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Bayonets, Bloodshed, and that Bastard, Reality…..

October 5, 2012

The recent bayonet charge by British soldiers in Afghanistan led to a question from a reader about the practicality of bayonets and bayonet training, as well as my opinion on them. It’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I am a firm advocate of aggressing to, and through, the enemy. I have also never hidden my preference for a grappling-based approach to combatives. Fundamentally, I am an aggressive, Type-A Alpha Male, as anyone who has taken a class with me will gleefully tell you (HH6 will tell you so as well, albeit not as gleefully).

As such, I am an advocate of ANY combatives training that builds aggressiveness, the will to kill, and the intestinal fortitude required to bring the hate to the bad guys. Boxing, wrestling, judo, Brazilian Jujitsu, knife combatives, or rifle-bayonet training; the specific modality of training is irrelevant to me. That having been said, there are a few problems, in my view, when it comes to traditional bayonet training in the American military. Most notably is the historical trend towards teaching bayonet “fencing.” This is the same problem, from a mindset perspective, that I have with “traditional” Asian martial arts as taught in this country.

I’ve been in more than a few fights. From back-alley dust-ups and barfights, to barracks brawls, and going hands-on in CQC a few times. In all that, my experience has never mirrored the back-and-forth nonsense you see in too many “fighting” schools of training. Combat is not a contact sport. Kissing is a contact sport. Combat is a collision “sport.” Whether it’s two guys behind the local watering hole, or a rifle platoon and a squad of Taliban in the Hindu Kush, if at least one party is determined to win, there will be no pitter-patter, back-and-forth tap-dance bullshit. If only one guy is dedicated to ending the fight, he will quickly run right over the top of the other guy. If both are dedicated, they will collide like two freight trains on a single track. It’s not pretty or finessed, and any attempts to make it so is deceitful at best, and flat fraudulent at worst. I have combatives manuals on my bookshelves from World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam-era, as well as the newer ones, from 1992, and the latest, from 2003. Every single one includes bayonet fighting training in it. Unfortunately, every single one incorporates the old-school bayonet-fencing style methods you see in the original World War I manuals, and that shit just don’t fly.

When I teach knife-based combatives, I have a very simple method I teach: “Put the pointy end in the soft spots.” It really is as simple as that. Sure, some guy can show me all kinds of cool Pekiti-Tirsa or Escrima counters he’d try. I’ve never found anyone that can actually pull them off, even in training, when the guy with the training knife is for real, fit, and aggressive. No one…So, out the pointy end in the soft spots. If bayonet training was taught that way, and combined with pugil stick pummeling, and some boxing “milling” training (as they call it in the British Army), to build physical courage and aggressiveness, it would probably (maybe) have some actual value.

As it is, the only real value I see in American bayonet training, from my time, is building confidence in the idea of sticking a couple inches of steel in another dude’s belly, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Practically speaking, I have no use for a bayonet on the end of my rifle, even if I could mount one (since I run a full-length rail on a carbine, there’s no way). The M4 platform is decidedly unfavorable for performing anything other than thrusts and slashes with anyway, since the extension tube would probably come flat fucking off if you smoked a dude in the grape hard enough to do any real damage, and whether there’s a bayonet on the end of it or not, a muzzle strike to the face or throat is going to fuck him up. If you’ve decided to stake your future and fortune on something like the M1A? More power to you, throw a bayonet on there…..but you’re simply adding MORE weight to an already unnecessarily heavy rifle, not to mention disturbing the barrel harmonics and zero.

HOWEVER…..I’d be all over putting up a bayonet dummy and having guys run their muzzles into it regularly, plus investing in some pugil sticks and heavy boxing gloves, and having guys beat the shit out of each other on a regular basis. In addition to being a great way to relieve stress and build aggression, it can go a long way to relieving group dynamics.

