Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What color is your awareness?

If you begin the study of self-defense, everyone reaches a point when they realize how awful the world can be and how violence can arbitrarily enter their lives. At this point, a little knowledge becomes a dangerous thing, and we find ourselves living in a state of hyperparanoia. Awareness is heightened, but too distracted to really process an actual threat. Police scenario drills find that cadets assigned to clear a room often pull the trigger on anything that moves: something that tends to reflect poorly on a department in real life.

An excellent guide was created by Colonel Jeff Cooper, a renowned small arms training expert, and has been in use for almost 30 years. According to Cooper, the odds of surviving a truly dangerous encounter have very less to do with physical skill and your weapon, but rather a combat mindset.

The color code progresses as follows: Condition White, Condition Yellow, Condition Orange, and Condition Red. There is plenty of excellent literature out there on this subject, but allow me to hit the high points:

  • Condition White: You are completely unprepared and unaware of your surroundings. Ideally, this is when you're home, behind locked doors with the alarm on and enjoying some quiet time. Unfortunately, this is how far too many people walk, act, and drive. Being on the street in this condition is essentially asking for something bad to happen and for you to be ill prepared to deal.

  • Condition Yellow: You are relaxed, but taking everything in, looking for anything that trips your Spidey-sense. Most people only get to this point if they are already a little scared for their safety (dark parking garages, in traffic in a bad neighborhood, etc.) Ideally, you should be in Yellow anytime you're out and about. The key concept is that you're relaxed and observant, NOT paranoid. The nice part about being in Yellow is that you may notice something wonderful you've never seen, heard, or smelled before. So it's not all about looking for death lurking on every corner. :)

  • Condition Orange: Something is out of place and has triggered that gut feeling. Maybe it is a person who doesn't appear to belong, a strange noise, a usually noisy area that has fallen quiet, etc. At this point, you're not karate chopping or breaking out the nunchaku, but you've recognized the potential for a problem and you begin planning your response. "Oh, that screaming derelict is making eye contact with me and walking in my direction. I should duck into this shop or be prepared to bash him into the corner of this building." In other words, you have recognized a threat and have recognized that action MAY need to be taken.

  • Condition Red: The doo-doo has found the fan and is being blown into your vicinity. If you are not yet actively engaged in the fight, you are on the cusp and are prepared to do what is necessary to end the fight. You have said to yourself "if he does X, I will (insert strong action verb) to end the threat."

This system has nothing to do with the one developed by DHS, and I'm not sure if they were inspired by a mix of this and a DEFCON type system. Cooper's system is actually useful, or as he he more tactfully says:

"Now, however, the government has gone into this and is handing out color codes nationwide based upon the apparent nature of a peril. It has always been difficult to teach the Gunsite Color Code, and now it is more so. We cannot say that the government’s ideas about colors are wrong, but that they are different from what we have long taught here.

The problem is this: your combat mind-set is not dictated by the amount of danger to which you are exposed at the time. Your combat mind-set is properly dictated by the state of mind you think appropriate to the situation. You may be in deadly danger at all times, regardless of what the Defense Department tells you."

Quick breakdown:

White: relaxed and switched off. Maybe you have a good drink in one hand and you're enjoying a fire.

Yellow: relaxed but aware. Think of your mind as a radar screen, looking for blips.

Orange: A potential problem has been recognized. You think "If things progress, I may need to shoot this guy."

Red: Lethal mode. "If X condition is met, I WILL shoot this guy." Your weapon is probably out, but not necessarily. If it's pepper-spray on a keychain, you've probably released the safety tab and you're ready to go.

If at Orange, the POS sees you in an elevated state and flees, or it turns out to be a false alarm, you get to relax and work your way back down to yellow. Chances are, switching to orange will emit non-verbal cues to the attacker that you are not the bipedal cheeseburger he thought you were, and he will look for another snack.

condition white: don't be that guy.

Good for you, but unfortunate for someone else who is walking around in Condition White. (Obviously, if a shifty POS is in your area, call the cops and let them sort him out!)

Please don't be a cheeseburger, I don't have enough readers to lose any. :)
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