Previous Post
Next Post

This article was contributed by Warren Wilson, a lieutenant with metropolitan police department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team leader, current firearms instructor and writer. He has been a full-time law enforcement officer since 1996.

For the uninitiated, “derp” is a word that’s been embraced by the shooting and self-defense community to describe a foolish act or thought. A “derpism” is a widely believed but deeply flawed non-truism. If derpisms were BBs, there would be enough in the self-defense and use of force communities to fill a box car. The “21-Foot Rule” is one such derpism. It’s a perfect example of an amazing data point being bastardized into something it was never intended to be.


Dennis Tueller was a firearms instructor in the 1980s training police officers at Salt Lake City PD. After running some students through a seven-yard draw-and-fire drill, one of them asked him, “how close is too close?” in reference to using deadly force against suspect with an edged weapon. Tueller just didn’t have an answer for him, so right then and there, he started experimenting.

Since they’d already been working at seven yards, that distance was chosen as the starting point. A second and a half was, and is, considered an acceptable amount of time to draw and accurately fire two rounds at seven yards for law enforcement students. Tueller found that one and a half seconds was coincidentally about how long it took for one of his students, irrespective of gender or size, to cover seven yards (21 feet). Tueller referred to this distance as the “Danger Zone.” Three years before Kenny Loggins made a fortune with the musical version of that phrase, Tueller published his findings in a 1983 issue of SWAT magazine article called, “How Close is Too Close?” The Tueller Principle became an all-but-mandatory point of instruction in law enforcement academies soon thereafter.

Derp to the Left of Me, Derp to the Right of Me

This groundbreaking, if informal and impromptu, study led to many great things in law enforcement training. Massad Ayoob began using the principle in classes, dubbing one particular exercise the “Tueller Drill.” The term “Reactionary Gap” (which encourages the defender to consider not only distance, but officer/offender capabilities, obstructions, etc. when judging a potential threat) can be traced back to studies of Tueller’s work.

In the midst of all this great progress, like a really dumb phoenix rising from the ashes of derp, someone, somewhere came up with “The 21-Foot Rule.” Some trainers would teach their students they were unjustified shooting an edge-weapon-armed attacker farther than 21 feet away. Others would preach the opposite and equally stupid idea that one was always justified shooting the same imaginary attacker within 21 feet regardless of any other factors. The reality, of course, is much more complicated. All instances of lethal force must be justified with the totality of the circumstances.

What We Were Supposed to Learn

What was Dennis Tueller trying to teach us with this 21-Foot Principle? By reading the original article and watching subsequent interviews with him, one can easily glean what Mr. Tueller had in mind.

His first point was “tactical alertness,” or what we might call situational awareness today.  The quicker the defender recognizes the threat, the sooner he can take some soft of defensive action. Next, the ability and awareness to be able to move yourself to cover. That might mean an obstacle or anything between you and an advancing threat. Next, draw the firearm as soon as possible. Don’t wait any longer than necessary to get your sidearm in play. Issue verbal challenges immediately. Powerfully delivered commands may be enough to deter an assailant and will certainly aid in the officer’s justification to use deadly force if it comes to that.  Finally, Mr. Tueller recommended, “consistent, repetitive practice,” in one’s draw stroke.  The more skilled an officer is with his or her equipment, the greater their reactionary gap.

All That is Necessary for The Triumph of Derp

Not only is there a tactical lesson in this story, there is a training lesson.  The Internet has only exacerbated the information overload/wisdom deficiency problem we have in the training industry.  My buddy, Chuck Haggard, has been a legit trainer in all things use-of-force for decades now.  I once cautioned him about arguing with an ignorance enthusiast on the Internet “If you gaze too long into the derp, the derp surely gazes into you.”  His response was classic Chuck: “All that is necessary for the triumph of derp is that good men do nothing.”   Well, here I am doing something.  There have been a lot of great articles on this topic over the decades, but I guess we’ll keeping writing them until it sticks.  You are now part of the solution.  Next time you hear the term, “21-foot rule” in social media, do your part and explain the 21-Foot Principle or at least cringe, because you know better.

Previous Post
Next Post


    • The “rule” is a good example of how a casual observation becomes folklore and then how folklore gets transformed into a “fact”. Cops, prosecutors, trainers, judges—all manner of people who should know better—routinely treat Tueller’s casual observation as though it was a scientific fact. It is not.

