The Tueller Drill Myth: Why The 21 Foot Rule Isn't a Rule At All - ITS Tactical
 

The Tueller Drill Myth: Why The 21 Foot Rule Isn’t a Rule At All

By Chad McBroom

tueller-drill-06

The March 1983 issue of SWAT Magazine contained an article titled How CLOSE is TOO Close? by Dennis Tueller, a Salt Lake City Police Officer. The article is generally credited for first establishing the importance of the “reactionary gap” within Law Enforcement circles. The article addressed Tueller’s own experimentation, which determined that the average healthy adult male can cover a distance of seven yards (21 feet) in about 1.5 seconds.

The significance of the time factor is based on the reasonable standard that a person who’s trained in proper pistolcraft should be able to draw a handgun and place two centered hits on a life-size silhouette at seven yards in about 1.5 seconds. Before I go any further, I want to point out that both the distance of 21 feet and the time factor as addressed in Tueller’s original article, were both approximations based on training experience; nothing more.

As the popularity of the relationship between reaction, response, time and distance (as presented by Tueller’s article) increased, people eventually began referring to the demonstration of these principles as the Tueller Drill. Caliber Press further popularized Tueller’s work when they referenced his article in their book, The Tactical Edge: Surviving High-Risk Patrol, where they coined the term “reactionary gap” and demonstrated the application of Tueller’s principles in their video Surviving Edge Weapons.

Somewhere along the way, the term “21-foot rule” started getting thrown around in Law Enforcement training circles. However, neither Tuller nor Caliber Press ever used the term “21-foot rule.” To this day both Dennis Tueller and the folks at Caliber Press have denounced the notion of such a rule.

The worst part is many trainers and publications have misled their trainees and readers to believe that they are automatically justified in shooting a suspect armed with a knife simply because they were 21 feet away. On the flip side, the implication of such a rule has led others to believe that they wouldn’t be justified in the use of deadly force against an attacker further than 21 feet away. The truth of the matter is the justification of deadly force all comes down to objective reasonableness and the totality of circumstances.

The Reactionary Gap

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The reactionary gap is the distance needed to react decisively and effectively to a given situation. There is no definitive answer as to how far a reactionary gap should be and things like terrain, physical conditioning, situational awareness, skill level and the nature of the attack can affect the required distance.

With edged weapons, the reactionary gap may be much larger than you think. A study conducted by the Force Science Research Center concluded that most trained individuals (their study used police officers) were at a severe disadvantage against edged-weapon attackers within a 21-foot perimeter. This is where the drill comes into play as a training tool.

The “Drill”

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As stated earlier, the Tueller Drill wasn’t a drill created by Dennis Tueller, but a name applied to the demonstration of the principles identified in Tueller’s article. In fact, by true definition, what’s typically labeled as the Tueller Drill isn’t even a drill, but a quick draw competition.

A role player armed with a knife stands seven yards away from a person armed with a gun (usually a police recruit). They face off as the “shooter” stands at the ready, waiting for the knife-wielding attacker to make a move. As soon as the attacker begins his charge, the shooter draws his or her weapon and goes “bang, bang!”

The action halts as the charging attacker stops dead in his tracks because the shooter went “bang” before he could reach them, or worse, the shooter gives up because the attacker got there before the “bang.” If the shooter was a thinker, they may have had the foresight to side step the attacker, but it’s relatively rare.

There are a number of problems with this approach to this type of drill, but what it does do is reveal the number of training scars that have accumulated over the years. A training scar is a negative trait that’s come as a result of bad training practices. The scars were already there; the drill just revealed them. I’m going to address some of the causes of these training scars so we can hopefully avoid them in the future. I’ll also explain how to optimize the Tueller Drill by making it an actual drill.

Training Scars

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When was the last time you shot while moving on the range? Chances are, you’d probably have to answer, “never.” If you’re one of the lucky ones that does have the opportunity to shoot on the move, you’ve most likely been limited to lateral or perpendicular movement in relation to the target. Why? Safety.

