Managing Stress Arousal for Optimal Performance: A Guide to the Warrior Color Code

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 15, 2013 · 34 comments

in Manly Skills, Survival, Tactical Skills

Think back to the last time you experienced a high amount of psychological stress. For example, after you were in a fender bender or before you had to give a big speech in front of hundreds of people.

How was your thinking? A bit scattered?

Did performing simple tasks like writing or tying your shoe become difficult because of how much your hands were shaking?

If you’re like many people, you likely experienced small cognitive and physical breakdowns due to fear and stress. Whenever we encounter stressful situations, our body is flooded with hormones that elevate our heart rate to prime us to fight or flee. Our bodies become aroused and ready for action – a good thing. But if we get too amped up, our physical and cognitive skills fall apart – a very bad, potentially dangerous thing.

Now imagine what your response would be if you were in the middle of a gunfight with a bad guy.

How do you imagine your thinking would be then? Would you even be able to think?

Would you be able to respond with like force or would you just freeze like a deer in headlights?

In life-or-death situations, be it a firefight or an emergency evacuation, it’s often the psychological stress that gets a man killed. Or more specifically, his inability to manage that stress.

In today’s post we’re going to highlight some of the research from recent years that shows what stress does to a man’s ability to perform in high-risk scenarios. Moreover, we’ll introduce a color code system developed by one of history’s best shooting experts that many warriors (soldiers, fighters, police officers, first responders, and even average joes interested in beyond average training) use to gauge their mental and physical preparedness in life-or-death situations. We’ll end the post by discussing a few of the research-backed techniques that warriors around the world are beginning to use to mitigate stress, allowing them to perform at optimal levels even in the heat of a crisis.

While much of the research and content in this post is geared towards helping you become a better sheepdog, the principles and techniques can also be used to manage stress in everyday situations, whether that be a tough challenge at home, at work, or on the playing field. Even if you don’t plan on getting in a close-quarters firefight anytime soon, you can definitely benefit from this information.

The Inverted-U Theory of Stress and Performance

invertedU copy

The Inverted-U Hypothesis proposes that increases in stress typically are accompanied by increases in quality of performance…only up to a point, though. After you reach a certain threshold, you experience diminishing returns where rising stress actually results in deteriorating performance quality in certain tasks.

Several sports performance researchers during the 1970s and 1980s found that athletes experienced increases and decreases in different motor skills at different stress-induced heart rates. For example, when heart rates reach above 115 beats per minute (BPM), fine motor skills, like writing, begin to deteriorate. However, when heart rates are between 115 and 145 BPM, complex motor skills, like throwing a football or aiming a gun, are at their peak. Cognitive functioning is also at its peak in this range. After 145 BPM, performance for complex motor skills begins to diminish, but gross motor skills like running and lifting remain at optimal levels. When heart rates go above 175 BPM, capacity for all skilled tasks disintegrates and individuals begin to experience catastrophic cognitive and physical breakdown.

While most of the research on stress and performance has been used in the realm of sports, researchers who study combat and tactical scenarios are beginning to use the Inverted-U hypothesis to help warriors of all kinds become better fighters and responders. By knowing how stress impacts their performance in life-or-death situations, warriors are able to take steps to help mitigate its effects either through training or stress-management techniques.

Physiological vs. Psychological Stress

As we discuss arousal (in reference to stress and heart rate) and its effect on performance, it’s important to note that there’s a big difference between heart rate increase caused by physiological versus psychological stress. You likely won’t see major deterioration in cognitive and physical performance when heart rates increase due to physical exercise. For example, you’re probably not going to experience tunnel vision after you get your heart rate up from a bunch of wind sprints.

It’s typically only when your heart rate increases rapidly due to psychological stress (e.g., fear in a deadly force encounter) that you’ll experience the significant negative effects of stress arousal.

The Stress Arousal Color Code

In his seminal book, Principles of Personal Defensegun fighting expert Jeff Cooper laid out a color code system to help warriors gauge their mindset for combat scenarios. Each color represents a person’s potential state of awareness and focus. Originally, Cooper’s color code system only used white, yellow, orange, and red.

