From ‘Cooper’s Commentaries’

I have been teaching the Color Code for about 30 years now, but I have not been teaching it well. I keep seeing something handed back to me which purports to be what I have taught, but which is not. Clearly I am not as much of a teacher as I would like to be.

I believe I can speak freely of the Color Code because as it applies to defensive pistolcraft I invented it. I cannot, of course, say that what I think is right, but only that what I have preached is just that – what I have preached. It works, and it satisfies me, but not all the time. I have scores of cases now from men I have taught and who have reported back to me that their understanding of a Color Code saved their lives. This, of course, is very satisfying, but I do wish the matter were more clearly understood.

The Color Code refers not to a condition of peril, but rather to a condition of readiness to take life. Fortunately most people are very reluctant to take lethal action against another human being. Most people are reluctant to shoot for blood on a harmless game animal, until they become used to it. To press the trigger on a human adversary calls for a wrenching effort of will which is always difficult to achieve and sometimes apparently impossible. Thus we live our days in Condition White, which may or may not have anything to do with our danger, since quite frequently we are in deadly danger and do not realize it. Any time you cross directions out on a two-lane highway you are at the mercy of that character coming towards you in the opposite direction. Usually he is okay, but when he is under some sort of chemical influence, or is psychologically upset, he may only twitch his wheel to produce a multiple fatal accident. Most of us would prefer to live in Condition White permanently, and many do, but those who are more aware of the nature of things are often in Yellow, which is a condition in which we are aware that the world is full of hazards which are human, and some of which may be obviated by our own defensive action. When one is in Condition Yellow he is aware that today may be the day. He is not in a combat mood, nor is he aware of any specific situation which may call for action on his part. There is a vital difference between White and Yellow, and it has to do not with any specific enemy or a set of circumstances, but rather with your awareness that you individually may have to take decisive action on this very day. If you are attacked in Condition White, you will probably die, or at least need a stretcher. If you are attacked inCondition Yellow, you will probably win, assuming that you are armed, awake and aware. The difference does not lie in the deadliness of the hazard facing you, but rather in your willingness to take a very unusual action.

If in the course of events you become aware of the possible existence in your presence of a lethal adversary, you switch from Yellow to Orange. The difference lies in the specific nature of your presumed antagonist, not in his evident competence or attitude. In Yellow you say to yourself, “I may have to shoot today.” I may actually have to press my trigger on a human adversary, but I don’t know who or where.

When you detect the presence of a target who may be the one you will have to engage, you shift from Yellow to Orange. In Yellow your mind-set is “I may have to shoot today.” In Orange it is “I may have to shoot him today.” At this point your normal reluctance becomes easier to overcome. Legal and moral aspects of the conflict are lowered and have been dismissed from your mind. Your attitude is dictated by the presence of that enemy standing there. You may have to shoot him, now, today. What is needed is a trigger. The trigger is the act establishing that the situation is indeed a matter of lethal conflict. This is Condition Red, and in Red you have solved the psychological problem and have no further concerns beyond the technical. In Red you are go, and your mind is concerned only with front-sight and surprise.

Moving from the various Conditions into each other is easy to accomplish once it is understood. If you are attacked in White you will lose the fight. In Yellow you will have the advantage of initiative response over your antagonist. In Orange you are pretty safe, provided you are armed, alert and aware. In Red you win. Simple, isn’t it? Clearly you cannot go any further than Red because in Red you have already made the lethal decision. Complications are unproductive.
-Col. Jeff Cooper, USMC (ret)

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