Most range facilities, especially those accessible to the public, would blow a gasket at the mere thought of someone moving on the firing line. As a result, most trained shooters have spent all or most of their trigger time squared up on a static firing line. For this reason, most Law Enforcement Officers and civilian gun owners step in concrete the minute their gun leaves the holster.

I have witnessed thousands of law enforcement recruits and seasoned officers alike being chased around the mat room by assaultive role players, only to stop and square up against their threat(s) the moment they draw their firearm. What changed in the dynamic? Nothing except the escalation of force. The very moment when movement was most critical is when they stopped moving. This is a training scar that develops from limited movement on the range.

Drilling the Drill

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Every combative drill has at least one flaw that comes as a result of the need for safety during training. The path to overcoming those flaws begins with the ability to identify the flaws so we can develop and use other drills to compensate. Of course, those drills will have their own flaws, but the key is to train as many facets as possible through various drills. We can actually use the Tueller Drill to fill in some of the holes, if we do it properly.

To capitalize on the Tueller Drill, we have to get rid of the “Bang! You’re dead!” mentality. From my observations and experience with running this drill, I believe this is a deeply imbedded conditioning that most men have. Most of the time, the women will continue to fight, but the men will go “bang” and stop. Why? Because men were once little boys playing cops and robbers and they have been mentally conditioned to stop and play dead when someone goes “bang!”

The drill should play out for at least 15 seconds, with the attacker continuously pressing. It takes time for a wounded attacker to lose the blood volume necessary to shut down the system via hypovolemic shock. Assuming the aorta (the largest artery in the body) was severed, it would take roughly five seconds for an average adult-sized male to sustain a 20 percent blood volume loss.

Even in cases where the heart stops, there’s enough oxygenated blood in the brain to support voluntary action for 10 to 15 seconds. Allowing the drill to continue beyond the “bang” forces the participant to fight through the attack until the end and helps eliminate surprise they might experience when their firearm doesn’t stop an attacker immediately.

Getting Off the X

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During any contact weapon attack, distance and mobility are your biggest allies. These are also the areas where I see people fail the most. Most people I’ve witnessed participating in the Tueller Drill just stand flat-footed as they draw their weapon against their charging attacker. As I mentioned, some will actually attempt to side step or backpedal. This type of footwork never proves to be very effective. You can’t step and slide in any direction faster than your opponent can run. Your only real option is to run!

Turn opposite your gun side and begin at a 45-degree angle to offline the attacker and force him to change his direction of travel. Draw your weapon and engage the threat as you move. Don’t worry about establishing a two-handed shooting grip. The priority is mobility, not stability. Moving in a circular direction will force your attacker to slow his movement in order to adjust his direction. This buys time and distance. Terrain is going to play a factor in your movement, but the principles remain the same.

Conclusion

When properly understood, the Tueller Drill can be a viable drill to fill in some gaps in your training. While we tend to focus on edged weapons with this drill, it can be applied to any contact weapon. You can also play with the starting distance by making it closer or longer than 21 feet. Throw in obstacles too, our environment is seldom flat and open.

Edged weapons training is always a bit of a conundrum. There are so many myths and false expectations that surround the subject. It gets even worse when we introduce firearms into the equation (“I’ll just shoot him”). Hopefully, I’ve given you some tools to make you more successful in your training, but more importantly, more successful in your survival.

Photos © Bill Bahmer Photography

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Chad McBroom is the owner and founder of Comprehensive Fighting Systems and specializes in the practical application of edged and impact weapons. Chad is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to Black Sheep Warrior, BladeReviews.com and other publications. He’s also the author of the book Solving the Enigma: Insights into Fighting Models and has contributed to several books on blade combat. Chad is a blade designer and consultant, using his extensive knowledge of edged weapon tactics to help design some of the most versatile edged weapons on the market.

 

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Discussion

40 comments
BigMik
BigMik

For some reason when the tactic of "run at 45" was metioned [keeping the range open for your longer ranged weapon--traditional Surface Navy Tactic] I flashed on "The Dicta Boelke" WW1 Dog Fighting Doctrine.  Shooting someone is not Policing, it is COMBAT to the DEATH.  Defending your life or another's is NOT Pollicing it is COMBAT!  How are our Warriors Trained in CQB Combat? Police Should Be Trained Identically, otherwise you are training meat shields.  

