The Color Code of Awareness

by ADTA member Wu Chin

During our monthly members meeting on Jan 12th, 2012, ADTA member Mike Van Alstine presented an adaptation of Colonel "Jeff" Coopers, Color Code of Awareness, developed for Special Forces / U.S. Military but useful for everyday life for everyone and essential if you regularly and responsibly carry a concealed pistol.


As an exercise, Chad suggested you try this the next time you're out and about. At a random moment, pause and consider: without looking, do you know where your nearest exit routes are? Do you know who is around you, their approximate positions, and what they are doing? Are you aware of any recent changes in the situation that, mentally, should prompt you to consider if-thens? Now look around and confirm; were you right?  Repeat this exercise whenever you get a chance and in time your cognitive ability and recognition of situations will improve.

 Mike gave a good presentation and there were lots of questions and comments. I appreciated his chart that showed the colors in a diamond shape. Each level is depicted from the bottom up – White, Yellow, Orange, Red, and Black. The points have the smallest volume of the diamond and are occupied by White and Black. This shows that you should minimize your time in the white and black levels. I was hopeful that Mike would follow up with an article, but his schedule has not allowed that. So I’ll fill in with my perspective.

I also use these color codes in the self defense classes that I teach. The following list was part of the handout developed at the Tri-City School of Karate where I studied and taught. Credit goes to Vinnie Rizzo Sensei for documenting these.

We call it “The Five Conditions”.

  1. Condition White: You are totally unaware of your surroundings and totally unprepared for even the prospect of danger.

  2. Condition Yellow: You are relaxed but alert. You are not expecting trouble, but you are aware of your environment, so you would recognize a problem if it arose.

  3. Condition Orange: You are aware that there seems to be a problem and your body is reacting (e.g.: Some one has picked you out and you know it.)

  4. Condition Red: The problem has occurred and you are facing one or more opponents you reasonably believe might do you harm. You should be taking cover and actively performing the appropriate defensive tactics. If already under attack, you are willing to neutralize the threat.

  5. Condition Black: You are in a blind state of panic where you are unable to react to the situation because you have developed neither the inner tools nor the outer skills with which to react. (e.g.: It happens, you had no raised awareness it was coming, are unprepared, unaware, untrained, and under their control and influence.)

As Mike said, with training in these color conditions, it would be easy to bring family members or friends to a ready state should you see something of note and say, “Condition Orange” as you look in the direction where you want to have everyone focus. You don’t have to explain anything. They can assess the situation without lots of verbal exchange which could bring attention to you.

You are most vulnerable in Condition White. Maybe you just woke up; had a deep relaxing massage or spa experience; or under the influence of a drug. Maybe even just on vacation without a care, just having a fun time. Complacency and familiarity of surroundings will also bring up false sense of security. Get out of this condition NOW.

Assess your surroundings and personal condition and move into Condition Yellow. This is where most of our daily life should be at. This is where Chad’s exercise should be revealing as to your Condition Yellow state. Stay alert and make provisions to minimize your exposure to potential problems. Such as keeping your kids close at hand; don’t leave your purse open in a shopping cart; don’t leave your car running when you are not in it; don’t leave your computer or iPod in plain view in the parked car.

You can enter into Condition Orange by going into a risky area of town. Your antenna should be up and functioning in these areas. Your sixth sense is in overdrive. But if trouble comes looking for you, then Condition Orange came upon you. Hopefully you were prepared in Condition Yellow and saw the potential and postured yourself for the threat.

None of your posturing has helped. You are now in Condition Red. Attack is imminent or already underway (it’s happens quickly!). You must be physically ready (hands unencumbered). Your mind set ready to do them harm. You are willing to do whatever it takes to win. NOT JUST SURVIVE, BUT TO WIN! This is why you train! This is where the repetition of drills plays its part as you move as you were conditioned.

If they haven’t gotten physical, only to the shouting stage and body posturing to intimidate you, you can try to flee (never turn your back to them), or use verbal judo to defuse their state of mind. Talk with your hands to keep the hands up in a guard position. But be ready for the physical attack. Don’t be surprised.

Condition Black! How did this happen??? This should not happen! But it does. Even combat troops get into this stage when they didn’t plan, didn’t do enough intelligence gathering or even ignoring the data and signs and get ambushed. This is pure chaos and panic. You are wasting precious time and opportunities to escape or to minimize your exposure and maximize your survival. In this situation it’s pure and simple survival! Yell and scream for help; do whatever it takes to remain collected and defend the best you can. Your training fails you when your mind is in a panic state. It’s not there tfocus your counter offensive. The faster you can get your mind under control, the quicker you can get back to Condition Red.

Periodically check your level of alertness by performing a modified Chad’s drill throughout the day so you don’t lapse into Condition White. If there is no one around, just do a mental picture of your office or home or car. Then see if you got things right.

Colonel Cooper also has his “Principles of Personal Defense” that supplements the “Color Code of Awareness”. These principles are alertness, decisiveness, aggressiveness, speed, coolness (mental), ruthlessness, and surprise. These were written when he was in Nicaragua (before the Communist take over). He noted that this part of the world was very turbulent and the need for self defense was a constant since the Spaniards left in the 19th century. I don’t think we need to translate those principles here. But they represent the behavior you need to win any conflict.

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