To The Point

A comparison of bayonet training with unarmed combat training

This is the bayonet for the SA80 rifle. He is made of cold, hard steel. When I ask you what he is made of, you will reply "COLD, HARD STEEL!!!" His sole purpose is to kill. He has no friends. No family. He likes nothing more than to spill the blood of his enemies so that it may pour out onto the ground and nourish the earth. When I ask you “What makes the grass grow?” you will reply "BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD!!!" When I ask you what the bayonet is used for, you will reply "KILL, KILL, KILL!!!"

Standing there on the field in the drizzle – faces covered in cam-cream, excited and nervous about what was to come - this was our introduction to the bayonet during basic training.

The entire training session left a lasting impression on me. One reason is that in personifying the bayonet, we were given an example of the correct mindset for being effective in combat. Also, during the physical training, I couldn’t help but notice that training and fighting with the weapon shared many of the same dynamics as the unarmed combat system I teach – in both the delivery and desired training effect.

Thinking more about the bayonet itself, I came to realize that many of the characteristics of the weapon are directly transferable to – what I consider to be – an effective unarmed combat system.


One purpose

Just as the scary corporal stated, the bayonet’s sole purpose is to kill. Not to maim, injure or dissuade an enemy but to neutralize him. While the former may well occur, the weapon was designed with the latter in mind.

In the same way, the unarmed combat system I teach for emergency combat situations revolves around finding the most direct way of achieving one goal; to disable an attacker. The system provides only one option for any given position you may find yourself in during a fight. In this way, we adhere to Hick’s Law – reducing the time it takes to decide on an action and carry out that action by reducing the amount of potential options to choose from and thus avoiding the ‘analysis paralysis’ effect. 

The ‘one purpose’ concept is also representative of the tenacious goal-orientation required for fighting. Nobody can deny that an enemy who has become completely single-minded in his desire to cause his victim harm is a dangerous person indeed and therefore the ability to exercise this same single-mindedness will greatly increase our chances of surviving a violent assault.


Despite having a cutting edge, training with the bayonet does not involve practicing to chop bits off of an enemy or slice him to ribbons. The most important part of the bayonet is the pointy bit – because utilizing this part is the easiest to do and yields the highest results. Using the bayonet isn't an art or a science; you aim the pointy bit at the enemy, stick it in him and repeat as necessary.

The same concept should be applied to designing an unarmed combat system. The key principles here are ‘easy to use’ and ‘yields best results’. Much to the disappointment of many self defence instructors, this doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘looks coolest’ or ‘sells most instructional DVD’s’… quite the opposite in fact.

While a parrying type motion and basic use of the butt-stock of the rifle are taught in bayonet lessons, there truly is nothing fancy about fighting with this weapon. The military has no interest in carrying on fighting ‘traditions’ – they simply want to prepare soldiers to be as effective as possible with as little time spent training as possible. This doesn’t mean training them to the bare minimum standard but instead finding how to get the most out of the time spent training. And so in self defence training, a good syllabus would be designed with the goal of preparing students for the possibility of violence as much as possible, as soon as possible.

Although long-winded belt progression based grading systems are good for retaining students (i.e good for business), these syllabuses are generally designed with the goal of providing a steady flow of overly complex and low-percentage techniques that must be remembered in order to progress to the next belt. Many martial artists take pride in how long it takes to reach the coveted black belt in their art. But if this same training model was used by the military, there’d be hardly any ‘boots on the ground’ as the majority of its members would still be in training (learning techniques and tactics that will largely never be used in actual combat).


Simple to use

Just like a good computer software package, the bayonet/rifle combination weapon is incredibly ‘user friendly’ and ‘intuitive’ to use. Even in the hands of somebody who has never held a rifle before, realizing that the weapon is used in a thrusting type motion would require no training at all in most people.

In the same way, an unarmed combat system should rely on natural movements that are based on instinctive human actions when under acute stress. If a technique feels awkward and unnatural in training there’s a good chance your body will default to a more ergonomic movement when under stress. Likewise, if a particular fighting system requires years of study before the student can become proficient in its use, this should be a clue as to how effective it is as a system overall.


Highly effective

As far as weapons go, you get a lot of ‘bang for your buck’ from the bayonet. Aside from the psychological effect of inducing immense fear in the enemy, the act of simply inserting such a blade into the torso will almost certainly create an instant life-threatening situation for him.

While we aren’t necessarily aiming to kill our attacker in defending ourselves, we are aiming to achieve the same ‘cost-to-benefit’ ratio for our actions. For example, there are plenty of points on the body that if struck, pressed or pinched will induce instant pain for the person on the receiving end. Pain, however, is highly overrated as a means of neutralizing an attacker’s offensive capability.

Seeking to prevail in a physical confrontation by use of inducing pain is essentially a gamble. When fighting in this way, there is an assumption (or a hope) that the opponent’s emotional response to pain will result in a diminished capability to fight or a complete cessation of the desire to continue fighting. And this is without even knowing what his physical interpretation of pain is like in the first place. What is painful one person may not hurt the next person at all. It’s true that everyone has a ‘breaking point’ at which they will succumb to pain, but trying to deliver this level of hurt to somebody when they are actively trying to hurt you is wishful thinking, in my opinion. Consider the single-minded tenacious resolve that we are seeking to use in our effort to defend ourselves, and realize that there is a good chance that homeboy is doing exactly the same thing.