      • I recently participated in a “Citizens Police Academy” with my local suburban police department. Basically a citizen outreach thing they do over the course of a number of weeks where they cover various topics relating to policing.

        I had the police chief tell me that the “21 foot rule” meant that shooting someone with a blade was always justified inside of 21 feet.

        • “I had the police chief tell me that the “21 foot rule” meant that shooting someone with a blade was always justified inside of 21 feet.”

          This is an interesting point. A question that often surfaces here is, “What constitutes an imminent threat of death, or grievous bodily harm?” Is it someone across the street holding an object and claiming the will shoot you where you stand? Is it someone holding a bladed weapon alongside their leg claiming, “I will gut you like a fish”? Is it someone with their hand inside their jacket who says, “If you move, I will kill you”? Is distance a factor? Is movement a factor? Indeed, if someone is ten feet from you, holding a knife in front of them, saying nothing, doing nothing, just looking, a threat justifying a DGU?

        • Most likely a short generalized statement and the Chief didn’t go into the specifics of imminent danger and the use of reasonable and necessary force. Totality of the circumstances are always factored in any threat.

          And there’s usually doubt when “always” is used in a statement, and therefore leaves no room for continuously changing circumstances or individual perceptions of threat. 2 different Officers can see different versions of the details at the same distance.

          By saying “always”, the Chief boxes him/herself into a corner and will be eaten alive in front of a shooting review board or worse; criminal and civil courts.

          I would guess that the Chief really didn’t have the time or expertise to articulate such and in-depth topic. It’s usually reserved for Range Staff.

          Most Chiefs are political appointments and never been involved in any OISs. Always studying for the promotional exams rather than going out and doing real police work. I knew a Chief that had not physically qualified on the range in 5 years during their tenure. Not kidding. So much for setting examples.

          21 feet merely quantifies an approximate 1.5 second average distance, that is covered when rushed starting from a standing still position. Not much time to react, much less employ fine motor skills during gross motor adrenaline dump distances.

          Hence, the 21 foot principle is really a reality check of how little time you have to process an on-coming charge and survive it. Therefore the Tueller Drill has since motivated agencies and individuals to be more realistic in both force-on-force training and actual encounters.

          How you apply this tid bit to your life being knowledgeable, aware, skilled and tooled up when the SHTF, is up to you.✌

      • your right, here in CA, its more like 21 inches.

        ….and the guy you shot better not be a minority, he better be armed with a weapon at least as big as your (Not caliber, but size, cause scary is way more critical in the golden state), and HE, yes it better be a guy you shoot, better be at least 2 inches taller than you. Also, you better have insurance, lots of it. Also you’ll want to use a gun that you never want to see again, cause its going to be impounded and no, you will never see it again.

        Note: None of these rules apply if you are not legally allowed to be in the United states. In that case, 21 feet is fine, hell it might be a little close.

      • Well, it’s not carved in stone until you get shot by a cop who then invokes the “21 foot”, claiming for instance that your cell phone, flashlight, car-keys, looked like a gun.

        • It’s important to let the officer see your hands. Ask the officer if you can reach into your pocket. Let the officer know that you want everyone to go home to their families afterward. These are lessons that mothers and fathers should teach their children.

    • Good article and background. My personal rule is that I must feel my life is somehow in serious jeopardy before I clear leather. It may come in an instant or develop over a short amount of time, and that all would figure into my hoped-for reaction.

      Once on the running path I drew my .40 Shield because a damn coyote (4 legged) came up out of the ditch about 30 yards away chasing my running partner- my GSP. I’d have shot if it came closer, and it was easily in or near the 21 ft zone as far as I’d estimate before it saw me and turned tail and ran off across the picked corn field. I’d do likely if some perp derp did likewise, I hope- see the gun and decide to go elsewhere.

      Someone across the street with a stick or pipe yelling at me- screw ’em. If I must I can probably outrun him/her/it. Close in is another thing entirely, although it still might be a better option. Still, if I had a chance I’d likely be moving away from the whack job if I could.

      It was good of W.W. to note that the “rule/principle/whatever” was constructed with LEO in mind, not the normal civilian.

