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Tueller Drill or Reactionary Gap?

Tueller Drill or Reactionary Gap?

By: Michigan Pistol Academy

The Tueller Drill is a self-defense training exercise that addresses the reactionary gap, a concept related to the time it takes for an attacker to close the distance between themselves and a potential victim. The drill is named after Dennis Tueller, a now retired police officer who, in 1983, conducted research on the time it takes for an armed individual to respond to a threat from an attacker armed with an edged weapon, such as a knife.

The reactionary gap is important in self-defense and civilian training because it emphasizes the need to maintain a safe distance from potential threats to give individuals more time to respond effectively. It also underscores the importance of situational awareness, which involves being attentive to your surroundings and potential threats, so you can anticipate and respond to them more effectively.

In law enforcement and security contexts, officers are trained to maintain a reactionary gap to ensure their own safety while dealing with potentially dangerous individuals. This gap allows them to react to threats more efficiently and with appropriate force if necessary.

The Tueller Drill is designed to highlight the importance of maintaining distance and having a quick reaction when facing a potential threat. Here is how the drill works:

  1. The “attacker” starts at a distance of 21 feet from the “defender,” who is typically armed with a holstered firearm. This should also be practiced from concealment
  2. On the signal to start, the attacker charges or advances toward the defender with a fake weapon (rubber knife) in hand.
  3. The defender’s goal is to draw their firearm and engage the attacker before the attacker closes the 21-foot gap and simulates a lethal attack.

The Tueller Drill is used in self-defense and law enforcement training to illustrate that even at a relatively significant distance, an attacker with an edged weapon can close in quickly. It emphasizes the need for quick decision-making and reaction time when dealing with potential threats. In real-life situations, maintaining distance, situational awareness, and having a plan for self-defense are crucial for personal safety. The Tueller Drill serves as a valuable training tool for understanding the reactionary gap and the need for immediate response to a threat.

Although the phrase “21-foot Rule” was not ever used by Lt. Tueller in his 1983 studies, it was later coined the “21 Foot Rule.” His article talked about recognizing the danger zone, and about use of cover or at least obstacles to slow an attacker. Never should it be considered a rule. Lawyers may however use the 21- foot rule terminology in self-defense cases. Using Tueller’s research about reactionary time may help prove that there was an imminent threat to your life.

Keep in mind, this “Reactionary Gap Study” was intended for trained Law Enforcement. There were two main conclusions that can be contributed to Tueller’s research.

First, an attacker with a knife could cover 21 feet in about 1.5 seconds.

Second, many trained law enforcement officers would be lucky to recognize a threat, unholster their sidearms, and successfully stop threats from being able to deliver blows with a knife in less than 1.5 seconds. This was quite a revelation at the time, and it changed the mindset of a lot of officers.

I hear the term “21-Foot Rule” and it is improperly stated as a threshold of a safe working distance from an attacker. A rule is made to be followed, let me be clear, this IS NOT a rule.

Removing the word “rule” would go a long way toward dispelling the myth. Tueller’s research did not create a new rule; you are not suddenly safer at 22 feet than you are at 20 feet. It is important to distinguish that Lt. Tueller developed a drill, not a standard.

So, what distance is Your Reactionary Gap?

How to find out what distance should your “Danger Zone” be from a potential threat? Based on the Tueller Drill many police agencies have now considered anything within 32-50 feet to be their “Danger Zone.”

So how do we gain time and distance? For starter, having a good sense of situational awareness. So how do you gain reaction time? Be aware of your immediate surroundings, people, and objects in your environment. This is crucial to be able to escape, avoid, and buy a few precious seconds to take cover and defend yourself.

In conclusion, the studies all show that neither law enforcement or the law-abiding citizen is bound by a 21-foot rule. The reactive gap principle needs to be properly trained and discussed in the context of facts and laws to appropriately capture the threat a victim faces in each specific instance. This then will determine your personal bubble. Concealed carriers need to continue to be taught the importance of moving off the X, and using cover along with target identification and acquisition. These are all concepts that any decent concealed carry fundamentals class should be covering in addition to local laws.

The Michigan Pistol Academy is located in Rochester Hills and Royal Oak, Michigan and is dedicated to providing comprehensive firearm training and education in the state of Michigan.

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