Airsoft & Paintball: Much More Than a Game – Readyman

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Airsoft & Paintball: Much More Than a Game

Posted on November 11 2018

“If you’re too cool for airsoft and paintball, you don’t understand combat training,” says Jeff Kirkham, 28-year Green Beret.


Back in the Middle East, when Jeff and his SF brothers saw Al Queda maneuver in a gunfight, they knew they were probably facing Soviet-trained muslims and they knew the fight was moving to a whole ‘nother level. 

People who know how to maneuver in a gunfight are the real deal. Possessing an instinctive sense of where, when and how to maneuver on a battlefield and that knowledge will trump virtually any level of shooting skill. Special Operations Forces (and some regular forces) learn to move and shoot in live fire shoot houses and using force-on-force gear such as the MILES, Simunitions, UTM and  ITESS.

The bad news: none of these systems are available (or practical) for civilians. Also, they’re a bit of a pain to set up.

The good news: we have good options for force-on-force training (we just use them wrong.) If we’re going to train on the shooting range, why stop there? Why not master the multiplier of force-on-force fighting?

Jeff Kirkham (Green Beret), Evan Hafer (Green Beret) and Chad Wade (SEAL) have all used consumer systems like airsoft, paintball and IR Tactical (icombat) to train civilians in the subtle art of force-on-force training in their time with ReadyMan.

“The key is to avoid the training scars that airsofters and paintballers frequently give themselves,” Jeff says. “If you’re playing it like a game—all in your ego—you’re going to do stuff you wouldn’t do against a real rifle and you’ll screw up the training value. But the training value of learning how to maneuver on a battlefield, or in CQB, is absolutely worth the effort.”

If you approach shooting against an adversary as a “game,” the training value will be negligible or damaging. Paintball players, for example, learn many bad habits (such as shooting inadvertently across the field in the direction of friendlies, maneuvering too aggressively, hiding behind thin concealment) These bad habits leave training scars that can re-emerge in combat.

If you approach airsoft and paintball as training, and avoid it becoming a competitive game, these tools can teach you things only a combat veteran knows. While you will not have the experience of risking death (which is another level of training altogether,) you will learn dozens of critical skills that will lift you leagues above your range-shooting buddies. also offers laser tag solutions, including shock belts for added “pain compliance,” which accelerates the learning curve more than you might imagine.

Skills you will learn shooting against another person with airsoft and paintball: 

  • Gaining angles, or “flanking.” 
  • Using cover and concealment. 
  • Maneuvering under fire. 
  • Employing athleticism as a weapon. 
  • Running a “firearm" under heavy stress. 
  • Retreating and de-escalating. 
  • Learning the power of the “first mover.” 
  • Discovering how much patience pays off
  • Sensing the moment when focused violence is the right move.

To keep airsoft and paintball from devolving into a game, rely on leadership and mission discipline and follow these tips: 

  1. Train against an OPFOR no more than one-third of your unit size. 
  2. Use all forms of communication: electronic (radios), verbal, hand signals and lights.
  3. Fight with combat wisdom. In other words, if you can hide behind a bush and defeat a paintball (but not a .223 bullet) than don’t hide behind a bush, even when you’re training with paintball. If you wouldn’t run to a piece of cover against assault rifles, don’t run to that cover when being fired upon by airsoft. More often than not, you should complete your mission, killing all the OPFOR without being detected until the moment you launch your assault or ambush. Train as though the OPFOR can kill you.
  4. Don’t just go shoot in the woods. Set clear missions and attempt to accomplish them without losing a single person on your team.
  5. Restrict missions to thirty minutes, then conduct a sit-down debrief after each mission and discuss: what worked, what didn’t work, and what you will do differently next time.
  6. Then repeat the same mission until you get it right.


Many years back, in the early days of ReadyMan, Chad Wade and I taught CQB in a shoot house at Front Sight, Nevada with IR Tactical laser simulator guns. On the weekends, we would sometimes go out in the desert with the rifle/handgun instructors and run force-on-force scenarios with the laser rifles (similar to MILES gear.) We learned very quickly: being a firearms instructor does NOT mean that a guy dominates on the three-dimensional battlefield. Nearly the opposite. The paintball and airsoft guys would dominate the instructors by a factor of ten or better (we could see the electronic stats on the computer at the end of the day.)

Even so, the paintball and airsoft guys learned hard lessons about the mistakes they’d been making when it came to a rifle that shot two hundred yards, flat out, and would penetrate a bush.

What we found incredible: even combat handgun masters and IPSC shooting studs would find themselves humbled when it came to maneuvering and fighting in a real-world environment. Fundamentals matter a lot, but there’s a whole world of shooting skill away from the shooting range, and it can be ours for the price of a cheap airsoft gun, a jar of pellets and some controlled Saturday fun.


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