  1. It is a principle, even though it is referred to as a rule.
    Not every situation is going to be optimal.
    One item I have noted with my daughter in CHP explorers is that officers now use the passenger side door left open, and they stand behind it while calling in a license or whatever. Cover between you and someone possibly shooting at you. I have also seen an increase on assistance calls. If for some reason an officer needs to have someone exit a vehicle they usually wait until there is a least one, but more optimally two other units on scene. At least this is what we are seeing out of this office.
    During training I have always seen them stress working in pairs or groups. This lends to more sets of eyes, and reduces the risk.

    • That kind of back up is great if available. I worked a rural county with a high crime rate. Backup, even running 10-18, was 15+ minutes away. Sometimes you just had to do it by yourself.

    • But like some other derp, we keep hearing that a car door is cover when in fact it will not even consistently stop a 9mm.

      But it makes me wonder why police departments when they are setting up patrol vehicles do not specify some sort of bullet-resistant material inside the front doors, or at least replace the interior panel with a piece of Kevlar?

      • Do something citizens! Agitate(write) for police vehicles to have kevlar or similar material in the front door panels! I’m still watching cops with revolvers get into gun-battles with perps in movies/News and want to say:
        “Get down on the ground you cops and shoot from there!”
        It’s safer.
        I believe all squad cars should carry shotguns – heavy load stuff for short range hard hits easily!
        I think I’d be even more scared to face a shotgun or two as a baddie…
        BTW: Most cops are not well-practised good shots, either, so Shotguns even I could be dangerous with! 🙂

    • Hope there is a steel plate in that door because almost any cartridge will penetrate a car door – although it somewhat depends on whether it hits one of the supports or the panel. Since the panel is bigger, your odds are not good. Better to angle your cruiser outward and stand behind the engine block.

      • I’m curious, anybody know what calibers an aluminum engine block Is rated to stop?
        I had just assumed that police cars had some armoring and reinforcement done to them.

  2. Good article. Been there, done that. I was in a foot pursuit once. Suspect turned a produced a large folding knife. I saw his knife and raised him a 1911. He tossed the blade aside. I holstered and engaged in hand to hand. Leg sweep. Ran into the guy after his release from DOC. He still had a limp. Good point about putting an obstacle between you and the bad guy. Another time I had a mental patient draw an Exacto knife on me. I moved around the front of my patrol car as I drew my weapon. Once again, the subject found himself looking at the wrong end of a 1911. He wasn’t that crazy.

      • Nothing cool about it. It just happened and I was the one that happened to be the one that was there. Lots of guys give cops a really hard time. I don’t understand it. Most of us like firearms owners. I always gave them a pat on the back. “Thanks for your help.”

    • You engaged in hand and hand? Good thing he did not have another knife. At what point did you think giving up the upper hand at gunpoint and using verbal commands was just not as fun as fist fighting a felon?

      I feel like I have seen this in a bad hollywood film before

      • B.D.. Yes, I was a cop. Retired now. ETS from the army in ’83. Went to college. Worked for Budweiser to put my wife through college. Went to work at the sheriff’s department in ’91. Communications full time while attending the academy nights and weekends. It was a bitch. It was called the Lively Law Enforcement Academy at the time. Subsequently called the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy. After a state senator. Currently called the North Florida Public Safety Institute. All Florida state agencies are trained there. By the way, we’re the fourth most populous state in the union. Won the top gun trophy. Worked patrol and plain clothes. Dual sworn as a Deputy U.S. Marshal as a member of the N. FL. Fugitive Task Force. Enough certificates in firearms training to paper your living room. And I actually confronted armed felons. Have you? Give me your contact information and I’ll send you my bona fides. Including contact information for federal, state and local officers I have worked cases with. B.D., go fuck yourself!

        • Hi Pmac!
          I don’t even live in the USA – but thanks! Thanks a lot! Just doing a job like the one you did for too long, is hard to understand for me, but then, I’m a fully qualified Officious Bystander (in British Law someone who looks on and isn’t involved directly).
          Take 5 minutes and look up what cops are put through here in Australia with the CoronaViris epidemic.
          Even I’m embarrassed by the brain-dead, drugged idiots hassling the cops trying to keep them and the rest of us alive.
          Good people do know you and of you but there are never enough good people to go around.

      • Uh, when he threw the knife away he ran. It was my job to arrest criminals. What was I supposed to do? Yell, “Wait, don’t run away! You’re under arrest!” He wasn’t presenting another weapon so I wasn’t justified in escalating force. Yes he may have had another weapon. I may have been injured, or killed. I knew that when I pinned the badge on. You think you can do it better? Pin one on your on chest.

