Self-Defense Tip: Practice The Tueller Drill

In a town a little north of me, police shot and killed a woman armed with a knife in a convenience store. At this time, that’s all I know. I don’t know the identity of the woman who died, or what she specifically did to prompt the people in the convenience store to call the police. Reports have said that they called the police to report “harassment” by the woman with the knife. But one thing I did know before it happened, was that there would be people interviewed by local TV stations who would express surprise. In fact, on the 10:00 pm news on the local CBS affiliate, two people both said they didn’t see why the police had to shoot her, as she had “only a knife.”

To show why police shoot noncompliant folks who are armed only with knives I paraphrase Massad Ayoob, who once said that we must respect any weapon that can send us to the morgue in more than one body bag. And the knife is certainly capable of that level of destruction.

Knives scare me. One of the reasons knives scare me is that for the last nine years, I’ve been putting people through the Tueller Drill as part of the CCW classes that I teach. The drill was developed by Dennis Tueller to demonstrate just how dangerous it is to be in close contact with a hostile person armed with only a knife, or only a club, or only an axe, or machete or baseball bat or shovel, or any other nasty pointy choppy or smashy implement.

There are plenty of videos out there showing how the Tueller Drill works, and there are all sorts of variations on it. But here’s how I put inexperienced shooters through the drill in the limited time I have with them during a CCW class.

First, I explain what’s going to happen in the drill before anyone actually picks up a gun. To run the drill, you need one person to be “the shooter” or “good guy” and another person to be “the runner” or “bad guy.” I have the good guy stand seven yards from a target and the bad guy stand right behind the good guy. The good guy faces the target, and the bad guy faces in the opposite direction. The bad guy has a weapon in one of his (or her) hands, which on my range is a knotted-up shop rag. The bad guy’s other hand is touching one of the shooter’s shoulders.

The bad guy controls the drill, as he (or she) gets to decide when to begin. The good guy has to wait until the attack starts. In my state, permit holders can’t use lethal force unless we reasonably believe our lives are in imminent danger, so we have to wait until the threat is pretty obvious. But the bad guy chooses when to start, and at some point takes off running just as fast she (or he) can go. When the good guy feels the bad guy take off, the good guy has to raise his (or her) pistol, and fire a pair of shots at the target down range. To simulate the high center chest area, or stop zone, I use a standard piece of computer printer paper.

To survive the drill, the good guy has to get at least two hits in that 8.5X11 inch zone. To help gauge reaction time, the bad guy drops the rag when he (or she) hears the first shot, and then tries to figure out which foot was on the ground, and the location it was in on the second shot. It’s not precise, but it’s close enough to get the point of the drill across. And the results almost always stun and amaze the good guy, the bad guy, and anyone else who’s watching and waiting to take their turn in the drill.

Even the slowest attacker can usually get at least seven or eight yards away before the good guy can fire at least two shots. And if the bad guy can cover that much distance running away from the good guy, then the bad guy could cover the same amount of distance running right at the good guy. It’s a rare thing indeed if the good guy gets at least two hits on the target. The best I’ve ever done was five yards, and that was after about six reps of the drill and the bad guy was sucking wind from running so much. If the shooter has a jam, or some sort of malfunction, or fails to flip the safety off, I’ve seen bad guys cover 40 yards before the first shot goes bang.

Since I’ve got shooters who are probably rookies, with whom I simply can’t spend four or five days, I have them start at the low-ready position, not draw from a holster. Of course, depending on who you practice with, you might opt to start in the holster. Also, for safety reasons with probably inexperienced shooters I don’t know very well, I have them go with only two rounds in the gun, and ask them to not side step during the drill.

After they run it a few times, I do suggest that they find a buddy and practice on their own with an empty gun, or better yet a blue plastic training gun, and to run it over and over and over before adding more live rounds and lateral movement to the drill. But I always stress that they should, on their own practice time, eventually work in side stepping as they shoot multiple shots. The lateral movement would change the angle the attacker would have to take, and buy the good guy another step’s worth of time.

The Tueller Drill shows all sorts of things. It shows just how quickly people can move, even people you don’t think are that fast to start with (OFWG much?). It shows how much more difficult it is to hit a target under a little stress. The Tueller Drill brings time compression, as the shooter wants to fire as quickly as he can, and competition pressure, as the shooter wants to beat the bad guy and vice versa. I particularly like to match up family members or spouses in this drill, and make them take turns being both the bad guy and the good guy. That increases the competition stress, which is, of course, nothing compared to the stress of somebody charging at you with a knife or a tire tool.

The Tueller Drill also shows how effective running away is. Even if I’m only seven yards away from a person who makes a move like he is about to draw a weapon, if I turn and run away immediately, I have a very good chance of getting away clean, especially if there are large objects like parked cars or the corner of a building I can put between me and the bad guy.

Perhaps the most important lesson the Tueller Drill teaches is just how big your circle of situational awareness needs to be, and how vital it is to sense trouble before it starts. You need enough space between you and the bad guy to notice he’s a potential threat, have time to assess the danger, dig your gun out of a concealment holster of some sort, and still get hits on target. That’s a lot farther than just seven yards for most of us. Of course, the best answer would be to say something like this to yourself, “Hmmm…that dude over near the cash register is wearing a trench coat in August and keeps looking out the window nervously. He gives me the oogies. I think I’ll go somewhere else for a cheeseburger” and leaving the area before anything happens.

Someday, you could be the poor person in the convenience store when the woman comes in and starts acting in a threatening manner with a knife. If you’ve done the Tueller Drill, you have a better understanding of just how dangerous somebody with a knife can be. Next time you go to a convenience store, or gas station, or grocery store, walk across part of the establishment and silently count off seven yards. That’s how far away a person with a knife can be and still be a direct, immediate and deadly threat.