Police should be trained in using Batons or their High Tech Equivalent, or longer Flashlighs as "main guache" parry weapons against Blades. 

Men are hard wired in 3 millennia of Close Combat Techniques, use the Historical Learning Curve.  

Finally, it was one of the Wild West Gunfighters whose wisdom survived in the Historical Record, maybe Wyatt Earp, who said the real problem with a Gun Fight is that, when it comes right down to it, most Humans hesistate to take a human life. The Greatest Gun Fighters had no such hesitation. 

Police need to be trained, ethically, morally, philosophically,RELIGIOUSLY! (see the Augustinian 'Just War' Doctrine), politically, sociologically, psychologically, that they MUST be ABLE to become Human Attack Dogs and to kill without hesitation when AND BECAUSE it is their DUTY!  Train like the Reality! The Noise, the Feel, the Contact, the Impact. Training should be just one notch short of causing Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Skip Harris
Skip Harris

The sad thing is that most all of the firearms training and defensive tactics training that I have been able to observe occurs as mutually exclusive concepts taught by different cadre with no integration.  Old school inertia!


DT is boxing and wrestling or some MMA mixed with ASP, Don't forget the rubber gun that never digs into your side when you fall on it.


Shooting is at a square range with some drawing technique.  Then things get "Hi Speed" when they run a IPSC style course where one runs from static position to static position.  Speed, score and stick up your butt posture is rewarded.... use of cover, judgement, and avoiding a fair fight and generally being a clever bastard.... never rewarded.

Ranges are almost always static.... for safety reasons.....

 

All of the above training done only under perfect conditions with slow moving stupid bad guys who know nothing.


Not entirely bad training, but certainly not realistic or all that helpful to developing muscle memory that might actually be helpful under extreme duress.

When we take average cops through our basic, these are some common MMA techniques (DTASO), there are a lot of wide eyes and "no really....thank you!"s after the class.


One must practice shooting while running away or from your back after break falling, While in guard, While in side control, When mounted.... all with sims or UTM from a duty holster.....so that one can actually malfunction a weapon or hoslter.  


What about holsters! Will your carry holster stand up rolling with a guy who wants to hurt you?  When developing DTAASO we discovered that we had to stop training on multiple occasions because we had destroyed all of the holsters we had brought with us.  We had to actually develop holsters with steel belt loops to prevent a sessions lasting exactly two minutes.


IMHO, We NEED more articles and discussions like this one.

ChadMcBroom
ChadMcBroom

Thank you, Skip. I have some more articles in the works that will hopefully keep the discussion going.

Carson Pratt
Carson Pratt

I prefer to call it the Tueller Principle, it seems like it better fits the flexibility of how situations can be.

RS
RS

Pics are taken at Rancho Sahuarita Skatepark...

Rufus67
Rufus67

I wonder how much of this "stand your ground" is learned on the range and how much is learned from movies where the hero bravely pumps round after round into the perp? Even if unarmed our brave hero will either meet the attach head-on or rush to close the distance. Neither seem realistic to me but it's what we see over and over again. Combine that with stationary shooting on the range and I can see how these types of active situations with attackers go south quickly, gun or no.

ELIMN8U
ELIMN8U

Very good article explaining the ins and outs of what's been "taught" out here for years....a few have added the changes in training and thinking that you have so well laid out, but one still sees too many articles not pointing out the shortcomings...nice job!

Jack Spirko
Jack Spirko

Thank you ITS for publishing this!  I am sick and tired of this mythology.  The drill itself is generally flawed, because the knife holder has the initiative, if the shooter took the initiative well, bang indeed.


Most LEO shootings of knife holding suspects have NOTHING to do with this.  Cops have the gun on the guy, he is standing their holding the knife.  There is no need to shoot the guy at 21 or 12 feet for that matter.


Like the article says the shooter never moves, they stand and draw, yea move, what you see in this "drill" is false faith in the gun!  If a guy charged you at 21 feet with a knife and you didn't have a gun, what would you do, stand and wait for him to get to you, or move and determine a defensive response. 

