Category Archives: Situational awareness

Getting Out of Condition White

One of my places to get out into the open air and take a constitutional is Lake Fayetteville on the north end of the town of the same name in Arkansas. Some fellow on Youtube provides a tour of the soft trail:

and for rainy days like today, there’s a paved path. But in addition to staying in shape, the trails offer another opportunity–namely to get out of Condition White.

“What do I mean by that?” you ask. Well, you ask if you don’t know Saint Jeff of the Corps (Jeff Cooper, if you really don’t know). To review, he identified four conditions of awareness:

Condition White: Oblivious. Your response to being attacked is, “How can this be happening to me?” In fact, very little of the world around you enters into your attention without forcing its way in.

Condition Yellow: Relaxed alert. Nothing is threatening you at the moment, but you’re aware that something could come along at any time. You’re aware of your environment and what’s going on in it.

Condition Orange: Specific alert. Something is wrong. You’ve spotted a specific danger and have a plan for how to respond to it, while not losing track of the rest of the world around you. At this point, if possible and sensible, you should put distance between yourself and the danger.

Condition Red: Fight. You are fighting for your life, perhaps based on the plan you had in Orange, but be aware that few if any plans survive contact with the enemy.

We Trekkers understand the concept here.

At any rate, a lot of people talking about self-defense discuss these conditions, but what I don’t see is much on how to get over the Condition White that most people spend their lives in. The point of this article is to fill that gap.

1. Lose the gadgets.

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The world is an interesting place. If you can’t enjoy it without being absorbed into technology (another Star Trek reference), this article and blog isn’t for you. But cell phones, iPods, and other such foolishness take your attention away from what’s going on around you. With ear buds, you can’t hear what’s coming up behind or to the sides. If you’re sending messages (not texting, as there’s no such word), you might as well be safe at home under your covers. At the very least, look up and around from the toys now and then and again.

2. Clear your baffles.

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The baffles are the deaf spot for the sonar behind a submarine. Fighter pilots call it the six, as in check six. The idea here is that you can’t see behind you, so turn around periodically to see what’s back there. Prey animals have eyes on the sides of their heads to make this happen naturally, while predator species have forward-mounted eyes to provide stereoscopic vision and have to check astern. As the image of the poker hand should remind you, James Butler Hickok died when he sat with his back turned to the entrance to the saloon. Don’t make that error. Sometimes the path or the terrain gives you the chance to see a lot of where you came from. Use that. Use it also if there’s a long view ahead.

3. Keep your eyes open and your head up.

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The ground immediately around you may be interesting, but that’s not the sum of your environment. Look at the scenery. Trees have low branches that want to grab you. A copperhead may be crossing the path, or an armadillo could be rooting about on the hillside. I’ve seen both, and they were beautiful, showing that many things are simply a pleasure to notice. Deer fade into the background when you’re not looking.

4. Don’t fixate.

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You aren’t looking for anything in particular. You are just looking. You can appreciate the attractive person who just passed by, but don’t be a boor, and don’t forget that using a distraction is a smart tactic for an attacker. And there are interesting things all over to see.

5. Don’t fret.

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Your attention will wander. That’s fine, so long as you bring it back and keep bringing it back. At first, someone will pop into existence near you where no one was a moment before, but the more you practice paying attention, the farther out things will appear suddenly, and distance is your friend.

And that’s the idea. It’s not hard in concept, but it does take attending to what you’re doing. And it does get easier.

Or you can be surprised.