Situational Awareness and the Cooper Color Codes

Welcome to this week’s edition of the

Urban Survival Newsletter
Situational Awareness

Brought to you by the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course and UrbanSurvivalPlayingCards.com.

This week’s newsletter is going to be a little shorter than usual…I’ve been letting the recent newsletters get too long for people to finish in one setting, so I’m tightening them up a little bit.  Even so, it’s going to be full of tactics on a specific valuable skill that you can start using immediately.  It’s situational awareness…and it’s a powerful tool that will help you interact with people more successfully, both before and after a disaster.

People tend to throw a lot of jargon around when they talk about situational awareness.  One of the most common phrases is talking about always being in “condition yellow.”  Condition yellow comes from famed firearms instructor, Jeff Cooper’s book, “Principles of Self Defense.”  You can get it on Amazon by clicking here>> Principles of Personal Defense by Jeff Cooper <<You may know Cooper as the founder of the famous Gunsite Firearms Training Academy.  Although quoted often, few people have actually read the book.  It’s less than 30 pages, and dirt cheap at $10.  I’ll warn you now, if you judge the value of a book by it’s weight, skip this one.  If, on the other hand, you’re like me and appreciate quality over quantity and fluff, it’s one you should buy and read soon.

So let me briefly tell you about Cooper’s color codes.  He maintained that people walk around in one of four states, or conditions:

Condition White:  This is the baseline in America.  Unaware.  “Tuned out” listening to music, texting, talking on a cell phone, or just daydreaming.  The belief in condition white is that everyone around you will look out for you and that nobody would have any reason to do you harm.  People who walk into fixed objects like light poles, walls, etc. are generally in condition white.  They don’t see danger coming and are surprised and confused when bad things happen.

Condition Yellow:  This is the condition where you’re relaxed and aware of your surroundings.  You observe people around you, look for exits, possible improvised weapons, and environmental threats (like icicles hanging from a roof or a young child playing by a railing with 1 foot gaps in the slats.)  In this state, you’re also more likely to see opportunities, recognize friends, and identify situations where you can help with information or by taking action.  Being in condition yellow allows you to be proactive and avoid problems or create favorable outcomes that other people don’t see as possibilities. 

Condition yellow is NOT necessarily being on edge, irritable, having a hair trigger and thinking that everyone is out to get you.  In fact, simply “people watching” is a form of condition yellow.  It’s simply about proactively observing what is going on around you.  If you observe good things, that’s great.  If you observe bad things, you’ll usually do it early on and have more time to plan and execute your escape or reaction. 

More often than not, once you’ve trained your mind to observe your surroundings, you’ll start picking up things without even consciously looking for them.  Things like recognizing bulges, knowing knife brands when you’re only able to see the clip from across the room, and identifying someone who’s angry out of the corner of your eye by their clenched jaw, tense body, and the way they walk.

These observations will even pay every day as you’re just going about your life.  You’ll see dog poop sooner, recognize doors that open out towards the sidewalk, see people getting ready to open their car door in your path, and the potential for well meaning people to come flying around blind corners.

Condition Orange is the next stage.  It happens when something has made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

It could be something that you consciously identified or it could be something that your subconscious mind has picked up that your conscious mind hasn’t. 

A radical example of this would be looking at a sociopath in the face who is showing a genuine smile, but who is also pulling their hand out of their pocket where there is the slight outline of a knife.  Your conscious mind will want to focus on the genuine smile, and your unconscious mind will be screaming to focus on the knife.

In any case, when you’re in condition orange, it’s time to set concrete triggers for fighting, fleeing, or capitulating.  “If he comes towards me and asks for my money, I’m going to throw my money on the ground.  If he tells me to lay down, I’ll eliminate the threat.

A more ordinary example of condition orange would be spotting a concealed carry holder who’s firearm has become exposed.  Probably nothing, but worth watching.

An everyday example is when you’re around young children in a new environment where you haven’t had a chance to look for dangers.  Or when you are introducing dogs when one or more are sometimes aggressive.  Or when you are approaching an aggressive panhandler or see someone who looks like they just got released from 10 years in the pen.

It’s important to set your triggers or have pre-decided triggers that you’ll use in condition Orange.  With introducing dogs, it could be, “if my dog growls, I’ll pull sharply on the leash.  If the other dog growls, I’ll pick up my dog and walk away.”

With the robber, it could be, “when he leans down to pick up the money, I’m going to kick his head with my shin.”

In a holdup situation, it could be, “if he turns his back to me, I’ll draw my firearm, drop to one knee so I’ve got a safe backstop, and order him to drop his weapon.  If he points his firearm at me, I’ll shoot him to stop the threat.”