      • Uh, when he threw the knife away he ran. It was my job to arrest criminals. What was I supposed to do? Yell, “Wait, don’t run away! You’re under arrest!” He wasn’t presenting another weapon so I wasn’t justified in escalating force. Yes he may have had another weapon. I may have been injured, or killed. I knew that when I pinned the badge on. You think you can do it better? Pin one on your own chest.

        • lol. No thanks. I don’t agree with turning our republic into a police state, and with a badge, comes a natural sense of authority, like you have. I just sit back and mind my own business now. Not going to list what I did, or where, cuz it enables people like you who probably have a thin blue line sticker on their truck to a sense of entitlement or thinking they are owed respect for their training, or that they magically know more based off an online comment section.

          There is always a bigger fish. You did what you did, and I know what I did. I prefer to keep it that way, and you can think whatever you want. Enjoy your day, retired officer.

  3. Great article. Good writing; funny, engaging, while also carrying its content well. It’s a little surprising, the strange liberties instructors have taken with the information.

  4. Alternatively, screaming at someone 20 feet away to drop their weapon because you can’t tell a cell phone from a gun is how innocent people die.

    Sometimes it’s worth the risk to talk at conversation distance. I’ve calmed more than one person down that way.

    • I was in El Cajon for the riots when some moron was holding a vape pen and decided to aim it at police. He drew it from inside his jacket like it was a gun. IMHO, if you don’t act like you have a weapon, you don’t get treated like it. Remain calm and show your hands like you are told.

      • Or the cop can properly ID the situation and treat people like humans, not “da scary bad guy that ascare-ed me, your honor”.

        If I can do it, so can they.

        Must be nice to be able to get away with state sanctioned murder.

        • You’re mind has clearly been made up for some time now.

          Dunning-Kruger is a hell of a drug….

        • Maybe you should look up the video and tell me what you would have done.

          Like I said, don’t make a movement like you are drawing a weapon, and don’t point it at police, then maybe you won’t get shot. It’s a pretty simple way to stay alive.

  5. FYI, the term DERP is well known outside of the aforementioned circles as well and has been embraced almost ubiquitously to describe same.

  6. This is really interesting. The only thing I have heard or read about the 21 foot “rule” is that if an attacker gets inside 21 feet, you are unlikely to be able to stop the threat in time to save your life. It was always a situational awareness matter, not a mantra to justify anything. It did serve as a warning that just being armed, and even being a tacticool shooter is not always enough to prevail during an armed attack. Know what you are getting into, be prepared, understand the risks and possible consequences.

    • I have seen it presented in ways that make it clearly ridiculous. If your sidearm is holstered, or you left it at home, while a deranged sprinter is headed at you full speed with a blade, then yeah, you should be in action before he reaches 21 feet. But if he is at 20 feet, stationary and facing away from you, with his Swiss Army knife visible in his raised hands, while you have your .458 H&H Magnum covering him, it is not difficult to decide it is not time to shoot!

      • Why? If someone is dumb enough to charge you when verbal commands have been given and your weapon is already drawn, and they charge you with a pocket knife, then clearly, they are testing your will to survive. Personally, they would not make it far enough for them to lunge at me even after a shot is fired. That is what the principle is for. Sometimes, even after firing shots, they still have momentum and you just never know, maybe those rounds don’t stop them immediately, allowing that momentum to lunge a swiss army knife in a main vein. Not a smart move to decide they are not a threat because they are 20 feet away. Besides, unless there is video, how hard is it to say you were 10 feet from them? or 5? or even 15? A smart person wouldn’t give feet to a jury, they would only say they were close enough to be life threatening.

    • Best comment here.

      I thought it was a straightforward ‘rule’ about situational awareness as well. Apparently, other people take it a little too serious like it was passed as a law.

  7. You know there is no such thing as a .458 H&H magnum, right? I have a .375 H&H Magnum and there is a .300 H&H. Magnum. There is a .458 Winchester Magnum. There may even be a few new .450 calibers, though I don’t think Holland & Holland has developed any in the last few decades.

  8. Serpent_Vision got the relevant episode of Justified. There is also an old episode of Criminal Minds (S1, Ep16) where the Hotchner, the FBI lead, teams up with an Indian Reservation cop who is armed only with a kbar sized knife. “I got you inside 21 ft.” says the res. cop.