And so instead of trying to create surface-level damage to the body of an attacker – that may or may not have an effect on him - in our system we aim cause a type of damage that has a direct effect on the their ability to physically function and doesn’t rely on causing psychological/emotional repulsion.


Causes internal damage

Being roughly six inches in length, the blade of the SA80 bayonet is more than capable of reaching all internal organs of a human target through penetration, and this is its purpose. While movies depicting the use of bladed weapons in war like to have limbs and heads flying off all over the place, the reality is that the most dangerous injury is an internal one that can often be almost undetectable from observing the victim from the outside.

The bayonet kills by causing catastrophic blood loss, and this is achieved by lacerating internal organs and major blood vessels found in the torso… not by ‘cutting’ the external parts of the body.

In the same way, our unarmed combat system aims to deliver overwhelming shock to an attacker’s central nervous system (CNS) - which is comprised of the brain, brainstem and spinal cord – as a means of directly affecting their state of consciousness. Just as the bayonet can not reach internal organs without first penetrating the outer structures of the body, we aim to target the CNS by delivering blunt trauma to the skull or cervical vertebrae. Contrary to what Hollywood and various self defence instructors may have us believe, making a ‘mess’ of an attacker is not entirely necessary in seeking to incapacitate them. Causing pain through the peripheral nervous system (i.e, the outer-most areas of the body) or ‘breaking’ the joints of the appendicular skeleton may well sound like effective ways to defeat an attacker (and possibly look ‘cool’ on screen, if you’re into that sort of thing), but in real violence outside of sport-fighting are a far lower percentage means of incapacitating somebody than simply delivering concussive blows to their head and/or neck area


No friends

What stood out to me the most of the corporal’s introduction to Mr Stabby, is that it was described as being ‘cold’ and having ‘no friends’; a thing that is incapable of love, compassion and other such fluffy feelings. This is a far cry from the ‘fired up’ feeling that some people feel is necessary for combat. The bayonet, being used as a metaphor for the desired combat mindset, was not described as being crazy, hot tempered and nor were we trained to go berserk when using the weapon. Instead, the personification of the bayonet was more akin to a cold blooded sociopath.

Anybody watching us could be forgiven for thinking we were being taught to lose our temper as we screamed at the targets, stabbed them repeatedly and got ‘beasted’ between phases of the lesson. These ‘beastings’ were essentially repetitive and torturous (for want of a less dramatic word) physical exercises designed to take us to the point of exhaustion each time. The purpose for the high intensity of the training and beastings were, I believe, not to fire us up, but wear us out – to the point that the stabbing of the target came not from emotional effort but eventually from a place of coldness.

One thing is for sure, every single one of us had thousand-yard stares at the end of this session and were given some time (a rare thing in basic training) to come back to earth. Initially, being full of energy, the attacks on the target are fuelled entirely by a conscious effort to give as much as you can. After several rounds of beastings however, while the shouts are louder and the stabbing more furious (and even more accurate), the feeling is more like a form of autopilot – effortless almost. Something I would certainly describe more as being ‘cold’ than ‘fired up’.

Without wanting to go too far into the subject of the combat mindset, this same coldness then, is the desired attitude for emergency combat in self defence. Consider the ways in which this same emotional and physical exhaustion can be achieved (safely) in unarmed combat training. You will find that once a certain state has been reached, the person performing the drill will get into a ‘zone’ in which they are able to perform to their maximum potential by way of switching off and getting on with the task in an almost autonomous fashion rather than ‘pushing’ themselves to make an effort. The ultimate goal of course is for this mindset to be accessible at will, and not only after having been beasted.

Consider also being on the receiving end of such an attack. From the perspective of a criminal who has attempted to assault somebody in order to rob or rape them, imagine being met by a ruthless and cold – but extremely determined – ‘victim’ who has made it their mission to put you down…



Here I would like to add a few disclaimers…

Firstly, at no point in this article do I advocate the use of blades in self defence or stabbing people in general. This will be pretty obvious to most, but in these days of litigation and with the current 'knife crime culture' we have here in the UK, I feel it wise to make it extra clear!

Also, not wanting to be mistaken for those instructors who base their entire ‘instructor persona’ on their military service (that is often exaggerated beyond belief or completely made up all together!) allow me to be honest in saying that this experience of basic training was quite a recent event (at the time of writing this). I’m certainly no veteran and do not claim to have been taught unarmed combat through my military experience. Having signed up quite ‘late in the game’, I was teaching before I joined. So sorry, but you’ll be getting no ‘Special Forces Secret Fighting Methods’ from me! Especially as I'm not infantry. 

I also acknowledge that use of the bayonet in modern combat is extremely rare. But it does happen (google it!). As a training method, it is extremely effective. As a tool, I’d rather have one and not need it than the other way around.

Lastly, only after writing this was it pointed out to me that the what-makes-the-grass-grow-thing is a famous scene from the film ‘Full Metal Jacket’. I actually have no idea which came first – the movie scene or the training method used by the Armed Forces.


Sharif Haque

Tactical Protection Systems