knife attack tueller drill
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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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    • I don’t know the particular details of this police shooting, but here are a couple of thoughts.

      1. Knives are very dangerous weapons.

      2. Unless the woman had the knife to someone’s throat, the Police sound like pussies.

      3. Most women are shockingly weak and slow compared to most men.

  1. “Shot them in the leg. They don’t have to kill them”
    Another myth is you can decide to wound an assailant instead of ending them. Too many cowboy movies and tv shows end that way.

    • And lots of cops are poor shots to begin with and have a hard time hitting stationary targets. If they shoot for the leg they will more llikely hit a bystander in the background.

  2. In college, in a self defense class, I was asked to be the assailant in a drill where only the women had been taught knife fighting drills. I was chosen as I was able to defend against all the untrained men with a simulated knife.

    Every woman delt me what would have been a fatal injury with a simulated knife. A third I would have hurt, two thirds defended themselves well enough to be safe. I kept going, dying slower as I learned…. But it stuck with me that in my prime, one hour of knife training was enough to guarantee I would die.

    • Ate an entire humble pie when our platoon sergeant broke out the airsoft m9 and rubber knife and had us run variations of this drill. Reaction gap becomes an action chasm that only distance and/or obstacles can help you out of.

    • Do you seriously think this woman was a trained knife fighter? 😄😄

      Knives are dangerous weapons.

      Very few women are deadly warriors.
      (Other than in the defense of their children)

  3. Former, doubt you’d say that if you saw the results of a real knife attack. When I was an adolescent I saw the results of a pocket knife vs. machete. Pocket knife got inside machete and killed him. Seen two men eviscerated. Carotid cut with a broken bottle. Watched it happen before I could even break leather. Back in the day it was illegal to carry a Bowie knife in Memphis, TN. It was legal to carry a Navy Colt. You know. Like the ones Am. Hickcock carried. I’m more afraid of a knife than a firearm. Knife pulled on me once. I drew a 1911. One step toward me and he would have been double tapped. He dropped it. Hello DOC!

    • Talking about COPS…do they even beat anyone with a baton/nightstick anymore?!?😖BTW I have seen men die…

      • Yeah, everyone gets baton training. The problem is that the effective strikes are considered deadly force. Same as a GSW. Even joint strikes (elbows, knees, ankles, etc.) pain compliance, is verboten. Might as well go to gun. Or, just stand and watch. Never was one to just watch. Former, almost everyone has seen dead men. It’s the circumstances.

        • don’t spoil his tough guy bloviating. Cops are all incompetent and he isn’t, just let it be

        • A blow or two from a baton is far less likely to kill a woman than a few center mass rounds of .40S&W.

          It is a legally defensible shooting, but one still has to live the rest of one’s life knowing you killed a woman when it probably wasn’t necessary. Cowardice is a painful pill to swallow.

          I’m not disparaging shooting knife wielding criminals.

          It’s just that very very few women (or children for that matter) are serious melee fighters.

  4. Distance is your friend. Barring an escape route you have to think fast about what you are dealing with and decide if you are going to the gun or if you can engage to assailant. If your only option is drawing the gun you will lose. If you can grab his arm holding the knife , assuming one knife, you might deflect the attack and buy a few seconds to draw the gun.

    No escape means you are tagged. Dying isn’t a certainty though. Knives are not nuclear tipped devices. 6.5 CM is.

    • GS650G, 6.5 Creedmoore isn’t tipped with thermonuclear devices either. It’s a 6.5 Swedish Mauser wearing a new dress. Ain’t nothing new under the sun.

        • jwm, not necessary to peak under a dress to recognize a transvestite. Adams apple and hands give them away every time. Unless you’re blinded by the, “I”m the prettiest new girl on the street.” bullshit. Apparently, there are plenty of those.

  5. Distance and obstacles are your friends.

    As is a gun in the hand and a generous application of ballistic therapy to the would-be criminal aggressor until he (or she) ceases the offending criminal behavior.

    Depending on the circumstances, your gun’s capacity and your abilities, you might start at the groin and work your way up (recoil will help you with that), eventually slowing down and hunting the head as a target of opportunity.

  6. GS650G, “Distance is your friend.” Exactly right! Firearms give you stand off capability. Which is at the core of what’s wrong with Former’s comment. Why would you close with a knife armed assailant when you wouldn’t have to? Shoot no one who complies. Damn near everyone who doesn’t. The exception being those who just run away. That will be almost everyone.