Most times, when you’re in condition orange, the stimulus will leave, you will downgrade your assessment, or you will remove yourself from the situation.

Condition Red:  When something triggers condition orange and running or giving in are not an option, sometimes you will move into condition red, which is the fight.

This is simply the execution of the trigger that you decided on in condition orange.  It’s actually running away.  It’s actually giving in.  It’s actually eliminating the threat because things have escalated to the point where the benefits of acting outweigh the risks.

How do you get better at seeing things around you?

Put simply it’s a skill.  You’ll want to start simple and build on the basics.  I’m going to give you some tips you can start using immediately to help you be more aware of the people around you.  Simply put, it’s comparing people around you to yourself or someone you know well.  When someone comes in a door, ask the following questions.  They’re a fairly common set of questions that police detectives ask witnesses after a crime to help them to recall details:

     – Male/female & skin color
     – Older than me, the same age, or younger than me?
     – Smaller, the same size, or larger than me?
     – Thin, fit, fat, or obese?
     – Taller, same height, or shorter than me?
     – Less aware, as aware, or more aware than me?
     – Dressed casually, formally, for a purpose?

You can add DOZENS of additional questions and observations, but this is a great place to start.  As you’re answering these questions, you’ll naturally start to see other things that help you start to form a picture of the person. 

One easy thing to identify is clothes.  People usually don’t wear clothes to show people what they DON’T like…rather, they’ll wear clothes that show their favorite teams, activities, or causes.

Another is watches, sunglasses & jewelry.  Sometimes they are just thrown on, but oftentimes, they help tell the story of the wearer.

Tattoos are another story teller.  Are they a reminder?  A tribute?  A message to others?

Like I said, there are dozens of other questions you can ask and things you can observe.  As you’re increasing the number of things that you observe about others, remember to add on slowly.  If you go immediately from being un-observant to trying to observe 20 different factors and profile people like a Secret Service agent, you’ll just get frustrated. 

On the other hand, if you start by observing a few things until it becomes natural, and then add on a few more, you’ll soon be able to make fairly accurate observations and threat/no-threat judgments quickly and almost subconsciously.

Since urban survival is as much about how well you are able to interact with others as it is about beans, bullets, and band-aids, it’s a vital skill to develop as quickly as possible.  That’s why situational awarenss is one of the many topics that I cover in the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course.  To learn more and get signed up, please go to www.SurviveInPlace.com.

If you have other tips, tricks, and shortcuts for being situationally aware, please share them by commenting below:

Until next week, God Bless and stay safe!

David Morris
SurviveInPlace.com
UrbanSurvivalPlayingCards.com
Facebook.com/SurvivalDave
Twitter.com/SurvivalDave

Comments

  1. Actually, the Color Code is not discussed in Jeff Cooper’s indispensable book The Principles Of Personal Defense. Alertness is discussed, as a principle, but Alertness and the Color Code are not the same. The Color Code is about mindset – the way one thinks about the possibility of violent confrontation.

    Thus, when one is in “Condition Yellow”, that is not the description of one’s level of awareness, it is a description of one’s mental and emotional understanding that peril exists, that it may visit at any time, and that one may have to do something about it.

    Cooper had this to say about the distinction:
    “There is a problem in that some students insist upon confusing the appropriate color with the amount of danger evident in the situation. As I have long taught, you are not in any color state because of the specific amount of danger you may be in, but rather in a mental state which enables you to take a difficult psychological step.”

    While this obviously leads to the necessity of being alert to possible threats, it is a distinct and separate concept – and it is not mentioned anywhere in Principles of Personal Defense. The book is really almost of pamphlet length, and is invaluable – it should be read and periodically re-read by anyone who considers violence a possibility in the real world. That said, the Color Code is covered elsewhere. The book is not long – I am consistently surprised to see that mistaken information about this manages to survive considering that definitive information on this subject is written down and readily available.

    (Wikipedia has the source of the color code wrong in exactly the same way as David, though they’re closer on the description of the code itself – which makes sense, since they pretty much quote Cooper directly. )

    I appreciate your work Dave, and your course has been excellent. Cooper is something of a personal hero of mine, and I think that his work should be read and propagated – accurately – by all.

