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Classical Fencing and the Bayonet II

Classical Fencing and the Bayonet II

For the classical fencer or martial artist interested in learning the bayonet or the juken in either context, there are significant challenges. It is not an insurmountable task, but it requires that you broaden your perspective and change your movement patterns. And it requires quite a bit of research. The result is well worth it, however, in a broader understanding of fencing and of weapons.

The first issue is access to the actual techniques. The bayonet fencing student has a significant advantage, as there are a wide variety of sources available, in English, and online as scanned images of the original documents. In addition, a number of these texts have been reprinted and are available through specialist military booksellers. The Asian martial arts student faces a more daunting task – as far as I can discover only one Chinese bayonet text has been translated and is readily available. The two manuals describing the Japanese juken, one published in World War II and the other in the 1980s, are both in Japanese and are rare and expensive to very expensive. For English speakers, American Jukenjutsu – The Bayonet Society offers a resource that may be of help in locating and understanding sources.

The second issue is understanding the context. Bayonet play, even the late 1800s bayonet fencing, is entirely military in context. This means that you often have to understand the manual of arms (the formal method of drill in handling the weapon) and the basic foot drill (how the feet move in marching and changing direction) in use in the Army for whom the bayonet system was designed.

For example, in studying Burton’s 1853 system for the Bombay Army, it immediately becomes apparent in the movements that this system was not designed for troops standing in company formation. In all fairness, Burton points out that his system was designed for light infantry and skirmishers who operated in loose formation and with greater independence on the battlefield. And for individuals trained in modern United States military drill, about half of the footwork movements just feel wrong, with pivots on both heels or both toes, but not heel and toe. Spending time learning the basics of the contemporary school of the solder pays dividends when you take the weapon in hand.

The third issue is finding a realistic training weapon. Modern training weapons typically sold in the United States are wooden and replicate the general shape of a weapon, but not the heft of weapons from the World War II period or earlier. In addition, if you are studying weapons in the 1800s they are simply too short to represent the weapon plus a long triangular or even longer sword bayonet. We add a section of tubular foam insulation that is typically used in plumbing; not only does it provide the length, but it makes for safe and comfortable hits. Nonetheless, what you are training with is lighter and faster than the real thing.

The final issue is training equipment. There are no manufacturers that I am aware of that make bayonet training protective equipment, that subject it to testing to any standards organization’s standards, and that warrant its safety under impact. Japanese jukendo equipment is specially strengthened (a normal bogu is not adequate), but it is very expensive, and may not meet accepted standards for sports safety equipment in the United States. A wooden rifle with a rubber impact tip delivers a blow to a fencing mask that the mask was not designed to sustain. To the body the same blow can break ribs. The result is that full speed, full power hits not only expose your partner to injury, but they also expose you to liability. This means that you need to discuss this type of activity with your insurer to make certain that your policy covers you, train with a great deal of emphasis on safety and on matching speed and power to expertise, and not exceed the capability of your protective gear.

These challenges should not deter you from exploring the bayonet. It is an interesting weapon with challenging technique and different distance and timing from most weapons. Its history covers almost 400 years of warfare, offering opportunities to follow the evolution of a weapon and its use. And, if you are a classical fencer, the true challenge is four weapon fencing, foil, epee, sabre, and bayonet.