Busting 3 Myths of the “21 Foot Rule”

Almost everyone has heard about the “21 Foot Rule” and how important it is to practice at 21 feet.

I used to teach it and I’ve probably been taught it in more than a dozen classes I’ve taken.

Except it’s a myth.

It has no basis in fact or history.

And it can actually hurt your ability to effectively handle a threat that’s 21 feet away.

So, here are 3 myths about the 21 Foot Rule and how to fix them…

Myth #1: There’s a concept called the “21 Foot Rule” that was created by Officer Dennis Tueller. 

The “21 Foot Rule” came from a drill that officer Tueller did with the Salt Lake City police department in 1983.  According to Officer Tueller, it was never intended to be a rule.  It was just an illustration that it takes 1.5 seconds for an average officer to draw and hit a target at 21 feet (7 steps is a standard shooting distance) AND it takes an average man with a knife 1.5 seconds to travel 21 feet and stab.  This represents a “tie” and a tie is bad in a fight.

After the good guy shoots the attacker, the attacker has, on average, 5-10 more seconds to keep stabbing before they will be out of the fight.  Again, a tie is bad.

Myth #2:  You should train to shoot at 21 feet because of the 21 foot rule.

The original 21 foot test was done at 21 feet because it was already common for officers to train to shoot from 7 yards.

Unless your attacker is running on a treadmill, they will have closed the distance during the time it takes you to draw and shoot.  Then they’re not at 21 feet anymore.  They may be within arm’s reach.

What if there is a car between you and the attacker?  A counter?  A table?

Now, is there anything wrong with standing at the line and banging away at a target at 21 feet?

Of course not…as long as you’re making hits and not reinforcing mediocre performance, 21 feet is one of several great distances to practice at.

Just don’t think that it’s doing you any good for a situation where you may be facing a threat who starts to charge with a knife from 21 feet away with nothing between you and him.

Myth #3:  21 feet is THE “reactionary gap.”

The original point that Tueller was trying to make is that there is a reactionary gap between when something happens that requires you to take action and and when you’ve actually taken beneficial action.

The “21 foot rule” is based on the idea that 2 guys will be facing off at 21 feet…like in an old-west dual…with one guy sprinting across open ground and the other standing flat footed.  It was a way to control variables so that they could get comparable results.

If you play by those rules,
you will probably lose.

But you can dramatically change your reactionary gap…both in terms of the time it takes you to react and the time it takes an attacker to reach you.

A counter, table, car, elevation change, or other object between you and your attacker buys you more time.

Having your hand on the grip of your gun or your gun drawn lets you react quicker.

Drawing to low-ready lets you react quicker.

More light lets you react quicker.

Moving laterally or at a 45 degree angle towards a charging attacker buys you more time.

Defined “go” signals…a line in the sand that’s either behavioral or physical…lets you react quicker.

If you’re not used to smoothly drawing and making hits quickly under stress, it’ll probably take you considerably longer than 1.5 seconds to make a first HIT on target.  (hint:  being able to draw smoothly under stress and making solid hits is a journey.  It requires a few “oh crap” moments as a gut-check along the way.)

So, if drawing and shooting targets at 21 feet in less than 1.5 seconds is useless for handling an attacker armed with a knife at 21 feet, how DO you train to handle the situation?

The first thing you need to do is nail the shooting fundamentals with guided step-by-step training like 21 Day Alpha Shooter.

The next step is to take those fundamentals and begin adding in the factors that exist in a real gunfight that you can’t practice at a traditional range…like:

  • shooting off balance and at odd angles,
  • putting accurate hits on target while moving and turning,
  • incorporating cover & concealment into your training,
  • adding cognitive load to your training,
  • adding decision making to your shooting,
  • and more.

Traditionally, this kind of training has been almost impossible to find and ridiculously expensive to do—both in terms of learning cost and ammo/time.

But, I’m going to share with you a step-by-step process that anyone can do in the comfort of your home that will take you from being a flat-range shooter to being able to respond quicker and more effectively to threats in a 360 degree real-world environment.  It’s fun, it’s easy, and anyone can do it.

This training is going to challenge many of the assumptions you have about effective gun training.

Just like the “21 Foot Rule” is a myth, there are several other myths that are pervasive in today’s gun training culture that are causing you to work harder and shoot worse than you need to–and nobody likes wasting time and hard-earned money.

We’ll cover some of these myths…as well as the solutions.

Head on over >HERE< right now to watch the replay.  It won’t cost you a thing, but it could very well change the way you train forever.

(Traditional range training doesn’t get shooters ready for this kind of reality.)

This is incredibly valuable training, so sign up now by going >HERE<


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  • Ross B0nny

    Reply Reply December 30, 2021

    Good comments. I’ll remember Mr Tueller’s name and his own words that 21 ft is not a rule in case I need to.

  • William Moody

    Reply Reply November 4, 2020

    Under my CCP instructor, he had us all outside for a few more lessons and mentioned the 21 foot rule, then continued on with an alternate lesson. Suddenly he screamed and charged a student who was at the “21 foot” mark, resulting in the student running away screaming, totally taken aback with the surprise attack! We all learned a lot that day and, as I had my Nisan (2nd degree black belt) I shared that we should be aware of our surroundings at all times and be prepared to use our empty hand skills to confront the attacker. You don’t need to be professionally trained in martial arts to be effective, just be aware and willing to confront them with enthusiasm. Of course, training helps tremendously, but any positive reaction is better than nothing.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply November 5, 2020

      That’s a very interesting approach…what do you think it taught?

