Paintball Battles in 16th Century Japan

The year is 1548, and the countryside runs red with blood as members of the Imagawa and Oda clans battle for land and the favor of the emperor, hoping to become the Shogun of all Japan.

Steve Murray
Wednesday - February 09, 2011
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The year is 1548, and the countryside runs red with blood as members of the Imagawa and Oda clans battle for land and the favor of the emperor, hoping to become the Shogun of all Japan.

One would be safe to assume that such battles have been relegated to the dustbins of history but, in fact, the fighting continues every weekend. In forests, on beaches and among the splattered walls of once-proud cities, good battles evil and bravery is rewarded with land, gold and most important, Internet bragging rights.

“Scenario Paintball” is Dungeons and Dragons for the gun crowd — Renaissance fairs for the NRA where wizards and warlocks are not the enemy but the Federated Guard, the Old Man Militia, Omega Strike Unit, or the Armor of God, a group of Christian paintball enthusiasts, could very well be.

This warrior has taken a few hits for the Shogun

Just such an event happened Jan. 29 and 30 at Island Paintball on Bellows Air Force Station in Waimanalo. Some 200 individuals, including 32 from the continent, gathered for the annual event that covered four acres of trees, trails, bunkers and various other hazards to test the mettle and imagination of the participants.

Keith Shelly, Island Paintball’s general manager, says the event was the best since he brought the game to the state four years ago: “This was by far the best we’ve had. It was the most efficient and the players understand the game better.”

The scenario was posted online nine months prior to the event so people could choose their characters, and the chatter began almost immediately as past participants passed along recommendations on everything from gameplay to travel, lodging and the strange use of automatic weapons in 16th century Japan.

Scenario Paintball grew from players’ desire to add more realism and challenges to basic games like “capture the flag” and “defend the president.” Its popularity has exploded, as has the number of real and imaginative scenarios designers have come up with.

“All the games are themed, and each year the theme has changed — everything from the Maltese Falcon to the Princess Bride to this year being Shogun,” says Shelly. “You try to theme all the signage to match, the dialogue to match, the props to match that theme, and there are tons of props out there.”

A big part of Scenario’s attraction is often the costumes players adopt. An 18th century battle may require a tricorner hat; the defense of Stalingrad could likely produce winners of the Order of the Patriotic War; and fighting in a post-apocalyptic world may call for all manner of gas masks and radioactive protective clothing — all of which are available for purchase from any number of retailers, or players can create their own, even if their costumes or equipment don’t have any historical connection.

“A guy built these walking tanks for the event and they were just amazing,” says Shelly. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s common on the Mainland, and some guys actually build moving tanks made out of old golf carts.”

Though the feudal lords in Japan didn’t have access to such equipment, Shelly let it slide because of the work involved in its creation.

The proverbial smoking gun

The biggest scenario event, in terms of space, participation, props and impact, is the annual six-day Normandy invasion scenario at D-Day Adventure Park in Wyandotte, Okla. Each year the tiny town of 363 welcomes upward of 5,000 participants who storm the historic beach re-created inside the 1,000-acre park. Just like the real invasion, battles take place simultaneously at several locations as victory is elusive and hard on both body and mind. Veterans of the contest suggest studying up on the actual invasion for clues to how the re-created battles may play out.

Whichever part in history you find yourself, paying attention to the orders of one’s higher-ups is key to succeeding in your mission. For last month’s war for feudal control, the generals were a Schofield Barracks soldier, Sgt. Matt Behrs, and Shelly’s 17-year-old daughter Julie. It was their responsibility to run the missions thrust upon them.

“They are extremely important. They have to find the right people and the right characters because some missions can only be accomplished by people with certain character cards. So they have to know who is on their teams and what character cards they have. It’s pretty complex, plus the whole weekend is based on accumulating points so the general has to make decisions on whether to take on a gun battle or complete certain missions. So they need to determine what will get them the most points or the best strategical advancement.”

Regardless of the size or scene, the game can be quite punishing. Bruises from the flying balls of paint are not just common but often considered badges of honor. Other dings, scrapes and sore muscles tend to flare up a few days later, especially if the contestant isn’t used to the running, dodging, squatting and climbing that are part and parcel for scenario paintball. For reasons Shelly cannot explain, regular players seem to enjoy getting shot.

“We have one game we play regularly called ‘church.’ You can get shot as many times as you want and until you get shot in the goggles you stay in. I have not figured out the fascination of that game, but it is the most requested game we’ve had. We had a bachelor party come in from Florida and they said they had to play church. I don’t even know how they heard about it.”

Though the game can be rough, Shelly says paintball is a good family activity, since it offers good exercise and forces sometimes argumentative siblings to work together. The downside is that children quickly learn to outperform the parents.

“We’ve been out there since my daughter was 12 and I used to be able to beat her. I would intimidate her, shoot her and outrun her and now I can’t do any of those and she reminds me constantly,” says the 54-year-old target.

While established teams dominate Scenario Paintball activities, the events are open to individuals with no affiliation. Some of the most popular customers at Hawaii’s paintball sites are local military members who have discovered a great way to relax by running artificial scenario based on their real-world jobs.

But does that make it a fair fight, pitting trained soldiers and Marines against Oahu civilians?

Depends on who the civilians are, says Shelly: “We’ve had the SEALs come out, and the four local kids who help referee and play on our team have never lost to a military unit, no matter how specialized they are. The kids are just too quick. My son has told me he can actually see the ball as it is coming at him so he can move out of the way.”

Island Paintball is open to everyone on weekends, and weekdays for special groups. Civilians need clearance to get on base, and can get it at Access and rental cost for guns, mask and air is $30.

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