Hand-to-hand training during the era of the Vietnam War focused primarily on defense and poking your enemy in the eyes or the groin. Don't laugh. It's a good beginning. I passed the most basic advice onto my youngest son when he was being tormented by a bully who loved to shove others. I taught him to simply step back with one foot and turn his body away when the young devil ran at him. I was fortunate to see the fruits of this labor when the attack came while I happened to be standing nearby. My son stepped back as instructed and the bully fell on his face. He looked around confusedly for a moment and then went searching for someone else to shove.
We practiced hand-to-hand combat training in a sawdust pit surrounded by a shin high wall of sandbags. A wooden platform in the center served as a podium for the instructor. We paired off with not attempt to match us by height or weight. At one hundred seventy-five pounds, I was rarely outclassed in the match up on weight. However, at only five feet, eight inches, I often had to spar with men who had a greater reach. Fortunately, my father had been a professional prize fighter in his younger days and I knew how to duck and weave effectively. No, he hadn't taught me to fight. I learned while dodging his blows. My father used his fists for punishment.
Bayonet training was an entirely different experience. Communist countries manufactured infantry rifles with bayonets permanently affixed to the barrel. They folded back when not needed for close combat. They had dull edges to prevent soldiers from hurting themselves when the bayonet was folded back. Thus, they were only useful for stabbing someone. Our bayonets had edges that we could slash with as well as stab. I have never seen a knife as sharp as a bayonet. It is seriously sharp.
Fortunately, we practiced with our bayonets safely encased in scabbards during Basic Combat Training (that would change in more advanced classes). The Army didn't want anyone complaining to mommy who would likely sic their congressman on us. But, trainers demonstrated with bare blades. I once saw one pass through the hand of a sergeant during a demonstration. It seemed to pass through flesh and bone as easily as it passed through air.
Soldiers also use their rifles as clubs. We were taught the vertical and horizontal butt strokes. (I'll leave that to your imagination.) Practicing these techniques with rifles could result in serious injury or death. Thus, the Army substituted pugil sticks. You may have seen these on game shows, like American Gladiator. They have thick wooden shafts, about the length of a rifle with a bayonet, and heavy padding on both ends. There's another pad in the center between the handholds. We were dressed in helmets and gauntlets and turned loose on each other. It was fun for those of us who mastered the necessary skills. Not so much for anyone else.
Our instructors impressed us with their skills in every manner of close combat. Indeed, as I have noted elsewhere in this series of postings about Basic Combat Training, I was impressed by the professionalism of every one of them. However, it still makes me smile to remember that every one of them began every class with the exhortation to pay careful attention - “This is the most important training that you will receive. This is the class that will keep you alive in combat.”
Of course, they were all important. Although, after one day of close combat training, we asked our platoon sergeant what he thought. He smiled as though remembering some distant memory and then advised, “If you run out of ammunition, go find more ammunition.”