      • Kinda like when FWC decided all Florida lobster sport fishers are legally required (sorry many of you are too young to remember) to carry a gauge when hunting (fishing is a naïve way to describe how it works here). Now all self defenders shall be required to carry a seven yard stick if they want to justify self defense. I am sure the NRA is rushing to their to have a copyrighted and NRA branded version out before anyone else.

        • Used to do a bit of diving. Enjoyed shooting a few fish. Did body recoveries also. Grim work. Gave up the diving. Worked a few self defense shootings. Yeah, measured the distance, but depending on circumstance, Wasn’t always critical to the case.

  9. “FREEZE !! !HANDS UP DONT MOVE !! ” gets out tape measure, zzzzprp, ” Step Back Two Inches NOW, DONT MOVE,STEP BACK TWO INCHES OR I’LL BE FORCED TO SHOOT DONT MOVE KEEP YOUR HANDS UP STEP BACK NOW!!! “….***BLAM*** ” Owww Owww Owww, I shot myself ,I shot myself right in the Gdamn leg, Owww, Fck.” ,,,,,Yes ,the Officer was using a Glock.

    • Been there done that, kind of. Trespassers in my case was a group of cops. I informed them of the fact that they were trespassing on my property without my consent and politely asked them to remove themselves off of my property; instead I got violently thrown to the ground for “contempt of cop” and thrown in jail for “resisting arrest without violence.” They had threatened to shoot me with their Glocks as I lay motionless on the ground (what a *$#@ing insult to be threatened to be shot with a Glock) and threatened that if I continued to “resist” otherwise I would be Tasered (Huh? which is it?). Subsequently, jail time, etc., etc., etc. Final result, the judge refused to hear the case. $12k out of pocket to prove that I was right all along!

  10. The Tueller Drill simply quantified how fast the “average” determined person can close a 7yds/21ft distance. The conclusion was 1.5 seconds on average.

    Albeit, some times were faster or slower given the physical attributes or terrain and the Officers in the training scenario were expecting the attack prior to drawing from the holster.

    In Surviving Edged Weapons, the conclusion with similar parameters, proved that most officers failed to successfully defend against the oncoming attacks with 1.5 seconds of reaction time.

    Many failed to negotiate their multi-retention security holsters, and those that did still received multiple slashes from the role-playing suspects. This didn’t mean that Officers always lost the fight, but did prove that almost all ended up bleeding.

    The Tueller Drill was instrumental in the development of reality based force-on-force training and tactics as well as use of force policies everywhere. Tactics are not rules, just application of strategies.

    The Totality of the Circumstances is always considered and the main objective is to win. How you apply the Tueller Drill is up to you.✌

    • +1

      I have several major problems with the 21 foot rule/principle:
      (1) If you don’t expect someone to rush you with a knife, you need a LOT more than 21 feet of distance to allow for your mental reaction time (to recognize that an attack is happening and that you have to draw).
      (2) Even if you expect that someone may rush you with a knife, you still need more than 21 feet of distance to allow you to register their rush and still have enough time to draw your handgun and put at least one shot on target.
      (3) Even if you expect someone to rush you with a knife AND you are able to draw and put one shot into your attacker when they rush you, they will be pretty much on top of you before you shoot and their momentum will carry them into you. And that means your attacker will be able to slash/stab you multiple times before they go unconscious from blood loss — IF they ever go unconscious.

      To emphasize the point, I watched an interesting training exercise. The instructor had a student hold a handgun at the low-ready position, facing a paper target that was roughly 10 feet away. The instructor then stood beside the student, holding a sponge, ready to run away (behind for safety reasons) from the student. The instructor then told the student, “As soon as I tap your shoulder, point your handgun at that paper target and get off one shot into it as fast as you can.” The instructor then tapped the student’s shoulder and ran away as fast as he could. When he heard the gunshot (while running), he dropped the sponge to show how far he got. He even repeated the exercise three times. He averaged about 40 feet away from the student before the student could fire. And that was with a student who knew what would happen and already had his/her handgun in hand at the low-ready position.

      That exercise that I observed tells me that an average person, who has no reason to expect a sudden rush, needs something like 60 feet of distance between themselves and their attacker to be able to recognize the attack, draw, and put at least one shot on target while the attacker is still at least 10 feet away.

