of knives, guns and 21 feet.


A rubber knife
Image via Wikipedia

Martial artist, blogger and personal acquaintance, Nathan Teodoro has posted a video on his blog; TDA Training. The video shows a few minutes of footage from “Surviving Edged Weapons”, which was a film from the late 1980’s that was designed to prepare police officers for dealing with what was thought to have been “the growing threat of ‘knife culture’ in the United States”.

For those of us familiar with this film, Nathan’s video shows the Dan Inosanto training scenarios; the ones where officers get “knifed” by Dan while trying to draw their weapons. The rest is the illustration of the “21 foot rule”, also known as the “Tueller Drill”. Over the years, people (mostly in martial arts circles) have been pointing to this video as the “proof” of the “supremacy of the knife”. I believe that looking at this video, or the “Tueller Drill”, as proof of one weapons superiority over another  is shortsighted and a misunderstanding of Tueller’s original point.

The Tueller Drill

The “Tueller drill” was named after Sgt. Dennis Tueller, Salt Lake City Police. In 1983, he published an article titled “How Close Is Too Close” in SWAT magazine. In this article Tueller discussed the results of a series of tests he had run which showed that most people could, on average, close a distance of 21 feet in about 1.5 seconds. Tueller concluded that a person armed with a knife or club (and I would add ANY object that could be used as a weapon) at this so called “intermediate range” of 21 feet, was a potentially lethal threat. Note Tueller did not say anything about any particular weapon being superior to any other. From a Police perspective he was demonstrating why officers would be justified in displaying and possibly using deadly force against non-firearm threats from distances as great as 21 feet or more. Tueller said in his article:

Having analyzed the problem, the following suggestions come to mind: First, develop and maintain a healthy level of tactical alertness. If you spot the danger signs early enough, you can probably avoid the confrontation altogether. A tactical withdrawal (I hesitate to use the word “retreat”) may be your best bet, unless you’re anxious to get involved in a shooting and the consequent legal hassles which are sure to follow.

Next, if you’re “Early Warning System” tells you that a possible lethal confrontation is imminent, you want to place yourself in the best tactical position available. You should move to cover (if there is any close at hand), draw your weapon, and start to plan your next move.

Why use cover, you may wonder, if your attacker is using only a knife? Because you want to make it hard for him to get to you. Anything between you and your attacker (trash cans, vehicles, furniture, etc.) that slows him down buys you more time to make the appropriate decisions, and, if it becomes necessary, more time to place your shots.

I suggest you draw your weapon as soon as the danger clearly exists. There is no point in waiting until the last possible second to play “Quick-Draw McGraw” if you recognize the threat early on. Also, the sight of your “Equalizer” may be sufficient to terminate the action then and there.

The purpose of the pistol is to stop fights, and whether it does so by dropping a thug in his tracks, or by causing him to turn tail and run, your goal is accomplished, is it not?

At this point it might be advisable to issue a verbal challenge such as, “Stop”‘, “Don’t move”, or “Drop your weapon!” It may work, and even if it doesn’t you’ll be developing your legal case for self-defense by showing that you did everything you could to prevent a shooting. If all goes according to plan, the odds are that by now you will no longer have a problem, your attacker having remembered he had a more pressing engagement elsewhere.

Tueller says nothing about any weapon being inferior/superior, the necessity of being trained in knife disarms, or argues the “inherent deadliness of the blade”; it was all about range awareness, tactical awareness and the use of force. What this discovery tells me is that officers should be tactically analyzing the situation they are approaching at all times, they should be looking for non-verbal threat cues, they should be watching an opponents hands, they should use objects as cover when possible and they should never just walk up to a subject as a matter of habit. Police Officers should always maintain a healthy “reactionary gap” between themselves and others but Police Officers cannot be conducting business from 21′, behind cover with a weapon drawn either. “Yes I will get your cat out of the tree ma’am, but first interlock your fingers on top of your head and spread your feet apart!” Unlike non-sworn personnel, sometimes we can’t walk away from any potential threat, it’s our duty to deal with it. What is ultimately most important is adhering to tactically sound officer safety techniques at all times.

The Worst Case Scenario

Tueller said this in his article too :

Sometime, of course, despite your best efforts, you could find you are suddenly, at close quarters, the intended victim of some lunatic slasher. If you are an expert in one of the many martial arts, you may opt to go at it hand-to-hand, and if you are in this category you do not need advice from me on how to do it. So, we’ll get back to the use of the handgun for solving the problem. What it all comes down to now is your ability to smoothly and quickly draw your pistol and hit your adversary, and do it all reflexively. And the only way to develop these reflexes is through consistent, repetitive practice, practice, practice.

In the clip from Surviving Edged Weapons where Dan Inosanto attacks the cops, the lesson is stated as “you have to use empty hand techniques”. Well if you walk right up to a person acting suspiciously in an empty warehouse instead of issuing commands from range and the guy attacks you with a knife, than yes, I guess you are in deep caca and depending on your gun alone may not be the best idea. However, I think that the ultimate lesson for officers here shouldn’t be “learn martial arts“, as beneficial as that would indeed be, it should be “use better tactics“. But to be fair to the officers in the video, I don’t know exactly how the scenario was presented to them. The narrator says it was framed as “respond to suspicious circumstances in a warehouse at night”. If it was “It’s 1AM, the business is closed, and you find a broken lock…” these Coppers screwed up. If it was “It looks like it may be the business owner”, that’s a different story and they were set-up for the confrontation by the creators. I also wonder if there were any subjects who “won” the scenario that didn’t make the film?

