Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Cooper’

In 1989, Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper, a former US Marine and creator of “the modern technique” of gun fighting, wrote a booked called Principles of Personal Defense and he devised a colour code to indicate the level of awareness a person has. Black was added later by the USMC after realizing what extreme stress can cause. The awareness colour code is a simplified view of a person’s stress and awareness under stressful potentially dangerous situations. It is important to know both in Krav Maga and in life at what level you are to avoid reaching code Black. A keyword often heard in Krav Maga is ” Situational Awareness” this as taught in class is usually referring to environmental awareness. Here you must ask yourself things like, are there multiple attackers? are their weapons? Do I have viable escape routes? etc… However, a big part of situational awareness is also your personal mental state and your ability to act or react appropriately. Enter, the Awareness Colour code. An easy guide to understanding your mental state at any given time.Principles of self defense.jpg

White – Unaware and Unprepared

This is you sitting relaxed on the couch after a large meal. Often students like to test an instructor, however even if a black belt is teaching but is at this level, any person could easily sucker punch even the most accomplished martial artist. This is a relaxed and unassuming state, you are not anticipating an attack and are relaxed both mentally and physically. This is a state you should be in only in safe environments.

Yellow – Relaxed Alert (A)

Most animals such as cats or dogs spend most of the time in this state. To quote his book;

“Observe your cat. It is difficult to surprise him. Why? Naturally, his superior hearing is part of the answer, but not all of it. He moves well using his senses. He is not preoccupied with irrelevancies. He’s not thinking about his job, his image or his income taxes. He’s putting first things first, principally his physical security.”

 – Jeff Cooper (2006). “Principles of Personal Defense: Revised Edition”, p.14, Paladin Press

In this stage, you are relaxed but still paying attention.  It would be harder to surprise a person at this stage but they are still not at a level of any stress, just simple awareness. It must be understood that being at Yellow, or relaxed alert, is not paranoia. If one were to mentally be at orange (below) or above on the scale on a regular basis, identifying everything as a threat whether real or imaginary then this would then be moving into paranoia. Remember, relaxed alert is just that, relaxed. Here you can stay indefinitely with out any issues other than being more prepared to perceive, Analyze, Formulate and Act (See Action Vs. Reaction: Stages of Mental Processing for more) against identified threats.

Orange – Specific Alert (A) (D) (PE)

This is when you have identified a specific area or person of concern and your attention is focused. A nefarious looking person walking towards you. A soldier on patrol assessing windows and doors. While Yellow is a stage that you can maintain indefinitely, Orange requires mental concentration. Consider working an 8 hour job. Statistically most work is done before noon as people still have the mental focus to be productive. The same goes for Orange; stay here for too long and you will begin to read the situation incorrectly.

Red – Condition Red is Fight (PE) (RA)

Either the situation was unavoidable or you misread it but you are now actively engaged in a fight or conflict. Imagine a car tachometer.  How long can it stay red lined until the engine blows. The same goes for a fight. How long can you maintain this level both mentally and physically? This is why for us, as Krav Maga practitioners, we try to limit time spent here and end it as soon as possible.

Black – Catastrophic Breakdown (Non-Functional Freeze (NFF))

You have now experienced a complete catastrophic breakdown mentally, physically or both. The longer you spend at condition Red the more likely you are to experience this. An example of this would be shell shock. However, sometimes, some people go straight from White or Yellow to Black. This would be the “freeze” reaction, which is when your nervous system is overwhelmed and instead of entering “fight or flight,” simply shuts down. You can avoid this by training properly so that your brain and body know how to react appropriately. However, it is impossible to know who will experience this. Some people are prone to it and some people are not. It is also important to have proper mental decompression if you spend too much of your time at Orange or Red. If you experience this or anything like it and have survived a violent confrontation we advise that you seek professional counselling to ensure that you do not suffer from Depression or Post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result and can get a proper debriefing both practically and emotionally.

* See The Stages of Self Defense post for more details on the below information

  • (A) – Avoidence
  • (D)- Diffusion
  • (PE) – Pre-Emptive
  • (RE) – Re-Active

**Topics under any principle category (EX. Krav Maga Principles) may be updated from time to time so always check in every few months to see if the posts have been updated.



*This is a re-edited version of a previous article, however it is important to understand that the first stage of Krav Maga/self defense no matter the style is Awareness. Not punching, Not kicking, not aggression. If you cannot see the fight about to come you have failed in some aspect.

Someone: What is Krav Maga?

Me: So back in the mid-to-late 1930s…

Krav Maga has been around for decades, yet it’s still fairly novel to people, especially in North America. People often ask me, “What is Krav Maga?” Unfortunately for them, this usually spurs me into a long winded tale about its complicated history. However, I think there is a way to simplify the answer.

In essence, Krav Maga can be defined as the art of awareness. During one sports psychology class I took in university, our discussion delved into the the importance of awareness in physical performance. For me, the first thing that came to mind was Krav Maga. As most Krav Maga practitioners should know, the man who developed Krav Maga, Imi Lichtenfeld famously said that Krav Maga was created “so one may walk in peace.” On top of that, Nir Maman has also said that “you win 100% of fights you are not in.” To walk in peace is to know how to avoid the fight, and the only way to do this is by being aware. Thus, in order to practice Krav Maga, it’s crucial to first practice awareness.

Wait, what is  awareness?

The first thing you should learn from any good Krav Maga school is to develop situational and environmental awareness. If you are only learning a set of moves, or only losing weight, you should probably start looking for a new instructor or school.

Now, it’s important to differentiate situational awareness from paranoia. It is really not the same thing. Paranoia is a state of anxiety or fear that is usually unrealistic and irrational. Situational awareness is a mindset in which an individual is attentive of his or her surroundings.

yellow code toothless

Toothless from how to train your dragon (2010 – Code yellow at its finest!

Jeff Cooper, former firearms instructor for the US Marines, formulated the awareness colour code which illustrates 4 mental states, increasing in danger and stress: white, yellow, orange, and red. Later, condition black was added (not by Jeff Cooper) to signify complete psychological shutdown. Someone who is paranoid generally spends time at the orange level, which easily leads to burnout for most people.On the other hand, someone who is situationally aware is generally at the yellow level, like a sleeping animal who is relaxed yet alert.

Being aware simply means paying attention to what is going on around you. However, in today’s modern world, largely due to the smartphone and other mobile devices, most people spend their time looking down. This means that this generation is losing that spatial and situational awareness that is crucial to human survival. Yes, we are not in the wilderness anymore, but the world is getting very violent once again. Situational awareness could literally be the difference between life and death. If your Krav Maga training has made you aware of what’s going on around you, then it is doing its job.

I’d like to think that at Urban Tactics Krav Maga, we have put together a good program to get situational awareness drilled into our students’ psyches. I mean, I regularly have students telling me that they are now paying attention to things they never used to notice. As an instructor, I’m contented to know that my students are truly learning to be aware so that they may walk in peace.


If Muggles were more situationally aware, they woulden’t miss all the kids entering platform 9 3/4

So now, when someone asks me what is Krav Maga, I can give a simpler answer. Ultimately, Krav Maga is awareness. Although, I will most likely still end up giving a long Krav Maga history lesson, since it’s my passion, I think it’s a good place to start.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

Edited by: Zerlinda Chau