The Green Zone, Red Zone, Grey Zone, and Blue Zone – Do You Train only for the Green Zone? – Erik Kondo

Four Zones

When most people think of martial arts based self-defense, they think of an athletic and skilled martial artist beating up an attacker. And most effective martial arts training does in fact, teach you how to win a fight. When you are in the process of winning, you are aggressive, confident, and performing well. You are damaging your opponent and he or she is not damaging you. You are in a strong position and your opponent is in a weak position. Whether you dispatch your opponent with karate, jujitsu, MMA or some other style, it doesn’t really matter. Assuming you have reasonable skill, whatever techniques you apply, they will most likely do the job. You are in the Green Zone.

When you are in the Green Zone, you are performing at your optimum.  As long as you can stay in the Green Zone, you are likely to defeat or successfully disengage from your opponent. The problem is that in a true self-defense situation, your attacker doesn’t want to let you fight back in the Green Zone. He or she wants you to be the Red Zone. The Red Zone is where you are in the process of losing. You are being overwhelmed. You are fearful or frozen. You are unsure of how to respond. You are a psychological and physiological mess. You are taking damage and not damaging your assailant. You are in a weak position and he or she is in a strong position. You are NOT performing at an optimum level.

Most traditional martial arts training doesn’t teach you how to deal with the Red Zone. It teaches you how to fight when you are in the Green Zone. Realistic physical self-defense requires that you know how to get out of the Red Zone and into the Green Zone before it’s too late.

Prior to a physical conflict, you are in the Gray Zone. From the Gray Zone it is a quick transition to either losing in the Red Zone or winning in the Green Zone. Your assailant’s goal is to get you into the Red Zone as quickly and as easily as possible. He doesn’t want to risk having to deal with you in the Green Zone. Therefore, he uses tactics such as an ambush, deception, a weapon(s), superior numbers, etc. to overwhelm you. He uses the Golden Attack (See Rory Miller’s Golden Move). The goal of the Golden Attack is use overwhelming violence to:

  1. Damage you.
  2. Prevent damage to him.
  3. Worsen your position.
  4. Improve his position.

Once you are put into the Red Zone, you may never get out and apply your Green Zone skills. And that is exactly what your attacker intends to happen.

Conversely, if you find yourself starting off in the Green Zone, most likely it is because you are illegally fighting and not in a self-defense situation. In this case, dispatching your opponent with your martial arts skills may land you in jail or in civil court.

Some martial arts instructors have circumvented the reality of the Red Zone by advocating the use of a Pre-emptive Strike against the Bad Guy. In this case, it is you that launches the first attack. You initiate the transition from the Grey Zone into the Green Zone. For simplicity and ease of teaching, the instructor ignored/justifies the legal aspects of the Pre-emptive Strike with the use of Bad Guy labeling (opponent is a known murderer/rapist/etc.) But as a practical matter, you now are the one that has used the Golden Attack. And more than likely, you will need to articulate why you did what you did, to the police and possibly a judge and jury.

What happens after a violent incident is the Blue Zone. It is here that you will have to explain your actions to society as to why your response was legal self-defense. In order to do so, you need to know how the law applies to your situation. You need to articulate the reasoning for your actions beyond only stating that “you were afraid for your life”.

Golden Feed vs. Golden Attack

It is typical for martial arts techniques to be demonstrated and taught in response to a simulated “attack”. This attack is really a Golden Feed disguised as a Golden Attack. It is a Golden Feed when:

  • You are mentally and physically prepared to respond.
  • You are literally waiting for the “attack” to happen, which then acts as the trigger for your prepared response.
  • The “attack” doesn’t damage you, prevent damage to your opponent, weaken your position, strengthen your opponent’s position
  • You are not concerned with the negative consequences of your response, which means you have full conviction that your response is the “right” thing to do.
  • Your opponent’s attack was singular in nature. For example, he only tries to punch or grab you but then does nothing else. As a result, you are able to respond with multiple movements to his one movement.

To summarize, your opponent’s “attack” is actually a setup for you to launch your own Golden Attack. To the uninformed, it may look as if you are training from the Red Zone, but you are actually in the Green Zone.

Situational Awareness is only part of the Grey Zone

Most traditional self-defense instruction talks frequently about the importance of situational awareness. The basic premise is that by being aware of your surroundings you can avoid being assaulted and ending up in the Red Zone. The other aspect is that by demonstrating that you are an aware person, you can deter potential attackers. These are two important aspects of the Grey Zone, but there are more. Situational awareness is only a subset of the Grey Zone.

The Grey Zone is the series of events that occur before a potential or actual assault. Maybe you are assaulted, or maybe you are not. The Grey Zone is a place of uncertainty.

You might be aware of an impending threat, but that doesn’t mean you know how to deal with that particular threat. Or possibly, you are mentally aware of your surroundings, yet you don’t “see” the threat developing because you don’t recognize it as such. Realizing that you have problem doesn’t mean you know exactly what the problem is, or that you have the knowledge and means to fix it.

In the Grey Zone, your emotional Monkey Brain may influence you to act in a manner that you intellectually know is contrary to your best interests, but you do it anyway. Dealing with the Grey Zone requires not only situational awareness, but knowledge of criminal behavior, violence dynamics, environmental knowledge, understanding your own abilities and limitations, and above all good judgement and critical thinking.

No matter how proficient you are at fighting in the Green Zone, unless you have learned to avoid or survive the Red Zone, navigate the Grey Zone, and mitigate the Blue Zone, your self-defense training is deficient.

Clint Overland on the Red Zone

“I like being other people’s Red Zone. I start where most people have to build up to.

Say that you have made promises to either do something. Pay a debt or deliver a product at a certain price for a certain amount and you decided to welch on your word. And maybe you have the balls to back it up, and the ones you lied to don’t have the strength to discipline you for your indiscretions. But they have the money. That’s where a hard crew comes in. We enforce their will by starting at the Red Zone.

Now you as the Welcher may be a total bad ass. A walking Martial arts legend. Death on Two legs.

I am going to know this because I have researched you. This helps me formulate my plan of action. My crew and I will do it on you when you are least expecting it. First we, pepper spray you in the face, and then taze you while you’re screaming. Next, while you’re down, two of us take hammers to your legs and arms. Removing the threat to us. This is why pros work in Red Zones. Your best option is too stay out of them.”

Terry Trahan on the Red Zone

“The Red Zone is a paradox. You don’t want to be there by accident. But, it is the place you want to push your opponent to be as soon as physical conflict becomes your tool to end the situation.

Once that switch has been flipped, everything you do should have two purposes;

1) make sure you go home, and 2) overwhelm your opponent in order to end it quickly.

If you are being pre-emptive, you don’t initiate violence until everything is lined up in your favor: position, weapons, allies, whatever you have to tip the odds your way, and throw your opponent into his Red Zone.

If all of your situational and environmental awareness has failed, and you are in a reactive mode, you must force your attacker into his Red Zone as quickly as you can. Aggression, forward drive, environmental control and savageness until you can make your exit.

By overwhelming him, you put yourself in control, and keep him spiraling and falling into his Red Zone.”


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