On the other hand, for me personally, I keep a fixed-blade knife and a pistol on my war-belt, and I’ve spent almost two and a half-decades training in combative sports (started out in boxing and judo, then ended up doing muay Thai and Gracie Jujitsu/Ranger Combatives/SOCP in the Army). If I have to collide with someone, the last thing I’m going to be thinking about is fixing bayonets. If I haven’t already shot them to the ground (which means I fucked up, royally), I’m going to go hands-on and either grab hold of something and start trying to rip bodyparts off, throw them on the ground and tap-dance on their cranium, or draw one of my back-up weapons, and finish what I should have already started.

Before anyone even says it, don’t start pandering about how useless a grappling-based combatives system is, or how amazing and effective the old-school World War 2 Fairbairn-Sykes-Applegate stuff was/is. Yeah, it was great for teaching a bunch of farmkids from East Kackalackee, Indiana to have the confidence and courage to close with Nazis and Japs, all while also trying to teach them important shit like how to shoot, move, and communicate. I’ve done a LOT of training in the FSA stuff (one of my relatives was an OSS agent, two others were old-school SOF veterans…yeah, it sort of runs in the family). If I suddenly have to start teaching a bunch of brand-new sofa-surfing would-be guerrillas, I’ll be teaching the FSA stuff. In the meantime, I am a very vocal advocate of getting some serious Jitz or MMA-type training. Don’t think that the big, muscled, inked-up dude who beats the fuck out of other big, muscled, inked-up dudes for entertainment doesn’t know about your eye gouges, biting, and finger breaking “tricks” (Hell, my brother knew about biting in fights when we were pre-teens, and I have the scars to prove it). None of those hurts as bad as getting punched in the face by a 230-pound pissed-off Samoan whose embarrassed because you’ve successfully taken him to the ground four times in a row, with a double-leg, despite a thirty pound weight difference. But if you can’t handle getting choked out, tapped out, or punched out, how the holy fuck do you expect to accept getting shot and still bringing the fight to the enemy?

Nous Defions!

John Mosby

Somewhere in the Mountains

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28 Comments
  1. JMB permalink

    You know, I was going to post some similar thoughts in response to a poster on your previous article. After seven+ years of escrima, kung fu, boxing, and getting Level II combatives certification, I don’t care what style someone’s bringing to the table. MMA, jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, hsing-yi, MACP; can they FIGHT? People have such a huge emphasis on tools they want to bring or styles they want to learn or ways they want to be taught when it doesn’t freaking matter. Who cares about bayonets when I can just jam the guy with my muzzle and shoot him? Or stab him or jab his eyes when he goes for my rifle? Just hit the guy.

  2. My 2c – If I was temporarily out of ammo, and in someone’s face, I wouldn’t mind having a sharp pointy thing at the end of my rifle.

  3. VICTOR permalink

    Damn dude, you are beautiful.

  4. robroysimmons permalink

    IMO which is probably useless since the last fight I was in was in 1994, shock and speed to the target is the best tactic. But that is just me and while JM’s fight instinct towers over his flight instinct, mine are about equal to the point of being maddening. So while real fighting types can talk the methods I’m stuck with being balanced on fulcrum. I’ll tell you it sucks.

    • Stud, those reality fighting systems will help you develop the aggressiveness to NOT be on the fulcrum. You CAN develop more aggressiveness. I was a simpering mangina as a youth.

      • robroysimmons permalink

        Excuse my sorry ass pre-coffee post, aggression is not my problem, anymore of that I probably get inducted into the orange jumpsuit brigade. I’m too old for that crap, and some system to teach aggression I should avoid. That said the one time I got to use the pugil stick is a fond memory, but giving half your outfit concussions is not recomended. IMO as for “systems” most people should learn the break contact over learning MMA taking it to the ground type things. “Stud” is a reserved name from my woman, and I’m glad the Army and contract service cured your Simpering Mangitis.

