings.  You are dif­fi­cult to sur­prise, there­fore, you are dif­fi­cult to harm. You do not expect to be attacked today. You sim­ply rec­og­nize the pos­si­bil­i­ty.

Here’s an excel­lent anal­o­gy. You are on a small naval patrol ves­sel in the mid­dle of the Mediter­ranean. You are not at war with any­one today, so you do not expect to be attacked.  You do, how­ev­er, rec­og­nize the pos­si­bil­i­ty, so you have your radar on twen­ty-four hours a day, mak­ing a con­tin­u­ous 360 degree sweep of the area, look­ing for poten­tial prob­lems.  Sud­den­ly, there is a blip on your radar screen. You can­not tell by look­ing at the small, green­ish-yel­low dot on the screen whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, so you ask a fight­er plane to inter­cept the blip and check it out. If it is an Al Italia air­lin­er a hun­dred miles off course, the fight­er pilot will wave at it. If it’s a Libyan MIG head­ed toward your boat, he will shoot it down. He won’t know whether to wave or shoot until he first assess­es the blip as a threat.  This is exact­ly the same process you go through on the ground. When you leave home you turn on your radar, and it con­tin­u­al­ly sweeps the area around you for poten­tial haz­ards. When some­thing catch­es your atten­tion, you assess it. If it’s not a threat, dis­miss it. If it is a threat, start get­ting ready men­tal­ly to deal with it.

Any­thing or any­one in your imme­di­ate vicin­i­ty that is unusu­al, out of place, or out of con­text, should be viewed as poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous, until you have had a chance to assess it. Some­one who looks out of place, or some­one engaged in activ­i­ty that has no obvi­ous legit­i­mate pur­pose, should be looked over care­ful­ly. When your men­tal radar picks up on a blip, you imme­di­ate­ly esca­late one lev­el on the scale, to Con­di­tion Orange.

CONDITION ORANGE - This is a height­ened state of alert­ness, with a spe­cif­ic focal point. The entire dif­fer­ence between Yel­low and Orange is this spe­cif­ic tar­get for your atten­tion. Your focal point is the per­son who is doing what­ev­er drew your atten­tion to him.  It might be the fact that he is wear­ing a field jack­et in August. It might be that he’s stand­ing by a col­umn in the park­ing garage, instead of going into the build­ing, or get­ting in a car and leav­ing. It might be that you have been in five stores at the mall, and saw this same guy in every one of them. His actions have caused you to take note of him, so you must assess him as a poten­tial threat, just as the fight­er pilot assessed the blip ear­li­er.

How do you assess some­one as a threat? You have to take into account the total­i­ty of the cues avail­able to you. His cloth­ing, appear­ance, demeanor, actions, any­thing he says to you, are all cues. The sin­gle most impor­tant cue is body lan­guage. About 80% of human com­mu­ni­ca­tion is through body lan­guage.  Preda­tors dis­play sub­tle pre-aggres­sion indi­ca­tors, which are obvi­ous once you learn to look for them.

When you shift upward to Orange, you begin to focus your atten­tion on this indi­vid­ual that caught your eye, but do not drop your gen­er­al over-view. You don’t want to be blind-sided by his asso­ciates. You begin to watch him and assess his inten­tions, again look­ing at all of the cues avail­able to you. Nine times out of ten, after a few sec­onds of obser­va­tion, you will be able to see an innocu­ous rea­son for his behav­ior and then dis­miss him. Once you fig­ure out he’s not a threat, dis­miss him and de-esca­late right back down to Yel­low.  Who is the tenth one? He is the preda­tor, who would have got you if you had been inat­ten­tive.  Now that you are aware of him, you are in far less dan­ger.

As you assess this indi­vid­ual, and you see things that con­vince you he has evil intent, you start to play the “What if….” game in your mind, to begin for­mu­lat­ing a basic plan. This is how we get ahead of the pow­er curve. If he acts sud­den­ly, we must have at least a rudi­men­ta­ry plan for deal­ing with him already in place, so that we can react swift­ly enough. By say­ing to your­self, “That guy looks like he is about to stick me up, what am I going to do about it?”, you begin the men­tal prepa­ra­tion vital to win­ning the con­flict. With even a sim­ple plan already in place, your phys­i­cal reac­tion is both assured and imme­di­ate, if the bad guy press­es his inten­tions. If, after assess­ing him, you believe he is an actu­al threat, you then esca­late to the high­est lev­el, Con­di­tion Red.

CONDITION RED - In Red, you are ready to fight!  You may, or may not, actu­al­ly be fight­ing, but you are MENTALLY PREPARED to fight. In many, or per­haps even most, cir­cum­stances where you have gone ful­ly to Red, you will not actu­al­ly phys­i­cal­ly do any­thing at all.  The entire process of esca­lat­ing from Yel­low, to Orange, to Red, then de-esca­lat­ing right back down the scale as the sit­u­a­tion is resolved, occurs with­out any actu­al phys­i­cal activ­i­ty on your part. The key is that you were men­tal­ly pre­pared for a con­flict, and thus could phys­i­cal­ly act if the sit­u­a­tion demand­ed.