  2. Art Easter says:

    I like the color code system
    The System I learned was out of Murphy P. Boston’s
    “Boston’s Gun Bible” A great resource that cant wait to update.
    White and orange are the same, but with red you have identified the danger and you have started to take action, and with Condition black, you have already emptied the magazine and you’re reloading. (As an example) :P
    He mentions other things you can do with the color code system; you can verbalize the threat or observation to your buddy, like “That guy on your 2 looks pretty Red”
    Of course your buddy would have to understand this system as well.
    Code words can be used to communicate to others without letting unwanted or dangerous personnel understand what you mean, but Ill save that one for another day

  3. Just posted a link to this article at my yacht security blog. Situational Awareness is a skill I try to ensure clients use – it helps to being more enjoyment to the voyage/cruise, pulling out details they may have missed if they were not paying attention. Plus, SA will keep you from putting yourself in harms way in the first place.

  4. Recently, stratfor.com delivered a couple of articles on awareness. They carried the color table into black which is comatose — frozen in place. The lesson there is like Dave’s & all of these added comments. Wake up & practice these techniques in everyday living. Escape at early red; avoid black if at all humanly possible. Train, think, imagine during all those daily orange experiences & look for the lateral options instead of the headlong routines that we think are the only options. Consistent with Dave’s themes: This is so simple it hides in plain sight. Our culture is incredibly distracted from the obvious as we multi-task along and the bad guys seize on our self-imposed vulnerabilities. Keep ringing the bell, Dave!

    A consideration about too much red for too long: It takes its toll. Our soldiers pay a terrible emotional price in their yearlong red zone, for example. The rest of us must dial it back as well as we can to low yellow or white when we’re reasonably safe or we’ll get miswired. That runs counter to Dave’s lessons.

    The term “peripheral” relating to all our senses is instructive. We sometimes get locked into thinking it’s just vision. I’m going to re-explore these other human radar aspects of awareness. Thanks to all for this mindset re-set. We all benefit by buffing the corrosion off some of our dormant receivers.

    • Hey Leni, Thanks for your comments! I wanted to respond to one thing you said:

      “The rest of us must dial it back as well as we can to low yellow or white when we’re reasonably safe or we’ll get miswired. That runs counter to Dave’s lessons. ”

      Actually, that is perfectly congruent with what I believe, practice, and have attempted to convey in the course and newsletter. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t believe in lone wolf survival for long term urban survival situations.

      If I’ve said anything that appears to convey a belief that you should stay in condition orange or condition red, please do me a favor and point it out to me so I can re-word it. You’re exactly right…you should not stay in condition orange or red any longer than necessary at one time.

      David

  5. I am enjoying your newsletters very much and hope to purchase your program as soon as we are able. After reading all of these comments, I would like to add something that came to mind. We own property in a wilderness area and visit from time to time when we can get away. A neighbor told me that he saw a bear foraging in the thicket between our places a few weeks before, so I instinctively started wearing my firearm. Then, while back home, there was a news segment on tv about a guy that was mauled by a bear and almost lost his life. He told his story as to how it happened and said that while he and his wife were vacationing at their lake home, he decided to take his dogs for a walk. While out, he saw/heard a rustling in the bushes and stopped to see what it was. A BEAR! The dogs ran away as the bear attacked him. He yelled for his wife to call 911. That is the problem. A lot of folks look to someone else (the authorities) to “save” them.

  6. Reading everyone’s comments makes me think of how I “trained” myself to have an increased sense of situational awareness, especially after having lived in the Chicagoland area for most of my life and having travelled through many crappy areas frequently.

    I’ve learned to literally have a rubber neck when walking around or driving around, scanning the area for a good 180+ degrees, as I would use my peripheral vision along side of my rubber neck. I would frequently observe what everyone was doing,whether it was a little child playing, an old lady at the bus stop, a guy casually walking down the street, etc. I would sometimes focus on their actions to see what they’re doing and sometimes make it a game to see if I could figure out just what they might be planning on doing, if they plan on darting out into the street, or walking in a different direction, or whatever. Sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m not, but one thing is true, I don’t focus for too long on any one person, cuz just like George Carlin once said “While you’re focused on a quiet person, a noisy one will F**ing kill you!”

    Even while driving I pay attention to my surroundings, which has its benefits in everyday life, as I’ve avoided plenty of accidents that would’ve been accredited to some other bonehead doing something stupid, and me not paying enough attention. I don’t blindly fly out into intersections when the light turns green unless I can see a good ways down the street in both directions to be sure that I won’t get T-boned by someone running the light, or run over someone trying to run across the street to catch a bus/taxi. Even when I have to stop, such as at an ATM or to let someone out, etc, I don’t always put my vehicle into park. While some may disagree with this move for safety reasons, my response to that is if someone does try to attack me or carjack me, by being in gear still, I can quickly switch feet from the brake to the accelerator and be out of harms way before some goon can violate me or my passenger(s). It takes too long to put a car in gear and a thief can use that to their advantage to jack you at an ATM.

