The Need for Bayonet Training in the 21st Century
Up close and personal
In today’s technology-driven battlefield there is a misconception on the value of bayonet training. The main focus of bayonet training is not to prepare Marines to “go over the top” in a massed bayonet charge as in World War I or the Civil War. Bayonet training is a physical means of developing and reinforcing a combat mindset. There are several factors in developing a combat mindset, some of which are hard physical training and mental training. The bayonet provides a physical vehicle for developing these as well as providing Marines with additional time handling weapons and moving with weapons.
The primary physical aspects of bayonet training are body position, body mechanics, and functionality of movement. Anyone trained in close quarters battle (CQB) techniques will realize that the body position and movement in bayonet training are practically the same for CQB. The mental tie-in is reinforcing the mindset of approach, close, and enter.
The misunderstanding of bayonet training requires a review of some of the basic principles and techniques involved.
Approach is when you have located the opponent and then shoot him. For the purpose of bayonet training, this will begin at 20 to 25 meters. Again, shoot and move toward the target. Movement is done while delivering assault fire, moving quickly but not at a run. Maintain a low silhouette and utilize terrain and cover to aid your approach. Continue to deliver fire while you still have rounds and a functioning weapon. The fire will fix your opponent in place and diminish the effectiveness of his possible return fire.
Close is done when you reach a critically close range under 10 meters, and the opponent is still functioning. At this distance change your rate of speed and/or offset your approach direction. This is normally done by increasing speed, again without running, and off stepping right or left to expose a greater target area on your opponent. Again, shoot if able, don’t run, and maintain a low silhouette.
Entry is the business of making contact with your opponent. Utilizing the pointy end of the bayonet or the muzzle, thrust into an exposed vital area on your opponent; e.g., face and neck, stomach or groin. Do not stop on contact; utilize your body mass and momentum to drive your opponent back by delivering repeated thrusts. In the event you overrun your point and clash with the opponent, utilize a butt stroke or body check to drive your opponent back and clear the point. End the engagement as rapidly as possible and be ready to immediately engage another opponent. If allowed, rapidly clear and reload your weapon.
The primary engagement should be done with your weapon at a distance. You should be moving toward your target. This is especially important in close quarters, such as clearing a house or room. What happens at the critical moment when rapidly closing on an opponent and your weapon goes down? Do you stop in front of your opponent and try to clear, reload, or transition, or do you rapidly continue your close and drive the blade or muzzle into your opponent?
The thrust is the primary technique and can be done with the bayonet or the muzzle of a weapon. It takes one pound of pressure to insert a bladed weapon into flesh. The thrust utilizes the most effective end of the weapon, the shooting end, and the most functionally strong body position to deliver power. A good basic body position and technique will deliver well over 100 pounds of thrust concentrated into the pointy tip of a bayonet or the narrow edge of a muzzle.
The thrust is also the technique most often overlooked. Culturally and biomechanically, we often find individuals attempt a butt stroke or slash instead of thrust. Look at the majority of pugil stick matches; they turn into a rock’em, sock’em slugfest when a quick thrust to the face would end the match. This phenomenon is easily traceable throughout history by the use of people untrained in proper close-in fighting techniques.
Butt strokes, both horizontal and vertical, are utilized to create space between you and the opponent in order to get the blade or muzzle between you and the opponent. The pointy end of the bayonet or the business end of the rifle will do you the most good-shoot or stick.
The smash is also used to create distance, normally as a follow-on to a butt stroke. A smash should never be used as an initial technique; you are using the nonbusiness end of the rifle and taking away any effective offensive barrier between you and the opponent.
The slash is utilized to create an opening for a thrust or more often as a follow-on technique to a butt stroke or smash to efficiently get the blade or muzzle between you and the opponent to shoot or stick. An effective slash utilizes body weight to deliver the blow and never allows the point to travel beyond the opponent’s body. It is a rifle, not a sword.
Looking at the effectiveness of training time, what is more productive, ground fighting in boots and utilities or participating in a training session in full gear utilizing bayonet techniques, weapons retention, and manipulations? Both have a place in a training curriculum and for some of the same reasons. However, bayonet training is often overlooked because it is not understood or is not taught in a logical progression.
