Personal Defense Tip: Practice The Tueller Drill [VIDEO]

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In a town a little north of me, police shot and killed a woman who was armed with a knife and threatening people in a convenience store. In the aftermath, when interviewed by local TV stations, everyone there who talked to the reports expressed surprise. Two people said they didn’t see why the police had to shoot her, as she “only had 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 a 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, machete, baseball bat, 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.

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 cover at least seven or eight yards before the good guy can fire at least two shots. And if the bad guy can cover that much ground 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 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.

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 has to take, and buy the good guy another step’s worth of time.

The Tueller Drill demonstrates 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 in time compression — 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 real knife or tire iron.

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 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.” Then leave the area before anything happens.

Some day 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, a gas station, or a 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.

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  1. Informal training within an MP unit armed with airsoft and markers was more than enough to teach that perception beats reaction in protection from edged weapons. Nothing like checking your uniform for red marker to see how bad and where you got cut from a “meth zombie” hiding behind a door/curtain/couch/basically fucking anywhere.

  2. I’ve seen two men disemboweled with knives. It was…impressive. Both did survive. I’ve seen others who were the victims of edged weapons that weren’t so fortunate. I don’t know if it’s irrational, but I’m more afraid of a severe knife wound than a GSW.

    • Watch the Doughnut Operator (police footage). A man with a knife charged, several officers mag dumped on the guy he went down (nothing hit the off button). This dude got back up (while leaking) and charged, finally the officer backing up reloading rang the off button with just a few feet from getting cut.

      • Good grief. So much for 9 mm. How many videos have I seen with multiple cops plugging round after round of 9 mm into some perp with poor effectiveness? I’ll take a 7 or 8 round, heck even a 6 round, .357 magnum over a 15-17 round 9mm plastic fantastic any day of the week. Especially at that range. The expelled gasses from the .357 magnum will do almost as much damage as the 125 – 158 gr. cartridge.

        “Yeah, but muh jello tests and muh modern bullets and powders!!”

        Ok. Yeah, right.

        • Seen it happen with 45 357 40 as well (YouTube live leak and training) shotgun and rifle is where power begin to be relevant to dropping quickly.

        • ……….with that said carry 357 magnum about as often as 9mm but more often if up close personal and little time to react are the more likely issues so I do get where you are coming from but it is as much for being able to fire more than once through the pocket and/or not worrying about pressing out of battery.

  3. Just two days ago in my home town.

    Exact same thing, the gun-haters are questioning – why didn’t he just shoot him in the knee, he ONLY had a knife!?

    One local “Einstein” actually said something to the effect of Why shoot, they only have a 3 foot range with a knife!

    The ignorance is literally painful

  4. I practice draw, move, shoot with the idea that I am stopping an assailant charging me from a 21 foot distance. It takes about 1.7 seconds to draw, shift position, and fire the first shot. it is almost always on my 11.5 x 8 target…but not always. Draw and shoot is easy. Draw, move, and shoot is harder.

  5. Ha ha. And I overheard two cops talking about what a pu$$y this guy was for being scared about dieing over a stab wound.
    To enforcers a feather is a deadly weapon, no really, they took a feather away from a guy in jail because it could be used as a weapon.
    21 ft rule only works if your wearing a badge.
    For the rest of us you’ve got to be stabbed first and then its iffy on how the court will prosecute you.
    Kyle R was damned lucky he was video taped.

    • Egzactly! Cop can shoot you at 20ft. away because reasons. You or me gots to bleed first then, maybe…… Really depends on the location.

  6. I guess it just doesn’t even enter into some people’s minds that there are things other than guns that can be used to kill. You would think that after 9-11 people would get the message. But then that same message was put out there in 2020/2021 and still some people don’t get it.

  7. My live fire devised Tueller Drill utilizes a wheelchair.
    The (retired) wheelchair is drilled out to accept the std yard sign for stapling targets to; it is pulled backwards as the big wheels track decently straight, small (front) wheels trailing. Student placed 7 yds from w/c; pistol in holster or low ready depending on skill set.
    I stand behind student w/ my hand touching the student’s back; my other hand is holding a rope that goes to the w/c.
    Student cannot move until i break contact.
    And when i break contact i run, pulling the w/c towards the student.

    Most peeps can’t clear leather before the w/c rolls past them.
    Even seasoned carriers are in for a shock.
    Their skill set isn’t what they thought it was.

    My best runs are 5 shots center mass from concealment, but I’ve practiced this drill a bunch.

    Transparency: I’m an instructor & RSO.

    • PS- We video this for training.
      Don’t underestimate what you can learn about yourself from watching this very short (3 seconds?) drill.
      Accept the fact that you will be humbled.

      • The best training always does leave one humbled and learning from mistakes and false assumptions.

    • I like that! and happen to know where I can get an old wheel chair. Thanks for the idea!

  8. “…ask them to not side step during the drill.”

    I’ve always wondered, why TF not?! If the guy is moving that fast, a quick side step while drawing and preparing to shoot is the best, safest, and quickest way to get out of danger. He (or she) won’t be able to stop or change direction and will most likely go right by me. Then I can deal with him at leisure with a loaded gun in my hand. If he keeps on running, great, he becomes someone else’s problem. If he turns back to me, I’ve got him, with justification to shoot in defense of my life – he’s already tried to attack me once. I don’t have to give him a mulligan.

    It seems to me that limiting the defender’s movement is a false restriction introduced just to prove Tueller’s point.

  9. Since 1 March 2023, daily across the U.S. there are ~1,500 victims of criminal knife attacks (dedicated pressing attack, not slash and run).

    Of those armed with a firearm AND employing DGU, and defending themselves or others against the knife attack, ~97% are able to stop/repel the attack without any harm to their selves or the ones they are defending.