    Just like one of the female commenters mentioned about petrol stations being dangerous places to be at, especially at night, I’ve made it a habit to again, rubber neck, looking all around and even looking at what others are doing, and periodically moving about the vehicle like I’m looking at things (which sometimes I am, while still being alert), this way even if someone is planning on sneaking up on me, I’m moving too much to make an easy target.

    I tend to believe at times that walking around with your hands in your pockets, or at least one hand in your pocket may deter some people from trying something as they won’t know if your hand(s) may be on a gun, mace, knife, brass knuckles, etc. If you walk around casually dangling your arms like a giddy school girl, not paying attention, you might get sucker punched by some mugger, who knows.

    Due to the prolonged state of awareness I’ve allowed myself to sit in, its pretty hard to scare me now by surprise jumping out or yelling behind me when you think I don’t know you’re there, (my wife tries and tries but fails every time) but one thing that is kind of funny about me now is the idea that if one does manage to successfully “scare” me, its likely I might reflexively jab them in self defense as I’ve almost done to a couple of friends on occasion but managed to stop right away after determining that they were friend and not foe. Instead of jumping and screaming, as soon as my brain determines (almost in a split second) that the stimulus is friendly, I immediately jump back down to condition yellow and the unsuspecting friend doesn’t get a fist in the face or chest.

    Even in the home I’ve learned to be more aware of my surroundings. Even though I’m out in the country compared to the Chicagoland area, I still have to be aware of everything as I’m definately on my own since the nearest cop is probably more than 15 minutes away. I learn to distinguish between the “I want attention” barks of the dogs outside and the “INTRUDER!” barks, as well as the frequency, so I’m not getting up unnecessarily in the middle of the night to find out my 4 legged buddies are barking at one of their buddies or a raccoon wandering on by. I keep my revolver on the second shelf of the nightstand where in the dark its a little harder for one to see, hence harder to go for, and have been training myself to be able to quickly wake up to respond if something happens. I don’t just fall into a super deep sleep that not even a bombing raid can awaken me from, my ears are still working even while asleep, as there have been times when I heard some weird noises in the middle of the night and immediately jumped up from being asleep and in almost a split second blindly grabbed for the revolver and having it pointed at the door to the bedroom. While my fears were nothing to be concerned with as the dogs will bump around the house on occasion, just the idea that I will quickly bounce up, w/o glasses, in the dark and have my gun in hand real fast will go a long ways towards being ready for any threat.

    I could go on and on about examples of situational awareness in my everyday life, but this comment has already reached book length so I’m gonna stop it right here for now. I continue to enjoy reading what everyone else has to say or do in their survival preparations, we all can learn from one another.

  7. Thanks David, this has been one of my favorite newsletters and I agree with all the above comments. I just wanted to add that being aware of someone’s basic body language and facial expressions tells you a lot, even from a distance. If for some reason someone looks suspicious to me, I make direct eye contact with them and change my facial expression to VERY serious. They usually look away from me. Being a small woman (5′ 1″) makes me feel quite vulnerable. So I make my attitude become about 6′ tall so to speak. I don’t want to look like a easy target. As I stated previously in a earlier comment from a past newsletter, I was the victim of a punk years ago who came up silently behind me and tried to rip my purse off my shoulder. He did not suceed. But, since that incident, I woke up big time. I no longer trust anybody when I am out and about especially if I am alone. I use my “soft” vision regularly. You can take in quite a bit even when you are looking out of the corner of your eye. I pretend like I am not paying any attention to that person when in reality I am quite focused. I carry mace since I don’t carry a gun. I think every woman should have something of this sort with them and ready to use. My main objective would be to flee with my life not get into a fight with someone. But if I did get grabbed or something, I would fight with every atom in my being. I would act like I was crazy if I had to. I look forward to more great newsletters and the comments that come with them. I wish more women would respond to these. Thanks everyone.

  8. Michael Lessig Sr. says:

    We are creatures of habit. We tend to do things the same way and put ourselves in harms way by doing so. You need to be aware of how you set patterns and that if someone is watching you they will know your next step, or action you are going to take. Such as what route you drive to work or home, where do you stop for gas or coffee in the morning. Do you always put your groceries in the trunk or back seat. As a code orange you not only need to be aware of your surroundings but how your surroundings perceive you. Ask your self, am I predictable?

    • Good point Michael. We were doing a mock terrorist attack and captured the base commander on the 3rd hole of the golf course because he always played at 9 am on Thursdays.

