Bring Back These Brutal Marine Knife-Fighting Techniques From World War II

April 25, 2022Mac Caltrider
knife fighting

Marine Raiders practice knife-fighting techniques during World War II. US Department of Defense photo.

Whether armed with aircraft, rifles, or just their hands, Marines are renowned for being tough and capable fighters. The Corps’ lethal reputation stretches back to the days when Marines were tasked with boarding enemy ships, armed only with muskets, blades, and brawn. The nature of their job as a naval force charged with seizing enemy vessels and conducting small amphibious landings often placed Marines in close-quarters combat. In the 246 years of the branch’s existence, the Marine Corps has worked hard to improve upon those early hand-to-hand fighting skills.

Marines participate in hand-to-hand and close-quarters combat during martial arts training at Camp Pendleton, California, Oct. 2, 2018. US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Donald Holbert.

Of all the small wars and major conflicts the Marines have been involved in, few have required such a high level of proficiency in hand-to-hand fighting as the island-hopping campaigns of World War II. Marines regularly found themselves fighting for survival in the cramped quarters of their own foxholes. In order to prepare Marines for the nightmarish scenario, the Marine Corps produced instructional videos with close-quarters techniques for killing the enemy.

In one video titled “Combat Conditioning Series Part 3: Club and Knife Fighting,” Marines are taught things like how to use a fistful of dirt to win a knife fight and how to disarm an opponent using a stick. The video places a heavy emphasis on creativity and an “any means necessary” attitude for winning in hand-to-hand combat.

“To kill your enemy from as great a distance as possible is good sense — and basic to Marine Corps tactics,” text in the video’s intro states. “But a time may come when you will engage him at close quarters and you will have to destroy him hand-to-hand with a knife or a club.”

MCMAP fighting
Cpl. Noah Casey, right, a supply chain and materiel management specialist, executes a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program technique on Cpl. William Velasquez, a Marine Air-Ground Task Force planning specialist, during a MCMAP advancement course at Camp Pendleton, California, Oct. 19, 2021. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin Gillam.

The Marines currently teach the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, which includes both knife- and club-fighting techniques, but proficiency in these “dirty fighting” skills is not as much of a priority as it once was. Watch the full video of WWII club- and knife-fighting techniques above.

Read Next: Salty Dogs: The Long and Proud Tradition of Tattoos in the Marine Corps

Mac Caltrider
Mac Caltrider

Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.

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