What is Exhibition Drill?


Exhibition drill is a variant of drill that involves complex marching sequences which usually deviate from drill used in the course of ordinary parades.

Teams performing exhibition drill are often affiliated with military units, but the scope of exhibition drill is not limited to military drill teams. Exhibition drill is often performed by Armed Forces Precision Drill Teams, the drill teams at service academies and Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and Junior ROTC units, and civilian drill teams that perform at parades, drill meets, and half-time shows and other public venues.

Refer to USMC Silent Drill Platoon.

Brief History

The first documented performance of exhibition drill was performed by Hadji Cheriff and filmed 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 demonstrates aerial, over-the-shoulder techniques, over-the-head drill, and under-the-leg inverted spin. It is believed that the weapon was a .577 calibre, triple band 1853 Enfield Musket, which is 56″ long and weighs about 9.5 pounds, and thus is 13″ longer and heavier than most drill weapons used today.

Exhibition Drill in Competition

Exhibition drill is one of many different drill phases that are a part of a drill meet. Other phases include Inspection, Colour Guard and Regulation Drill.

Exhibition military drill has grown drastically in popularity in recent decades. This growth can be attributed to several primary factors. These include:

  • The expansion of Junior ROTC programmes through the four primary service branches that occurred in the early and mid 1980s took the total number of units from roughly 1,600 to well over 2,500 in the US This provided more cadets the opportunity to be a part of these exhibition drill teams.
  • The work of Sports Network International (SNI) produced military drill and ceremony competitions on a scale that had never previously been seen.
  • From these numerous competitions, SNI produced magazines and websites to feature this activity. SNI also produced training and entertainment videos devoted exclusively to featuring many of the military exhibition drill teams in the country. These videos allowed the talent and creativity involved in exhibition drill at the highest levels to travel and expand at a greater rate, helping to promote the sport.

General Rules and Guidelines

Rules of exhibition drill during competitions vary, but most of them apply the following guidelines:

  • Time: There is usually a minimum and maximum time a routine may take. Points are deducted if a team is under or over time.
  • Boundaries: Teams should be aware of their boundary lines, and if necessary, alter their routines as to not cross the boundary lines. Points are deducted if a person crosses a boundary line.

Some high-school level competitions prevent cadets who are participating in armed drill events from performing more dangerous ‘over the head’ spins, or raising cadets off the floor, in the interest of safety.

High School

Some high school drill teams compete at the National High School Drill Team Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida, and generally use demilitarised Springfield M1903s, M1 Garands, M-14 rifles and Daisy Drill Rifles. There are also national drill level competitions for JROTC divisions, including Navy JROTC, Army JROTC, Marine Corps JROTC, and Air Force JROTC. Other countries have their own drill team competitions for teenagers.


In an unarmed division, exhibition drill may consist of intricate precision marching, along with various hand movements. Modified step team routines are used in some competitions.

College ROTC Drill Teams

Colleges with ROTC units, as well as military academies, have drill teams normally train and compete in two types of drill events: Regulation/Close Order and Exhibition (Trick or Fancy) Drill. Regulation Drill is conducted in accordance with Field Manual 22-5 (now FM 3-21.5) Drill and Ceremonies. Exhibition Drill is more free form and often more elaborate then Regulation Drill. Exhibition Drill teams are also more colourful in uniform and weaponry. In both types of event, participants are typically armed with weapons made safe or inert by removal of firing pins. Armament is totally devoid of all firing mechanisms for the safety of participants and audience alike.

Pershing Rifles, founded in 1894, is the oldest continuously operating college organization dedicated to military drill. The original drill team created by John J. Pershing had a simple goal: to serve as an example for the cadets at the University of Nebraska, who were sorely lacking in esprit de corps, motivation, and basic military skills. A typical unit performs as a colour guard, exhibition drill team, honour guard, funeral detail, or any other ceremonial unit requested; these services are usually at the request of the local ROTC detachment or school, but are sometimes requested by alumni, local governments, or active duty military units. Pershing Rifles hosts a National Drill Competition each spring which attracts some of the finest college level drill teams in the nation.
Gator Guard Drill Team is a precision drill team and military fraternity based at the University of Florida. It is named after the Florida Gators, the mascot of the University of Florida. Founded in 1953, the Gator Guard absorbed and succeeded the University of Florida’s Army ROTC chapter of the Pershing Rifles upon its inception. The Gator Guard performs annually at the university’s Homecoming Parade, as well as the Krewe of Mid-City and King Rex parades at the New Orleans Mardi Gras. The team uses M1903 rifles with 8-inch bayonets for all performances. The Gator Guard also performs colour guard ceremonies for the University of Florida, the SEC, and the MLB.

Outside the United States

  • The Norwegian Army has a silent drill platoon in the Kings Guard, performing in foreign tattoos like Edinburgh.
  • The French Republican Guard also has a famous exhibition drill unit.
  • Another example can be found in the Singapore Armed Forces Military Police Command’s Silent Precision Drill Squad.
  • The Malaysian counterpart for these teams is the Provost Drill Team of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
  • The Italian Navy recently implemented a silent drill platoon (Plotone Alta Rappresentanza) as a part of the San Marco Marine Brigade.
  • The Russian 154th Preobrazhensky Independent Commandant’s Regiment’s honour guard battalion also serves as a drill unit. It performs exhibition drill or плац концерт (lit. ’parade ground concert’). Similar to their Russian counterparts, all personnel of the Honour Guard of the Armed Forces of Belarus are capable of performing exhibition drill routines in addition to their ceremonial role. This practice also applies to the post-Soviet states in Ukraine, Armenia and Kazakhstan.
  • The Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has practiced many exhibition drills but they do not follow the Russian or Soviet drill procedures due to the Occupation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union.
  • The Canadian National Drill Team of the Ceremonial Guard and the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment serves as a drill unit for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). The Royal Military College of Canada also maintain a silent drill team which engages in rifles and sword drill. The branches of the Canadian Cadet Organisations, which include of the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, and the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, have drill competitions throughout the year for their exhibition drill teams.
  • The Armed Forces of Malta Drill Team and the Malta Police Precision Drill Team serve as drill units in the Republic of Malta.
  • The Queen’s Colour Squadron of the British Royal Air Force Regiment is the sole ceremonial unit in the Royal Air Force that has provided displays of exhibition drill which are performed without a single word of command.
  • The Fort Henry Guard is an entirely civilian exhibition drill organisation, consisting of Canadian high school and university students who are trained to perform at the Fort Henry National Historic Site.

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