In recent years, combat researchers, like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman and Bruce K. Siddle, added two more levels, gray and black, for reasons we’ll dig into more later on in the post. Moreover, they combined Cooper’s system with the Inverted-U chart of arousal and performance to create a framework that associates a color level with a heart rate arousal level. Below we summarize this synthesis with text and illustrations.

Condition White

White 500-1

When you’re in Condition White, you’re completely unaware and un-alert to your surroundings. If a threat were to appear, you’d be caught off-guard and wouldn’t be able to respond adequately. Visual and cognitive reaction times are much slower in Condition White and we’re much more susceptible to Normalcy Bias. Because most people are sheep and not sheepdogs, Condition White is the norm in society. Ideally, the only time you should be in Condition White is when you’re secure in your home or asleep. When you leave the house, you should leave Condition White.

Condition Yellow

Yellow 500-1

Condition Yellow is best described as relaxed alert. There’s no specific threat situation, but you have your head up and eyes open, and you’re taking in your surroundings in a relaxed, but alert manner. When you’re in Condition Yellow, you’re less likely to be caught off-guard from a sudden threat and you are better able to respond should a threat arise. Heart rate is normal, so there isn’t any degradation of fine motor skills or cognitive ability.

Tactical experts recommend that warriors stay in Condition Yellow at all times. In fact, many Air Force pilots stick a yellow dot on their watch or in the cockpit to remind them to stay in Condition Yellow.

Condition Orange

Orange 500-1

You enter Condition Orange when you identify a possible, specific threat. Something isn’t quite right and has your attention. Your goal isn’t to take action while in Condition Orange. Rather, it is to become extra vigilant so you can determine if a possible danger is in fact a threat that needs a response. Maybe you smell smoke, or perhaps you identify a person in the water who may be drowning, or maybe the guy walking towards you in a dark side-street is acting funny. In all of those situations, you’d want to be in Condition Orange.

While in Condition Orange, you should be formulating an attack plan on what you’ll do if you verify the threat, e.g., “If there’s a fire, I’ll call 911,” or  “If he’s drowning, I’ll jump in and rescue him,” or “If he pulls out a gun, I’ll pull mine and shoot.”

When you’re in Condition Orange, stress levels will increase, as will your heart rate. However, you shouldn’t experience any cognitive or motor deterioration.

Staying in Condition Orange’s increased vigilance level on a regular basis isn’t recommended as it can be mentally and physically taxing. If you verify that a possible threat isn’t a threat, you should immediately drop back down into Condition Yellow’s relaxed alert. However, if you confirm that something or someone is indeed a threat, you should immediately move to…

Condition Red

Red 500-1

You’ve verified the threat — now it’s time to implement the action plan you developed while in Condition Orange. When you’re in Condition Red, your mind and body are primed for action. Adrenaline is pumping through your veins and your heart rate is up to between 115 and 145 beats per minute. Studies have shown this to be the optimal level for tactical and survival scenarios. Complex motor skills, visual reaction times, and cognitive reaction times are at their peak.

While complex motor skills and visual and cognitive reaction times are at their best in Condition Red, fine motor skills, like writing or threading flex cuffs, deteriorate.

Condition Gray

Gray 500-1

Condition Gray wasn’t part of Cooper’s original color system, but after analyzing years of research, Grossman and his colleagues added it. When you reach Condition Gray, your heart rate rises above the optimal range of 115-145 BPM and goes up to 145-175 BPM. Consequently, mental and physical performance begins to suffer dramatically and puts the fighter at risk of being injured or killed.

Tunnel vision and loss of depth perception is common, which means a fighter may miss additional threats in the vicinity. Tunnel vision also often causes fighters to “not see” innocent third-party bystanders in a fight. This phenomenon is a big reason why most firearms trainers these days instruct students to get in the habit of scanning their environment after they neutralize a threat. The simple act of looking side-to-side can help disrupt tunnel vision.

Auditory exclusion is another common symptom of Condition Gray. Fighters who’ve experienced auditory exclusion report not hearing their partner’s gun fire, even though the gun was going off right next to him. However, they’ll often remember hearing shouts from their partner.

Complex motor skills, like gun manipulation or non-armed combatives, begin to suffer in Condition Gray. Gross motor skills, like running, jumping, pulling, and pushing are still at optimal levels.