This drill is also always fake as all are, all the time.  They attacker is first trained, most idiots with knives are not.  Second he is not afraid to be shot, most idiots with knives are.


Not to mention if I have a gun and you do cut me, that doesn't mean I am not still going to shoot you a LOT, and I am not going to stand there while you slit my throat.  Besides most cops are in vests all the time any more, the torso is quite protected from all but the expert bladesman.  


This myth is dangerous and I believe has cost the lives of individuals who did not warrant the use of deadly force.  Like the guy in Maimi who was shot by one officer while being tazed by another.  There was NO NEED.  He was some old man off his meds, a danger yes but one to be shot, hell no.  Judge for yourself, this is exactly the type of thing this article is meant to prevent, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cu7SdL5dSbw  


When the one officer RIGHTLY SO deployed the tazer some young Johnny Gung Ho Lawboy protected by the 21 foot rule opens up! 

dbass
dbass

@Jack Spirko Sorry, but that is the way it is for me.... if someone pulls a knife, gun or base ball bat I'm going to treat them as if the're a master at their weapon of choice. Remember NEVER under estimating the enemy is one of the survival RULES. They will have a chance to drop it, but one wrong move and they can argue the point with their Creator over a morning cup of Joe.

Glenn Sanmann
Glenn Sanmann

it's also a common misconception within the 21 ft is carte blanche to waste anyone.

Tloh Nahtan
Tloh Nahtan

21 feet is you knowing something is going to happen and you are looking at the source. I saw Steve Tarani cover 35 feet with a Marshall standing backwards, the Marshall didn't even clear his holster

Joseph Banville
Joseph Banville

The best way I used to train my guys was to give them a canister in inert OC and have them stand about 21 feet then tell them to draw it from a snapped pouch and spray me in the face BEFORE I touch them. Then I would wait a random amount of time then run at them full blast. It was rare anybody ever got the canister out, let alone spray me in the face.

MatthewFisher1
MatthewFisher1

Man, you should probably go to a different skatepark... 

Sean Yeandle
Sean Yeandle

I like to call it the Tueller Suggestion.

Sohn
Sohn

Good stuff.


When training new students, I even include a video of Tueller himself discussing the nature of the 21-foot rule.  He too essentially debunks the rule.  


it is understandable how we can become mesmerized by "tools" such as guns/knives/etc. (special thanks to Hollywood, and news outlets) as the be all-end all of a threat.  (they are capable tools, no argument here)


I view it as a competent instructor's obligation to help people understand why the "tools" are not always THE solution (yes, having a tool is a plus, but the illusion it will keep you safe needs context).  

Situational awareness and avoidance training and practices are at the core of staying safe.  

Barring truly LIFE or DEATH type scenarios, any physical action needs to be the last option simply because it can destroy your life financially and/or emotionally.  In my opinion, that is not always stressed to the level it should be in training. 


We use a couple acronyms to help students retain something :


S.A.F.E.- Situation | Avoid | Finish | Escape

A.I.R.S. - Automatic | Ingrained | Response to | Stimulus 

Mike Strawbridge
Mike Strawbridge

I always taught my line officers 30 feet is the minimum distance they wanted to stay from a combative subject, and that they should try to position themselves relative to the subject so immovable objects could be between them to "artificially" increase the distance. Interesting that folks were standing still after drawing, though. I'd never considered that bit of muscle memory coming into play.

Skip Harris
Skip Harris

www.DTAASO.com

Defensive Tactics Against an Armed and Skilled Opponent.

I could not agree with the above more.

And when you add the concept that the bad guy does NOT do a bunch of slow motion stupid tactically unwise stuff before you go all ninja on him...... the training gets "dynamic" quickly.


Great Read!

Gerald Wallace
Gerald Wallace

I liked the article. Up until the point where it stated not to worry about a proper grip..mobility is the priority. While I agree getting off the proverbial "x" is the priority, I don't feel sacrificing, proper gun handling techniques is the way to do it. I've always learned to never move faster than you can shoot. That type of mentality creates a danger for bystanders nearby. Why not maybe ellaborate on different draw techniques. I've seen what the secret service does. They draw the handgun from the holster just enough to expose the barrel, then immediately turn the gun 90 degrees to point the barrel forward. At that point, shots are fired from the hip. The agent would then extend to the eyeline if he or she needed to. I've never really seen the call of duty zombies approach, ergo run around in circles and shoot the guy until he's down.

