Humanly Possible: John Wick and Gun-Fu (Can You Dodge a Bullet?)

By on October 14, 2019

Hello and welcome to a new series for The Bioneer: Humanly Possible. Here, I’ll be focussing on the coolest feats, powers, and skills from fiction to see if anything like them is remotely humanly possible.

John Wick dodge a bullet

And to begin with, I’ll be looking at the bullet-fu or gun kata seen in movies like John Wick, The Matrix, Equilibrium, and anything directed by John Woo. Not to mention games like Max Payne and My Friend Pedro.

Here’s the problem: martial arts movies have been accused of being redundant. What good is it to be a top class living weapon, when someone can just pull a gun on you? Of course, a gun fight is typically far shorter and less balletic than your average kung fu throw-down! And thus, gun-fu was born: highly stylized gunplay that turns shooting people into a highly choreographed dance. Where the hero somehow manages to dance through bullets, often in slow motion, while usually firing two guns at the same time.

Can you do anything to increase your chances of not being shot in a gun fight?

So: is it humanly possible? Can you really dodge a bullet? Or at least take on a squad of henchman in cool style with any chance of success? Can you do anything to increase your chances of not being shot in a gun fight?

Can You Dodge a Bullet?

Let’s start with dodging bullets. The short answer here is that no, you cannot dodge a bullet.

This is physically impossible, due to a number of different factors: not least the fact that it takes too long for signals to travel through your nervous system. The very fastest nerve impulses travel at roughly 250 miles an hour (though this depends on the type of nerve) and the time it takes for a signal to travel from your brain to your hand is around 0.3 seconds (a blink takes about 0.1 seconds).

Can you dodge a bullet
Take this simple, everyday movement for example…

This isn’t even counting the amount of time it takes for the visual information to travel from the eye to the brain, such that we know we’re going to need to dodge. This takes about 13 milliseconds. What’s more, is that this information is actually “delayed” to be for the amount of time it takes for the brain to receive information from the proprioceptors of the foot. In other words, all information is delayed until the point in time that it takes for our last sensory input to reach us. As Michael from VSauce explains in an excellent video, this is so that all the information from the body arrives at the same time and doesn’t appear out of sync! It also means that taller people unfortunately have slower reactions.

Now, consider that a typical handgun fires at 2,500 feet per second. Thus, in 0.3 seconds, it has travelled 750 feet.

The very fastest nerve impulses travel at roughly 250 miles an hour.

Bottom line? You’re not dodging that! In fact, as many bullets travel faster than the speed of sound, you wouldn’t even hear the gunshot until you were already hit!

Can you guess when someone will shoot and thus anticipate the trajectory? Almost certainly not, as there are simply too many variables to predict here , even with just one opponent!

It should come as no surprise then to learn that there is no real life gun kata. There are martial arts designed around fighting with guns, using them as blunt instruments. Likewise, there are correct stances and methods for using firearms. Of course, many self defence techniques also focus on disarming armed assailants. But as far as a real life gun kata is concerned? Nope, doesn’t exist.

So, someone puts a gun to your head and you’re dead right? Well, not quite!

Your One Shot: The OODA Loop

In a really fascinating experiment, two participants of “equal skill” were faced opposite one another. One had a gun, one did not. The unarmed subject was instructed to stand with their hands up, and to attempt to disarm their opponent as soon as they saw an opportunity. The gunman meanwhile was instructed to fire as soon as they saw the other person move.

You would think that the unarmed participant would lose every time. However, almost the exact opposite was true: in nearly every case, the gun toting operator lost.

Keep in mind that this experiment was not published in a peer reviewed journal, but was conducted at the Suarez International training facility and reported in Black Belt Magazine. So take it with a pinch of salt. But that said, there is actually a good explanation for what may be going on here.

John Wick Gun Fu

We cannot dodge bullets due to limitations in the processing speed of the human brain. But that is also the limitation we can use against an opponent. Why? Because if someone is pointing a gun at you and hasn’t already fired, then they are likely waiting for you to do something. That now means you can plan ahead: you know what you’re going to do next whereas they have to react. Visualise a plan of attack first, and you might just pull it off.

In nearly every case, the gun toting operator lost.

This is due to something called the OODA loop. First outlined by military strategist Colonel John Boyd, this acronym stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. These four stages are considered essential when taking any action, and are estimated to each take at least 1/4th of a second. By preplanning, you can essentially therefore gain a small advantage over your opponent. This is called “getting inside the OODA loop.”

A similar trick I learned in Karate was to use a form of distraction by talking and then attacking mid sentence. The human brain is naturally programmed to wait for the end of a sentence, and task switching in this interrupted manner takes even more time and processing. They’re still waiting for you to finish talking and you’ve just hit them square in the face.

This is an example of breaking an adversary’s OODA loop through chaos and uncertainty. The more chaos and confusion you can cause, the harder it will be for your opponent to adapt and respond. Another good example is that if you suspect an intruder in your home, instead of creeping cautiously into the living room to confirm your suspicions, you might do better to suddenly jump and shout as you enter the room – thereby startling them and gaining an upper hand.

Situational Awareness

There are other ways to get inside the enemy’s OODA loop too. One is to identify threats and orient yourself correctly before an encounter. We can of course accomplish this better by training situational awareness: positioning ourselves smartly in a room, being mindful of our environments, and learning to quickly scan for points of interest.

Situational awareness

Remaining undetected for as long as possible is also a powerful strategy. I love the analogy of a submarine. This vessel is far more vulnerable than a huge aircraft carrier or battleship, but can potentially take out an entire fleet of each simply by remaining undetectable. I wrote an article all about using ninja concepts in the modern day, so check that out if you’re interested.

So while you can’t outmanoeuvre a gun, you might just be able to use psychology to your advantage. Of course your own psychology must also be – for lack of a better word – bulletproof. You must be accustomed to making snap decisions under extreme pressure, and remaining calmly aware of your surroundings at all times. Check out my videos and posts on flow states for more on how to do this. Apparently the best performing marines are those that produce greater amounts of neuropeptide y and DHEA which allows them to maintain a “metronomic heart rate” in highly stressful situations. We can improve our own ability to remain calm by using breathing techniques such as the fourfold breath, also taught to military personnel. Engaging peripheral vision with hakalau meditation can also help to keep us calmer, while also improving our ability to react to things in our field of vision.

While you can’t outmanoeuvre a gun, you might just be able to use psychology to your advantage.

A moment’s hesitation and you’re dead. And this is something that is conveyed well in John Wick: he is extremely efficient with every movement. And his unflinching expression is testament to how calm he is throughout even the most intense firefight.

So, is gun fu realistic then? Not at all. And I highly recommend that if someone ever pulls a gun on you, you do as they ask and then get out of there. All it takes is for them to have a knee jerk reaction to pull that trigger and it’s game over.

But perhaps with the right psychology and strategy, steely determination, and decades of training, an assassin like John Wick could ever so slightly tip the scales slightly to their advantage in a gun fight. And that’s still pretty cool.

And we can all benefit from situational awareness and understanding the OODA loop to apply in other aspects of our lives.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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