The 21-foot drill or rule, also known as the Tueller Drill, was a groundbreaking reaction experiment for its time and raised awareness of the threat presented by edged-weapon attacks in law enforcement training. However, it has been misinterpreted by many officers in a way that has never been very realistic. According to the FBI, the average edged-weapon attack against law enforcement takes place at a distance of 10 to 12 feet, not 21 feet.
Think about it for a second. An edged weapon—a knife, box cutter, sword, broken bottle—is a personal weapon. In other words, someone has to get up close and personal in order to use it effectively against you.
Up Close and Personal
A training video that's been widely circulated, and is still used in a number of law enforcement academies all across the country, if not the world, shows someone running across a parking lot toward an officer from 21 feet away. The video demonstrates how the officer only has enough time to draw and fire one or two rounds before the assailant is on top of him.
First off, in an edged-weapon attack most people are not going to come running at you from across a mall parking lot. I'm not saying it would never happen, but it's highly unlikely. What they're going to do instead is close the distance between the two of you before they attack, so they can be effective in their attack. That's why one of the pre-attack warning signs that you've been told about since the academy is someone closing the gap on you. It's an indicator that this person may become aggressive or assaultive.
We all know, or at least we should know, that distance equals time, which equals safety. The problem with this equation is that most of the time we don't have the luxury of distance on our side. The reason the average edged-weapon attack against law enforcement takes place 10 to 12 feet away is because that's the distance we generally operate from as law enforcement officers.
In order to do your job correctly, you have to get up close and personal with the people you deal with on a daily basis. That means if you're going to make contact with someone, whether it's at a traffic stop, a domestic, or a suspicious person call, you're probably going to be the one closing the gap between you and the subject. In a perfect world you'd stay well out past the 21-foot mark, but that's not practical in the real world. So you have to have tactics that will work for the environment in which you do work. And one of these is shooting effectively from the hip.
Hip shooting can give you the edge you need to defeat an assailant that's close to you. Is it as accurate as bringing the gun up to eye level before you shoot? No it's not, but that's not your primary concern at close distances. At close distances all we're looking for is hits on a human-sized target.
At 10 to 12 feet or closer, the bad guy is going to be on top of you very quickly. You're not going to have the time to bring your gun up to eye level before you fire. So the question is, do you try some type of empty-hand technique against an attacker with an edged weapon, which I don't recommend, or do you hip shoot the guy getting some lead on target?
Obviously, hip shooting the bad guy is the better alternative. Most of us aren't trained to a competent level in empty-hand techniques needed to disarm a knife-wielding assailant. So you need to learn hip shooting.
I want you to remember this simple phrase: elbow up, elbow down. Hip shooting is just that easy. As you undo any safety features your holster has, you draw the handgun out while raising your elbow up. Once the gun has cleared the holster, you drop your elbow straight down into your side, pointing the gun straight ahead at the intended target. Keep your gun and forearm parallel to the ground.
Practice this drill a number of times with a safe and empty firearm, preferably in front of a mirror or with a training partner, so you can work on keeping your gun level and parallel to the ground. Go slow at first, but pick up your speed as you progress and get comfortable with the technique.
Once you're comfortable, practice forcefully "slamming" your elbow into your side as you drop your elbow down. Doing this will help you align the gun and keep it parallel to the ground. You want to get to the point where the entire drill of elbow up/elbow down is all done by feel. Under stress you'll be focused on the bad guy trying to kill you with an edged weapon from just a few feet away, and you won't be looking at your gun to see if it's aligned properly. So this all has to be done by feel.
Speaking of alignment; did you happen to notice that when you slammed your elbow down into your side and kept your forearm parallel with the ground, the gun's barrel was aligned with the centerline of your body? This is a natural alignment. If you were to keep your elbow off of your side, and you can try it, the gun would not align with the centerline of your body. Because the gun's barrel is aligned with the centerline of your body, wherever you turn or pivot to, the gun will be pointed straight ahead.
Keep practicing with your safe and empty firearm until you're confident with your new skill. Once you feel confident, head out to the range for some live-fire training. Make sure you have a safe backstop for close-quarter shooting and put up a paper target. Stand at arm's length from the target to start off learning your new technique. At this distance draw and fire one round into the target, using the elbow up/elbow down technique.
Do this several times; elbow up/elbow down, fire one round. Then progress to two rounds, and then to five rounds. Elbow up/elbow down, fire five rounds, and then holster. Once you've got that down, move back a couple of feet and start the sequence of rounds from the beginning again.
Keep repeating this drill by moving back a couple of feet at a time until you are approximately 12 feet away from the target. Repeat the one-, two-, and five-round sequence as you move back. Can you hip shoot from farther back? Sure. But this is a close-quarter drill, so practice out to 12 feet for now.
Again, all we're looking for is hits on a man-sized target. If you're keeping the gun parallel to the ground and aligned with the centerline of your body, all of your rounds should impact the midsection of the target. This person is going to be on top of you very quickly, so you want to get as much lead on target as fast as you can.
Where to Shoot
You don't have to worry about targeting as much when making a hip shot as you would when making an aimed shot. Of course a center mass shot to the upper chest would be ideal, but the time you take to try to make that shot is going to cost you valuable time you don't have. This is a close-quarters fight where fractions of a second count. It's that whole action versus reaction thing. You want the attacker to react to getting pummeled with lead. Get as much lead on target as fast as you can to try to slow down his attack and momentum toward you.
Several midsection hits are better than one shot to the upper chest. You want your attacker to stop as quickly as possible, and that means making more than one hole in him.
Don't make the mistake of totally discounting the midsection as a viable target. There's a good chance of severing your assailant's lower spinal column. If this happens, he will go down. He can still shoot at you from the ground, if he has a gun, but you'll be able to get some distance away from him and go for that better chest cavity or cranial cavity shot. Remember, distance equals time.
You also have the possibility of one of your rounds breaking his hip. This is a very painful injury. Your attacker might still be able to walk, but you've effectively lowered his mobility and slowed him down.
A large percentage of your bodily fluids is located within your lower abdominal cavity area. So gunshot wounds in this part of the body can be very debilitating. Think of shooting the lower abdominal cavity as shooting a plastic jug filled with water. When you shoot a jug full of water the fluid expands considerably and bursts the jug. Your skin and body tissue are softer and more flexible than a plastic jug, but to a certain extent you get the same effect. The fluids in your abdominal cavity will expand, causing a temporary cavity to form. The bigger the hole, the better for you.
The lower abdominal cavity is the location of the solar plexus, a complex network of nerves and arteries. Different parts of the body's nervous system come through this area. Think of it this way; what hurts more, getting punched in the chest or getting punched in the stomach? The stomach hurts more because there are more nerves located there. Hitting this area of your attacker with bullets is a good thing. Imagine getting punched in the stomach really hard with some .40 caliber rounds.
For its time, the Tueller drill was good because it raised awareness in officer survival training, but times have changed and officers have demanded more and more realistic tactics. Hip shooting is as real as it gets.
If you don't believe me, try this same elbow up/elbow down technique with marking rounds or Airsoft. Have a "bad guy" wearing the appropriate safety gear charge at you from 12 feet away. If you're doing it right, you'll get at least four or five rounds into the bad guy before he reaches you, and that's a real tactic you can use on the street.
Michael T. Rayburn has been involved in law enforcement since 1977 and is the author of five books. He is a former adjunct instructor for the Smith & Wesson Academy and is the owner of Rayburn Law Enforcement Training. He can be reached at www.combatgunfighting.com.