The REAL Colour Code.
Peter “Slackbladder” Morgan
Jeff Cooper’s venerated “colour code” is a cornerstone of the self-protection syllabus. Taught almost universally to students in Lesson One of any course, this simple, easy-to-understand method is as close to “classic creation” as ever there was one. There’s only one problem…it is misunderstood on a massive scale.
In much the same way that the children’s game ‘Chinese Whispers’ can distort and ultimately change the original phrase entirely, the colour code has been similarly brutalised by lack of understanding. Time and time again, I’ve seen the colour code used as a strategy for upping awareness in response to the environment. This is an automatic response for the vast majority of humanity. If one is walking alone in a dark street and sees a crowd of hooded youths ahead, you’re going to be feeling nervous and paying attention! You don’t need a little orange light bulb to tell you to do that!
I’m tired of seeing the colour code used to tell people that when they’re nervous they should be more aware. In a UK sitcom called “Red Dwarf”, an exchange between two characters takes place which illustrates the point perfectly…
RIMMER: Step up to red alert!
KRYTEN: Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb.
Defying all logic, some people insist on ‘changing the bulb’ just so they have something to do in times of crisis. The colour code would not develop such an awesome reputation if it was this flawed and frankly, ineffectual, so we must return to the source, Col. Jeff Cooper (retd.).[Colonel Cooper with Den]
The colour code was developed by Col. Cooper because his men were being killed. On seeing the enemy, they would raise their weapon, take aim…and freeze. Unable to make the mental leap necessary to kill another human being, they would be killed or wounded instead. Col. Cooper developed a system that made pulling the trigger that bit easier.[Jeff Cooper while a USMC officer]
The Colour Code is a gearbox leading to lethal intent.
The act of taking life, especially a human one, is difficult to do from a standing start. Statistically, only one person in every fifty is capable of moving from relaxation to shooting another person dead without pausing to draw breath. Existing at the high end of the psychopathy scale, these people usually have a cool detachment from their emotions and regard other people as toys for their amusement. If you hold any kind of emotional link to another person, you do not fall into the above group and will most likely experience difficulty taking life without some sort of preparation.
When attempting to drive a car with a manual gear-shift, it will be noticed that you cannot simply throw it into sixth gear and commence driving at 70mph. Should you try, the engine would stall and you’d be going nowhere fast. Instead, we must start in low gears and work through the gearbox until the engine has the momentum to move into top gear without stalling.
It is similarly so for the mindset appropriate to self protection. When we are assaulted in an environment where we are not aware of the dangers, we are a LONG way behind the opponent, still trapped in the starting blocks of the race to victory. A major stumbling block for VICTIMS of crime was that they simply could not believe that they, of all people, were being assaulted. This air of disbelief continues even as the blows rain down upon their person. As the blackness encloses their diminishing world, all they can think is “This cannot be happening!”
Acceptance of the risk and responsibility is THE founding principle of self protection. If we do not accept the risk, we will not put measures in place to defend ourselves. Those who ignore the danger and refuse the responsibility to protect themselves are beyond salvage. The Police are NOT responsible for your safety. If they were, you could successfully sue them each time you became a victim of crime. Unless you’ve a fully paid-up bodyguard whose sole purpose is to safeguard your life, the only person looking after your ass is YOU!MAKING UP YOUR MIND
Once we accept the risks and take responsibility, we effectively switch our defence systems on by default. The acceptance of risk should be a daily event. Every morning, before you even rise from bed, you should lie there, staring at the ceiling and take a moment to accept that no day is without risk. You may be forced to fight for your life from the moment you wake. There is no such thing as ZERO risk. No day is guaranteed to be safe. By accepting responsibility, you have resolved to ACT when the situation demands it. Instead of trying to accept risks and responsibility as the fists whistle into your face and gut, you get it done while still in bed! You are now in YELLOW.
This concept fresh in your mind, tactical tools like awareness are automatically engaged. This isn’t ‘changing the bulb’, this is switching on the electricity! Although tools like awareness and avoidance occur whilst in Condition Yellow, they are SIGNS of Condition Yellow, not the condition itself. A brightly burning light bulb is not a complete electric circuit, it is just a sign that everything is working properly.THREAT FOCUS
When your awareness detects something that sets alarm bells ringing, you step up into Condition ORANGE. Condition Orange is the identification and target acquisition phase of a conflict. In submarine warfare, upon the detection of a target, the captain has a routine to follow before firing a shot. The first and foremost is to develop a shooting algorithm, so the torpedoes can be told where the target is and how to get there. He can also flood the torpedo tubes and open the outer doors. He hasn’t fired a torpedo yet, but his boat is primed and ready for action. This is Condition Orange.
