Real Guns & Fake Bullets

by coldglass

Whilst idling skimming this article on the Los Angeles Review of Books1 I unexpectedly discovered something awesome – the Edwardian-era practice of ‘bloodless duelling’. Basically it seems to have been a primitive, formal version of paintball; the participents would hold a duel in the traditional ‘X paces then turn and fire’ manner, except instead of the traditional matched pistols they’d use (hopefully) less lethal weapons loaded with wax bullets2, each man wearing heavy leather coats and a full-faced helmet. I did a little looking around, and found a little more information at io9 and Bartitsu, along with some rather excellent pictures.

Originally it was intended as a way to practise for the real thing, before being taken up as a sport by people who presumably felt it unsporting to only shoot at things which couldn’t return fire. Apparently there was a tournament held at the 1908 Olympics, although I can’t seem to find much about that anywhere else; perhaps it was an exhibition rather than a proper event?3

The other obvious application is as a substitute for an actual duel – if you and another gentleman found yourselves in serious disagreement and unable to resolve your problems like a grown-up compelled to seek redress upon the field of honour, you could do it this way and avoid the obvious drawbacks of using live ammunition4. I don’t know if that actually happened, I suppose if you were the kind of person who’d want to fight a duel in the first place then you might regard the lack of blood and risk as a shortcoming rather than an advantage.

What with the long leather coats, the helmets, and the custom firearms, these gentlemen are clearly begging to be part of some Edwardian-era dystopian action series. Perhaps by the same people who brought us The Airship Destroyer.

Obviously that would be the final shot of the intro sequence; on the left you have one of the heroes, a dedicated professional who worked his way up from the ranks and has no time for your damn-fool tricks; on the right is his partner, comes from a good family but a bit too flash for his own good. The chap in the middle is obviously the boss, stuck behind a desk now what with that dashed wound he took in the colonies.


1 Pauses to swirl snifter of brandy, chuckles quietly over some droll witicism, sighs, dips pen into inkwell.
2 And I would assume with rather less powerful charges.
3 And, more importantly, can we get Laserquest as an offical Olympic sport for Rio 2016?
4 “Somebody’s going to emergency/Somebody’s going to jail”.