Gun FU #11

Here’s a truth bomb for you; to get better, you need to be honest and you have to recognize what it will take to make improvements.  In other words, be honest with yourself, be honest with your teammates, be honest with your coach and then put in the work.  In being honest, by operating in an environment of accountability and where truth and fact are the main drivers for improvement, you have created the ultimate atmosphere for growth.  But you have to follow that up with action!  You have to put in the work but not just any work.  You have to be willing to work harder and harder each time you practice.  You have to want it more than the other guy.

“You said you wanted the truth. Now what are you willing to do with it?” – Zen

Sometimes the truth is obvious but then there are those times it is a tough pill to swallow.  As a player, as a coach, the first step to improvement is recognizing the weakness in order to defeat it.  That isn’t always easy.  Egos and pride can get in the way.  There are those who flourish in this type of environment and then there are those who wilt like Kentucky bluegrass in southern Alabama.  You have to be willing to have these conversations.

I have played and coached for, with, and against all manner of player and coach.  There are two personalities that jump to the forefront and who I thought ideal for this edition of Gun FU.  I know this because I have played for them, with them, and against them.  Our relationship goes back to 2008 where we were all three part of the Red NRG program.

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Kevin Fillers and Adam Smith have been around.  They rose through the ranks and earned their spots on several prominent rosters in the mid-2000s.  Knowing that their work ethic is similar to mine as well as their dauntless approach to drilling, I decided to ask them about their successes, their attitudes, and their drive.

But first, a little context.  Kevin and Adam’s paintball careers began back in Maryville, TN at a place called Foothills Paintball in the late 90’s.  This is where Kevin and Adam met and joined their first team together.  Kevin explains, “As our friends started to lose interest during high school, Adam and I decided that it was our dream to go pro and we made a pact to stick together as teammates for the entire journey.”

They learned how to win under the tutelage of Shawn Terry in 2001.  Shawn was the captain of the Saints at the time.  The Saints were comprised of mostly former motocross racers.

“They understood a lot about preparation and infrastructure so that was the first time we had access to a private practice field and really started basing our practices on drills rather than scrimmages. The team broke up in mid-2003 (real life caught up with the older guys) and Adam and I went to Precision in 2004 (a team out of the Chattanooga area they had known for years).”

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During that Precision season, they met Todd Adamson of Aftershock.  Through Todd, Kevin and  Adam got a tryout for the ’05 Ironmen.

“We made it through the tryouts and got brought out for a few more practices leading up to the 05 LA Open, but we didn’t make the final roster. Todd and Billy (Ceranski) were planning on playing 7 man with Bad Company, but the Ironmen weren’t having it. So Todd invited us down to a Bad Company practice at his field leading up to the HB 05’ event and Tom Cole signed us. We played 7 man with BC and guested with random X-ball teams throughout ‘05”

They loved playing with BC but they wanted to play X-Ball.  So they ended up leaving Bad Company and joined Team Ultimate for the 2006 season.  Both Kevin and Adam, along with their good friend and former protege Zack Wake, left Ultimate after the Chicago event in 06.  All three ended up on the Naughty Dogs professional team.  In 2008, Kevin and Adam left the Naughty Dogs and returned to BC.  Zack Wake would stay with the Dogs for a few more events before leaving for San Diego Aftermath.

And here’s where our paths would meet (we actually met on the playing field in 04 when they were with Precision and again on the practice field in 2006 when they were with Ultimate but this is really where we met and started our friendship).  They played with Red NRG’s D1 team and coached the other Red NRG divisional team (I was on that roster).  And here is another Kevin Bacon moment…

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“After balancing our coaching time between CEP and Red NRG in 2008, we received what would turn out to be a ‘too good to be true’ offer to switch to coaching Red NRG full-time and build a Birmingham Alabama based pro team. After the funding fell through on that team Craig Williams from CEP made us an offer to coach all of the CEP squads and play on the D1 team in 2009. We had a very successful year as a program in 2009.”

Kevin would hang up the cleats and move to coaching while Adam would continue to play.  They both went to San Diego Aftermath in 2010.  This would be the first time since 99’ they weren’t on the field together. They dabbled about a little after that (including a stint playing with Birmingham Prime and coaching PC Katana).  They now play in the mechanical movement that is gaining, or rather regaining, popularity.