One possible and positive symptom you may experience in Condition Gray is “bullet time”– a mental phenomenon in which everything around you appears to be moving in slow motion, a la The Matrix. Bullet time can give a fighter more clarity and help him react. In his study on deadly force encounters, Dr. Alexis Artwohl surveyed police offers who had experienced deadly force encounters and found that nearly 62% of them experienced slow-motion time.

It’s called “Condition Gray” because Grossman believes more research needs to be done on arousal levels where the heart reaches 145-175 BPM.  Grossman notes in his book On Combat that while most untrained men will begin to experience the mental and physical deterioration outlined above, some fighters are still able to perform at optimal levels in Condition Gray. Research indicates that with proper training and stress inoculation, fighters can properly and safely “push the envelope” of Condition Red into the elevated heart rates of Condition Gray.

Condition Black

Black 500-1

Condition Black wasn’t part of Cooper’s original system either, but was added by the U.S. Marine Corps. When you reach Condition Black, your heart is beating faster than 175 BPM. At this level of arousal, a fighter  — even a well-trained one — experiences catastrophic breakdown of mental and physical performance.

In addition to tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, and deterioration of complex motor skills, other symptoms are present in Condition Black.

Most fighters will experience bladder and bowel voiding — in other words, they poop and pee their pants. In high-stress, life-or-death situations, sphincter and bladder control just aren’t a priority for your body. Moreover, it wants to get rid of as much waste as it can so you’re in a better position to fight or run. At this point, the decisions your physical body makes are overriding any cognitive ones. Lt. Col. Grossman actually discusses this issue in great detail in On Combat. While many soldiers and fighters won’t admit publicly that they messed themselves, in anonymous surveys conducted after WWII, one-quarter of soldiers admitted they peed themselves during combat and one-eighth admitted to defecating. Grossman believes the number was likely even higher than that.

Extreme vasoconstriction is also typically present in Condition Black. Vasoconstriction is when the blood vessels narrow to constrict blood flow. In life-or-death situations, your body wants most of your blood to stay near vital organs and large muscles that can be used to fight or run. One benefit of this is that if you were to sustain a wound, vasoconstriction helps limit the amount of bleeding you experience. Extreme vasoconstriction causes people to look “white with fear” as all the blood has been shunted away from the skin’s surface to more vital parts of the body. While this is a survival mechanism, it unfortunately leads to deterioration of complex motor skills.

Another physical reaction is that your forebrain (the executive part of your brain) shuts down and your more primitive middle brain takes over. Grossman calls this the “puppy dog” brain. Without executive functioning, you’re susceptible to irrational fighting or fleeing. As an example of this type of irrational behavior, many soldiers fighting in the frontlines of WWI and WWII reported seeing comrades run out from behind protection and into enemy fire without any rhyme or reason. As Grossman puts it, “in Condition Black you can run and you can fight like a big, hairless, clawless bear, but that is about all you are capable of doing.”

In that same study conducted by Dr. Artwohl mentioned above, he found that a very small percentage of police offers experienced freezing, or temporary paralysis during a deadly force encounter. In these cases, the body doesn’t fight or run, it just stops cold, leaving the fighter very vulnerable.

Managing Arousal in High-Stakes Situations

Now that we understand how stress alters our performance, let’s take a look at some of the things that combat researchers have found help mitigate its effects. While you can’t completely control where your heart rate goes in a high-stress situation, learning and practicing certain techniques can help you lower it and maximize your resistance to stress, allowing you to perform at optimal levels for as long as possible.

Practice tactical breathing. Tactical breathing was developed by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. It’s a technique that soldiers and police officers use to quickly calm down and stay focused during firefights. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Slowly inhale a deep breath for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold the breath in for 4 seconds.
  3. Slowly exhale the breath out for 4 seconds.
  4. Hold the empty breath for 4 seconds.
  5. Repeat until your breathing is under control.

Simple. What’s hard is having the discipline to do this when you start feeling stressed out.

Tactical breathing isn’t just useful for deadly force encounters. Use it anytime you’re feeling stressed out and need to bring yourself back down to optimal arousal levels.

