The sound of a whistle blow brings two Marine recruits charging into the middle of a dirt ring in one of the training areas of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Other than the grunts and groans from the fighters, drill instructors can be heard yelling at the recruits to hit here, or slash there. The two men continue raining blows on each other waiting to hear the merciful whistle blow once again. The signal that their match is over.
The recruits of Company E performed their final pugil sticks training, Sept. 25, to hone their skills with bayonets before leaving the depot to conduct the crucible.
“Pugil sticks are a part of bayonet training,” said Sgt. Rudy Moctezuma, Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor Trainer, Instructional Training Company, Recruit Training Regiment. “The sticks are marked to tell the difference between where the bayonet of the rifle would be, which is the red end. The butt of the rifle is the black end.”
The pugil sticks are padded on both ends, and have hockey gloves attached to the stick to protect the recruits’ hands, said Moctezuma.
The recruits completed their third pugil stick training evolution since setting foot on the depot. Pugil Sticks III is set in a bunker-like pit where two entrances lead into the middle of a dirt circle surrounded by padded walls.
Drill instructors and corpsmen watch over the competing recruits on a catwalk that looks over the pit.
“The recruits participate in pugil sticks three times while in boot camp,” said Sgt. Joseph Ferguson, drill instructor, Platoon 2102, Company E. “It helps build confidence in close quarters combat and lets them experience the adrenaline of it.”
According to Ferguson, pugil sticks training is comprised of three phases just like recruit training. Each one teaches the recruit something new and progressively more intricate, he added. “The first time they do pugil sticks is basically an introduction to getting struck,” said Staff Sgt. Gustavo Hernandez, MAIT, ITC. “The second time around they fight two-on-two so they can get a feel of what it’s like to work with the person next to them. The third is all out. They use everything they’ve learned – no holds barred.”
When the recruits came charging into the pit, they ran into each other with a resounding thud, then attempted to get a “killing blow” on their opponent.
“Pugil sticks are a good tool to break down barriers recruits have when they get here,” said Ferguson. “Some of the recruits are not used to being around people, so this helps them bond when they engage each other in combat.”
The recruits usually don’t know who they are fighting because they are paired by weight and the platoons are mixed, according to Moctezuma. A Marine can never tell the size of who they will fight against in combat, so we try to imitate that, he added.
“Being in pugil sticks puts you in a combat mindset to win against whomever it is you are fighting,” said recruit Shawn Stapleton, Platoon 2106.
Not only is pugil sticks a great way to learn how to use a combat mindset, it’s also a motivating activity for the recruits.
While they are busy fighting their peers the recruits are calming themselves down a little without knowing it.
“Pugil sticks are a great stress reliever,” said Sgt. Julian Orozco, drill instructor, Platoon 2101. “They get to take out a lot of anger. Sometimes they need a way to relieve a little stress.”
At the end of this training evolution, Co. E recruits go back to their squad bays, battered, bloodied and bruised, but more motivated. They also have some interesting stories about the fights they got into a boot camp to tell their families.