  9. I believe this skill is called “amilori no jutsu” in the art of Ninjutsu. What you are essentially doing is bringing more information from the subconscious area into the conscious area of the brain. This takes time and lots of practice. The best news is that you can practice any time you are awake and can use any of your senses.
    If this is practiced for many years, you begin to develop an extra sense as your brain is now trained to let the subconscious “talk” to the conscious. This is quite fascinating and can even be useful in the art of invisibility where you need to be BOTH physically and mentally invisible. Good stuff. There’s your goal…in about 10 years.

  10. Dave, while in the cities going to school I took a job with a private company. My job was to check certain businesses in Minneapolis and St Paul. Several times a year had it not been for my being wary of that around me could have ended in a problem for me. Having worked also for a tractor building business as a parts man which demand to be alert. So when I was inspecting the 24 hr business. I was informed by the CEO that every so often a Diesel Engine would disappear. To make it short 3 fellows figured out a perfect way to steel. Being quite familiar with the layout of the business. The 3 fellows caught my attention. After 3 weeks we caught the thieves. I can never remember not being aware of that around me. I know what a bully is, being blindsided, having more then one laying for me. yes the school yard was and is at this time a bully yard. When seeing, hearing, of the end of a bully thing I still would love to see our schools to take a strong pain for the bully. Enough. burr

  11. You are correct about the color codes of awareness. I have my second Jeff Cooper book, as I wore out the first one, studying it when I was younger. I must practice awareness at all times, as I lost an eye, my left, when I was nine ( I’m 63) and have profound hearing loss in both ears. The only time I hear much, is when I spend time in the woods practicing awareness. After awhile, I can begin to “hear” nearly every little sound around me, and some a ways off.
    Wherever I go, I practice awareness religiously. Why? Because it is my job to remain aware of everything going on around me, because I am the protector for my wife and children, and grandchildren, when they are with me. If I do not maintain this level of aweareness, it is possible I could be caught unaware, and killed or disabled, and then cannot protect my family. I’ve taught my children and wife to defend themselves agressively, but cannot afford to take the risk of one of them being in the “white” mode, and not catching an attack early enough to neutralize it. At any rate, keep up the good work, I like it!

  12. rory Roemmich says:

    I had this article before on my laptop but when the laptop crashed I lost it, now I have it back.

    Readers might find this interesting. When I was 12 yrs old, I signed up to play ice hockey, I couldn’t skate so I volunteered to play as a goalie. One of the skill sets you need as a goal tender is the ability to discern color and motion using peripheral vision. Hockey is a fast game in a tight area and very fast. So what I used to do is sit in a chair as I watched TV (needed something to focus on straight ahead. Then I would make a fist, extend my index finger straight up and put each hand in front of my head at eye level about 3 feet apart. Then I would start moving my index finger curl up and extend, curl up and extend. Then I would begin to bring my hands towards the side of my head. All the time watching the TV in front of me and keep bringing my hands past my head toward the back of my head until I couldn’t see my finger anymore. I did for hours on end every day.

    To this day I have excellent peripheral vision so if I am walking down the street and say there is an alley on my left, I can see color and movement ,so if there was anything that moved towards me form the alley, I could discern movement and color and take a quick look to see what it is. The develop of this skill set was critical to my sport. To this day if I am on one side of the street walking and a bird takes a dive across the street in my peripheral vision span, I will react by moving my head away from the source. Then I see what it was and it’s kinda of funny but serious at the same time. Great skill set, being able to look ahead and at the same time have a high degree of side sensitivity in my vision which works in a variety of situations (driving a car, walking down the street, seeing people that may need help that are off to the side, etc.)

    So thank you for printing this article again, I will print it out and add it to my survival book I am building in printed version. It we ever got hit with a EMP, computers won’t work and there goes the survival info, or if you don’t have access to electricity for other reason, batteries die.

    Great newsletter, keep them coming.

    • In the mid-50’s I was participated in an experiment run by the Air Force on our college campus. The purpose was to establish a training routine to expand peripheral vision. After about twelve weeks, my peripheral vision, along with several other participants, was expanded and extended. The angle increased as did the ability to recognize colors, shapes and characters.
      Training one’s senses to expand and extend ‘normal’ levels is really not difficult. Just as training muscle-memory reaction, our senses can be fine-tuned also. Repetition is the key.

  13. interesting conditions of colors. i am a flight attendant and found your awareness identifications of observation intriguing. i will focus or try to be more alert in specifics as i observe my surroundings. thank you for the information.

  14. I used to be in condition white while putting gas in my car or cycle. Then I realized – gas stations are dangerous places. Most people stare at the meter on the gas pump. I make a habit of looking around, noticing cars & people.

