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  • Combat Mindset - The Cooper Color Code

    4 min read

    According to Lt Col. Jeff Cooper, recognized as the father of the modern technique of handgun shooting, the most important means of surviving a lethal confrontation is not the weapon or the martial skills. The primary tool is the combat mindset.

    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 circumstances. This means you need to learn to shift up and down a scale of alertness, so that you can match your level of readiness with the threat level encountered.  This 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. You must learn to go up and down this scale as the situation and circumstances around you change.


    Unaware and unprepared. "Daydreaming" or "preoccupied”, oblivious to possible threat. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy of your attacker.

    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 effective defend yourself. If you're caught in Condition White, you will need several seconds to even realize what is happening and respond. You simply don't have that much time.

    When would it be acceptable to be in Condition White? When in your own home, with the doors locked and the alarm on. The instant you leave your home, you escalate one level, to Condition Yellow.


    Relaxed alert. There is no specific threat situation. You don’t expect to be attacked, but are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and that "today could be the day I may have to defend myself". You are alert and aware of your surroundings.  You are difficult to surprise, so you do not make an easy victim.

    You should always be in Yellow whenever you are in unfamiliar surroundings or among people you don't know. You can remain in Yellow for long periods. In Yellow, you are "taking in" surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner. 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. When you pick up on something that’s out of place, you immediately escalate one level on the scale, to Condition Orange.


    Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has your attention. You shift your primary focus to determine if there is a threat. The difference between Yellow and Orange is this specific target for your attention. Your mindset shifts to "I might have to defend myself against that person today", focusing on the specific target which has caused the escalation in alert status. When you shift upward to Orange, you begin to focus your attention on this individual that caught your eye, but you do not drop your guard. You don't want to be blind-sided by his friends. You begin to watch him and assess his intentions. Once you figure out he's not a threat, dismiss him and de-escalate right back down to Yellow.

    As you assess, you start to play the "What if…." game in your mind, to begin formulating a basic plan. If he acts suddenly, when you have at least a basic plan for dealing with him already in place, you can react quickly. In Condition Orange, you set a mental trigger: "If that person does "X", I will need to stop him". If the threat proves to be nothing, you shift back to Condition Yellow.  If, after assessing him, you believe he is an actual threat, you then escalate to the highest level, Condition Red. By having a "pre-made decision" already set up in your mind, you can move physically fast enough to deal with the problem.


    Condition Red is the fight or flight. It means stop him or escape. Your mental trigger (established back in Condition Orange) has been tripped. You must act now with a decisive and aggressive action.

    The USMC also uses condition Black, although it was not originally part of Cooper's Color Code.


    Catastrophic breakdown of mental and physical performance. Condition Black is when you have not prepared yourself for a violent encounter mentally or through self-defense training and now your mind is overwhelmed with stress, and both your mind and body shut down to any realistic defensive response.

    In essence, you become the victim through lack of planning or self defense awareness or planning on your part. Black is is NOT where you want to be.


    Increase personal security and personal safety by living in Cooper Condition Yellow.

    Remaining constantly within the yellow level and moving easily into and out of the orange level is simply a state of mental awareness that must be practiced until it becomes second nature.


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