DAs at Ground Zero national event 2007
In Airsoft man is recreating a battle. Both of wills, strategy and technique. But more than this Airsoft is a brotherhood. It is a team sport. Watching men play as a team in Airsoft could be directly transposed to the ancient world as a team of men fight to kill a mammoth or battle the next tribe for land. It is a very primeval urge and need that is satisfied.
Many men look up to their family members that fought and died for their country. Myself I always think of my grandfather who was a bomber pilot in the Second World War and fought in the desert. I have a book of the time that mentions his bravery (Wings over Olympus) and I grew up staring at his medals for valor (of which he had many). What am I to do to carry on his legacy? How can I fulfill that need?
Essentially I can’t. I can of course do the normal stuff of being a good man, marrying, raising kids, staying away from drugs, etc. But what battles do I have to fight? To quote Fightclub:
“Our lives have no great battle, no great depression. Our battle is a spiritual battle and our great depression is our lives”
These words ring true for many men. In fact the entire question raised and debated in the film Fightclub (as well as the reason that it is so inordinately popular amongst men) is the pondering of this question; what is man? Essentially then, men have a part of themselves that exist as potential but is often never realised.
When I play Airsoft skirmishing I loose myself in the moment, but I am not alone. My teammates loose themselves with me. Team Recoil consists of three permanent members. Sittupking and I have been friends for over 15 years now. He is my best friend and was the best man at my wedding. Trip is fast becoming like family in the short time I have known him. The upshot of this closeness is that we very rarely need to speak to each other whilst playing. We instinctively know what the other is going to do and how he will react. For example, at AG-05, Trip commented to me that we had just taken a doorway without saying a word to each other and automatically taken up the correct positions not crossed our movements at all. Similarly Sittupking covers my back and I his with no fear or conscious thought on my part. This is a very good feeling and addictive. It is a feeling if trust and understanding. It is a moment.
This moment of mental group focus is called Zanshin* by the Japanese. A good translation is “meditation in motion” and/or “being in the moment”. I have often felt Zanshin in Martial arts study (in fact it is a perquisite to black belt) and in my fencing. But consider that these are solo sports. Airsoft is Group Zanshin, and potent stuff capable of bringing people together and raising smiles on the most hackneyed gentlemen’s face.
So why not just play football? Why guns and combat?
Firstly, all male dominated sports are an expression of past hunting behavior and combat. Anyone who thinks basketball is non violent needs to actually play some! The enhancer for this Zanshin is pressure. Airsoft hurts. Airsoft can really hurt. Especially if you are not playing well or as part of a functioning team. Airsoft is a very high pressure, high impact sport. It demands all sorts of awareness that do not exist in more mainstream sports. It is focused in on smaller teams working closer together. The more the pressure the better the feelings of Zanshin. Similarly, Airsoft requires gentlemanly conduct. Violence and cheating are almost universally hated by Airsoft players. Anyone cheating by not taking hits is often completely rejected by the group. As is anyone overly violent. Consider that, people are shooting each other and despite the looks of their equipment they are doing it non-violently. Very rarely do you see retaliation in Airsoft. Contrast that fact with the behavior of even the highest levels of football professional!
Secondly, most Airsoft people do play normal sports as well. Simple. Very few people have only Airsoft. I myself fence, paint, write and practice Taekwondo. I love to cook, read and visit my friends. Airsoft is a facet, not the whole. As the Buddha said, “All things in moderation”. This also means not denying oneself!
Thirdly and most importantly, Airsoft is also a collectors sport. Airsoft guns are techy’, nerdy and eminently collectable. Not to mention all the other equipment that goes along with it. There is a definite part of most, if not all men, that loves technical equipment that functions well. The endless question of “what am (is the) best gun?” This lends a whole structure to Airsoft, where a player is not just judged by his skills but also by his equipment. This means that Airsoft has an open social structure. A player can become “cooler” simply by having something particularly interesting or unusual. This gives rise to the “geardo” sub-culture of collecting the most expensive and realistic equipment.
As long as men feel disenfranchised in their lives, things like Airsoft and paintball will be needed. They perform a useful release mechanism for the players, not to mention the health benefits of running around and jumping over things. They allow for safe team play and the building of social structures whilst at the same time don’t require much in the way of investment by the person. Have gun and mask, will play. There is the almost infinite specialist and uniqueness of each and every Airsoft player’s load out and kit bag. There is also the gentlemanly way Airsoft has to be played.
In all these aspects Airsoft is good. But it is in the high expressions of Zanshin and brotherhood that really sets it apart. For this, Airsoft is truly great.
*Zanshin is used as a term all over the martial arts and does not translate well to English. To fully understand my take on it read “Meditation and the mind in modern martial arts”