Chad McBroom
Chad McBroom

I don't remember ever saying we should sacrifice proper gun handling techniques. I said don't worry about establishing a two-handed grip. You can't use a two-handed grip unless your upper body is squared up on the target, and you CANNOT move fast enough if you are squared up on the charging attacker.

Gerald Wallace
Gerald Wallace

I never quoted you. I understand it's a HANDGUN and was originally intended to be used by one hand. However, a two handed grip is optimal. Also too, AGAIN I understand moving is important, but at a certain point, the necessity to run trumps the ability to shoot. And vice versa. Yes you could move and shoot, but again, how fast of movement are we talking here? Because, by the way the article describes, the shooter (before the draw) is perpendicular to the attacker. Shooter then draws weapon, while side stepping then maintaining a perpendicular angle still? So what I got from it was jog around the guy in orbit while shooting at him. So jogging speed? Or any speed fast enough to maintain or increase distance? Because again, moving and shooting is something that requires smooth movements. We ARE talking about maintaining rounds on target right? Are are we just blasting away, hoping to get him while we run away. Is this a tactic you teach police? If so tell me the state or even states you've instructed in so I could stay far away. Stray round casualties must be high in those areas. I disagree with your statement about not being able to move fast enough after "squaring up" I also disagree with the necessity to "square up" if the shooter decides to use a 2 handed grip. I've shot sideways while using a 2 handed grip, something like throwing a football. I tend to lean more towards that stance than setting myself up perpendicular to the attacker. I can also move and shoot fairly fast with two hands on my gun. Which is why it's hard for me to understand the speed you're talking about and the need to not focus on the most important part which is going to help stop your attacker. The whole thing just felt very "point prey and shoot while you run" I feel as though you should stress, finding the comfortable speed that one could accurately shoot.. then work from there. Also, judging by your crass response it would seem as though you took offense to my comment. It wasn't my intention to offend you, but merely pick the brain of an instructor. I myself find I am always learning. I may use certain techniques until I comes across potentially better ones. If I find a potential better technique, I use it, if it works for me I work on it. That's the great thing about tactics and maneuvering with firearms. It's always changing and never really established. There is no GUN FU, no definite style or train of thought. Some instructors teach one way and some teach another way. Both could be wrong, but they're both "from the army" so they must know what they're doing. I mean.. That's how we got that stupid c clamp rifle grip in circulation. Some guy saw another guy do it, showed it to his instructor friend, who showed it to his students. I'm not trying to discredit you. Merely trying to clarify and learn. I take firearm use very seriously and put the lives of bystanders before my own. I'd much rather put my own life in greater danger to minimize risk to the people near by. I'd much rather stand my ground( I know movement is key but I'm going from one end to another just stay with me) and get 6 in the 10 ring before running around the guy and risk missing every other shot. TLDR: a video would solve this communication error

Chad McBroom
Chad McBroom

Gerald Wallace I'm sorry if I sounded crass. Time is hard to convey in writing. I did not take offense at your comment. I did not intend to come across that way. The photos do not quite illustrate very well what is taking place. What you need to consider is the actual range of the confrontation. 21-feet is only seven yards. A suspect charging at that distance will be just outside of arms reach in less than 1 second, so the actual engagement distance will be approximately 3 feet from the muzzle. This is a close range tactic, just like the body index technique you described in your initial post. I would NEVER advocate using this technique when distance and terrain allow for sighted shooting with a more stable platform. It is important to keep everything in context. Concerning the starting position, The photos only depict what is happening after the movement is started.

