above photos:Marines going through the bayonet combat training with instructor -adversaries at the Senior Leaders Course at Camp Pendleton in late February 2001.

The Marine Corps Martial Arts Bayonet System
"Every Marine is a rifleman."

This is the enduring credo of the United States Marine Corps. Whether it has become more ideal than reality in recent years is not as important as the concept behind it: Every Marine is a combat Marine; every Marine is trained for combat.

Recently, the Marine Corps has been engaged in developing a new close combat program, the Marine Corps Martial Arts. A major portion of the new program is a revamped bayonet system. Working with the ICS, the developers of the program have derived the new bayonet system from previous, proven bayonet systems, research into spear use around the world, and input from those with modern real world experience in close combat and bayonet fighting.

The aim of system is twofold. First, there is the goal of developing the capability within individual Marines to effectively use the bayonet to dominate in close personal combat. In spite of a tendency among many to claim that there is no need for the bayonet in modern warfare with modern weapons, vast amounts of anecdotal evidence proves otherwise. From World War II through Korea to Vietnam, from the Falklands to Somalia, infantry troops have time and again had to resort to this oldest of weapons. There is no argument that the bayonet is the deciding factor on the modern battlefield, but in too many cases to list it has been (and will be again) the deciding factor for individuals on who lives or dies. The Marine bayonet system is designed to ensure that it is the Marine who dominates.

Secondly, though not in importance, is the fact that there is growing evidence that bayonet and close combat training is the most effective means of training the Marine with the combat mindset necessary for success on the battlefield, whether with bayonet at 20 feet or fire at 200 meters.

Due to the both the nature of the weapon and the time restraints in training, the basic premise of the Marine Corps bayonet system to "keep it simple," and is aimed entirely at bayonet combat; there is no fencing, sparring, or concepts of lengthy exchanges of blows in this system. Following the geometric principle of "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line," the emphasis on the weapon's use is in the thrust. Slashes and butt strokes are used secondarily, and mainly in situations where the Marine is "tied up" with an opponent. Even here, the slash or butt stroke is mainly used to regain the distance from which a killing thrust can be delivered. An important consideration in the ascendancy of the thrust over the slash or butt stroke is the type of military apparel and armor worn in modern combat. In tests conducted with the various types of strikes, only the bayonet thrust was found to effectively penetrate the modern armor vest worn by most troops today. Even simple web gear and helmets were found to be fairly effective at preventing disabling wounds from the slash or butt stroke.

The Training System

In learning to use the bayonet, the Marine is first taught the basic posture, commonly called the "basic warrior stance" by the Marines (the ICS "stalking posture"). The Marine is taught to effectively and firmly tie to the weapon to the body, by locking the rear hand to the hip/waist area. The Marine is taught to thrust the weapon by using the force of the body and rear hand/arm. The front arm is used to control the length of extension and direction of the point. The weapon and arms should not be overextended. The power of the thrust comes from the body, and is extended through and by the arms. One of the most important elements for the Marine to learn is the ability to keep his arms and weapon strongly tied to the body.

After basic thrusting practice the Marine is taught to move with the weapon. This is an important element, as moving with the weapon is 2/3 of bayonet fight.

Initially the Marine practices the basics of movement and thrusting as a solo exercise, using either a real weapon or wooden rifle-bayonets similar to the Japanese mokuju used in the Japanese bayonet fighting system, jukendo. However, very quickly, the Marine is introduced to adversary training, where the main training tool is the mokuju.

Training against an adversary is where the Marine learns the most important elements in the combat against an enemy. Working with an adversary (usually an instructor), the Marine and his opponent will start roughly 20 feet apart. Generally, for the first attack, the adversary will close on the Marine to make a slash attack to either side of the Marine's weapon. As the adversary lifts his weapon for the slash, the Marine must initiate his thrust attack, beating his opponent to "the punch." In this exercise, the Marine is taught to not react to the adversary's weapon, but to carry through his own attack. At the same time, he experiences how much more effective in range and power the thrust is over the slash. A similar drill is done with the adversary initiating a butt stroke attack.

After gaining some competence and confidence thrusting against a slash or butt stroke, the Marine then learns to work against a thrust. Again starting at around 20 feet apart, the instructor-adversary and the Marine will start towards each other. At the appropriate distance, the adversary will initiate a thrust attack to a pre-designated side of the Marine's weapon. Here the Marine, again must learn to ignore the adversary's weapon, and concentrate on making an effective thrust with his own. It is important for the Marine to learn to avoid the tendency to unnecessarily "block" or "parry" the adversary's weapon, but only use enough disrupting movement of his own weapon against his adversary's to create an opening for him to carry his own thrust home. Here, it is vital that the instructor help bring the student along in learning to have full intent in carrying through his attack. In this regard, those in charge of the Marine Corps Martial Arts program are going to great lengths to ensure that the instructors understand that their jobs are not to prove how good they are, but to develop the capability of their student Marines.

The average Marine quickly develops to the point where he can be brought to the next level of training. At the next level, the Marine is introduced to working with a partner against single and then multiple opponents. Due to the immense amount of teamwork training Marines do in their normal training, they generally excel in this area.

After the initial two-man team training, the Marines begin training in four-man teams (similar to their normal fire team configuration). Here they can work both the basics of individual bayonet combat along with team tactics. In this training the Marine team will face opposition from two up to six adversaries. Even though the emphasis at this stage is on team work combat, the Marines are periodically forced to engage at the individual level again to maintain their individual competence.

The Marine Corps Martial Arts program is still its infancy, but has come a long way in a short while. In particular, the bayonet system portion of the training, arguably the most likely to be utilized component, has reached a high level of development and acceptance.

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