  15. Thank you Dave, for keeping my mindset fresh and reiterating what I have learned and learning!!! To you mothers and women, before leaving any store, look around you and scope out your surroundings. Most women with children do not do this and you should!! Also, make it a game to children when getting them in the car as to how quick they can get belted in or help you belt the younger ones in. This helps me stay focused on my surroundings and not distracted. I also try to keep my back up against the door or turned so I can look roughly in all directions. Remember, attackers look for distracted, busy victims, not assertive, alert women/children and men.

  16. This is my first newsletter.

    I am very interested and I will be trying these this evening while going out to dinner with family.

    I was a condition white for many many years. I am now making my way into condition yellow.

    I am going to go back into your past newsletters and see what else I may learn.
    I thank you for the useful information and the blog replies also. Looking forward to growing smarter in survival.

    If you have any good place to start please let me know.

  17. I wound up moving into a house directly across the street from my aging parents a few years ago. My leather shop is in a front room of my house with a panoramic view of the street and my parents house. While working I’d see them come and go. I’d watch closely as Dad exited his vehicle and go about getting in the house. I always realized how easy it would be to take the old man if I was a thug. I always watched closely until he was safely in the house because he was totaly unaware. Not only was he looking down but he’d turn his back on the open garage door the whole time never looking up or out to see what was around him. He was always armed but I could never get him to practice drawing from concealment and firing at a close target. He’s gone now and I’m getting up there but I always look around. I check all three mirrors before exiting my vehicle. If it’s dark I press the brakes lighting up the area behind my truck so I can see what’s there. I never carry anything in the gunhand. Instead, I overload the weak hand/arm. If I can’t bring in all the groceries left handed, I make another trip. In winter, the carry rig is a S&W centenial hammerless in the outside jacket pocket. My hands are usually in the pocket gun in hand. The fastest draw in the world is with the gun already in the hand and this gun and carry mode make it possible. It’s the fastest draw in the world because you can shoot through your pocket. I can beat fast draw artist Bob Munden because the gun is already in hand, pointing at the target, finger on the trigger. He might be the best ever but he’d lose. Say what you want. A sucker punch is a good tactic for winning……..Mike

    • Mike,

      As the old saying goes……If you find yourself in a fair fight……..your tactics SUCK!!
      There’s no such thing as a “sucker punch” when you’re being attacked!!

      One thing that I’ve taught all my kids with cars, as you walk up, look at the reflection in the windows, is anyone behind you? When you press unlock, it always turns on the dome light…..check the backseat, before you open the door. Have your keys in your right hand as you open the door, and as the door shuts, hit the lock button! This way, no matter how fast someone is, if you’re in and the doors are locked, even before you have keys in the ignition, they can’t get in without breaking a window.

      Shawn M.

  18. I have often practiced “aware observation” and I do in strange places or potentially dangerous places. This also increases my awaremess of the G19 little friend on my belt. It is so easy though to fall back to condition white when you are relaxing with friends. Many times I have caught myself in white while my intention is to be in orange all the time. We need to make a conscious effort to trigger this orange awareness as often as we remember until it becomes second nature.

    I made an association to locking up the house, getting in or out of the car, etc as reminders. It helps to practice those and other “triggers” to remind you to go into orange, until it is your natural way of living, and get some refresher exercises.

    This practice has saved me from trouble many, many times… don’t leave home without your orange glasses…

  19. This one is simple and direct. I am 71 years old and I can tell you, as you age you must work actively to maintain you observational skills. I have tinitus (constant ringing in the ears) and this makes it hard to hear, especially in a noisy environment. The biggest thing is to just watch what is going on around you. Acting alert diminishes you as a target.

  20. David Day says:

    Once again excellent information and I think Bob Froberg ‘s early comment is also an inspiration, observational skills aren’t just about sight but all of the senses.

  21. Wow Dave!
    This is an EXCELLENT way to talk about the color codes of mental awareness!
    I have practiced exactly what you talk about during your condition orange piece and I started doing this because I knew that simply looking around wasn’t enough…I had to process the information. Not only did I look around me, but I took a mental note noticed what a person was wearing, who was sitting in cars, what was lying on the ground or in the air above me.

    I try to pass this onto my students and during my CCW classes I tell them that awareness (and good safety practices) can save you more than anything else.
    Most of the times, my students ignore (unless they’re sheepdogs) the color codes of mental awareness part in my classes and I would love to share some of your material on it…I will certainly (like USCCA and a few others) mention your name and website in my class!

  22. I am constantly surprised at how unaware people are. For example, when driving I use peripheral vision, the mirrors and sounds to keep me aware of what is going on, often I will point out something, a dog, a deer, some sign, a bumper sticker. classic car, etc that my wife or passengers haven’t noticed, usually on their side of the car! I owe this I guess to my Navy experiences where as a machinery space watch you had to use all your senses, sight, hearing, smell, to find problems before they became significant.

