Bayonets, Bloodshed, and that Bastard, Reality…..
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?
Somewhere in the Mountains