  • Frank Vazquez

    Reply Reply September 25, 2020

    I understand the thinking and what the “21 foot rule” demonstrates in terms of reaction time and a determined attacker’s ability to close in on you at that distance, give or take a step. The actual distance is not really the issue or the ONLY point to consider.

    I’ve seen the video with Dan Innosanto who worked amazing people such as Bruce Lee, although none of the current films about Bruce Lee bothered to include him or even mention his existence and contribution to developing Jeet Kune Do or teaching many other great martial artists. He was one of “those martial arts guys” back in the day when many people such as Chuck Norris, Cynthia Rothrock, Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace and many others were competing and making films. His knowledge, skills and abilities are way ahead of the average person, so he can probably perform the same move from 25 or even 30 feet.

    Then again, determination and initiative can result in who executes a move quicker the same way that one may hesitate out of fear or trying to analyze their next move. Some might stop and others won’t. The one issue is that drawing a pistol, pointing it and aiming with the sights takes more time than drawing a stick, knife or only using one’s bare hands. And knowing this, I have heard many people say one needs to include some hand to hand training and defensive tactics if their opponent interferes with their drawing and shooting.

    I know you understand all these points and how they contribute to the whole picture and you deeply analyze everything which is why I am always interested in your training methods and concepts. You seem to find answers to those things which confound and perplex most of us.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply September 25, 2020

      Great comment. I refer to Dan Innosanto fairly often as he was the instructor and back-yard training partner of one of my instructors in the mid-90s. We never covered gun training, but what I learned from him that came from Mr. Innosanto is incorporated into my gun training today.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts…I’ve just had different struggles and experiences than others and it has allowed me to see things through a different lens. I regret that I wasn’t able to serve in a traditional capacity, but there’s a decent chance that if I would have, I would have bought into the belief that those training methods were best and may not have been able to create the training that I have.

      I definitely agree with the need for empty hands skills to create the time and distance needed to get a gun into the fight. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complex, but it does need to be well thought out and we incorporate that into our training in Fight To Your Gun and Praxis.

  • Anthony kaufman

    Reply Reply July 2, 2020

    the rule was never a rule as I was instructed…..it was an eye opener, a time and distance issue.It was never a goal,it was used to show how easy you would be in trouble unless you began evasive and defensive action at sight .Game Warden firearms training,Game and Fish Commission Florida.It was how you approached the contact and what you better be looking at and for.It got your attention,period.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply July 2, 2020

      Exactly! You were taught the correct way. You figure out your reactionary gap, what positively and negatively influences that gap, and you change your triggers and immediate responses based on whether you are inside or outside of that gap.

  • Degrave Guy

    Reply Reply March 13, 2020

    In Europe we use the metric system since over a century; what are you waiting for?

    • El Mac

      Reply Reply October 1, 2021

      Good for you. But we don’t care. Thanks anyway.

      • Ox

        Reply Reply October 1, 2021

        I think that the measuring systems a country uses are part of the spoils of war, aren’t they 🙂

  • E T Gwynn

    Reply Reply November 7, 2019

    So we are back to the basic self defense: empty hands skills. Getting off the X. And cetera.

    Thanks to Ox. You are always on target and your info is invaluable.


  • Rico de la Llama

    Reply Reply October 15, 2019

    First of all I spoke with Mr. Tueller in 2018 who is now working as Glock Armorer instructor. The 21 foot training was never meant to be a rule just a point of reference for reaction times. It’s been proven, look up YouTube videos that prove that only if you are aware of the threat and see the knife wielder coming do you stand a chance of firing without getting stabbed. If you don’t see him or have your back to the attacker or are distracted your going to get stabbed. As a reference point, 30 feet gives you a fighting chance of not getting stabbed, but only if you practice regularly and from different positions. and situations. Nothing beats situational awareness. Thanks Rico.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 15, 2019

      Right on, Rico. There are SEVERAL factors, some of which I mentioned, that impact the right distance. We’ve tested this at multiple distances with various levels of less-than-lethal tools for the gun and the knife/stick. You mention reaction times…there’s a huge difference between when the shooter reacts to what they know is about to happen and when they react to a true surprise charge. It is very difficult to create a true surprise in a standardized way, but it’s safe to say that it increases the delay to begin action by a quarter second, half second, or more.

      On the other side, with the right techniques, we’ve been able to consistently decrease the distance lower than 21 feet and not get stabbed/cut/struck…but not much. And, like you referred to, situational awareness is key.

  • Tony Cox

    Reply Reply October 15, 2019

    I also instruct for concealed carry. Our curriculum also includes the legal aspects of the Teuller Drill and expand the awareness aspect to 50 feet or more in a self defense claim. I believe that situational awareness is the most important aspect of self defense. Being able to automatically respond to a threat requires training at different distances, positions, and situations. Live fire is almost impossible for the average citizen due to cost and lack of training facilities. I always suggest proper and safe dry fire training and often suggest this site.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 15, 2019

      Good stuff, Tony.

      We’ve found the same thing on situational awareness and pre-determined action sequences. If a person doesn’t accurately identify the pre-incident indicators early enough and if they don’t automatically match it with the right conditioned response, they can still be frozen flat footed by the time the attacker has covered the 21 feet. This is particularly the case when the charge is a surprise, the blade is hidden and there is fear/confusion about whether the threat is lethal and if they’re justified in drawing their firearm.

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