  5. Mr. Eckert permalink

    Your insightful and cogent articles are marred by an over-liberal use of profanity.
    Unnecessary coarseness detracts from your excellent message.
    Even though Mark Twain said ‘Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer’, may I suggest you clean it up a bit?
    Other than that, keep ’em coming, Sir.

    Up the Rebels!

    PS I can cuss with the best of ’em, so don’t think I’m some kind of sissy pants metrosexual.

    • I get that a lot Mr. Eckert. “Profanity is the sign of a limited vocabulary.” In return, I point out that, to the contrary, profanity CAN be a sign of a complete vocabulary. Profanity exists in the English language for a single, excellent reason: to lend emphasis beyond the ability of lesser words.

      Besides, it’s how I speak…..

      • For me, JM’s cussin’ puts a sharper focus on fighting for your life. Sort of like a big fucking exclamation point. Or put another way, “Mr. Mosby’s colorful language is far from an example of coarseness or lack of education. Indeed, such language shows Mr. Mosby to be an exceptionally erudite scholar of the deadly serious, deadly art, of hand to hand combat.” Effin’ eh!!

        http://www.thefreedictionary.com/erudite

        eruĀ·diteness n.
        Word History: One might like to be erudite but hesitate to be rude. This preference is supported by the etymological relationship between erudite and rude. Erudite comes from the Latin adjective rudtus, “well-instructed, learned,” from the past participle of the verb rudre, “to educate, train.” The verb is in turn formed from the prefix ex-, “out, out of,” and the adjective rudis, “untaught, untrained,” the source of our word rude. The English word erudite is first recorded in a work possibly written before 1425 with the senses “instructed, learned.” Erudite meaning “learned” is supposed to have become rare except in sarcastic use during the latter part of the 19th century, but the word now seems to have been restored to favor.

  6. rolf permalink

    Gotta love it!

  7. Ed Foster permalink

    I teach Bayonet training, not dancing. The object is to shove several inches of steel into the other guy, do it again, or smash his head with the butt of the rifle. Then stab him again when he is on the ground.
    I also teach an adaptive form of martial arts that is combat related. It includes eye gouges, crushing throats, chocking someone (properly), and killing in the least amount of time possible, by being aggresive and taking the fight to the other person, till they stop breathing. (Short version, injure, cripple, and kill quickly)
    I also teach CQB, and aimed rifle fire.
    I agree on having a side arm, and a knife. Every weapon you have has a range of effectivness, and you need to train to use that weapon in it’s efective range, and in an effective way. Stabbing someone at 500 yards is difficult at best, When someone has ahold of your tunic, it is at the range a knife works better than your rifle.
    The idea is to train and know what to do, and be ready to do it with force.

    • DAN III permalink

      Bless you.

      DAN III
      “There Are Enemies Amongst Us”

  8. F*ck the Brits and their incessant “…& then we went in with the bayonet”. Bayonets open cans. Bullets open bodies. Tho of course a good combat knife-in-hand will always be useful for the closest encounters.

  9. Sicklemaster permalink

    I carry a 14-inch blade across my back, a pistol on my side, a rifle for my main weapon, and my backup pistol. I also have my hands, my feet, my elbows, my knees, and my teeth and forehead when appropriate,……..but I fight with my mind. Every other tool is supplemental. I and you must work with the tools that are available at hand and use them within their designated “arcs of danger” for defeating the opponent. Don’t let any range be neglected from your application of strikes to your adversary………both as they come in, and as they go out, if they can. You must not go into a fight. You must become the fight and be so cunning and devastating with your every move that your opponents will be screaming to get away from you…..but can’t.

  10. Liberty permalink

    God made us like this 4 a reason…

  11. Liberty permalink

    the old joke,i dont like 2 kill ,but i will.that spirt 2 fight has left large parts of our people.spent most of my 60 year holding it in check.

