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Reactionary Gaps: How Mental Speed & Improved Reaction Time Can Keep You Safe

In every combative encounter, there’s a minimum distance needed for the defender to process what is happening, analyze the best response, and take appropriate action. In some circles, we refer to that mental process as the OODA Loop. OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. First, you must observe the environment to determine the present situation. Then, you have to properly orient yourself to the unfolding situation to determine what your options are based on the variables at play. Once oriented to the situation, you must decide which response is needed and appropriate at that specific moment. Lastly, you must act to gain control of the situation or remove yourself from it completely. This is an incredibly simplified explanation of the OODA Loop. How fast or slow you mentally move through the OODA Loop can affect your reactionary gap, so these distances are not set in stone. Rather, they are a good rule of thumb that needs to be tested against your own OODA Loop (reaction time) and refined accordingly. The more you train, the faster your OODA Loop process will be! That said, as you go about your work, it is always a good idea to keep them in mind. The most common reactionary gaps to maintain are…

Empty Hands: 6-9 Feet

In MOST cases, this is the likely scenario you will encounter. Whether working in an office environment, walking through a busy grocery store, or out pumping your gas, your most likely attacker will be relying on close distance and the element of surprise to attack you. When you think about the size of the average office, grocery store aisle, gas pump, or even a room inside your own home, you can see how easy it is to fall inside this 6-9 feet gap. Sometimes it is completely unavoidable. When operating inside this gap, it becomes even more important to be aware of your environment and what the other person is doing. Where are their hands? How is their posture? Are they clenching their fists or rolling their shoulders? Is their jaw tightened up? These are all anatomical pre-fight indicators that will tip you off to a potentially bad situation about to unfold. When in doubt, open the gap!

Edged Weapons: 21 Feet

The 21-foot rule, or Tueller Rule, states that, ON AVERAGE, it takes a knife-wielding attacker about 1.5 seconds to close a 21-foot gap. But here’s the thing…the Tueller Rule was designed around police situations where the average cop could draw their firearm and place shots on target…in 1.5 seconds or less. Hence, the minimum standoff gap is 21 feet. However, this rule assumes that the police officer already knows there is an attacker armed with a knife. When you take into account a similar situation where an armed civilian may not be able to draw from concealment and put rounds on target in 1.5 seconds OR that the armed civilian does not yet know that an attacker with a knife is about to charge, that 21-foot rule quickly fails. In the event of an attacker with an edged weapon, especially inside the confines of a home, office, business, etc, your best option is to put obstacles (walls, tables, kitchen island, vehicle, etc) between you and the attacker as quickly as possible to keep the attacker out of striking range while you prepare your counter attack or escape. Always analyze the environment you are in so that you can quickly make the best move towards opening that gap and putting obstacles between you.

Firearms: Line of Sight without Cover

While firearms seem more deadly because a bullet can travel a significant distance, understand that the bullet can only travel in one direct line and any movement off the line of fire takes you completely out of harm’s way. Quite frankly, I’d rather be either close to the gun (because it’s easier to move off the angle of attack and counter-attack) or far away (because the average shooter can’t hit the broad side of a barn once past about 10-15 yards!). The worst position to find yourself in would be within 10 feet and 10 yards of the gun. Inside of 10 feet, you can quickly close the gap while moving off the angle of attack. Outside of 10 yards, you can easily flee or find cover without a significant risk of being hit by the attacker’s bullet. In summary, maintaining a 6-9 foot reactionary gap puts you in a pretty good position to react to an empty hand attack and/or close the gap and move off-axis of a gun attack. Ah…but then those pesky knives…again, the 21-foot rule is designed around a charging attacker wielding an exposed knife AND an armed responder about to draw and fire upon the attacker. So, that’s not exactly the most likely scenario you’d be facing as a concealed carry holder in a defensive engagement. Regardless of where you are, or what defensive scenario you may find yourself in, always be watching people’s hands, eyes, and demeanor. This will clue you into bad things about to happen well before the average citizen understands what is unfolding. Be smart, be alert, and be safe! Side note: If you attend our upcoming Unarmed Self Defense course, you’re going to learn exactly how to put this into practice for yourself!