Training normally begins with static drills to understand the mechanics of the techniques. This training must be reinforced with live blade impact training on reasonable targets. Training should also progress to impact drills against an opponent utilizing the wooden bayonet trainers (WBTs) to develop movement and targeting skills. Training should also evolve into free opponent engagements utilizing proper protective equipment.
The WBT is often joked about being a Kentucky long rifle and twirled about like a toy. It is a safety device that should be treated as though it is a rifle. The purpose of the WBT, also known as a mokoju or juken, is to prevent impact injuries and cuts that would occur if we used real rifles or the rubber training rifle exclusively. Leaders should be cognizant to enforce proper weapons handling for the rubber rifle and the WBT and not allow Marines to rest their hands or chins on the muzzle or stand with the muzzle resting on their feet. This type of lax attention to training breeds bad habits.
The physical techniques are tied in with classes in understanding predatory and affective behavior and the understanding of the fight or flight responses. The continued drills in approach, close, and entry develop a physical and mental bond that instills confidence and reduces hesitancy.
This training methodology is seen in several courses; however, with the rapid turnover of qualified instructors, the intangible aspects are often not passed on. Incoming instructors without a similar background and understanding often ask, “Why are we doing this? It doesn’t make sense.” From their limited perspective, it may not. “We’ll never do a bayonet assault.” I hope not, but that random comment is based on ignorance about the purpose of the training.
Look at the machinations the training programs have been going through the last few years. The changes have been mostly for the good because we are implementing lessons learned from recent combat. We must review these lessons learned and see how they integrate across the spectrum of training and ensure that they are the actual lessons that need to be implemented. Most of these lessons have already been learned by prior generations of Marines but are now being relearned, as with every generation, at a high cost.
Bayonet training has been around a long time. Even after the advent of technologically superior weapons systems there is still a reason for it. The primary weapons system of all Marines is the brain. Pressing buttons may be the most effective means of safely engaging the enemy, but this type of training does nothing to train the mindset of the Marine who must actually occupy the ground and deal with the enemy up close and personal. We must not discard or take for granted time-proven training methods because we have become so intelligent that we do not understand them.
“To kill quickly and efficiently, minimum body contact should be the norm. Approach, close, and strike in a lethal fashion-bullet, bayonet, flash suppressor, knife, or entrenching tool. If incidental ‘tie-up’ occurs, then the Marine should explode into a soft area (neck or eyes). Any ‘grappling’ should only be long enough to deliver the strike. If in the unlikely event a throw occurs, the opponent should be killed by the fall. Every second body contact is maintained increases the chance for the Marine to be wounded as well. If it goes to the ground, then there is a great chance that another opponent will strike from above. “
-Col George Bristol, Former Director, Marine Corps Martial Arts Program
“The officers will take all proper opportunities to inculcate in the men’s minds a reliance on the bayonet; men of their bodily strength and even a coward may be their match in firing. But the bayonet in the hands of the valiant is irresistible. “
-LTG John Burgoyne, General Orders, 20 June 1777
The bayonet is your strongest psychological weapon. Infantry are always victorious in a bayonet charge because in a bayonet fight the impetus of a charging line gives it moral and physical advantages over a stationary line. “
-General Staff, 1917,
Instructions for the training of platoons for offensive action
“We will use the close combat program, the leadership close combat exercise, the bayonet assault course and whatever else it takes to develop your warrior spirit and ability to teach your Marines how to kill and survive in combat!”
-Capt David Odum, “Killology: A Detailed Instructors Outline,”
Infantry Officer Course class outline
A good basic body position and technique will deliver well over 100 pounds of thrust concentrated into the pointy tip of a bayonet or the narrow edge of a muzzle. Leaders should be cognizant to enforce proper weapons handling for the rubber rifle and the WBT and not allow Marines to rest their hands or chins on the muzzle or stand with the muzzle resting on their feet.
Reprinted with permission from and copyright retained by Marine Corps Gazette. Visit http://www.mca-marines.org/gazette