Military Life Resources Fitness

Watch this WWII Marine training video before your next club or knife fight

Logan Nye Avatar
marine corps knife fight training

A U.S. Marine with Marine Forces Reserve executes a knife attack during an offensive and defensive technique session. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Preston L. Morris)

There are few organizations that more expected to end up in a hand-to-hand or knife fight than the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. Their weapons were, at the start of the war, often leftovers from World War I or small-batch experimental weapons. Their bayonets would sometimes jam their rifles and their submachine guns were prone to breakages and featured non-interchangeable parts. And the Corps expected Marines to close with and fight the enemy on remote islands where visibility could be anything from hundreds of yards to a few feet at a time.

So, you know, they didn’t skimp on the bear walks and squat benders to get fighting fit. Because any fight they got into could devolve into a brutal, hand-to-hand struggle for survival. Indeed, many Marines after the war described the fierce, up-close fighting on the beaches and in the jungles of Pacific Islands.

Accordingly, the Marines developed a great knife fighting program. The modern version, known as the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, is well-respected and includes knife fighting, using a rifle as a club, and more. But the World War II version was nothing to sneeze at, either. While it included bareknuckle fighting, training videos and manuals encouraged bayonet, knife, and even club fighting. Any weapon that gave the slightest advantage could save the Marine in a street or trench fight. If you found yourself facing a determined enemy with a saber, you’d want the added protection and lethality that a few inches of Ka-Bar would give.

marine corps knife fight technique
Sgt. Ian Ferro, training non-commissioned officer with Marine Forces Reserve S-3, advances and prepares for the championship round of the MFR King of the Ring tournament held at Marine Corps Support Facility New Orleans, Nov. 30, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dante J. Fries)

A training video for knife fighting, embedded below, started with proper handling of a knife and quickly moved on to thrusting and parrying. The training doesn’t give much shrift to slicing, which makes sense given where Marines would use it. A cloth uniform doesn’t provide a ton of protection, but it could be enough to keep a light knife slice from making it through the skin to the muscle underneath. The Marines were looking to cripple and kill their foes, not give them a few light scars.

Club fighting is included too, and it gives tips for taking and controlling prisoners, striking, blocking, and more. The club gives better range than a knife, but the trainer still recommends breaking the enemy’s wrist and then nose in a fight as quickly as possible. A bayonet or knife is much more lethal than a club, and you wouldn’t want to end up on the wrong side of it. 

The video’s final piece of advice? Fight dirty.

One final note before you watch the video: While it’s a training film, this video was a production of a military studio in wartime, and it includes hateful words for the Japanese people. We do not condone the use of this language.