Your intuitive alarm bells will start ringing and it is paramount that you find out what is making them sound. You’ve then got to label the threat as a TARGET. Not a ‘threat’, because that is a term with negative connotations. Only prey has a ‘threat’. A victor has a TARGET. They’re already beaten, they just don’t know it. If multiple bad guys are a possible concern you should be constantly scanning and looking for TARGETS. You’re never outnumbered; you merely exist in a “target rich environment”. Your thinking must be oriented to WINNING at all times.ASSAULT CUES
It is important to remember that you are looking for the “Go” command. A pre-assault cue could be any one of a multitude of things, but Condition Orange is NOT confined exclusively to the brief period of time before a fight. You can be in Condition Orange for a long period of time, though this will result significant stress and fatigue. You could be in Orange for ten seconds, only for the target to fade and retreat, leaving you to return to yellow.[The British government used the Bikini alert state system]
Condition Red is LETHAL FORCE. The targets identified in Condition Orange cross a line and are now TARGETS to be NULLIFIED. It is important to accept that this nullification covers the whole spectrum of victory, from surrender to the death of the target. You must ACCEPT that you MAY have to resort to lethal force in order to guarantee your safety. We can always limit our response in relation to the danger posed, but it is very difficult to increase the vehemence to meet a limit above our own pre-set standards. Aggression is a drag race of intent. The person who is left behind in forming intent is usually the loser. In self protection, we cannot afford to lose.
Condition Red is in use while you are fighting. [Slacky during a drill designed to install the requisite aggression]
As soon as you run out of targets to nullify, you drop into Orange and continue to scan the environment as you move to a place of safety.[The original Cooper Colour Code as a diagram]TRAINING WITH THE COLOUR CODE
Like any effective method, technique or tactic, the Colour Code must become a permanent fixture in your training. Just as shifting gear is difficult and awkward during driver training, shifting mindset will be awkward and clumsy initially. With practice, you will be able to shift up and down the colour code as easily as pointing a finger. It will become an extension of your thought process.
Some users of the colour code have an actual traffic-light system of switching colours. Others like to place a tint of the chosen colour over the vision of the minds eye. Some do neither, choosing verbal commands instead. Quite which method you choose is down to you. I would recommend you have a cue of some kind that acts as trigger to engage the change of gears – even the most sophisticated machinery in the world has a simple on/off switch at its heart.[Famed US Instructor Dave Spaulding used this graphic when discussing the Colour Code]
A word on living in a state of heightened awareness…
We hold ourselves to impossibly high standards of observation, especially if we look to the standards set by Jason Bourne, James Bond and John Rain. Observational skill to the Nth degree is only kept by constant validation of the workload. The conscious mind is a very lazy machine by nature. Teaching it to spot the smallest detail at any given moment is a huge task and it will reject that workload unless it is proven that it is useful. War veterans of the front-line have superb observational skill and awareness because they spent months at a time in an environment where the enemy you did not see killed you first. I’ve seen early “Candid Camera” footage shot in the sixties that demonstrates this perfectly. A favoured trick was to dress an actress up like an old woman and have her sweep the street with a broom. As people passed by, she’d give them a whack on the rump with the broom. Now, plenty of people walked straight past her and got a whack for their trouble, but an older gentleman dressed in a smart suit, hat and cane walked past her and swung around to face her with his stick raised the SECOND she raised her broom! She never laid a bristle on him because he was too sharp to be caught. How many of us pay that kind of attention to everyone we see? How many faces do we examine for latex, or the quality of skin on the hands? Think of the mental processing that went into that action. It isn’t gained overnight; it is grown in weeks and months of constant fear.[Slacky during a bodyguard training drill on range]
If you wish to have this skill, you must have REWARDS in place to validate the energy expended. Memory and observation games are a big help, as is familiarisation with “bad stimuli”. For example, with enough exposure to a known threat, such as young ladies disguised as old women, we’d grow adept at distinguishing them from the real pensioners. Policemen gradually develop an accurate instinct for lies, experienced firemen know when a building should be emptied of all personnel. If you wish to become unconsciously competent in certain facets of observation, identify them clearly and develop a training routine designed to expose you to them as often as possible. THE COLOUR CODE and NLP
The colour code makes an excellent framework for NLP anchors. Engaging Condition Yellow can be a trigger to iterate a fighting mantra (I will do whatever it takes…” or a pattern of observation (Front - near, middle, far, left, right, rear). The upshift to Orange can trigger expanded vision methods while you track a target and automatically mentally rehearse the situation and variants thereof. Condition Red can be made to result in adrenal dump, endorphin boost and pain-management, tachy-pyschia and other desirable traits that contribute to the “combat flow state”.
The colour code, properly harnessed, can be a massively useful tool when used to complement the Boyd OODA cycle. Coupled with NLP/DHE methodology, you have a powerful set of anchors that engage desirable attitudinal and biological changes. The potential is vast – it is so much more than “changing a bulb”.Sources:
“Principles of Personal Defense” Jeff Cooper (Paladin Press, 1989)
“Jeff Cooper’s Commentaries.” Jeff Cooper (www.dvc.org.uk/~johnny/jeff/)