Meditate. Studies show that individuals who practice meditation can clear distracting and stressful thoughts (like worry) from their mind more quickly than individuals who don’t meditate. That sort of ability comes in handy in high-stress situations like deadly force encounters.

The U.S. military is actually experimenting with mindfulness meditation training with its new recruits. The hope is that meditation’s stress-reducing benefits will help soldiers stay out of Condition Black while in the heat of combat, as well as help them recover more quickly after the encounter.

There’s not much to meditation. Just sit in a quiet place and focus on your breath going in your nose and out your mouth. Whenever a distracting thought pops up, don’t get flustered. Just name the thought, let it go, and focus back on your breath. If you’re like me, you’ll find that when you first start meditating, you get easily distracted by your thoughts. Don’t get discouraged; with time your mind will quiet down, and your ability to dismiss unwanted thoughts will improve.

Start off with one 10-minute session daily, and slowly increase your sessions to 20 minutes. If you have time, you may consider doing a 20-minute meditation session in the morning and another 20-minute session at night.

Practice visualization. Emerging research shows that warriors who visualize hypothetical high-stress scenarios perform better in actual high-stress situations than those who don’t. For example, officers who take part in visual exercises demonstrate better marksmanship than those who skip this technique.There’s also evidence that visualizing successful management of high-stress situations reduces a combatant’s anxiety and stress response when the events actually occur, thus allowing the fighter to stay in optimal Condition Red longer.

Here are some rough and ready guidelines on performing visualization exercise:

  • Make the visualization as vivid as possible. Incorporate all your senses and emotions.
  • Visualize problems and sticking points, but — and this is the critical part — always visualize yourself successfully overcoming the problem or obstacle. Never visualize failure.
  • Never rely on visualization alone. It’s important to combine it with tactical practice and role playing.

Use task-relevant instructional self-talk. To counter the detrimental performance effects of stress, talk yourself through complex actions as if you were an instructor. For example, many police officers are trained to speak out loud during every step in the gun firing process using the acronym BRASS:

  • Breathe
  • Relax
  • Aim
  • Sight
  • Squeeze

Another example of task-relevant instructional self-talk would be to yell out “Tap, Rack, and Go!” whenever you encounter a gun jam.

Don’t worry if people think you’re crazy. Research has shown that this sort of self-talk can increase performance on both cognitive and physical tasks.

The key with this type of self-talk is to keep it brief and positive.

Stay active and outwardly focused. In the book War, by Sebastian Junger (which I highly recommend), he shares an interesting study done on a Special Forces team during the Vietnam War. The team was stationed at an isolated base along the Cambodian border and knew there was a good chance of the base being completely overrun by a force of Vietcong. Surprisingly, researchers found that in contrast to the officers, the stress levels of the enlisted men actually dropped before an expected attack, and rose when the attack failed to materialize. Researchers offered this explanation: “The members of this Special Forces team…were action-oriented individuals who characteristically spent little time in introspection. Their response to any environmental threat was to engage in a furor of activity which rapidly dissipated the developing tension.” This activity included laying C-wire and mines around the base, which as Junger notes, “was something they knew how to do and were good at, and the very act of doing it calmed their nerves.”

When you’re facing a threat you can anticipate in advance, take a cue from the men of the Special Forces; instead of sitting around navel-gazing, bouncing your leg up and down, and getting your heart rate up before anything even happens, keep yourself occupied with preparations – check your equipment, mentally rehearse your mission, etc.

Stress Inoculation Through Realistic Training

Remember the old saying amongst soldiers: “You do not rise to the occasion in combat, you sink to the level of training.”

Thus, the best way to overcome the detrimental effects of stress on performance is to inoculate yourself from it altogether through consistent, realistic training.

From a self-defense standpoint, this means you need to do more than just go to the gun range to practice your marksmanship or punch the heavy bag in your garage. You’ll actually need to train your techniques under the same sort of pressure you’d experience in a real-life situation. For handgun training, this could be achieved with simunitions or airsoft guns; with hand-to-hand self-defense, live sparring can give you similar stress levels as a real-life fight.

With proper, consistent, and realistic training, you can hone your body to perform at optimal levels, even when the going gets the toughest.



Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge by Bruce K. Siddle

On Combat by Dave Grossman and Loren W. Christensen

Warrior Mindset by Dr. Michael Asken, Loren W. Christensen, Dave Grossman and Human Factor Research

Illustrations by Ted Slampyak

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eduardo M August 15, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I reached condition black today when I finally got the courage to introduce myself to a girl. Went pretty well though.

2 Ezra August 15, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Will have to make a pocket guide.

3 Tina August 16, 2013 at 12:41 am

“The Unthinkable” by Amanda Ripley is a GREAT book for learning more about this (and with very specific examples and solid research).

4 George August 16, 2013 at 6:35 am

Interesting read.

As a kid, and last time being in 2010 I travelled to SE Asia. Lived in a rather OK area of a city but we used to go uptown every day.
Being there taught me to always be on Yellow stance with occasional Orange; As it could get dangerous.

I am not a fighter but when out of home, esp. in the city even if it’s for my daily commute I tend to be Yellow.

Discovered normalcy bias with your plane crash article, that interested me and I tend to be yellow most of the time.

I dislike going out to party at night and I think it’s because of my SE Asian experience, where going to the streets at night is dangerous. I’m always on Orange, even if with friends.

5 Jason V August 16, 2013 at 7:50 am

This is one of the best posts I’ve seen so far on this site. It’s awesome!

6 Erik August 16, 2013 at 8:25 am

Definitely making a DEFCOM/SACC little laminated color chart for my desk, so when I feel like I’m on overload and overwhelmed I can remind myself that its a just physical reaction and the world really isn’t upside down. Thanks Brett and Kate!

7 Ken Walter August 16, 2013 at 8:33 am

Interesting read, but hard to translate into daily applicability for those of us who have a negligible chance of a live fire situation every day. Could their be a follow up adapting these concepts to an office worker?

8 Bruce Williamson August 16, 2013 at 9:01 am

This ties in with the last section. I read that under stress people revert to their training in the situation. E.g. FBI agents that were killed in gun fights often had their pockets filled with empty brass because they were trained to pick up their brass at the range.

9 Christopher August 16, 2013 at 9:13 am

I read On Combat years ago and loved it. It is a must read for any real man. Just being aware of the information is a form of stress inoculation. Nobody (except sheepdogs) ever plans on being in a live fire situation. And that very fact is why so many people are sheep and the likelihood of the bad happening is increasing. If you don’t like all the violence in the world train yourself and your children to be sheepdogs!

10 Dennis August 16, 2013 at 11:08 am

As a note, if you actually get into black, you are more prone to SupraVentricular Tachycardia (SVT), which is pretty life threatening. Best to avoid.

11 Serafin Nunez August 16, 2013 at 11:19 am

Believe it or not, I experience these levels every day as a teacher. When on duty on the hallway, in our courtyard, or on a field trip (stress!) I am always hovering between Yellow and Orange. As, often times, the only male on duty I feel obligated to spot problems quickly (fights usually) and deal with them before they get out of hand. At the same time, I see other teachers “on duty” who are obviously floating on a cloud of (code) white. They are at ease, discussing the day with other teachers or joking with students. When the proverbial shit his the fan, they stand around with puzzled expressions. Meanwhile, I am leaping over kids like Shaft and getting the situation under control.

12 Jey August 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm

“Strong on Defense” is another excellent and relevant book. Great post, thanks.

13 Kimber August 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm

1. Slowly inhale a deep breath for 4 seconds.

2. Hold the breath in for 4 seconds.
Slowly exhale the breath out for 4 seconds.

3. Hold the empty breath for 4 seconds.

4. Repeat until your breathing is under control.

(This was the main take away from Grossman’s book–this and the whole idea of battle crap & pee, do your business before going red/grey/black OR at least know you’re going to poop on yourself or pee on your self, if you don’t)

14 Kimber August 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm

“E.g. FBI agents that were killed in gun fights often had their pockets filled with empty brass because they were trained to pick up their brass at the range.”


That was the Newhall shootout involving the CHP, and that whole brass in pocket story is false. But, yeah, muscle memory is true though.

15 Vic N. August 16, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Consider making a Warrior Color Code poster with each condition on it..

16 Blubbedey August 16, 2013 at 4:11 pm

It’s kind of sad, but I’m pretty sure I reached condition grey watching the red wedding in Game of Thrones. Bullet time, tunnel vision, confusion … took me a while to recover from that.

