I had no idea bayonet training was a lost art in America’s military circles until fellow writer Man With No Pants told me. When I got my Army training in early 1964, bayonet training was very much alive and well…and deeply appreciated.
Yes, I realize the above photo is of a Bowie knife, not a bayonet. As it turns out, I didn’t have a bayonet handy to pose for the camera. Bayonet fighting is apparently a lost art here at the Border Fort, too–unless the need arises and I last long enough to acquire some other fool’s weapons, in which case….
See, it’s like this: No matter how much high tech ordnance our American warriors carry into battle, edged weapons should not be ignored. There are times when ammunition runs out, rifles jam, or the enemy is suddenly upon you in such overwhelming human waves that you simply don’t have time to reach for the next magazine. If you have no bayonet, or if you have one but don’t really know how to use it…your fancy pea shooter just became a club.
Attacking sword slashers, 100; defending club swingers, 0.
If you’re headed into miltary service, bayonet training is a good thing. Catch it if you can. If a course is offered, even off base on your own time, a course taught by an old mercenary with bad breath, pay attention. The butt you save may be your own.
Now, for a few notes on bayonet training as experienced by yours truly at Fort Ord, California, in early 1964. We had nice long M14 rifles with nice long knives we could attach to the ends of the barrels…and a few of us actually learned how to use them.
What I Learned in Army Bayonet Training: By the Numbers
1. Our drill sergeants pounded the theme: “There are two kinds of bayonet fighters–the QUICK and the DEAD.”
Made sense to me, so I worked to be quick. That meant practicing the moves, over and over and over again, with or without rifle in hand…sometimes in my sleep. Martial artists sometimes say you need to do as many as 10,000 repetitions of a single move to internalize that move completely. We didn’t have time to do that many or even close to that many.
But did we practice away from the course? Ask the loaded butt can full of wet butts when it went flying off the center post in the recently spit-shined barracks, firmly thwacked by a butt stroke from an M14.
2. A long lunge with a rifle-bayonet combo, executed by a soldier with long arms and a serious bit of attitude, can ruin an enemy’s entire day.
I just grabbed one of our rifles and measured the distance. From a “ready” position, the tip of a bayonet blade on a rifle in my hands can extend six feet eight inches in a single long lunge–and that’s without adrenaline. (I’m 5′ 11″ with a 6′ 0″ wingspan). Let’s say Enemy A is engaging your buddy and you’re kind of back a bit and slightly off to one side–far enough away that he dares take his attention off you for a split second. Result: Dead Enemy A.
3. Your weapon might on occasion get stuck between an enemy’s ribs.
To deal with that, we were taught to slam a boot into the body and yank the blade free–and/or, if we happened to have a round remaining in the chamber, this might be a good time to pull the trigger, hoping the recoil would help the process.
4. Not that many soldiers make good bayonet fighters.
Well now, that wasn’t a particulary welcome bit of news. Not that we didn’t sort of guess the truth from the beginning, but the sergeant supervising our platoon’s route through the bayonet qualification course at the end of bayonet training made it official.
“Your group didn’t do that badly,” he admitted. “Most platoons that go through here, if they have one or two potential bayonet fighters in the bunch, that’s about par for the course. You have five or six.”
Sort of a good news, bad news thing: At least I knew myself to be numbered among the “five or six”…despite having ripped open the webbing between thumb and forefinger on my right hand during the exercise.
Did I ever have to actually use that bayonet training during my time in military service? No, thankfully, I did not. But I didn’t forget the moves when I returned to civilian life, either, and my life’s not over yet. You just never know.
Military bayonet training: Catch it if you can. It may not be what’s for dinner, but it might just keep you alive long enough to eat dinner. And that, to paraphrase an utterly horrified Martha Stewart, would be a good thing.