Rob Pincus challenges some traditional notions of situational awareness, something people talk a lot about when it comes to self-defense. We mostly talk about situational awareness relating to avoiding a situation, such as crossing the street to avoid someone who looks dangerous. Another facet of it is knowing our surroundings, such as the exits in a hotel or restaurant. During travel, it means knowing where mass transit and rallying points are, among other safety concerns.
But there’s a practical aspect to situational awareness that is often overlooked when it comes to the fantasy of situational awareness many people live under.
Among self-defense concepts, people in the firearms community have traditionally given color codes to designate levels of situational awareness. The colors represent how aware a person is of their surroundings and how ready they are to defend themselves. For example, Condition White is completely oblivious to anything happening around you, and Condition Red or Black (depending on the system) is actually being in a fight. Conditions Yellow and Orange are in the middle. Defense-minded individuals often say they try to stay in Condition Yellow at all times.
The Impracticalities of 24/7 Condition Yellow
What they envision is that they have 360-degree awareness of everything going on around them at all times. Rob believes this is completely impractical in terms of looking at the way we can be situationally aware, how alert we are, and how much focus we really have.
Rob discusses why he believes this concept of always being in Condition Yellow is a myth, then presents a more practical example of situational awareness that he believes is applicable to how we live our daily lives. See if you agree with Rob and can work his ideas into your self-defense training and lower your odds of being ambushed.
See, this is where you loose me. Jeff Cooper back in the ’70s taught the color code as a simple way to narrow your focus from white, a condition of oblivious awareness, a general relaxed awareness (yellow) which is used to identify things that are out of place, to red, which is the application of violence. The best answers in times of high stress, like combat, are simple answers, because they are easy to remember and apply. No one has ever been better served by making a problem more complicated than it needs to be. The color code, when correctly applied, is a simple and effective system.
In the video, this idea is misinterpreted and misrepresented. While criticizing the color code on one hand, as a means of conducting continuous 360 degree situational awareness at all times, as an effort to prevent an ambush, something which was never intended in Jeff Cooper’s teachings, you talk about narrowing your focus on a specific problem, which is exactly what the color code does. So lets consider what the color code is and what it really does.
White is a condition where the individual is oblivious to his surroundings. If you are attacked while in white, you will probably die. Jeff Cooper described a situation that arose at an after hours party in a machine shop, where an attacker burst through the door with an FAL, and the first fellow he saw offered him a beer. It was only after the bad guy had twice pulled the trigger on an empty chamber that the party goer realized there might be a problem, clearly the only thing that saved him was the fact that the bad guy didn’t know how to run the gun.
Yellow is a relaxed general alert, that can be maintained indefinitely, but once you’ve locked onto a target, “there is something wrong with that tree!”” you shift to a specific alert, orange.
Orange can only be maintained for a short duration, and as soon as you’ve identified the problem and resolved it, you are now back in yellow. As Mr. Cooper said when describing orange, “Something might happen, and it might happen to him!” While in orange, if you think it prudent, you might draw your weapon if you have one.
Red, not black, is your fighting stroke, lethal action is all that can save you, and your thoughts have now shifted to the mechanics of making the shot, thrusting the blade, or swinging the club or a fist. There is no step between orange and red, orange is assessment, red is fight.
Lets consider the advantages of the color code:
1) If you realize you are in White, you should also realize that you could be in jeopardy, and shift to Yellow.
2) While in Yellow, you are less likely to be targeted by a thug, who would rather choose a soft unaware target, and you’re body language transmits that you aren’t that.
3) If you are targeted, the color code might prevent you from being surprised, “I thought this might happen, and I know what to do about it.” If you are not surprised, you have time to develop a plan, if you have a plan, your odds improve.
4) If you are focused on the color code first, and on the mechanics of shooting second, you have defeated fear, since you’re too busy for it to enter your consciousness and control you. As a result you are inclined to make better decisions.
Finally, in your treatise, situational awareness narrows towards the threat which is precisely what the color code does. Why not just give Jeff Cooper his due, and continue to teach his simple, and effective system, rather than a complex, unwieldy, and less effective study of situational awareness?
Thanks for this. I’ve often felt like I was failing at situational awareness because I simply couldn’t see everything all the time. It makes sense to check out the area around you for people, exits, places for cover and concealment. But after that, to do what you’re there for, simply checking every so often for changes in the environment and always being alert for the “sneak attack” so you can defend against it.
Yeppers that’s why I try to sit in a seat that gives me a view of any exits or doors without turning my head. Back to a wall is great as long as I can see the exits and other doorways with as little head movement as possible.
This is why I rarely ever sit in the middle of a room. Sitting against a wall cuts your situational sphere from 360 to 180. Sitting in a corner cuts it to 90. If someone is with me, we sit across from each other so together we can keep a 360 eye on the surroundings.