    As a youth I was often able to submerge myself in a book so completely people could talk to me and I wouldn’t hear them. Now I cannot achieve that level of fixed concentration on any one thing but find myself scanning everything constantly. Like now even while I write this I hear a leaf blower in my neighbors yard, a delivery truck rumbling by on the cross street and other “:normal” noises. Often I know a delivery man is coming to the door well before they ring the bell or do the “drop and dash”.

    I find it humorous that so many so many action movies use the cliched “no one looks up so hide the bad/good guy by sticking them to the ceiling” as I always scan the entire room, passageway or chamber when I enter including the ceilings.

    Anyway, keep up the good work! Looking forward to the next lessons.

  23. Robert Dixon says:

    When in a public place my family and I don’t let people just walk up behind us. Like if we are sitting at a table u casually alert the person that’s getting walked up on just to be alert. This helps to catch people trying to grab you unexpected and also to help from trying to take our concealed firearm. I love the weekly newsletters and even share it with the guys at work. Keep up the great work.

    • Robert,

      That has served me well over the years.
      When in New York City several years ago. my “antenna” went off, and knew I was being followed, I kept walking until I was against the wall, then turned around and
      just met his eye’s. He immediately turned around and left.

      Once they know, that YOU know they are there, they will go find an easier target.
      Most criminals are cowards, and don’t want a confrontation, just an easy mark.

      • Shawn,

        That reminds me of a time in Spokane when I was driving slowly and a gang of kids led by a girl (teenagers) circled my car in a threatening way. I gave her a look as if to say “Give it your best shot, honey” and they stepped back, allowing me to pass.

  24. As an ER nurse I have developed observational skills needed for my own safety and that of the patient. One thing that I always key on first is a person’s eyes. Do they look tired, hyper alert, have dialated or pinpoint pupils? Are they staring ahead or are their eyes darting around? Can they focus or barely keep them open. For example if you are dealing with a person strung out on meth or crack you would deal with them differenly as they are not operating on a rational level.You can learn a lot from a person’s eyes as they truly are the window to the soul.
    On a spiritual level you can also see much from the eyes. I have seen sadness, pain, emptiness, joy, surprise, fear and EVIL. Often I can see evil in someone’s eyes even though their actions and words may be saying something else. In the coming days it will be crucial to know who to trust. Unless you are dealing with a sociopathic liar, you can read volumes from the eyes.

    • James T. Collins says:

      Watching eyes is a valuable skill but remember: You don’t get hurt by the eyes. If you watch the hands, you will definitely be ahead of the power curve compared to expecting a movement to be telegraphed by the eyes.

      • True, you don’t get hurt by the eyes, but the eyes usually move before the hands do. If you learn to read a potential attacker’s body language, you are more likely to perceive a threat. Also, if you continue to stare at a persons hands during a confrontation, they will either think you have serious issues, or they will know you expect them to make a move. If you make it a habit to look people in the eyes when you talk to them, you also carry an air of confidence that will deter hostility; whereas, if you walk, and talk, with your head down (even to watch hands), you look as if you are intimidated, and therefore, an easier target.

        • As an instructor of personal defense I suggest that people learn to develop “soft vision”. It doesn’t mean to disconnect your vision, what it means is to learn to widen your vision when in a combative situation. If you focus on any particular part of an attacker (hands for instance) you will miss action developing outside of that focus.

          For example: a man steps threatenly toward you with obvious intent to attack you. If you lock in on his hands you’ll miss the signs that he plans to kick at you.

          Practice soft vision by allowing a friend stand two to three feet away and allow your vision to see all of him from his head to his feet without delibrate focusing on any particular part. Then have your friend suddenly move, something. You will be able to anticipate that attack. Keep developing your ability to see the whole attacker and a feint will not surprise you. Many times an attacker will fake a punch and either try a snap kick or a roundhouse kick. If you focus on the punch you won’t see the kick until it’s too late.

      • I gotta go with Ruth on this one!!
        I can show you multiple ways that if you’re watching my hands, I could take you out without ever moving my hands. When I was younger, (and probably more stupid), I would practice breaking boards with my forehead. I developed this enough to shatter someones nose or cheekbone, just using my head.

        Not to mention what you could do with your feet and knees, but if you learn to read the eyes, and use what I call a soft focus, ie: don’t develop tunnel vision, use your prepheral vision as well, most if not all people will “telegraph” what they are going to do.
        I also used to train blindfolded on being able to “punch a sound” with both hands and weapons. In a dark area, the agressor will always be breathing heavier. If you can hear him, you can hit him. Even if you can’t see him.

