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Color Codes for Combat Readiness

Experts in defensive tactics use color codes to describe levels of combat readiness. These levels represent how aware you are of threats around you and your resulting ability to deal with those threats.

Popularized by pistol shooting guru Col. Jeff Cooper, the color codes range from Condition White, where you are totally oblivious to your surroundings, to Condition Red, where you are fighting. These color codes are as follows:

Condition White: You are unaware of what's going on around you. Perhaps you're tired, or worried about work or school. Maybe your senses are impaired by alcohol or drugs. Either way, you are not ready--for anything.
Condition Yellow: You are alert but calm and relaxed, scanning your surroundings for threats. You know who's in front of you, to your sides, and behind you. You don't think anyone will attack, but you are mentally ready in case something happens.
Condition Orange: You sense that something is not right, and that you might be attacked. Perhaps there's a number of suspicious men standing around your car. Or in the classic Jeff Cooper example, a guy wearing a raincoat comes into your shop on a sweltering summer day. What's wrong with this picture?

In Orange, you are aware of the positions of all potentially hostile people around you, as well as any weapons they may be able to use--in their hands or within reach. You are developing a plan for dealing with the potential hostiles: "...first I take out the guy with the bat, then the big guy near the truck..." You have also identified multiple escape routes, depending on what response you will use. In addition to being mentally ready, you are physically ready as well.

Condition Red: The fight is on. Someone is assaulting you and you are reacting to the attack and defending yourself. You are taking immediate and decisive action to stop your opponent, flee, or get help.

The original U.S. Marine Corps color codes are similar, except that in the USMC version, Red is battle ready, and Black is "fight." However, some pundits use Black to denote a state of fear overload:  where you are so overwhelmed by the situation that you are paralyzed by fear. I personally feel that Red is the top level--in the USMC version, if you're in Red, you're a kick, slash, or trigger press away from being in a fight anyway.

Notice how each color state builds upon the previous one--if you are already aware in Yellow, it is a simple matter to become prepared in Orange. Then, if you have to progress into Red and fight, your tactics are already ready and you have a much greater chance of survival.

In White, you will become a victim. Your inattentiveness makes you an easy target, and that state will be noticed by an assailant. In Yellow, your alertness is equally as evident, and marks you as someone who won't be that easy to rob or assault.

As someone who grew up in a big city, I learned to live most of my "outside" life in Yellow. Most of the street crime I witnessed as a kid were on unsuspecting victims--people in Condition White. Always being in Yellow was natural if you didn't want to get "jumped."

Naturally, in many places and situations you don't have to worry about being assaulted. But in the city, in the stands at a football game, or anywhere your environment and the people around you is beyond your control, it makes sense to be aware. Being in Yellow can actually prevent assaults, and as the ancient sage Sun Tzu said, to win without fighting is best.

Check out these links for more information on these color codes and combat readiness:

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