17 Mike S. August 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I took a class not to long ago before I deployed overseas called Operational Mindset. Covered a lot of this but in a very cool way that really connected with me! Wish I had it before my first deployments. Kept me safe and definitely kept my head in the game!!!
Thanks for the refresher!

18 Ryan K. August 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm

I disagree that condition Orange is where you develop your plan. Situationally you should ADAPT your existing plan (from your visualization right) to the present scenario.

My wife and I like to play what-if with each other based on a current situation in life. Leaving the grocery store hands full of bags. “Lady in the white shirt just pulled a knife, what do you do?”

Condition Orange is too late to plan, have your line in the sand decided on long before someone starts walking up to it.

19 Huberto August 17, 2013 at 9:35 am

This is the greatest wealth of knowledge I have happened upon in quite a while. This jarred me so much into action that I had to get off this seat and do 30 press-ups, then get back on to read the rest.

20 Fedoradude August 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I’m glad to see this article point out how stress affects one’s ability in combat situations. Always gets my dander up whenever there’s a (law enforcement) officer-involved shooting and the public decries the officer for “not shooting the gun out of the thug’s hands” or “shooting just to wound them” etc etc blahblahblah. The hyper-stressed levels of one-on-one armed combat often in surprise situations, often in lowlight situations etc etc drive those physiological factors ultra high and severely inhibit such marksmanship – which even in the calmest of conditions would be considered miraculous shots.

Great article and great points. Kudos.

21 M August 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I use tactical breathing to alleviate hiccups. Works every time.

22 Will Malven August 22, 2013 at 10:00 am

One of the greatest hazards we face in today’s world is the illusion of personal safety when out in public.

People want to assume that everyone around them are just like them and not interested in “doing evil.” It’s what makes people believe con-men and other liars when common sense should be telling them the opposite.

We trust because we believe ourselves to be trustworthy. We forget or rationalize the “little lies” and cheats in which most of us indulge on occasion.

Reality is a “buzz” buster. The real world is a normally peaceful place that is subject to occasional outbursts of extreme violence and such outbursts can occur ANYWHERE and at anytime.

From the moment one steps out the door, “condition yellow” should be automatic.

Most folks ARE decent and aren’t out to hurt you, but that leaves a lot that are.

23 Brock August 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm

There are a variety of other breathing techniques that can work better (in my opinion) than just deep/slow breathing. Especially when you’re trying to lower your heart rate (to ask that girl out or give that presentation),

I find that alternative methods, like CO2 Rebreathing or “Advanced” inhale-exhale techniques are more effective than deep breathing. Probably because they give you something to focus on.


24 Jason August 23, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Before both of my deployments in the Marine Corps, Lt. Col. Grossman can and spoke to our battalion. His books “On Combat” and “On Killing” should be required reading for anyone in dangerous or high stress environments. This was a great read!

25 Ben August 26, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I attended a pair of seminars a few months back that dealt with neuroscience – one presented by Andre Vermeulen from and another from the folks at Both mentioned that psychological stress (along with negativity) produces chemicals that inhibit electrical impulses between neurons.

Though neither went into further detail – it is a bit more detailed explanation for why psychological stress differs from physiological.

26 A6 August 26, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Good stuff here…I honestly got a laugh at a few of these illustrations (kind of needed it this week). Growing up in Brooklyn, NY in to a larger extent New York City in general, you develop a heightened sense of awareness that’s built right onto your existing DNA. I think most fellow NYC residents can attest to this. It doesn’t mean that anything “bad” is going to happen, it doesn’t mean that there are “bad” people out there waiting for you. It just means that you are aware of your surroundings and in control of any potential situation. This philosophy has kept me stress and incident free my whole life-Knock on wood- and I pretty much go wherever I please at whatever time I feel like. Although, it’s been a while since I hung out past 1′am….that whole settling down thing is getting to me. Excellent post!!