  7. No mercy for anyone with a weapon trying to assault me , as a victim of a knife attack, I know firsthand what it’s like being stabbed & slashed to the point I was standing on my intestines, two different hospitals didn’t think I would survive, very painful way to go.

  8. Knives are dangerous and distance as always is your friend.

    I’ve seen both extremes-
    Would be taxi jacker get cut by Gurkha Kurri. He almost lost his arm and the two would be thieves were later arrested.

    Husband hit by wife with small vegetable knife and it went under arm up to lung. This was at a luxury resort where I was work. He lived but it was close.

    In both these cases I was “unarmed” security but I had baton, 4 cell mag light and hand cuffs.

      • I’ve carried a 3 D cell maglite next to my drivers seat for 30 years. It’s not just a formidable and legal club it’s also a good flashlight.

  9. The Tueller Drill and associated data are obviously well-known to the police but are completely unknown to the general public. I think a lot of bad acting people are unnecessarily killed by police because, in their minds, they believe that they can posture and threaten because, again in their minds, they aren’t close enough to do harm to the police. They think they’re just acting up, but police protocol—which for some reason is never discussed with the public—says they are a deadly threat who should be shot. If the police teach Tueller protocols they ought to explain those rules to the public.

  10. As soon as you produce that knife, I’m drawing my weapon…no if’s, and’s, or buts, make an aggressive move toward me, and I will defend myself with deadly force…

  11. From what I’ve read, the origin of the Tueller drill was a recruit who asked how close was too close. Tueller ran some tests which showed (1) that it took a uniformed officer 1.5 seconds to draw from the holster and fire and (2) that most people, with little variation due to physical ability, could cover 21 feet in that time. (It didn’t address needing multiple shots to stop the attacker.)

    Unfortunately, over time, the Tueller drill has been distorted and misrepresented by people didn’t know better and by some who didn’t want to know better. (Michael Drejka’s trial was an especially egregious example of both.) Twenty one feet has turned into a hard line. Less than that, you’re dead meat. Beyond that, you have no excuse for shooting. In reality, the Tueller drill is nothing more than a way to get people thinking about their vulnerability on a case by case basis. If your “assailant” is a quadriplegic, the Tueller distance is effectively zero. If it’s a skilled sniper armed with a .50 caliber Barrett, it’s at least a mile.

  12. My instructor at my concealed carry class ran a nearly identical demonstration of the Tueller drill. The defender held her handgun at “low ready” position and the instructor (in his mid 30s) took off running. He was able cover between 40 and 50 feet before the defender could get off her FIRST shot.

    As the article tells us, even 21 feet isn’t enough distance.

  13. As a fairly recent police academy graduate, I have to say the “21 foot” rule is not really taught anymore, at least not at my academy nor is it pushed by our state regulated curriculum. Mainly, this is because there have been too many cases where an individual proved to still be a threat at distances greater than 21 feet. Action is always faster than reaction or response. The totality of the circumstances is much more important than a somewhat arbitrarily applied magic number.

  14. I did Tueller drill in a martial arts class with Shocknives (low voltage taser shaped like a big knife – feels like being sliced) vs. Airsoft guns. Most of the participants were gun novices. When it was my turn to play the role of the knife wielder, I was amazed at the number of times I was being shot in the hand (which was unprotected and hurt). Clearly, they were concentrating on the weapon instead of how to stop the attacker, but their ability to hit a moving 4″ square target was surprising. As attackers were told to slash the shooters regardless of whether they shot us. This is reasonable since even if you can get a hit with a handgun during the 21′ dash, it probably isn’t instantaneously incapacitating.

    • Brutal and a good way to simulate the pharmacholigally enhanced. By any chance do you remember who made the knives? That sounds like an excellent training aid.

  15. The problem with the Tueller drill is that, while it’s a good demonstration technique for the uninitiated, it’s unrealistic if someone actually wants to use a knife on you.

    “I’m going to draw my gun”. Cross that off the list in 90%, or maybe more, of cases because you’re not going to know there’s a knife involved until the person is way closer than the drill suggests. Unless you’re dealing with Visgoth, Vandal or Viking you’re they’re not going to show you the blade until they’re, at most, a couple arms distance away from you, like a couple big steps and at that point your gun isn’t an option because you have to sacrifice a hand, that you need RTAF now, to get the gun out.