When it comes to the mechanics of close range fighting, I agree that backpedaling and focusing on trying to draw your pistol in the face of a knife attack is not a great idea, but I think that telling officers that they should be focusing on disarming an attacker or staying entirely H2H is a mistake as well. Knife defenses and disarms are a “break glass in the event of emergency” situation even for highly trained martial artists, let alone an Officer who will probably be practicing such techniques far less often. What would be best to learn from this video is to not be “in the hole” in the first place. If the officer has no choice, than this video is a good lesson in the need to combine empty hand techniques with basic tactics like lateral movement and CQB oriented shooting styles, which are essential for “in the hole” confrontations versus “quick draw” style techniques.

A commenter on another post in my blog gives great advice on how to deal with this sort of confrontation if you screw up bad enough or are just plain unlucky enough to be in one :

1. You MUST solve the positional problem BEFORE you try to acquire your firearm and engage the threat. This means you may have to move off the line of threat, or go hands on with the threat until you can improve your position sufficiently to ensure that you have the time and space to draw and deliver deadly force.

2. You must RETAIN your weapon. SouthNarc teaches shooting from a high “two” position, with the pistol tucked in close to the body and the firing thumb indexed along the pectoral muscle. Support side arm in a horizontal or vertical “elbow shield”, utilizing the bone structure to provide sufficient space between you and your threat so you can work the trigger and not get foul the slide or get it forced out of battery.

3. It’s going to be hard, fast, and ugly.

4. If you stand still and try to draw your gun and pull the trigger while a big ape is stacking your sh**, you will not prevail.

5. Movement, strikes, and working to the flank, getting dominant position, and THEN lighting up the bad guy is the goal.

Good stuff.

What It All Means

The Tueller Drill, while a useful tool, seems to have become a set piece exercise with a tendency to be overblown by people who missed Tueller’s point. I believe that the main revelation of the Tueller Drill is the power of initiative and INTENT. In the classic “Knife vs. Gun Tueller Drill” the knifer knows he is going to attack and when. The other person stands there…holstered…and waits. There is no “scenario”, no back-story of why you are in contact with this person in the first place. It never takes into consideration obstacles between opponents, it never considers the officer taking the initiative and drawing, giving commands and or preempting your opponent. The drill is pure physics. A person can cover this distance and strike a person in this given time”.

On the street this boils down to basic OODA . In the classic Tueller Drill the knife wielder is already inside the defenders “OODA loop”, the knifer gets to both DECIDE and ACT before the defender can process the situation. If you allow a little “real world” into this exercise, and the defender in the Tueller drill knows that the knifer is coming for him (which he does = Observe) he should “cheat”. He should run..place an obstacle between him and the BG (Orient) and start issuing commands and/or start shooting before the knifer even thinks to move (Decide/Act). I have always wanted to be asked to participate in a “Tueller Drill” and wait to be told “You stand here. He has a knife and when he moves you react”. I’d ask “he has a knife?” and when told yes draw down, place an obstacle between us and give commands. I know that I would be ignoring the intent of the drill by doing that. The intent being to simply make you aware of the “reaction gap” and the realities of edged weapons, but the Tueller Drill is ultimately an example of math more than it is an example of “combative truth”.

IMO, who decides to attack, who is first aware of the threat and who has a weapon in hand is more important than which weapon is “superior” in this sort of scenario. If you have an enemy who is within 21′ with ANY WEAPON and he gets to make the first move, while you wait to respond…you are in big trouble, be that a knife, a gun, a bottle or a roadside rock.

Stay Alert, Stay Aware, Stay Alive.

See the video at TDA Training here:

Distance and Awareness-Blade and Gun (Video)

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6 thoughts on “of knives, guns and 21 feet.”

  1. Tom, After viewing the video I never got the impression a knife was superior to a gun.
    Basically, my impression was Teuller wanted to demonstrate how deadly and damaging knives are, and how fast and sneakily they can cause great injury or death.
    As a civilian if I’m suspicious of someone and can’t see the palms of their hands, I need to be proactive.
    I need to try to escape (avoid) or run for cover (action).
    I like all the proactive tactics here.

    Dave

  2. All Tueller wanted to demonstrate was that a person can cross 21′ in 1.5 seconds and touch you. He didn’t have anything to say about any particular weapon really…his article shows photos of the BG with a club, not a knife as a matter of fact.

    Read his article, it’s linked in my post.

    Not that im saying that the gun is ‘superior” to the knife either. IMO the Tueller dril isnt about weapons.

    1. Tueller drill is a ‘cautionary tale’ in action. Basically the original message that seems to be intended is:

      “Don’t assume that because you are armed and/or a Cop, that they person is NOT armed and/or that the person can’t get to you before you get that gun out.”

      Basically, train the brain, not just weapons or techniques.

  3. One can never be unaware of what is happening around him/her. Whenever you are in a position of threat, one needs to cover everything in their Area of Operation and watch your six!

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