27 Chris August 30, 2013 at 8:25 pm

As a former infantry Marine great job with this. Really true stuff everyone has experienced whether in a firefight or maybe just a presentation in front of a large group. I really enjoyed the little tid-bit on the airforce fighter pilots wearing the yellow dot, and the special forces team. Mentally talking yourself through any situation, and making that conscious decision to go with the fight mechanism can make a world of difference, truly. One footnote.. it’s tap, rack, BANG. or for the machine gunner die- motherf’er- die. and finally the door kicker just says f*ck it lets go.

28 brad September 18, 2013 at 1:30 am

you were missing the p-waves in your wave form… just saying

29 Jeremy October 4, 2013 at 2:38 am

Im a drummer and whenever I play a big show I would get terrible stage fright and i cant play to my best ability. Guys from my band including me would hold our breaths and cover our ears til you can only hear a hearbeat then focus on slowing it down for a couple seconds (3-4) and then blow out. In total we usually hold our breaths for 8-10 seconds and it worked wonders

30 John Schaefer October 5, 2013 at 6:22 pm


You have misinterpreted Jeff Cooper’s Color Code. It is not an indicator of a physical state but of your willingness to act. Here is the description straight from the Gunsite Wednesday lecture.

White – Relaxed, unaware, and unprepared. If attacked in this state the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy and ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty your reaction will probably be, “Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”
Yellow – Relaxed alertness. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that “today could be the day I may have to defend myself.” There is no specific threat but you are aware that the world is an unfriendly place and that you are prepared to do something if necessary. You use your eyes and ears, and your carriage says “I am alert.” You don’t have to be armed in this state but if you are armed you must be in yellow. When confronted by something nasty your reaction will probably be, “I thought this might happen some day.” You can live in this state indefinitely.
Orange – Specific alert. Something not quite right has gotten your attention and you shift your primary focus to that thing. Something is “wrong” with a person or object. Something may happen. Your mindset is that “I may have to shoot that person.” Your pistol is usually holstered in this state. You can maintain this state for several hours with ease, or a day or so with effort.
Red – Fight trigger. This is your mental trigger. “If that person does “x” I will shoot them.” Your pistol may, but not necessarily, be in your hand.

31 Marc October 26, 2013 at 5:24 am

The prescription drug, Inderal, brand name for the propranolol hydrochloride, is a beta blocker and has been prescribed for speakers, opera singers, and probably military personnel in combat — to “damp out” the extra sympathetic nervous system effects caused by epinephrine (Adrenaline), and other pressor agents. Atropine damps out the parasympathetic nervous system, but it has a dozen eps (side effects) and is best used in certain chemical warfare exposures. Propranolol HCl might be a medication to discuss with one’s physician – it’s inexpensive, available generically…
and it is also cardio-protective.

32 Mike October 29, 2013 at 10:36 am

With 15 years of military training behind me in the munitions field I felt I would be more than prepared for a career in corrections. As an E.O.D. operator you are always somewhere on the spectrum between yellow & orange. When you are a Sgt. in charge of a 375 man maximum security cell block it is a whole different meaning of yellow and takes a certain person to do it. I did it for 13 years before taking a less stressful job. Seen many take the Sgt. seat immediately at condition red at fail.

33 Rob October 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Grossman may have reinvented the four-fold breath technique or adapted it for use in combat, but he certainly didn’t invent it.

That breathing pattern is likely as old as the origins of meditation. The first time I know of that it was documented in the western world was back in the late 1800s in the private documents of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Those documents were later published in 1937 by Israel Regardie. The first meditation in the first knowledge lecture describes the four-fold breath.

It’s probably drawn in nature from yogic breathing, but the specific 4-4-4-4 count was unique to the Golden Dawn so far as I have been able to find out.

34 Anthony November 14, 2013 at 8:13 am

I use a method of the combative breathing when my stress spikes. I focus on deep abdominal breaths, in through my nose and then out through my nose. I train in martial atrs but also suffer social anxiety, so having my body suddenly dump a load of adrenaline into my system is a constant heppening in my world, I don’t need to worry about tunnel vision and loss of motor control when under fire, when all it takes is for someone simply to walk up and say Hello.

Your body may not want to slow the breathing down at first, or breath through your nose or with your abdomen, but force it to and it will become easier and then you will feel yourself calm down. However if you are under fire, or in a fight, then probably not the best time to be focusing on your breath. Wait until your clear and safe before doing that.

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