14 April 2011

What Does the 21 Foot Rule for Defending Against a Knife Mean For Non Mil/LE?

Nathan over at TDA Training has asked me to contribute to a series of posts about a video he published on his site which showcases Dan Inosanto. I was only too happy to contribute! It is quite a famous video. In it, Dan shows how a Police officer with a weapon still in its holster, generally requires a surprise knife attacker to be 21 feet away in order to allow enough time and space to recognise what is happening (the person has pulled a knife and is charging), and then make the decision to act, and then draw the weapon and fire at the centre of the attacker. Any less than 21 feet and the officer is generally not able to draw the weapon and fire in time before the knife is inserted into the Police officer's body. I recommend going to watch the 21 foot rule video at Nathan's site before reading on.

This video is specifically aimed for Law Enforcement (LE). For non LE or Military personnel for that matter, what does this video teach us? What about purely from a self defence perspective? There are some things which are quite important in this video and some things that are not relavent.
TGace from The Things Worth Believing In has detailed some of the more pertinent cases against the video at TDA Training. This is a good read and I won't go into what TGace covers too much here. Also, Patrick Parker from Mokuren Dojo highlights that the handgun is not always the supreme weapon. The knife can be more dangerous. This video shows some examples of this. Peter talks about this and more HERE.

Is the 21 Foot Rule Irrelevant?

From a self defence perspective, the video is largely irrelevant. We do not walk around with a pistol in a holster (except maybe some of the US readers and subscribers, but you guys are a minority). We do not need to fumble for a pistol. So that part is completely not of use to us. Or is it?

What type of movement is going to draw a pistol out of a holster? Yes. It is a fine motor skill. Straight away, regular readers will know what this means. It once again highlights that fine motor skills fail under pressure. Even when quite a lot of training has been done on just one fine motor skill movement. When an attacker with a knife chargers, that is the only move. The LE officer does not need to choose from a large number of possible techniques. There is just one. This makes things much easier to process under real intense stress. But still, we can see in the video that one simple fine motor skill fails (or is very slow and fumbly), under pressure.

This once again highlights that relying on fine motor skills is a very risky endeavor. Relying on gross motor skills is a much better tactic with a higher percentage chance of working under pressure. Unfortunately, the LE officer has little other option but to draw the weapon from the holster. Here a LOT of repetition is key. And this must include repetition in realistic scenarios such as the ones in the video.


One other interesting lesson from the video is that in many instances, Dan goes to draw the weapon soon after handing over ID or some other activity. This is another key point. The LE officer is distracted and focused on something other than what the suspect is doing. This is important. As I have said numerous times,

Beware the distracting question or action from someone you consider a possible threat!

This is very relavent for self defence purposes as well as LE. This requires us to ignore some questions for a few moments in case the person does something quickly. This also means not looking away to where the person may be pointing. It also means not looking down at our watch when asked the time. These are just some ways an attacker may seek to distract us. This is a very common tactic. And it works.

Expect a Knife to be Possible

In the UK, Australia and Canada (as well as likely many other similar countries), the knife or edged weapon is the most likely weapon used in attacks today. This statement has come from research I have done into real statistics from those countries. In the US, a handgun is the most likely, followed by a knife. In the lead up to any possible physical encounter we all need to be looking (not constantly), at the hands of the other person. The knife may not be there straight away. This does not mean we can tick it off the list. Throughout, we need to watch for the person going to draw a knife. This is another key lesson from the video from a self defence perspective. A knife can be used even on the ground, so watch for a draw there as well. In many instances in the video, we can see the LE officer did not see Dan going for the weapon straight away. This was largely due to them being distracted.

Generally, a knife is secreted away in the waist area. Watch for them going for that area. This could be the front or the back. This is something that Wim mentioned in his comments about the same 21 foot rule video. As soon as a likely attacker goes for that area, assume a knife is being sought. Obviously, take the context of any discussion into account.

No Gun, So What Do We Do?

In the footage, the LE officer had a pistol. We will probably be unarmed. True, but the lessons from this video is not so much about technique, but about awareness. The earlier you can see a threat, the sooner you can react to it, thus shortening down that 21 foot distance. The only way you can see a threat early is by looking for it. The only way you can be looking for a threat action is if you are not distracted.

Be aware and maintain your awareness.

But what do we do? What technique can we do instead of the pistol draw? Obvious question. But this is not one that can be answered well purely online. That is not the point of this article. Seek out your own training providers in this regard. One good example of knife defence is STAB knife defence. Check it out. But technique requires hands on. Whatever it is you do, make it gross motor!