Gerald Wallace
Gerald Wallace

Hey I appreciate the deescalated response and sorry if I made any argumentative comments. I really do encourage a video explanation of what you're trying to convey in words. Unfortunately everyone has a different way of interpreting said words. Personally I run this and other "drills" with a close friend of mine. I put drills in quotations because, what we do lacks any kind of set rules. We use laserlyte laser trainer handguns and roleplay. So yes many of times I've been "stabbed" while running this drill with him and found there are many variables to consider. I've "died" while getting hung up from a conceal draw, tripping on a couch while trying to move backwards, even from dropping my gun on various occasions. Articles like this are the reason I frequently visit ITS. There should be more like it. I would also encourage articles on reading behavior of a potential assailant. It would be great to hear advice as to when would be a good time to start increasing distance or maybe how to tell a person has a weapon he or she plans on using. I've watched the video you stated in the article a while back which was the eye opener for my buddy and I to start running drills. They had briefly noted on a few of the instances where the officer should have increased the distance, but never quite elaborated on that. Again thanks for the clarification. Maybe some disclaimers would be good in future articles for safety's sake? Godspeed Chad

InklingBooks
InklingBooks

Good advice. I'd add another that extends what the military called cover. 


Cover allows you to duck down or to the side if someone attempts to shoot you. If that isn't available, a barrier, even if it's just a 3-foot-high chain link fence at a school playground, would give you added time if they rush at you with a knife or in an attempt to take away your gun. A patrol car is even better, since they have to run around it.


And behind that is something even more important—controlling the situation. When you and a bad guy are standing a few yards apart in an open space, neither has an advantage over the other. If you have your gun drawn and are behind a patrol car, you have the advantage over someone standing in the open with no weapon drawn. Get that advantage whenever you can. Use it to avoid apply lethal force.


------


Distance itself is an advantage. About 2005, as a mere civilian walking around Seattle's popular Green Lake, I came on a man—a very weird one at that—throwing knives at a tree only a few yards from a busy walkway. Standing about 15 feet away, I suggested he pick a tree well away from people. When he became beligerent, I told him I was calling 911. As I did so, he began to move toward me threateningly. 


It was then that a really big guy intercepted the knife guy and got him to back away. Later than guy and I talked. He'd thought about doing what I did and moved in when he saw me act. We were both grateful for the other.


I knew that, given it was rush hour and my situation not life-threatening, my 911 call would not get a quick response. I stayed around to point the guy out to the cop. On a couple of occasions, the knife guy came at me. so I moved away. I made it clear to him that I wasn't going to let him get close enough for his rather poor knife throwing skills to be effective. After about ten minutes he left. I waited a few more minutes and cancelled that 911 response.


Notice that my only defense throughout that entire encounter was staying in control of the situation. I kept enough distance away from him to negate his throwing knives and didn't doubt that if he tried to rush me, I could outrun him.


And that's precisely what the latter part of this article discusses. Don't just depend on your weapon and quick reactions with it. Use position and movement in your favor. Put the bad guy at a serious disadvantage and he's more likely to remain non-violent.


--Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace (a book about the failure to prevent WWII in the aftermath of WWI)





CodaVex
CodaVex

Nice to see something other than gear reviews. Like the site used to be.

Desmond Robertson
Desmond Robertson

Read the post on web page. yes they point out a few good things (I have and do train with moving targets and moving my self) my targets are clay pigeons (yes with the side arm I use) I also train in low to no light some times too. the 21 rule is a bad one (but the 4' ones is a Good one) if less then 4' a gun is more of a problem grapples work better at that range. (but it is also where a suprise move could save your life. like your little hold out behind your wallet (that little 22 that you should keep there)

Scott Robertson
Scott Robertson

A few points. The drill was specific about drawing from a duty holster. In the training I've had and taught, it's understood that hitting the attacker is not the same as doing the attacker. Even mortally wounded, an attacker could still kill you with a melee weapon. The distance has increased to closer to 30 feet. I think in part because of retention holsters and knowing hitting isn't always stopping. Situational awareness plays a really critical role here.

Shannon NShannon
Shannon NShannon

I don't ever recall anyone saying "Tueller Drill" gave anyone the green light on deadly force. Always been just a rough standard of time, speed and an eye opener for young officers.

Bob Firestone
Bob Firestone

That a determined person with a knife can run 21 feet and attack before a person can unholster their gun to be able to protect themselves?

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