What Cooper's Color Code Means For Women

Women sometimes must practice situational awareness a little differently than men ...

by posted on June 1, 2020
Man Threatening Women With Knife

As you begin to delve into the world of armed self-defense, sooner or later you'll hear about "Cooper's Color Code" for situational awareness. It's a simple way to think about self-defense created by Col. Jeff Cooper, gun-handling guru and Gunsite founder, but that "simplicity" is a bit deceptive. Although it's simple to understand what the color code means, it's not always that simple to understand what it means for you, and that's due in part to the fact that much of the self-defense literature out there assumes the subject is male. Situational awareness is a little different for women, because the kinds of threats we deal with and our natural responses to those threats are different. Here's what that looks like in "real-world" applications.

Condition White
Condition White is, simply put, when we are completely absorbed in what we're doing and therefore completely unaware of our surroundings. Ideally, we are only in Condition White when we're sleeping ... but since when has real life ever been ideal? Gaming with headphones on, chatting on the phone while we walk or drive, or simply drifting off into a daydream are all examples of what Condition White looks like. Although it's unrealistic for most of us to never go Condition White while we're awake, we should be striving to limit our Condition White time. Instead, we should be in ... .

Condition Yellow
Condition Yellow is not a state of fear or paranoia; Condition Yellow is a state of relaxed alertness. You already know how to do Condition Yellow, since that's how we are trained to be while we're driving a car. We're checking our mirrors and keeping an eye on that one jerk who changes lanes like a metronome, but we're not frightened. The fact that we're sitting on thousands of pounds of metal and explosive fuel while surrounded by people doing the same thing who have no idea what a turn signal is for doesn't really weigh on us. Here's what that would translate to from a self-defense perspective:

Jenna is doing her weekly grocery shop when she notes that the same man has appeared in every aisle moments after she goes there. He is behaving like a normal shopper but keeps glancing at her. Is he shopping, working up the nerve to ask her out, a little of both? She doesn't know, but she's aware of his presence and observes him as he enters the same checkout lane as her, even though there are others with shorter lines open.

Lisa's meeting ran late and now she's having to pick her child up from daycare after dark. Although she's flustered and irritated, she still notices a car in the parking lot with its engine running and a man in the driver's seat. Is he in the same boat as her? Is he an employee's spouse waiting to pick them up from work? She doesn't know, but she keeps the car in her peripheral vision as she walks to the daycare door.

Condition Orange
Condition Orange refers to where we should be psychologically when we become aware that a threat is emerging. In a recent article, renowned self-defense expert Sheriff Jim Wilson explained it this way: "It might be a group of rowdy teens roaming our neighborhood. It might be a stranger in a store who just looks like he is out of place and may be up to no good. It might be a large dog running loose while we are on our daily walk. Clearly, a threat to our safety can take many forms and you can, undoubtedly, think of many other examples."

This is where most women are going to have a very different threat-level assessment than your average man, and for reasons that are fairly obvious. We don't need for there to be a "group" of rowdy teens to go Condition Orange ... one teenage boy can be enough of a potential threat. When we're Condition Orange, we're not actively reaching for our concealed-carry pistol, but we're aware of its presence in a way we weren't when we were Condition Yellow. Here's what Condition Orange would translate to from a self-defense perspective:

The man behind Jenna in line at the supermarket has gone from glancing to staring at her, and she keeps hearing him whispering and muttering ... but he isn't trying to engage her in conversation the way a man who is interested in a date usually will. She can't quite hear what he's whispering to himself, but although he's not talking to her, she suspects he's talking about her. She begins planning to go to Customer Service after she checks out to request an escort to her car.

As she walks through the ill-lit parking lot to pick up her child, Lisa hears something: a car door opening. What she doesn't hear is the engine shutting off. That's very unusual, and now she can hear the footfalls of the man who was in the car. "Hey you," he says. Lisa doesn't answer, but picks up her speed. "I'm talking to YOU," he shouts. Whatever this guy is selling, Lisa doesn't want any. As of right now, he isn't threatening her, but he's emerging as a real potential problem.

Condition Red
Condition Red is defined by Sheriff Jim thusly: "Red: A person observes that the threat is real and he is immediately prepared to take action, including the use of deadly force, depending upon the actions of [his] attacker ('if he does X, then I will do Y' is the way Cooper described it)." Now, Sheriff Jim used "his" in that sentence because that's how the English language works, but there's a real difference when we change it to "her." That's because in general, women do not have the physical strength to fight off a male attacker with our bare hands. Even women well-trained in martial arts find ourselves outmatched in the face of the sheer differential in strength between men and women. 

Women also don't have the luxury of a good "threat display" like men do. Unless you're Brienne the Beauty in full armor, most of us just aren't that physically intimidating. Men are commonly able to chest-beat their way out of physical confrontations, which is a lot tougher to do when you're 5'2". Here's what Condition Red would look like for us:

The Customer Service desk was empty, so Jenna decides to go to her car unescorted. She can't see Muttering Man, but she knows he might be around...and sure enough, as soon as she turns her back to start loading groceries into her trunk, she feels a presence behind her. Swiveling and standing, she's confronted with the Muttering Man standing less than 6 feet away. She drops her hand to her hip, where her concealed firearm is holstered, and in her loudest command voice says, "GET AWAY FROM ME. LEAVE ME ALONE!" This is as much to alert any other shoppers around that someone's in trouble as it is to get Muttering Man to back off.

Lisa hears Parking Lot Guy's steps quickening, and he's still yelling at her ... but that yelling is getting increasingly abusive and obscene. She realizes she won't be able to get to the building before Parking Lot Dude can get to her. Lisa realizes that she is going to have to engage with this man, and spins on her heels to face him. Knees slightly bent, her dominant hand finds the zipper of her concealed-carry purse. "WHAT DO YOU WANT?!?" she bellows in a voice as deep and loud as she can manage.

As you can see, there aren't really any hard-and-fast self-defense rules built into the Cooper Color Code. It's really more about a state of mind and a way to think about your personal safety in various situations. It may be a little different in practice for an NRA Woman than it is for a man, but the principles remain the same.

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