Tag Archives: jeff cooper

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.

800px-IPod_Earbuds

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.

641px-Dead_man's_hand

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.

800px-Military_laser_experiment

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.

491px-Guido_Reni_040

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.

The Three Ps

Want to get a fight started? Go to a gathering of gun nuts and shout, nine mil or forty-five? Immediately afterward, get behind cover.

When I was entering the gun nut forest for the first time, the writings of Col. Cooper showed me the way. He favored the M1911 in .45 ACP. Even though I have committed heresy at times, I still hold a fondness for single-action self-loaders that pitch a half ounce of lead at the gentle speed of 850 ft/sec.

The question remains, though: What caliber is the best in a handgun? Oy vey, here we go. It’s an old debate. Back in the early years of the twentieth century, the Army was embarrassed by the poor performance of its .38 Long Colt revolvers in the Philippines and wanted something better. Two fellows by the names of Thompson and LaGarde were commissioned to come up with the answer–in other words, were told to find that .45 was best. A careful reading of their study, however, shows that the data support no particular caliber as being any good out of a handgun. (The .30 Luger performed better than many other rounds, ironically.)

More recently, we keep hearing that the .22 Long Rifle is the round that kills the most people in a given year. Or perhaps it’s the woebegotten .25. So what’s a gun-toting person to choose?

Here, submitted for your consideration, are my three desiderata of cartridge and gun:

1. Placement

If the gun’s too heavy to manipulate or the recoil is so much that I develop a flinch, the thing’s useless to my purpose. There’s no miss that’s good enough, no matter how much noise it makes or how deep a hole it makes in the scenery. Now it’s no good saying that standard calibers are too hard to manage. I’m telling you that I don’t carry a .500 S&W.
44-500comp
Dirty Harry’s round is the one on the left.

The key here is to find something that you can put on target in a hurry. And I’m not talking ten rounds through one hole. What good does that do? You need to be able to empty a magazine or cylinder into the area covered by a sheet of typing paper or a two liter bottle in short order and at whatever distance you expect to have to defend yourself. Also, the smaller the bullet, the better your aim has to be.

2. Penetration

The FBI standard is that the bullet has to penetrate twelve inches of tissue to be good enough. That really is the minimum, since people come in all sizes and don’t always cooperate by standing at the right angle when they’re trying to kill you. These
800px-Hollow_Point
don’t penetrate as well as these
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do. Generally speaking, for small calibers–.22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and 9mm Makarov–the bullets are too light or the powder charge is too low to get enough penetration out of hollow points, presuming they even expand at the typical velocities of those rounds. By contrast, .38 Special rounds on up are heavy enough to keep on going, so expanding bullets are better–the bullet does no good once it leaves the bad guy.

Whatever your choice of handgun, the round it spits has to get in deep enough to do what needs accomplishing.

3. Punch

As I said above, the good ole .22 LR and .25 ACP hit way above their class, but that’s probably because those are common guns. I might rely on a .22, but that’s only because I know what I can do with mine. The safer answer is to go with something that’s going to do a lot of work where it’s going. Yes, an icepick can be used as an effective weapon, but your chances of success with that are far higher if you start the fight first and have trained yourself to drive the shaft exactly where you want it every time. In other words, it’s not all that useful for us good guys who aren’t going about starting animosity. We have to react to someone else’s bad choices in life, rather than picking the time and place to act.

Here’s where the 9mm vs. .45 ACP argument really gets thick in the weeds. In days gone by when semiautomatics worked best with hardball, a 9mm wasn’t such a good choice. Just like the icepick, it was small and ran in a hurry straight on through whatever it hit. But we live in interesting times, as the Chinese would say. It’s true that while hollow points don’t always expand, there ain’t no such thing as a shrinking bullet, but expansion is highly likely with today’s ammunition. This means that .38 Special, .357 Sig, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, and .45 ACP hollow points are probably going to get big enough to discourage a bad guy. Of course, little bullets also do a lot, but as I said above, the smaller the round, the smaller you’d better be able to aim.

I’ve mentioned a number of rounds in this discussion. I’m not endorsing any of them. I carry several of them and have at my disposal several others. I gravitate toward .38 Special, 9mm, and .45 ACP, but that’s just because my guns that shoot those are the easiest to carry. My Colt Pocket Hammerless is elegant, and now and then I grab my Polish copy of the PPK, but those tend to stay locked away these days.

The takeaway message here is get something that’s easy to carry and feels good in a common caliber, and you will have nothing to feel ashamed or apologetic about, so long as you’re good with it. The caliber wars are endless, and the only certain conclusion from the data about shootings is that it’s bad to get shot. The only real confidence comes from having close air support and a company of Marines at the ready. Short of that, the handgun you can operate well is likely to be good enough in an emergency.

(By the way, there are a pun and a piece of firearms history buried in this article.)

How We Remember the Future

My fellow Star Trek enthusiasts are surely familiar with the various iterations of the phaser. There’s the version found in the original series:

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The infamous dustbuster of the Next Generation:

Phaser_Type-2

that was later modified to a sleaker form:

PhaserType2

and the phase pistol of Enterprise:

pp-cs01

Notice anything about all of those? I see no sights on any of them. When fired, Starfleet personnel and others typically use a one-handed duelist stance or some variation on hip shooting.

There’s a reason for this. Gene Roddenberry was writing long before Jeff Cooper and the Modern Pistol Technique became well known. The version of the future that Roddenberry and his successors remembered for us (J. J. Abrams, you may stick your version somewhere dark and smelly–oh, wait, you already did that) came before a better future was invented, at least with regard to small arms technique.

Why does this matter? Those of us who write science fiction, and I include myself in that list, have to bear in mind that what we are writing is an imagined future, subject to all the limitations that our imaginations come with. The writing of such futures is really about us. That being said, we owe it to ourselves to know as much as we can and to explore as far as we can. Having done that, we then must write, hoping that people who come afterward will forgive us our limitations.

Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.