      • Here’s one for you. Working off duty detail one night at a convenience store. Standing at the door. Crowded parking lot. Guy drives up to the gas pumps. Another guy comes out of the crowd with a soda bottle. Glass back then. Bad guy breaks bottle over head of good guy then stabs him in the throat with broken bottle. Carotid severed. Deceased in the parking lot. Nothing I could do to stop it. Saw it about to happen, but too far away. Situational awareness. Place an obstacle between you and the attacker, block the blow, but most of all be aware. The victim that night never saw it coming.

        • Pmac,

          The sad truth: sometimes things happen so fast that no one can do anything about it.

          Another sad truth: sneak-attacks are virtually impossible to defend and illustrate how easy it is to murder another human being with fists, clubs, and knives — or a broken glass bottle as you witnessed.

      • I saw a training video where an attacker rushed the instructor who had a holstered weapon, multiple times. The only time the instructor won was where the instructor intentionally fell backwards while drawing his weapon.

  11. Wyatt Derp just rode into town and he is a-lookin’ fer YOU, mister city man with the Fancy Nancy plastic guns. Tryin’ ta shame his family name of Derp is fightin’ words sure enuff, and you bein’ about to git yours jist as soon as he a-finds out where you be, boy. He said he figgers yer tombstone aught to say sumthin’ like “Here Lies Another Tacti-Keyboard Commando, Derped off to heaven with a 21 foot rule stuck up his horse.”

    Wyatt Derp. Cowboy extraordinaire, occasional sheriff, sometimes outlaw, and all around manly man. _And you dun went and made him *maad*._ (♫ ♪ Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ COWHIDE! ♬ ♩)

    (I now expect to see “Wyatt Derp” cartoons portraying all things derp related, just as soon as some cartoonist steals this idea and posts it to a website near you!)

  12. Guys, all I can tell you is shoot them fast. I have seen two men disembowled. Nothing pretty about a man’s intestines laying on top of his shoes. Looks like large grey worms.

  13. For the uninitiated, “derp” is a word that’s been embraced by the shooting and self-defense community to describe a foolish act or thought.

    More likely embraced by lame gun blogs and gun bloggers.

  14. B.D. I didn’t really understand your last comment. It seemed to ramble a little. There was no reply icon at the end so I will respond here. First, in reference to our republic. I have spent most of my adult life in the service of our nation. I stand and salute at the National Anthem. Every time. I am 59 years of age. I have voted in every election since I was 18. Every one. Every suspect I ever arrested I respected their rights. ESPECIALLY their second amendment rights. No matter how they may have fought me, cursed me and disparaged me; after they were in custody I referred to them as “sir.” Regardless of how they referred to me. I apologize for insulting you earlier. That was small of me and there was no excuse for it. However, you should know I love my God, my family and my nation. Most cops are not badge heavy and out to suppress your rights. I’ve said it before, law enforcement and firearms owners complement each other.

  15. First off, the word derp is gayer than a bag of dicks. Only millennial metrosexuals use that word. Second, this author wants to portray how smart he thinks he is. 21 foot rule/principle/concept whatever fucking semantics. Anybody in the firearms world who trains knows what it is. The author presented nothing of any value in this article. It’s just like when some moron who felt the need to justify his existence by making people think he is smart, by calling a silencer a suppressor. Yes we all know a weapon isn’t completely silenced when shot with a can, but the inventor called it a silencer, therefore, I’ll call it a silencer. Pretty insecure of someone to call a product something different than what the inventor of said product named it. Same applies to this article.
    And third, you will not win at 21 feet with someone charging you and you trying to out draw them. The key to winning an encounter like this is to move off the line of attack. Getting off the X is the proven method to not just surviving an attack like this but outright winning. Learn to move. What’s a tougher target a stationary one or a moving target? Unfortunately it takes getting out from behind the keyboard and learning how and practicing on a regular basis.

    • “The key to winning an encounter like this is to move off the line of attack.”

      There are several videos on UTube with instructors who specialize in handguns, and bladed weapons. The videos portray various attack and defend scenarios. In one video, the 21ft thing is tested. In one scenario, the instructor with the handgun begins his draw, then falls to the floor (on his back) and “shoots” the knife wielder, who is “caught” standing nearly upright over the “shooter”. The knife instructor was completely surprised and noted that he had no way to divert his attack to a person on the ground.


      Sometimes “getting off the X” takes a bit of inventiveness.

