Jeff Cooper’s Color Code


200 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The late Jeff Cooper‘s biggest contribution to the shooting world was the color code of awareness as well as being one of the first people to start a commercially successful firearm training school for civilians.

  • White: Unaware and unprepared.
    • If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker.
    • When confronted by something nasty, your reaction will probably be “Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”

I would also like to add that Condition White may also be a state of distraction. The killings of the Lakewood Police officers in the Forza coffee shop is a classic example of being fixated on another task (knocking out paperwork on your laptop) having deadly consequences.

Some trainers have also humorously called this “Condition Brown”, which means you have your head up your you know what!

  • Yellow: Relaxed alert.
    • No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that “today could be the day I may have to defend myself”. You are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and that you are prepared to defend yourself, if necessary.
    • You use your eyes and ears, and realize that “I may have to shoot today”. You don’t have to be armed in this state, but if you are armed you should be in Condition Yellow.
    • You should always be in Yellow whenever you are in unfamiliar surroundings or among people you don’t know. You can remain in Yellow for long periods, as long as you are able to “Watch your six.” (In aviation 12 o’clock refers to the direction in front of the aircraft’s nose.
    • Six o’clock is the blind spot behind the pilot.)
    • In Yellow, you are “taking in” surrounding information in a relaxed but alert manner, like a continuous 360 degree radar sweep. As Cooper put it, “I might have to shoot.”

Condition Yellow is not as high stress to be in as it may sound. It really means just incorporating the awareness lessons pointed out in this blog and from other trainers. It means being able to spot behavioral indicators that someone is up to no good and incorporating them into how you observe unknown contacts.

One of the best articles out there pertaining to Condition Yellow is SouthNarc’s Managing Unknown Contacts

You can download it onto your laptop or tablet from the blog here.

SouthNarc’s Managing Unknown Contacts

  • Orange: Specific alert.
    • Something is not quite right and has your attention.
    • Your radar has picked up a specific alert.
    • You shift your primary focus to determine if there is a threat (but you do not drop your six). Your mindset shifts to “I may have to shoot that person today”, focusing on the specific target which has caused the escalation in alert status.
    • In Condition Orange, you set a mental trigger: “If that person does “X”, I will need to stop them”.
    • Your pistol usually remains holstered in this state.
    • Staying in Orange can be a bit of a mental strain, but you can stay in it for as long as you need to. If the threat proves to be nothing, you shift back to Condition Yellow.

Things like locks on your doors and a barking dog help jolt you from condition white in your home to condition orange.

  • Red: Condition Red is fight.
    • Your mental trigger (established back in Condition Orange) has been tripped.
    • “If ‘X’ happens I will shoot that person” – ‘X’ has happened, the fight is on.

This is your line in the sand. No hesitations, no doubts.

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Posted in Awareness, Mindset
3 comments on “Jeff Cooper’s Color Code
  1. […] Jeff Cooper’s Color Code ( […]


  2. Mike Peach says:

    I prefer the NRA method. Unaware, aware, alert alarm. These are words that need no explanation for literate people. It’s easier and more descriptive.


    • I really do like the NRA training methodologies since they keep it as simple as possible.

      I admit that I wonder what the agenda is when I hear an instructor bash the NRA material without articulating why they are bashing it.


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