Image via sethfrantzman

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  1. Hi

    Just a quick point I'd like to make. We've run the 21ft rule/tueller drill in the past when doing pistol work. Its a good drill that can can add in quite a bit of stress to the drawstroke of the weapon.

    However for a civilian perspective the 21ft rule is a bit of a luxury. Its more likely going to be 5ft and under when the knife is brought into play - thats a more realistic scenario.

    If the guy's 21ft away and mouthing off with a sharpy, then I'm running if I can.

    At the 5ft and closer range, as you say, will depend on what skillset you already have access to at that time. And more importantly what you're capable of.

    But lets face it, if you're attacked at 3-5ft the chances of your drawing your own weapon smoothly - even with lots and lots of access training - is minimal. Especially if the attack is a ballistic one. Initially its going to be fists and kicking and open hand smashes to get him away, create space, and THEN start looking for an equiliser...

    Sounds easy when you write it - its not when you're doing it.



  2. Dave, excellent points.

    I think 21 feet is not relavent at all for self defence. Most people will be unarmed. But the good thing there is, we do not need to draw a weapon. We just use our limbs. These things are always good to go. Or maybe even an equalising improvised weapon.

    I think at the close ranges you talk about being closer than 5 feet away, as long as we are maintaining our awareness and are looking for a covert knife draw from their person, we can close fast and jam them as they go to draw.

    The one thing that immediately comes to mind as to what I am talkng about is Tony Blauer's SPEAR. We can do this very close.

    But for Mil and LE, things will be harder because they need to draw. If they don't, the other guy may draw it for them. And then use it against them. Like you say, an initial ball of fury may be required to create the conditions to draw from ranges more like 0-5 feet. The free hand can be used to fend them or keep them away until they can complete the draw...

    Yep, all of this sounds easy until you are doing it. Even realistic scenarios can be very challenging and stressful. And they should be. Train hard fight easy anyone?

    Good stuff Dave.

  3. Hi Adam

    Re: your point about keeping awareness up, pre-empting the draw and scenario training.

    These are the 3 fundamental training/personal security skills required to stop someone attempting to stick some metal in you, certainly in relation to a sneaky blindside attack.

    We run a series of drills in our training programs geared around "bodyshapes" which happens when someone is covertly attempting to draw a knife.

    Normally our standard cry is "watch the elbows!!

    Its amazing how many people miss that jerky movement/cue of the elbows until its pointed out to them.

    Great subject discussion and great blog. Keep up the good work mate.


  4. Nice point (no pun intended...), about looking for the elbows. Sounds like a great drill Dave.

    For anyone looking to do some good training with a reputable training provider, Modern Combatives Group is one fantastic option.

    Good stuff Dave.

  5. Thanks for the links, this will provide my children great on line education in the school holidays. Love Posie

  6. Very informative post, i learn this things in my krav maga training.

    Martial Art Training

  7. Interesting entry. I agree that Knife defense is really important. It's also a strong concern of mine when it comes to Filipino Martial Arts. Like in my own blog LearnEscrima.com.

  8. This really goes to show the power and effectiveness of a knife. I always try to remind myself never to become complacent or confident when it comes to dealing with a knife, because in a lot of ways it is one of the most devastating weapons to come across.

  9. Thanks for the kind feedback everyone. Yep, Karate Depot, it certainly is a formidable weapon although a defender always has a chance against it. We must not forget this.

  10. Wow, what a great post. I just stumbled upon your blog and it's now going in my favorites.

    Yeah, the Tueller rule is eye opening. I am totally on board with you w/ STAB knife defense. Some other really good ones to check out are "Red Zone", Burton Richardson has good ideas on knife defense in his Battlefield Kali, and I've seen clips and heard lots of great feedback on Dog Bros "Die Less Often".. and Extreme Close Quarters Combat by Southnarc(his stuff you gotta do at seminars cuz I don't think he sells DVDs, but there's examples on youtube/Vimeo.)

    Also watch UFC welterweight Jon Fitch use his Greco/MMA skills to deal with the shockknife-- pretty damn for just being a so called "sport fighter." http://youtu.be/DYGUoZyJs18

  11. Meant to say "pretty damn good" in previous post.

  12. Glad you like the site Poc :)

    Ive only heard good things about Red Zone and Die Less Often as well. Definitely worth checking out.

    Also great video! Thanks for the link.


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