Situational Awareness and Positioning (part II) The Tueller Principle

place yourself in the best tactical position.


In 1983, Dennis Tueller wrote a groundbreaking article entitled How Close is Too Close?  As a result, the terms the “Tueller Drill” and the “21 Foot Rule” have become well known. The Tueller Drill is even incorporated into the NRA Personal Protection In The Home Course.

However, in a 2008 interview, Dennis notes that he doesn’t use those terms, instead referring to it as the Tueller Principle. His original article relates the concept of a ”Danger Zone” and the need to “place yourself in the best tactical position.” The revolutionary, for the time, concept he came up with was to measure Distance/Time Relationships of Armed Encounters. By doing so, he brought about a much greater understanding of the concept that distance is your friend.

The article also emphasized using cover and placing obstacles between yourself and an attacker. The context used in the article is what I think of as ‘reactive positioning.’ I.e., you see something that puts you in an alert status and then initiate movement to place an obstacle between you and the attacker. By thinking ahead, we can achieve ‘proactive positioning,’ where the attacker is already at a disadvantage when the encounter begins.

Granted, proactive positioning is not always possible. As a friend of mine put it:

I’m always amused by the ‘I’m never in condition White and never let anyone get within 6 feet of me!’ types. I guess they never wait in line at fast food joints or grocery stores, go to malls or other crowded places, etc.

What we want to do is to minimize our exposure to situations where we have no advantage. This is especially true when our situational awareness is likely to be lowered. Our mental processing power is finite; we need to be aware of the inverse correlation between situational awareness and positioning. When SA is likely to go down, proactive positioning needs to go up.

How does this tie into the LVMPD murders in Cici’s? Since I had never been in a Cici’s, I visited one near my home and took a picture from the back of the room. If the location in Las Vegas is anything like it, it is a positioning nightmare. Like most fast food places, it has a distinctly linear orientation. Sorry folks, but a linear orientation is the most efficient use of space and most real estate is therefore designed that way. The concept of ‘moving off the line of attack’ by ‘buttonhooking,’ maneuvering to an oblique flank, or sidestepping is not viable in a place like that. It’s a ‘square range’ concept, for the most part. Forward or backward, those are your options in most interior spaces and a lot of urban spaces, in general. There also was no option with regard to ‘sitting with your back to the wall.’ The only wall seat available backed up to the restrooms. Anyone wanting to nail you only need go to the restroom door, turn around, and within two steps would have the oblique back of your head for a target.

Moreover, because it was a buffet, people were constantly moving along every aisle in the store. Try maintaining your situational awareness for 20 minutes when someone is going by you every 15 seconds while you’re trying to stuff you piehole. Good luck with that. I counted over 20 people who approached me from three different directions in the first five minutes I sat down. The radar system on an F-35 would have a hard time keeping track of that. I’m not that good and no one else is either.

And then periodically I had to go to the pizza bar and make observations about what was there, what was the staff in the process of bringing out, and then decide what did I want to put on my plate. All the while, people are milling around me doing the exact same thing I was. My situational awareness was non-existent and I was specifically there to test it as an exercise.

One the biggest tragedies of incidents like the Lakewood murders is not critically analyzing the event, its prelude, and its aftermath. Statements like “In reviewing this incident there was not any one thing that we found could have been done that would have prevented the murders” are all too common. Brian McKenna did an analysis of the Lakewood incident that is definitely worth reading. The video reenactment is stark and provides a good visual depiction of how situational awareness can only go so far to make up for being in a position of disadvantage. That incident took place in Lakewood, Washington on November 29, 2009 and echoed in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 8, 2014.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll discuss the military concepts of Terrain Analysis and Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace and how they relate to positioning.

2 responses

  1. Jack Ferguson

    I feel the most vulnerable in public restrooms, especially when standing at a urinal. I have made a habit of having my knife in hand and open and shielded by my body as a precaution. I’ve never had any CQB training but I hope if it’s ever needed the surprise factor will be in my favor. I agree on the difficulty in a linear environment and really appreciate your insight into self defense preparation. Our home is only 25X40 feet floorplan on three levels so I do concentrate on close in training but throw in some longer distances too. Thanks again sir. I am really looking forward to taking your SD class soon.

  2. Defensive Training Group

    Reblogged this on The Defensive Training Group.

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