      • It doesn’t take any inventiveness. It just takes moving out of the spot you are at currently because that is the spot the attack is directed. Dropping to the floor may have worked for that one scenario, but I personally don’t care for that technique because on the ground you have zero mobility. The dojo and the street are two completely different environments. In the dojo, you know with certainty, you are facing one attacker. In the street, you might drop to the ground and shoot the attacker in front of you but you didn’t see his 2 buddies behind a car and now you’re in the ground and they put the steel toe boots to the back of your head. The ground is NOT the place to be on the street.
        So, while that theoretically worked in the dojo, it could theoretically work in the street, but not something I would default to.

        • Moving sideways doesn’t necessarily put you outside the reach of the attacker. Being on the ground puts you out of reach, caused the attacker to overrun, both giving you time to draw and shoot. Even if the attacker can redirect the vector, you are still out of reach of an easy fatal blow. Rolling around on the ground looking for a better shooting angle means the attacker will be bending over to try to strike. The attacker is then in close proximity to the shooter, and at less advantage to change the line of attack.

          Getting off the X doesn’t have to be frozen in a two dimensional mindset. Nothing more to the observation than that.

        • I see what you’re saying, but you ought to get to a force on force class before you comment further. Yeah you may out of reach of the knife while you throw yourself to the ground. But now you’re in range of his boots. A single solid kick to your head will end any hope you have of shooting someone.

        • Here’s the thing about high speed, low drag training – the vast, overwhelming majority of successful DGUs involve defenders with little to no such training. So dojo or not, thinking outside 2D maneuvering is useful. It is why fighter pilots are not taught to attack or defend in two dimensions only. When attacked, separation is crucial. Until I saw the video of the knife attacks (the guy with the gun lost all the 2D maneuver scenarios), even with some combat flying training, I had not thought to fall back, or sideways to gain separation and bring the gun to bear. So, why do I need to train as an air marshal to understand maneuver? Why do I need to train as an air marshal to share observations and ideas?

        • It’s not that you take 2 steps to your side and draw. It doesn’t work like that. And the side isn’t the preferred direction to move either. The idea is to move and keep moving while you fire into your attacker. After your attacker has gotten a burst of rounds and has ceased any capability of advancing on you is when you can stop moving. But the idea is not to take a step or 2 sideways and expect to win.

        • “The idea is to move and keep moving while you fire into your attacker.”

          Not opposed to moving, just not convinced that I can get out of the arm span of the attacker only moving in two dimensions. Maybe can, but why dismiss other vectors?

      • Just posted a similar response prior to seeing yours.
        If there had been an edit button I would have removed my post.
        Just getting that EDIT thing in like everybody else. 😉

    • <>

      I think you imitate that concept quite well. I, for one, am not impressed.


      Much like your little diatribe here.

      Friendly suggestion: Look at getting into some anger-management classes. From your essay here, and your following bits, I believe you could use some professional help.

  16. B.D. I’m a little confused. I had never heard of the the El Cajon riots so I looked it up. Found a reference to the El Cajon riots in 1960. Something about drag racing. Couple of people hurt. If you’re my age you would have been two. If you’re my parents age you’re 90. There was another reference to some protests in 1914. My question is, what did you do? Me? The first time I flew in an airplane an airborne instructor made me jump out of the damn thing. C-141 Starlifter. I worked every hurricane my agency sent anyone to from Opel to Katrina. Again, what have you actually done?

    • Apparently, I have done more than sit at home and wait for comments to pop-up.

      your war stories belong at the VFW with the other old farts wearing “make america great again” hats.

  17. Besides B.D. you said I wasn’t a cop. “No fuckn’ way.” Remember? Tell you what. Next time you’re burglarized you investigate it. You are probably aware of the identities of local burglary suspects. Especially those just released from DOC. Also, I’m sure you have a list of informants that can tell you who’s flipping your property on the street. Oh, and go visit the local pawn shops. They’re going to tell you to kiss their, well you know, because you’re not law enforcement. As an aside, law enforcement doesn’t even need a warrant in Florida to look at pawn shop records. Solved many a burglary that way.

    • We were burglarized a while back, long story short. We went the local Pawn shop and asked about new merchandise that might have been stolen property. A detective must have heard us talking and came out of the back. He explained that legit Pawn shops were regularly audited and no stolen merchandise was ever there for resale. He then however directed us to a large indoor flee market known to police as the den of thieves. There we went to find our stuff. No such luck BTW this is Long Island NY
      As luck would have it the perps were caught, one guy had 18 priors. So much for the justice system.

