In March 1983, S.W.A.T. magazine published an article titled "How Close Is Too Close" by an instructor from the Salt Lake City Police Department named Dennis Tueller. That article discussed the research that Tueller had conducted to answer a question posed by one of his students, in essence, "How close can you let someone armed with a contact-distance weapon get before you can no longer effectively draw and fire your sidearm?"
Although the results of Tueller's research involved as much coincidence as diligent experimentation, they nevertheless pointed out an incredibly important maxim of close-quarters combat: If an attacker armed with a contact weapon begins his attack from a distance of 21 feet or less, standing your ground and going to guns will almost guarantee that the attacker will hit his target.
Tueller's groundbreaking research became the inspiration for the often-repeated "Tueller Drill," which basically replicates his initial experiments and validates how quickly an attacker can close the distance on you. Unfortunately, to some trainers it also gave rise to the term "21-foot rule."
And at that point, the real meaning of Tueller's research began to get lost.
Don't Depend on Your Gun
At the risk of dredging up old clichés, we all know that "to the man who only has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." However, in the world of law enforcement training—and the parallel world of civilian firearms training—a hammer-and-nail-based training program is incredibly tempting.
When the vast majority of your shooting practice focuses on neat, clinical, gun-based solutions to seven-yard problems, life seems, well, pretty neat and clinical. You kill a bunch of paper targets, everyone "qualifies," and you all go away with a nice sense of accomplishment.
Compare this experience to the challenges, frustrations, and even potential injuries associated with close-range, force-on-force training and it's easy to see which one makes the most administrative sense. However, if you compare it to the typical conditions and distances consistently described in the annual "FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted" report, the need for practical and effective close-quarters tactics is painfully clear.
What the Tueller Drill really teaches is that drawing and shooting alone are not going to save your life in a close-range encounter. In fact, the entire concept of going for your gun as an initial reaction is probably not the best way of ensuring your survival. Movement, the use of obstacles, and sound empty-hand tactics—applied properly—can all do more to keep you alive than a pure "gun-fu" response.
Proper tactical movement can radically alter the balance of power in a close-range encounter. Against a contact-distance weapon, consider the fact that most people are right handed. Most right-handed people who attack with lethal intent use gross-motor motions, like caveman swings or slashes and upward thrusts. Since these attacks will target your left side or your centerline, moving rapidly to your right forces your attacker to go "around the corner" to get to you.
Work with a partner armed with a padded stick or training knife and get used to playing the angles as you evade. Like playing tag when you were a kid, in many cases actually moving slightly forward (to roughly your 2 o'clock position) can make you very difficult to hit. Once you've changed the angular relationship and bought a little time, then draw your gun and get shots on target.
As your skills develop, start to integrate your skills to combine moving, drawing, and shooting. With proper protective equipment and a good airsoft pistol, you can do some incredibly challenging—and empowering—training. You can also simulate shooting scenarios that you could never do with live fire, even on a 360-degree range. These scenarios can include no-shoot targets behind your attacker that force you to really pick your angles and your shots to hit only what you want to.
Distance in a close-quarters encounter is measured by "line of foot," not line of sight. In other words, your attacker may be 15 feet away in straight-line distance, but put a car, a couch, or a park bench between you and that distance now increases. He must either go around or over the obstacle to get to you. This not only takes longer because he must travel further, but it also takes longer because he has to turn or jump in the middle of his route.
As part of your situational awareness, learn to recognize obstacles that can give you increased reaction time against an attacker without compromising your mobility or your operational goals in that situation. Based on what you observe in the real world, create training scenarios that allow you to quickly assess the environment and position yourself where you are best protected.
Once you're used to the idea of using obstacles tactically, combine that skill with your mobility skills. For example, you position a car between you and a suspect. He decides to charge and comes running around the front of the car. As soon as you see him move, you automatically break toward the rear of the vehicle, increasing angular distance and buying the time to present your weapon. At the same time, you have the ability to scan beyond your attacker and, if you are forced to fire, to adjust the angle and timing of your shot to ensure a safe backstop.
Develop Empty-Hand Skills
Coming from a martial arts background, and specifically one that emphasizes the practical combative use of edged weapons, the biggest "take-home" lesson of the Tueller Drill to me has always been the need for solid empty-hand defensive skills.
As a knife practitioner, I can't even begin to count the number of times that I've heard, "If you pull a knife on me, I'll just shoot you" or "You brought a knife to a gunfight." As handy and fun as those clichés might be, the reality of the situation is that, as a knifer, I would be playing on my terms and starting the action up close. As such, you have brought a gun to a knife fight. And in many cases the only way you can bring that gun into play is to do some type of unarmed tactic that keeps you alive long enough to draw and shoot.
In my opinion, the one empty-hand tactic that everyone should have in his toolbox is the two-step parry, or, as it's called in the Filipino martial arts, hubud-lubud (literally "to tie and untie").
Hubud combines the natural, instinctive speed of a slapping parry with the power and structure of a forearm block. The version I prefer is also one of the few tactics that can be used to defend against a close-range ice pick-style attack.
Using that attack (specifically, a right-handed version of it) as a stimulus, your first motion would be to lean back slightly as you slap the attacking hand with your left palm, deflecting it a few inches to your right. Your right forearm, hinging at the elbow, now swings upward toward your right shoulder. This creates a powerful wedging action that continues to deflect the incoming strike. Your left palm now checks, strikes, or pushes to drive your attacker off balance and create an opening for a power strike with your right hand.
To combine this technique with the draw and use of a handgun, perform the first two actions as described above. Then, as your left hand strikes or pushes, use the turn of your shoulders to bring your right hand to your gun to draw. Move off line to your left as you draw and immediately command the attacker to drop the weapon as you position yourself for a shot. Be prepared to continue to shoot and move as necessary.
Do Hubud Drills
Although it may seem complicated at first, the movements of hubud are actually very consistent with the instinctive startle response that is hard-wired into all of us. By using this technique to "educate" your startle response, you can have a very powerful defense ready to go at a moment's notice. And the best way to do that is through the drill version of hubud.
First have your training partner strike at you as described above. Execute the first two motions of the technique, and then finish with a moderate left-hand check to your partner's elbow. At this point, you strike in the same way he did. That's his stimulus to do the defense. He does the same thing, concluding with another strike at you and the drill becomes a repetitive cycle. Done properly, this drill not only provides high repetitions, it also can vary in intensity to stimulate adrenal stress. Try it. I'm confident you'll find it's well worth adding to your training and your personal skill set.
Dennis Tueller's observations and research were, in many ways, the impetus for modern, reality-based, force-on-force training. We owe him a great debt for opening our eyes to the true nature of contact-distance attacks. Rather than squandering his wisdom with meaningless "rules" and gun guy clichés, use it to inspire your training and your tactics.
Michael D. Janich, a student and teacher of the martial arts and practical self-defense for more than 30 years, has authored books and magazine articles on personal defense, combat shooting, and other topics.