        Shawn M.

    • There’s a couple of levels to this…

      First, Ruth is able to read eyes because she has spent years looking at eyes and has matched up particular “looks” with specific conditions. The eyes are incredibly valuable for reading a person. Many micro facial expressions originate around the eyes and lots of drugs show themselves through the eyes.

      As an example, when people approach me with a toothy grin, but their eyes aren’t “smiling,” I instantly dismiss their smile and look at them as a potential threat and the smile as merely a tactic to disarm me.

      That being said, the eyes are one part of the big picture. I switch back and forth between looking at the face and the “soft vision” that Steve alluded to. When looking across a crowd, I can quickly go from face to face to look for inconsistancies. When I’m walking down the street and approaching a few people at a time, I switch back and forth.

      When doing security at events when personalities are interacting with the public, I look for people who aren’t excited…because the baseline look of a fan about to meet someone they admire is excitement. When you’ve got dozens or hundreds of people who are excited and one person who’s quiet, nervous, and not making eye contact, I know to watch that person. Oftentimes, I’ll go and talk with them to try to unearth what’s going on. USUALLY, it’s nothing. People are complex beings and they could be fighting an illness, thinking about work, thinking about beating up an ex’s new flame, or all sorts of other issues.

  25. Tom Durston says:

    Thanks, Dave,
    Another highly useful Newsletter. Good ideas from Bob F. on situational awareness using eyes and ears.
    The information on Cooper’s codes reminded me of training I received in my CHL course. In addition, I just realized it’s not very different than defensive driving on the freeway. You’ve got to be in condition yellow, knowing who / what is in front of you, either side, and behind. Potential threats you must be aware of include erratic / aggressive drivers, slow vehicles ahead, fast vehicles coming up from behind, beat-up cars, cop cars, large trucks, etc.. And you need to watch the road signs, speed limits, exits, road markings, and always being aware of a safe move to the shoulders if there’s a problem ahead. That’s a lot of “streaming” information to process.
    It’s the same for personal awareness as a pedestrian. If you practice this, check your recall by snapping a quick photo from a camera or camcorder; act like a tourist or use a 15 or 30 second timed video mode so no one will be aware the camera under your arm or around your neck is active.

  26. Bob Froberg says:

    I am enjoying your weekly post.
    As a teenager back in the 40s I loved the rouged back woods where a creek crossed our property. I would set on a fallen tree, blind fold myself and clear my mind of all thoughts. Then I would concentrate on my surroundings, listening first to the water tricking over the rocks. Then my concentration would be shifted to my surroundings. Little by little new sounds caught my attention. The rustling of dead leaves , listening for the pattern of movement, is it a rabbit ? Or maybe a grouse.
    I would do this till I could identify every creature in that woods. This payed tremendous dividend during hunting season. It also served me well during the Korean war as well as the Vietnam war.
    I still use this skill when in public. And have been able to ward off trouble as a result.

    • Hi Bob,
      I too have practiced blindfolded awareness, mostly in my teens (remember ‘Master Po’, the blind monk from the ’70’s ‘Kung Fu’ show– that was cool!). I would go into a room, put on the blindfold, and toss coins or other small objects, ‘follow’ then with my hearing, and retrieve them without looking. This developed multiple aspects of spatial / hearing awareness, and was a good exercise.

      For day to day practice, I routinely move through my house in total darkness. It’s a good exercise in awareness, and it helps not having to turn on lights at 3am to use the bathroom.

      I find practicing ‘stealth’ helps tune awareness. One exercise I do is pay attention to the sound of my walking. If I can hear my own footsteps, that means I’m walking too loudly and someone else could also hear me (and maybe sneak up on me too). Next time you’re walking in the dark, or in a parking garage, etc, anywhere where you can clearly hear your own footsteps, try walking as quietly as possible, without making it obvious that you’re trying (in other words, no walking on ‘tip-toes’, etc.)

      We all have ‘peripheral’ and ‘focus’ vision. I like to think that ‘peripheral hearing’ is important. I’ve become good at identifying changes in the ‘background noise’, and I find this is often the first warning I’ll get that something is up. For me it’s not so much what I hear, it’s that I notice a _change_ in the background noise. I routinely hear things that coworkers, family members, etc, don’t hear until much later.

      • Right on. One of the things that you alluded to is observing the baseline…when you know what “normal” is for a particular situation, you can quickly sense when something changes.

        An example of this in the woods is when chirping birds go silent.

        In a crowd, an example is when people suddenly square their bodies off in a new direction. Another is when conversation suddenly goes from talking to whispering.

        The key is to observe what’s going on to know what the current “normal” or baseline is.

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