    Most people seem to know, intrinsically, that a knife isn’t an intimidation weapon like the movies. It’s meant to be felt, not seen. They need to be close and they know it. They will generally close that distance before presenting the threat which means you’re in a damned awkward position. By the time they’re enough of a threat legally speaking you can’t get your gun out and if you get the gun out before they show their whole card, well it’s your ass going for a ride downtown. Probably on felony charges because it’s unlikely they’re going to admit they were about to rob/attack you.

  16. Strych9, what you say is true most of the time. The answer is situational awareness. I was in Jax once with my then teenage daughter. Stopped for gas. Locked her in the car. ATM got the gas flowing. Walking inside to buy an energy drink. Three hour drive after dark, you know. Dirt bag peels himself out of the shadows and approaches. Usual shuck and jive when he realized I’m aware of him. Weaver stance. Right hand on weapon. Left arm extended palm out. “Stop! Don’t come any closer!” More shuck, but less jive. I repeat. Confusion in his eyes. He retreats. I scan. Return to car. Stop gas. As I enter car daughter has her pepper spray out. “Dad are you okay? I was so scared!” Me, “I’m okay. Just another scumbag. See what I mean about paying attention?” Her, “Yes sir.” Me, “Let’s go find a better place to finish buying our gas.” Life lesson for her. She’s 27 now. Keeps that Detective Special I gave her for Christmas after 21 birthday close at hand.

    • It works if you see them. My problem is that, unlike you, most people IME don’t. I’ve seen far too many people who think their gun is a magic talisman and not pay enough attention. Some of them even get their gun taken from them in the deal.

      SA, as you say, is the key and it’s the only reason I survived two different encounters with blades, because I knew/highly suspected the knife was coming before it came out. That made one guy think twice, which worked out for me because he hesitated, the other didn’t care and just kept coming. That was, uh, *exciting*.

      In neither situation was the gun I had on me an option. It would have cost me a hand in the fight and gotten me stabbed or slashed before I ever cleared the holster.

      Some of the people who are intent to use a knife know the advantage of surprise and will try to use it. The only thing that’s going to save you in those situations is noticing them before they’re on top of you because at that point it’s a struggle for the knife and those are decidedly not fun.

      Excellent work with your daughter. Probably not the safest way for her to learn but I bet that lesson will be with her forever.

      • Strych9, the point is always try to see them. Scanned the parking lot before stepping out of the car. Locked my daughter in the car. Where would she have been safer at that time? The dirt bag knew his business. He exposed himself when I was halfway between the pumps and the store. I also knew my business.

        • I wish I had a $100 bill for everytime I heard, “He came out of nowhere!” No he didn’t. Scottie didn’t beam him down. He was there all along. You just didn’t see him because your head was up your ass. For Ed, never let anyone approach you that you don’t know. Especially in sketchy circumstances. Most people don’t want to be rude.They let people approach. I have no problem with being rude. We talk about how most DGUs never need a shot to be fired. True. Some of those can even be avoided by not being submissive. The thing with my daughter? Not the only time something like that happened. Just be prepared to suprise the bad guy with overwhelming violence. Suddenly.

        • In no way was I suggesting that you did anything wrong with your daughter. I’m just saying that the way she learned will stick. Sorta wish you could just tell people these things or show them a short video but that doesn’t tend to stick the way seeing it first hand does.

          My cousin used to think that kind of thing couldn’t happen to him because he’s from New Joisey (my dad’s whole family is). Then he saw a guy get jumped in a parking lot and realized it could happen and that he really didn’t pay much attention. Now he does.

          I’ve seen way, way too many people carrying a gun and not paying attention. Way more people not carrying a gun and not paying attention. If an SUV can sneak up on you at the pumps… yeah see that happen a lot because of smart phones.

  17. Ever watch “Atomic Blonde”? One of the best movie fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Guns, knives, lamps, elbows, feet, whatever is handy. In a fight for your life that’s what you do, and you will get bloody. Depending on only one kind of weapon will get you killed. Carry at least 2 (gun+knife+ + ) and know what misc stuff is around you that you can use.

  18. This is why muzzle sticks should be taught along with movement. We wear taught to move and strike the enemy, it takes muscle memory to accomplish. But once you have it down the enemy is dead. This does depend on distance, cause if you are next to me I am dead.

