Today, we’re talking about Cooper’s Color Code.
If you’re reading this article, I doubt I need to give you much background on Jeff Cooper. You probably already know the legend of the man. Hell, maybe you even knew him personally.
With that said, I always assume I’m talking to newbies, so I will give some background.
Jeff Cooper was a Marine, a self defense instructor, and a thinker. His thoughts have completely changed the world. There’s no hyperbole in that statement; Jeff Cooper changed the world.
When he was born, men carried revolvers and shot with one hand. After he passed, the whole world considered his writing as gospel and many carried the M1911.
Jeff Cooper is probably the single most important person in the realm of self defense training. Not a single reputable trainer fully disagrees with him and his teachings are now the gold standard. Every student of the art of the gun takes most of what they learn from Jeff Cooper, whether they know it or not.
Today, we’re talking about Cooper’s Color Code. Cooper’s Color Code is a simple concept that allows you to reframe your level of situational awareness, specifically your consciousness of your own awareness.
Cooper’s Color Code is a fairly simple concept. It’s simple so you can implement it easily. Cooper was a master of not making simple things hard.
Don’t take that to mean he wasn’t intelligent. Jeff Cooper was a highly intelligent man. He was also highly opinionated, as many men of intelligence and experience are. If he were still living, Twitter would probably have an entire server dedicated to keeping Cooper’s Commentaries running.
Cooper was a prolific writer, and every line he ever wrote was formed from solid gold.
I can count on two hands the number of writers of his caliber.
He’s one of the only writers who wrote on the subject of self defense that I consider an expert in every way. I feel I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t recommend you read his book, Principles of Personal Defense. He covers the matter of self defense far better than I ever could.
Full disclosure, that’s an affiliate link. If you buy Cooper’s excellent book through that link, you’re helping fund Business and Bullets. I greatly appreciate that, and I hope that you buy Cooper’s book. I know your preparedness will only improve by reading his words.
I recommend Jeff Cooper’s writing because I know it will help you. His work has helped me, and I expect there are more people out there that share my views.
Now, on to explaining Cooper’s Color Code.
WHAT IS COOPER’S COLOR CODE?
Cooper’s Color Code is a tool for situational awareness. It is simple and easy to remember. It’s made up of 4 colors: White, Yellow, Orange, and Red.
Cooper’s Color Code is not a way to analyze the amount of danger you’re in. It is your readiness to respond to that danger. It’s a tool to analyze your own level of situational awareness at any given time.
You definitely shouldn’t over-analyze this during a violent encounter, though.
Before we break down Cooper’s Color Code, let me make a few things clear.
This isn’t going to be a direct copy-paste of Cooper’s writing. I’m going off of memory and my interpretation. If you disagree with my description, please comment below.
I know that many modern instructors have added extra colors, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I also know that I’m not going to be using the exact wording Cooper used. Don’t comment about either of those, because those aren’t my goals in writing this.
I do think some reflection on these descriptions could be beneficial, and I know many men who pack iron are also deep thinkers. I’d like Business and Bullets to be a resource for all you deep thinkers to share your thoughts on things like Cooper’s Color Code.
The color code is as follows:
Cooper’s Color Code – White
Fat, Dumb, and Happy. Unaware of surroundings.
“Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” – Jeff Cooper
Think of everyone walking around looking at their smart phones and being oblivious to the world around them. In other words, the vast majority of human beings on Earth. Fluffy white little sheep.
Nobody likes to admit it, but we are all spending more and more time at Code White nowadays.
Smart phones. Social Media. Blogs (like this one).
We spend more time now than ever before in Code White. It’s a perpetual problem in modern society and it’s only going to get worse. There is hope, though.
The trick is to minimize your risk. It’s true that no place is safe, just safer. Even so, you’re going to be unaware every now and then.
Try to limit your time unaware to times when you’re in a safer place, preferably one where you’ll have help if you’re caught unaware. You obviously don’t want to be alone in a fight when you’re completely unaware of your surroundings.
If you’re at Code White, you’re not going to be able to react to disaster quickly enough.
People usually say, “It all happened so fast…” because they were at code white. There were warning signs they were oblivious to. Usually, the situation could’ve been avoided entirely.
Ask anyone who works at a hospital. The vast majority of people they treat in the emergency room are idiots who got hurt when they weren’t paying attention in their daily life. Fluffy white little sheep and their boo-boos.
If you’re at Code White when a fight breaks out, you’re probably going to lose. You stand a fairly good chance of dying unless you’re very lucky. Since I’m not a sheep, I prefer not to rely on luck.
