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A Brief History of Rifle Exhibition Drill

The first documented performance of exhibition drill (XD) was performed by Hadji Cheriff at what is believed to be the Midway Plaisance of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. The film was later copyrighted by Thomas Edison in 1899, entitled "The Arabian Gun Twirler."

The performance, though quite absurd to today's standards, demonstrates without a doubt, rudimentary aerial (two 1½s over-hand thrown from the firing hammer) and over the shoulder techniques with a rather remarkable display of over-the-head drill (OTH), and ends right after an under the leg inverted spin.

In itself, this clip is extraordinary, because military XD did not surface until 5 and half decades later, and even then, there was no spinning of this difficulty. The burning question of course is: where did Mr. Cheriff get his inspiration?!

What else is remarkable about this performance is the choice of weapon. Though it can not be absolutely determined, one can make a good case by viewing the below listed video stills that it was a .577 caliber, triple band, 1853 Enfield Musket :

This weapon is 56" long and weighs about 9.5 pounds, which is 13" longer and slightly heavier then, if not as much as, drill weapons used today. (Yes, you read correct. For those who think that their weapons weigh more than 10 lbs, please review my weapon specifications page.)

Fast forward 55 years…

The following list of photos is of the different Drill Teams (DTs) of the US Army, 3rd Inf. Old Guard, from 1948 to 1955:

Before 1957, The Old Guard had several companies with a DT. It wasn't until 1957 that THE US Army DT came into existence that we enjoy today.

Every military branch of the United States has a representative service DT and evolved during the 1948 - 1957 time frame, with the exception of the USCG; its Honor Guard was not created until 1962.

Today XD reaches far beyond the branch service DTs of the United States. Service DT now exists around the world. Competitions and performances by high school JROTC and college ROTC units are now commonplace. Also prevalent are fire (FD), police (FOP), civil air patrol (CAP), and civilian pro teams. Two such civilian pro teams are the King's Guard of Hawaii, and of course, New Guard America of Washington, DC. NGA is the only known civilian pro exhibition drill team that performs with fixed bayonets.

Side Note: Since the late 1920s, many college and high school military units had Honor Guards and Honor Platoons that were comprised of their top drillers, but exhibition drill as we regard it today (involving spinning of the weapon) did not evolve until the late 1940s.

Many college and high school teams competed with fixed bayonets but it is believed that bayonets were later banned for all high school competitions in 1974 as result of a cadet being severely injured (possibly fatally) from a mishap during that year.

Some high school DTs, though they can not compete with them, still perform with bayonets today. A few college units still compete with bayonets, but none as impressive IMO as the mid 1980s Queen's Guard of Rutgers University who performed and competed with 16" bayonets. I have seen no other DT, pro or otherwise, then or now, drill with any length close to that.

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