  12. Liberty permalink

    u get to radical,u will start taking friendly fire..I was accused of wanting too do sucide by cop because I have been saying we r alredy at war with the bastards,leasrt i am girls,

  13. Liberty permalink

    not 2 mention Proud 2 say I have been banned from most blogs.
    Bil Fletcher/Liberty Valance

  14. Phil B permalink

    I’m in agreement with the philosophy of the article regarding bayonet “fighting” but would like to add a couple of points (based on my time as a British Squaddie and a bar manager):

    1) in any one on one fight (bar, street etc.) the guy to land the blow wins in 95% of the cases (unless the person attacked is VERY well trained and experienced in fighting) as he never recovers from the initial blow to fight back effectively.

    2) Fixing bayonets telegraphs to the opposition a certain mindset and the psychological effect of this can tip things in your favour. Crowd control is DEFINITELY one of those occasions ..

    3) In combat situations, unless the person is well trained, the tendency is to shoot high – the added weight of a bayonet can help to control (but not eliminate) this tendency.

    4) Advancing to contact where you dive to the ground, the bayonet keeps the muzzle from becoming blocked with soil, snow etc.

    4) In street fighting, a fixed bayonet can deter someone from grabbing the rifle muzzle

    5) If someone plays “dead” a bayonet stuck into their thigh and wiggled around will confirm if he”s dead or playing possum without bending down or getting close (and a bullet is only a squeeze of the trigger away).

    But for bayonet charges and killing the enemy in preference to shooting them? Sod that for a game of soldiers as we say …

    • Phil B permalink

      Doh! In point 1)i meant to say “the guy to land the FIRST blow” Doh!

    • I noticed the Enfield Rifles of WW1 and WW2 had a notch behind the firing hand grip. I suspect this was for keeping the hand from slipping when pulling out a stuck bayonet? and for added control whiledoing a upper cut swing with the rifle?
      TIA for your thoughts

      • Phil B permalink

        I dug my No. 1 Mk III out and examined the hook behind the grip and I’d argue that (looking at things from an ergonomic and manufacturing point of view) it is merely trying to achieve a semi pistol grip on the rifle. It positions my hand consistently and aids in trigger control (for me – YMMV). Don’t forget that the Lee Enfields have a two part stock and a socket that the butt fits into so to add a conventional pistol grip to it would waste a lot of wood (and until mid way through WW2 all stocks were walnut – unless manufactured abroad or were No. 4’s).

        The Canadians used a “sporter” type stock for their sniper rifles in Korea and getting the grain to run through the butt plus the shape of the butt with a Monte Carlo type stock would waste a lot of wood for a standard rifle. Acceptable for the relatively low numbers required for a sniper rifle. The British used a screw on saddle to form a cheek weld when using a scoped rifle – cheapness again.

        My No. 1 Mk III was made in Lithgow (Australia) in 1942 and handling it, the butt hook acts as a semi pistol grip and supports the heel of the hand.

        In a situation where you had bayonetted someone, I think the adrenaline and the natural tendency to use macro muscles (instead of the fine motor control used for precision) under stress would mean that you would have a grip on the rifle like a Scotsman on a 20 dollar note and you wouldn’t notice butt hooks, resistance to withdrawing the bayonet or very much else.

        I note that the original Springfield ’03 and A3 models (not the A1 Model) have a similarly shaped straight wrist as the Lee Enfields without the butt hook. I can’t recall any discussion or complaints about the Marines and GI’s having problems pulling bayonets out of Japs or Boxheads freshly placed en brochette.

        In short, if you wanted to take a wood plane to a Lee Enfield and get rid of the butt hook and convert it to a Springfield ’03 style, I doubt that you’d really notice after the first 5 minutes.

  15. bill fletcher permalink

    forget fighting,u pussy r scared of talk

  16. MY thanks for you taking the time for a well thought out responce.

  17. Jed McCall permalink

    That’s why I dig RPK mags, very slim chance of needing bayonet,
    Ever notice just how small the AK Bayonet is?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mosby: Two Classics | Western Rifle Shooters Association
  2. Tactical Training by Max Velocity | Fix Bayonets!

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