Code White is not a good way to go into your defining moment.
Cooper’s Color Code – Yellow
Relaxed alertness. Cooper’s recommendation for daily life.
You’re not actively seeking out specific threats, you’re just aware that bad shit can go down and the world isn’t a perfectly safe place. You’re ready for whatever comes.
“The essential thing is to bear always in mind that trouble can appear at any time. Be aware. Be ready. Be alert.” – Jeff Cooper
Make the shift from Code White to Code Yellow
The prerequisite to being in Code Yellow is realizing that bad things happen and that they can happen to you. You have to say, “Not me. Not today.” If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already met the prerequisite.
The first part of being in Code Yellow is in making the decision to carry a gun. It’s one thing to own a gun, and it’s something else to actually carry it. That’s the easiest part of living in Code Yellow.
The second part of being in Code Yellow is actually being relaxed and alert. This is definitely the hardest part.
Because you must not become so rested that you become unaware. Don’t get caught slippin’.
Because you must not become so alert that you drain your stamina and put undue strain on your mind and body.
It’s a fine line, and one that I’ve never been particularly good at walking. Most people err on the side of relaxation, and I would err on the side of alertness. I’ll talk about that in a minute.
Cooper’s Color Code is based on the assumption that if you choose to carry a gun, you’re going to live in condition yellow. You can maintain a state of relaxed alertness indefinitely, since you’re simply aware of your surroundings and the world we live in.
Code Yellow is what everyone thinks they’re at, while some are actually spending every waking moment in Code Orange.
Cooper’s Color Code – Orange
Actively seeking threats.
“Anyone who is aware of his environment knows that the peril of physical assault does exist, and that it exists everywhere and at all times.” – Jeff Cooper
Code Orange is an active alert. It drains you and your focus because you’re actively looking for problems. A lot of people spend every day in code orange and it’s no life you want to live.
It is a life where you’re always dealing with some potential threat. Just about 99.999% of the time, the threat isn’t real. You’re not being honest with yourself.
The kids call this being “crazy shook“.
You won’t have much of a life if you’re always afraid.
Is living in a constantly alerted state really that bad?
To this day, I can’t sit with my back to a door for fear of missing something. I can’t tolerate anyone within three feet of my right hip because they could perform a gun grab. I count people in public places and identify who is with a group and who is alone. I never use a urinal.
These are all good self defense and awareness practices. Even so, they can be crippling inconveniences as well. You need to make sure you’re honest with yourself because you don’t want to be a slave to the practice.
You need an active, REAL reason to be in code orange. Real threats, not perceived threats.
Your perception can be wrong. You’re afraid. To a certain extent, we all are.
In the case of the one-in-a-million where you’re actually right, where there is an actual specific threat to you and your well-being, you finally shift into code red.
Cooper’s Color Code – Red
You are engaging an active threat.
“The will to survive is not as important as the will to prevail … the answer to criminal aggression is retaliation.” – Jeff Cooper
Fight time. The time for thinking is over, the time for fighting is now.
Since every encounter is different, there isn’t much I can tell you here. I have experienced my own defining moment, and I’d be lying if I said I knew what yours would be like.
The best I can do is tell you what to expect.
First, time will seem to speed up and slow down at the same time. Then, you’ll get tunnel vision. Finally, you’ll be twitchy from the adrenaline dump.
I could be wrong on the order in which it happens, because you’ll lose the ability to remember events in the right sequence as well.
Because of this, you won’t rise to the occasion. You’re going to default to your level of training. You’re going to have to rely on muscle memory because your decision making process is going to be a mess.
Code Red is going to be short, intense, and life altering. Your time in Code Red will most likely be measured in seconds, not minutes or hours. Consequently, if you weren’t prepared (if you weren’t aware) you might not be alive long enough to worry about how long it’ll last.
What can you do to improve your odds?
A lot of people on the internet would tell you to buy a gun, shoot it monthly, and give lots of money to modern self defense instructors who are basically repackaging Cooper’s teachings. As a result, I won’t be recommending any particular trainers.
We live in the digital age. I leave it to your discretion whether or not to get training and who you should train under. I can promise you that there will never be a Business and Bullets seminar on handling guns or anything else since I don’t want to be the man giving the seminar.
Instead, I’ll endeavor to present just the information I feel is useful here at Business and Bullets.
If you thought this post was useful, you should check out Jeff Cooper’s book.