      • Only if you can prove it’s stolen. Write down serial numbers and take photos. I was burglarized once. Before I was in law enforcement. (That was for you CZ) I took it upon myself to deliver a list of the stolen property to local pawn shops. Resulted in the arrest and conviction of two suspects. Recovery of a diamond ring and a 6″ stainless Python. Of course still missing a Hi-Power, S&W #24, Super Blackhawk… That was in ’87. Stolen firearms are never removed from FCIC/NCIC. Maybe one day.

    • Next time? Sir, there won’t be a first time. Good luck getting on my property without triggering an alarm or my dogs alerting me first. And out of some miracle someone was that stupid to trek way up here and try it, they better have a team of goons with experience to make it past the threshold.

    • i’m your huggy bear. y’all want a recap of my accomplishments? how about a description of what i do at work? anyone? huh.
      only chirping, no burping or slurping.
      and derping.

  18. Good article but I think the author goes a bit too far in his complaints about the word “rule”.

    Generally, I don’t think people see this as a hard and fast rule because most people are going to guess “about 20 feet” in the first place. So, it’s a generality anyway.

    Besides no one thinks the “golden rule” is a rule. Otherwise there would never be any self-defense. No one thinks “Well, if I was a criminal I sure wouldn’t want to get shot” and therefore doesn’t shoot. Similarly, with a variation on the language and a twist, No one thinks “He wants to rape, rob and kill me so I’m going to rape rob and kill him!”.

  19. The so-called 21′ rule (7 yards) probably originated from the average gun fight distance established by the FBI, circa 1960’s, which was the distance used by the SWCPL in their annual Leatherslap at Big Bear, CA. Since that time many others have gotten into the game with their own versions and interpretations.

  20. The 21 foot principle was discarded by my department and made it a 30 foot principle. One of our patrol officers was on a pier over the bay when he was attacked by a man armed with a knife. There was no where for the officer to go and the suspect was approaching the officer. The officer drew down on the bad guy and ordered him to drop the knife. He continued to advance and at approximately 30 feet, the officer began shooting the suspect. He was hit numerous times, most gook kill shots, but he continued advancing and eventually dropped at the officers feet. 21 feet means nothing.

    • Well, 21 feet MEANS you’ve got approximately 1.5 seconds of reaction time before physical contact by the attacker (conversational distance), as quantified back in 1983.

      This information allows you to be more realistic with your estimation of time vs. distance, as your mind and body perform the OODA loop. For everyone it’s different and no two scenarios are exactly the same. But it’s good info, nonetheless.

      The pier incident you described is by all means a learning curve. But 30 feet may put you at roughly 2 seconds of reaction time. Still not much time, obviously, but at least it was a win.

      But having the knowledge before hand, allows us as individuals & agencies to plan, prepare, train and practice tactics and options prior to force-on-force incidents. Wether 21 or 30 feet, it means we can apply what we know. As long as it’s applied seriously and realistically.

      The same year Tueller quantified the 21ft/1.5 sec. principle, I was graduating high school and joining the infantry. I was a decent athlete playing varsity ball prior. I had pretty good hand/eye coordination and speed. I just wasn’t big. But I still averaged 4.8 seconds in the forty. That’s 120 feet. Rough estimates would put me about 60 feet in less than 2.5 seconds. That makes 30 feet look like nothing. But it does help me keep things in perspective. Especially when things go sideways at contact distance during DTAC. Better have options and be on your A-Game.

    • Quote re “killshots”:
      “The officer drew down on the bad guy and ordered him to drop the knife. He continued to advance and at approximately 30 feet, the officer began shooting the suspect. He was hit numerous times, most gook kill shots, but he continued advancing and eventually dropped at the officers feet. 21 feet means nothing.”

      I’ve lost count of the number of similar incidents where perpetrators were shot multiple times, and/or tasered with little effect.
      I recall one graphic street shootout from a USA Newsclip where a perpetrator was surrounded on a bridge and came out shooting. The longest range would have been 30 feet from 10 police officers all shooting at him (and into him, very visibly) and he simply wouldn’t go down for 30 seconds.
      Since then I’ve witnessed (on screen!) many similar events including astounding tasering with no effect and would like to hear of more realtime-reported events from witnesses.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here