    Of those not armed with a firearm and employing other methods of defense (including other hand held items such as pepper spray, blunt objects, knives, complying, or running away, etc…) and defending themselves or others against the knife attack, over 88% suffer serious injury (some die later as a result of injuries, some killed on scene) (note: The rest may or may not escape injury completely as dedicated knife attackers tend to persist by pursuing, if they can for at least a short while, a fleeing victim(s) especially if indoors, it depends on how well/fast you can run or engage in a hand-hand-combat situation or barricade in a room, etc… or in other words it depends on chance).

  10. “Two people said they didn’t see why the police had to shoot her, as she ‘only had a knife.’ ”

    Criminal goes (stab-stab-stab or slash-slash-slash) “relax, its ok, I only have a knife.” – said no criminal ever.

    Victim goes “I’m bleeding, it hurts, I’m dying. But its ok, you only had a knife” – said no knife attack victim ever.

    Victim goes “I’m bleeding, it hurts, I’m cut up. But its ok, you only had a knife” – said no knife attack victim ever.

    sample ….

  11. As a current student of Krav Maga and Kali the damage of a bladed or impact weapon in 21 feet is drastic. In my own thinking since I am trained in blades, my first instinct for self defense in short distances is a blade. Even when I am carrying a handgun. I do not expect this to apply to many people but since I still train at least twice weekly this works for me. Will I get cut? Probably. Will I survive? Most likely. Will the attacker survive? Their odds are not good. Just my opinion as an older former vet who understands the issues with society right now. I do recommend that everyone who can to enroll in a combat based self defense class, not a sport style.

  12. Neat, may be beyond the abilities for many but does provide some alternative options especially for anyone who knows how to fall. And thank you for the suggestion hadn’t seen this one yet.

  13. The truth is that in most cases you won’t know they have a knife until they’re arm’s distance away. I certainly didn’t. In fact I didn’t know the one guy had a knife until a lady who could see it screamed that he had a knife (Thanks, lady, whoever you were!).

    What appeared to be a guy who wanted a boxing match as he came around a corner got a lot more real than that very, very fast and the drugs and liquor in his system made him very resistant to damage. Why the fuck he had a CRKT Bearclaw karambit, I’ll never know.

    People, generally, who choose a knife as a weapon know that the knife’s big advantage is stealth (and being shit-your-pants scary up close) and they’re out to maximize that advantage.

    Once they’re that close, your gun is a liability if you can’t make distance between you and them. At that range you are NOT going to get your gun out unless they’re drunk or something (or Joe Biden and just fall down in front of you) you’re going to get stabbed or cut. Probably repeatedly.

    Generally, I’d say that if you’re attacking someone with a knife go fucking apeshit, it’s very, very hard to stop. Knife katas are dumb, no one uses them IRL. The randomness of a knife attack going nuts is what makes it hard to stop, that and the psychology of it.

    If you’re being attacked with a knife and have a choice, run. If you can’t run, you’re going open-hand against the blade or getting fucked up trying to pull your burner. Sorry, that’s how it is. If they get a good grip on you and a knife in the other hand, you’re in real, serious trouble.

    Knife fights are most assuredly not fun. I’ve had the *pleasure* of two. 0/10 do not recommend.

    • Been stabbed once no fight involved just lucked out (well sorta) and it was a sharpened piece of scrap metal too wide to go very deep. Situational awareness fail but running away from the situation was the best response given the third world location. Watch the kids in areas where drug cartels/traffickers play as it is not only adults that may want your stuff. With that said while I do love learning what is possible in knife defense you have the realistic what will work for the overwhelming majority of people. Going to have to relearn a few of the techniques and what to watch for now that we are importing populations used to using knives and setting them up in the Ramada for a year (based on the contract)

      • If you’re operating in central or south America (or a place with a lot of people from those areas) and don’t know how to read the terrain, you’re asking for trouble. If you can’t speak Spanish, you’re already in trouble.

        Living in Central America was interesting. In a city, safe to decidedly not safe is crossing a street. The difference between what is safe and a place where you’ll get surrounded by a dozen kids with switchblades.

        I suspect the same rules will start to apply to a lot more of the US than most people can imagine and along a much shorter timeline than even those who recognize the problem are willing to admit.

        As I’ve said before, the people who advocate for this sort of thing will tell you they’ve traveled. They haven’t, really, they’ve gone to safe places on the tourist route and taken their cocktail circuit with them, effectively. They don’t go to Johannesburg or Montevideo. They’ll openly call you crazy if they find out you just came from Dongo, Angola. Shit, they’ll look at you sideways if you came from Mongu, Zambia and that’s pretty damn safe compared to most of SA.

        As such, most people, even the “traveled” are entirely unprepared for what is quite obviously coming. They will become a secondary liability going forward IMHO. Suburbanites are chickens ready for the pot, especially the older ones. They’ll argue that point, which mostly is how you know it’s 100% true.

        • The only argument I would begin to make in favor of my fellow suburban commandos is there are a few communities that are familiar with misc versions of bad parts of town/world and prepare/educate each other accordingly. With that said late gen x to boomer often have a false sense of security/toughness especially when they think they are good on their own. Not saying all of them have that lone ranger/John Wayne wannabe mindset as we do have a few Vietnam vets that were critical in identifying approaches, ambush zones, choke points and observation points we hadn’t considered but most of the rest of their peers were worthless in planning.

        • Generally, my go-to is to find a rough (but not too rough) bar and hang out there. Befriend some people in low places.

          They’ll talk about the area and if you’re paying a modicum of attention you can learn a lot. Dive bars are gold mines in this regard.

          You can query the staff too and they generally won’t find that odd if you just say you’re new to the area.

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