The Awareness Colour Code is not original to Krav Maga, yet it has a simple brilliance to it that we appreciate. It uses colours to quantify the state of your nervous system at a given time so that you can be aware of how you should or should not react, or which stage you should be at, with regard to the stages of self-defence. This, in many ways, is an attempt to take conscious control over the primal nervous system response that was developed over millennia for our survival; the fight or flight mechanism. The Code was developed for self-defence in general and adopted by many militaries, as well as UTKM, as a teaching method to help you understand what is going on in your head and body, allowing you to regain control over some of these automated systems that sometimes help, but often hinder.
The system defines five states, coded as white, yellow, orange, red, and black, which are meant to represent not just what is going on externally (eg. “red” is “fight”) but also as what level of alertness or excitement your nervous system should be in (eg. “white” is “unaware”).
Much like the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert’s Dune series who have near-complete control over their mind, bodies, and nervous systems through conscious thought, this system, though not as effective as their training, can help bring you back to the present, the now, so that you can regain control of any given situation to reach a more optimal result.
To many, this may not seem like an important aspect of self-defence, but it truly is. To those who still think self-defence, whether Krav Maga or otherwise, is only kicking, punching, and working on the physical, sorry, but you are only looking at one part of the puzzle. Krav Maga and “self-defence systems” are not traditional martial arts, as there is no focus on culture, tradition, or spirituality. Though eschewing the traditional elements has resulted in a proficient system it often creates gaps or holes that are unaddressed among its practitioners; especially surrounding mental peace and stability. In the case of Krav Maga in particular, many practitioners tend to be more aggressive or have unresolved mental health issues as a result of their chosen professions, or sometimes from an experience that led them to start training Krav Maga (often a physical or sexual assault situation).
The reality is that many people who experience conflict in their life may be doing so because of their environment, certain past choices, or because other people and experiences created conflict that resulted in a traumatic experience of some kind. Regardless of the why, we often forget we are in many ways biological computers that can rebuild and change in real time, and that the literal structure of our brain can have real affects on how we process information or react to it.
This is why at UTKM I push the idea (though at this point it may simply be the truth) that, in our increasingly complicated world, self-defence is not just physical but touches on several aspects of modern life; mental, spiritual, and, of course, financial, to name a few. This means that the simple but brilliant Awareness Colour Code system can be applied to your mental state during a literal physical conflict, AND also applied to your general mental state at any given time.
Krav Maga is famous for playing with a stressed out nervous system, in that if we put you under mental and physical duress, activating the sympathetic nervous system response, and then teach you techniques and train you, your body will get used to functioning in this state. This is great for dealing with a violent conflict but not so great for day-to-day use, as we don’t want to be walking around with a stressed out system operating in a sympathetically dominant state all the time, as this ultimately leads to mental health issues. When this type of training is applied correctly and with enough time spent, though akin to a more violent form of exposure therapy, it can actually help create a parasympathetic dominate system in which you have more conscious control and can put yourself in the correct (or necessary) state at any point; which in turn is much better for your overall mental health. This, however, can make learning Krav Maga challenging or overwhelming for those who already have systems that tend to hang out in a “sympathetic state” (aka anxiety or other issues) most of the time. The goal of good self-defence is to bring inner peace to your system through enough iterations that you can act aggressively but have complete control by staying in the moment.
This practice, often called mindfulness, is simply a matter of bringing your conscious or unconscious to the here and now so that you making a decision to respond rather than simply reacting as per your nervous system’s hard-wired protocols. From a practical self-defence perspective this also means training your body enough so that you don’t have to focus on the techniques or literally physical actions, allowing your mind to focus on awareness and quick decision making. Mindfulness, unfortunately, like many new ideas is often diluted by the “woo-woo” peddling con artists, or by people who really do not know what they are doing when attempting to bring the physical and mental together within the tangled reality that we call the human experience.
When it comes to physical self-defence an example could be that if we let our nervous system go into the sypmathetic system, or “auto” mode, when responding to a threat, simply reacting without choice or thought, we may actually be making the situation worse. Our uncontrolled reaction may escalate the situation, we could be overly aggressive and poorly targeted, or otherwise create an outcome that was not desirable. Even in a purely social situation reacting in a way that others find distasteful could create the wrong impression or burn important social bridges. Really, in any situation in which our nervous system has perceived a threat where one doesn’t really exist and our mind runs into Red, a fight from our nervous system’s perspective, we may simply “overheat” and cause our own mental break down.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter whether a threat is real or perceived, our nervous system, bodies, and subconscious really don’t know the difference, and it’s only through conscious training and acknowledgement of your given state that you can calm your system down to have better control, which in turn will create more desirable outcomes, no matter the situation.
This series of posts is going to run through each of the colour codes using stories and scenarios, to offer perspective on each stage from both physical self-defence and mental self-defence situations. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but it is clear that, as we learn more and more what it means to be human from the biological perspective, we can now start to really understand our internal struggle and come out better for it.
By applying the Krav Maga and general life principle of keeping it simple, using this colour code for bother literal self-defence and general mental health self-defence, it should simplify your worlds by keeping everything connected rather than constantly applying multiple models or strategies in a complex web of solutions that can be hard to connect or use in the moment. If one solution can solve multiple problems, and it is simple, perhaps it is the best and does not need to be re-invented?
Additionally I hope to help bridge the gap in your understanding that your physical health and mental health are connected in a way that we are only now beginning to understand, and, despite any resistance you might have now, that if you want to be a better version of yourself it’s only a matter of learning, growing, and making it inevitable.
If this series resonates with you in a way that the “woo woo” has not than I will consider this a win. We will simply take the existing mental awareness colour code and add perspective to the reality that self-defence is not just physical and living a happy, healthy life requires work on all aspects, physical, mental, and even spiritual (whatever that may be for you).
So, as you work through this series, I hope it can help you to learn to walk in peace.
Written by Jonathan Fader