Col. Jeff Cooper was a legend in the shooting and self-defense worlds. In addition to being instrumental in refining and popularizing many modern pistol and self-defense techniques, Col. Cooper was an advocate of a prepared armed citizenry. He believed that the most important survival tool was the mind, and to help prepare the mind for danger, he created the Cooper Color Code.
The Cooper Color Code is about more than just awareness, though that is an important part. It is also about taking a step forward with the mind to do what might have to be done in a potentially lethal situation.
Condition White is unaware and unprepared. This is a condition you should try to avoid, as it means you will probably lose a fight. The only time that I’m in condition white is when I’m asleep. And even then, I wouldn’t consider myself unprepared; I’m just unaware.
Condition Yellow is relaxed alert. Yellow means you are aware of what is happening around you, but you do not perceive a potential threat. Your mindset should be prepared to defend yourself if the need arises. Everywhere I go, I’m in Condition Yellow. I keep a pretty good watch on the people around me, and I’m continuously rating each person’s danger level in my mind.
Condition Orange means that there is a potential threat that has gotten your attention. This can be almost anything and usually results in nothing, at which time you go back to yellow. Condition Orange basically means that Bulky Coat turns and I spot a firearm. Instantly, I determine what I’m going to do if he reaches for that gun.
Condition Red means that you are in a lethal mode of mindset and will fight if the circumstances are warranted. In our make-believe scenario, Bulky Coat draws a gun from under his coat. At this point, I implement my action plan that was determined during Condition Orange. This doesn’t always mean fight. If there are too many innocents around or you don’t have the means, your best plan might be to wait and see what happens or even retreat and call the police.
Cooper’s Color Code has been adjusted and adapted over the years by numerous instructors and even the U.S. Marine Corp. In fact, you can adjust to your needs. I know I’ve adjusted it for mine.