When you believe a threat is real, and you have esca­lat­ed to Red, you are wait­ing on the Men­tal Trig­ger, which is a spe­cif­ic, pre-deter­mined action on his part that will result in an imme­di­ate, pos­i­tive, aggres­sive, defen­sive reac­tion from you. This is how you achieve the speed nec­es­sary to win. By hav­ing a “pre-made deci­sion” already set up in your mind, you can move phys­i­cal­ly fast enough to deal with the prob­lem. With­out that pre-made deci­sion, the pre­cious time in which you could have act­ed was wast­ed on try­ing to decide what to do after he starts his attack.

The Men­tal Trig­ger will dif­fer depend­ing upon the cir­cum­stances. It could be, “If he swings that gun in my direc­tion I will shoot him”, for instance. It could be, ” I have told him to stop, if he takes one more step toward me with that (knife/tire iron/screwdriver) in his hand, I’ll shoot him”.  What­ev­er trig­ger is select­ed, it is a but­ton that, once pushed, results in imme­di­ate action on your part.

Your main ene­my is reac­tion time. If you are not aware of your sur­round­ings, and fail to see the sus­pi­cious char­ac­ter, he may over­whelm you before you can mar­shal an effec­tive defense. On the oth­er hand, if you are think­ing to your­self, “I may have to hurt that guy if he does­n’t wise up”; you’ve prob­a­bly already won that fight, because you have a bet­ter under­stand­ing of what is tran­spir­ing than he does! The best fight is over before the los­er ful­ly under­stands what just hap­pened.  If you’re caught in Con­di­tion White, you will need five to six sec­onds to real­ize what is hap­pen­ing, get your wits togeth­er, and respond. You sim­ply don’t have that much time.

There are a cou­ple of men­tal tricks you can use in the ear­ly phas­es of your train­ing to assist you in this. Remem­ber that one of the three prob­lems I men­tioned ear­li­er in this chap­ter will be actu­al­ly “doing it”, actu­al­ly employ­ing lethal force when required. To help with this, each morn­ing when you put your gun on, remind your­self, “I may have to use my gun today”. This plants in your sub­con­scious mind (which dri­ves 90% of your life) that there is a rea­son we wear these guns-we may actu­al­ly need them to save our lives!  When you pick up on that poten­tial threat and esca­late to Con­di­tion Orange, tell your­self, “I may have to shoot him today!”.  Believe me, if you have inter­nal­ized that a spe­cif­ic per­son is an actu­al threat to your life, but that you have the means to stop him if need be, it gets eas­i­er to men­tal­ly deal with the sit­u­a­tion.

Let’s work through a sce­nario to illus­trate these prin­ci­ples. Let’s say you are work­ing in a jew­el­ry store today, a small store­front shop in a strip mall in sub­ur­bia. All of the oth­er employ­ees went to lunch and left you here alone. There are not even any cus­tomers in the store at the moment, you’re alone. What men­tal state are you in?  (Yel­low. You are not ensconced in your home; you’re out in the real world.) So you keep your head up, and occa­sion­al­ly you scan out through the glass store­front and check out the park­ing lot. Since there is no one else in the store, any prob­lem will have to come from out­side. You want to know about a prob­lem while it’s out there, not when it’s stand­ing across the counter from you.

As you glance through the glass, you see two men in their ear­ly 20’s back up an old car to your store, get out in iden­ti­cal jog­ging suits, enter your door, and split up. Imme­di­ate­ly, you go to Orange. They have done noth­ing ille­gal, and noth­ing aggres­sive, but they are out of place, out of the ordi­nary, so you esca­late your men­tal state, and begin to think. “This looks like a hold-up in the mak­ing. I may have to hurt these guys. What should I do know? If things go bad, I’ll drop behind this safe and I can shoot into that wall with­out endan­ger­ing any­one on the park­ing lot. I have a plan.”  At this point you watch them, and con­tin­ue to mon­i­tor their move­ments. If they leave, you de-esca­late to Yel­low once they are gone.

If they stay, they will prob­a­bly get togeth­er on the far side of the store and briefly dis­cuss what they have seen. They will then move toward your posi­tion at the counter, and after try­ing to dis­tract you (Can I see that ring back there?) pull their guns and announce a stick-up.  If you have been using the sys­tem, you went from Yel­low to Orange when they came in, and went to Red as they approach your counter. You are ready. Because crim­i­nals have to be adept at read­ing body lan­guage (their lives depend upon this skill), they will see that you are pre­pared and sim­ply leave. About nine out of ten pairs will leave at this point, with­out a con­fronta­tion. As they dri­ve away, de-esca­late from Red, to Orange, to Yel­low.

What about the tenth pair? They are drugged, drunk, or both, and failed to rec­og­nize your lev­el of readi­ness. They may go ahead fool­ish­ly with their hold-up. Accord­ing to FBI stud­ies, prob­a­bly 80% of the ones you will actu­al­ly have to fight will be under the influ­ence of drugs/alcohol/drugs and alco­hol at the time. What’s the good news? They’re drunk and/or drugged, which plays Hell with their reflex­es, reac­tion time, and motor coor­di­na­tion. They’ll be rel­a­tive­ly easy to deal with, IF you are men­tal­ly pre­pared (Con­di­tion Red) and have done your home­work.

If they come in, and upon observ­ing them you go to Orange, then as they approach, to Red, but then they leave, and you de-esca­late, you will have gone all of the way up the scale with­out even reach­ing for your gun, which is very com­mon. The point is, you would have been ready to reach for your gun if nec­es­sary.  This is how you win fights, by being men­tal­ly pre­pared to win.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email