  19. While this is extremely helpful to consider, there is the opposite side of the coin. The scoundrel who moseys up to you, seemingly harmless…then strikes. The only reason I bring this up is I was given a case of the willies by a guest we had (I was a camp host at the time). He got so close to me, unnecessarily, that thought popped in my head. Fortunately , he apparently only had no concept of personal space.

    I’d be interested to hear from our LEOs if they’re aware of tales about the sneaky ones.

  20. I first joined law enforcement in 1987. It was widely known by then that Dennis Tueller first quantified (in 1983) that it takes the average motivated person (the role playing assailant) 1.5 seconds to cover 7 yds / 21 ft of ground while charging at the officer.

    The officer started with the sidearm holstered and knew that they could not start drawing until the role-player started forward movement. This was a baseline.

    This obviously has nothing to do with REAL calls for service or the strategies used when approaching suspicious persons or potentially armed suspects, wether outside in open areas or close quarters indoors. A real suspect may give little or subtle clues to which some officers may not pick up on. But it certainly aided with other survival training, which is ultimately all intertwined.

    The Tueller Drill simply quantified action vs reaction within the distance, in real time. The recorded time was an average. Some were slower, some faster. IT IS NOT A RULE.

    It was a guideline for officer survival, so that rookies and veterans did not underestimate suspect capabilities and overestimate their own. Just like why ground fighting is important but wasn’t really taught in the old days.

    Many things were learned with Tueller’s quantification and video demonstration throughout academies and training centers nationwide.

    This was a form of reality-based training to keep cops alive, and is used in court to educate your clueless juror.

    This drill helped form survival training and tactics in many different ways including adrenaline dump stress training with fine motor skills defense.

    Some things learned;

    Most officers in the tests were bleeding even if they tried to side-step the assailant.

    Some officers had difficulty drawing their gun from a retention safety type holster under stress, slowing them down.

    The distance was often too close to react, even though it’s generally within the “conversational” distance for officers to deal with suspects during the initial (take-on) contact.

    Some officers tripped or lost balance even while on flat terrain.

    Accuracy generally suffered dramatically with many misses or superficial hits on a aggressively moving Target.

    If it was dark, and illumination was required, it drastically made acknowledgement and defense more difficult.

    There was not much time for force options even though officers were competent with the “use of force continuum”.

    And the list goes on and on….

    Having done a full career in LE and having the opportunity to teach firearms and deadly force over 25 years, there’s always something to learn. Blades at conversational distances usually means somebody is bleeding.

    Obviously, distance = time, time = accuracy, accuracy = survival, BUT …

    That’s also coupled with a ton of other strategies like using obstacles and barriers, verbal commands and psychological compliance, bi-angulation with secondary officers, managing stress, negotiating terrain, knowing escape routes, knowledge of knowing that you’re too close to successfully draw and possibly disabling the knife hand first, etc.

    Bottom line, it’s better to have your gun out ahead of time and the means to protect it. This bullshit policy now (in some departments) that state that just breaking leather is considered use of force and requires a report is fucking ridiculous. Probably a good time to get out of the industry and stay alive. And, even though you get cut or stabbed, keep fighting. It ain’t over until it’s over.

    Just my 2¢

  21. Good long billy club should be able to deal with a WOMAN with a knife.

    But police love to fire bullets. She could have had a pocketknife and they would still have fired.

    Nothing ever changes. Apparently, police have no training other than firing lots of bullets.

    We forget that it used not to be this way.

    • What way did it used to be? Ever hear of sap gloves? Choke holds that caused death? No miranda warnings? Getting beat senseless then locked up and when your family inquired about you told that they did not have you in custody? How about fire hoses and dogs turned loose on folks that just did not want to be denied their rights any more?

      What Mayberry fantasy are you living in?

    • Are you going to bet your life on being able to disarm the woman before she cuts some important part of your blood system? One lucky slash or stab can easily kill you.
      Refuse to drop a deadly weapon when cop orders you to do it (and pocket knife definitely is a deadly weapon) and get shot. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

      • Darn right. I remember years ago, when San Jose, CA Police Officers had to shoot a distressed woman armed with a potato peeler inside of her kitchen. Sad, but justified.

      • Forgot to mention that she had a history of mental illness and multiple run-ins with the law. She was less than 10 feet away, wielding a Vietnamese vegetable peeler that was 10 inches long with a 6 inch blade, and resembled a knife. She was shot once and was DRT.


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