I have worked hard at Zen to create formula’s for continuous improvement.  I have based these formulas off talks and practices with several different pro players and coaches over the years but mostly off my own experiences.  Kevin and Adam did the same:

“It wasn’t unusual for the two of us to spend an entire Saturday with a scuba tank and 1 case of paint just grinding it out on an uneven patch of grass by Adam’s house. That’s where we developed so many of our ‘low-paint’ drills. We’d run the length of the field doing 1-ball running and shooting drills until we couldn’t pick our legs up. We’d practice reloading and shooting 10 balls at a time, then refill the pod out of our hopper paint and do it again. Sliding drills, snake crawling drills, anything that we considered a critical movement in paintball.”

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Kevin Fillers with Bad Company

This sort of drilling really prepared them for X-Ball.  X-ball required more athleticism, more emphasis on fundamental skills, just more of everything really.  Their approach appeared, for the most part, specifically geared for that new type of skill set.  They had a notebook full of drills, some of which are in my notebook.  It was this mindset that helped them prepare others since they had lived it.

So if you ask them what they think a young player needs today, they are quick to respond.

“There are three big things a player has to have in order to advance quickly in paintball. Those three things are athleticism, mental toughness, and resources.” Adam says.  Kevin just smiles and shakes his head in agreement.

As a coach, you have to be able to recognize the strengths and shortcomings of your players.  That equation isn’t easy. But there are certain factors you can find in players that make it easier.  I asked Kevin and Adam what they thought are the skill sets a successful paintball coach should possess.

“An acquaintance merely enjoys your company, a fair-weather companion flatters when all is well, a true friend has your best interests at heart and the pluck to tell you what you need to hear.”

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Adam in the NXL 2v2

Kevin leads off, “I think a successful paintball coach needs 2 traits beyond anything else. One, an in depth understanding of the game and two, the ability to articulate the information to wide range of personalities. Paintball is such a strange game in the fact that there aren’t clear measurables for what makes a ‘great’ paintball player like there are in traditional sports. If you are a football coach, the best running back is probably the fastest, the best lineman is probably the strongest. In paintball, it’s a blend between paintball IQ and athleticism.” Adam quickly adds, “Sometimes a slower guy that is a great communicator and survivor is a better fit situationally than putting the 5 fastest guys on the field. I think being able to figure out how to push the right buttons on each player to get the most out of them was a big part of our success as coaches. Some players need to hear ‘Get me that kill on the break or plan on riding the bench for the rest of the event’ while others need to hear ‘Shake that point off, you’re my guy and I want you on the field.’

“I know some of the people we coached are probably thinking, I don’t recall ever getting the gentle version from Kevin & Adam in practice, and in a lot of ways, that is true.” Kevin says with a grin. “No one got the carrot at practice; we preferred the stick. And that was by design. With the mental toughness required to be competitive at high level paintball, we always wanted practices to be a pressure cooker. I’d much rather have someone melt down at practice so we could create a teaching point than make practice all rainbows and butterflies then have our weaknesses come to the surface at a tournament.  It was always our intention to push people to that edge because the great players shift into 6th gear and the weak players blame the coach and quit. And if anyone doesn’t believe that, let me know when someone new starts winning pro because last time I checked, it’s primarily the same ice in the veins, take no prisoner, ruthless play that has been on top since the mid-2000s.”

I’m inclined to agree with that last assessment.  I am often quoted as saying “I will take the team that shot 100 cases at practice over the team that shot 20” or “The other team is grinding still, why are you thinking about leaving this field?”  It requires time, determination, and a bank account.  But besides that, what else do they think are skill sets most players these days are overlooking?

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“Communication is a bit of a cliché response, but it couldn’t be more true,” says Adam.

“Going a step further though, I think it is being a complete student of the game. It still blows my mind to watch pro players make decisions with seemingly no regard to the score, body count, and time remaining in the match. If you are in an X-ball match, and you don’t look at the clock and score before every point you play, you are a moron. Just taking that moment to understand all of the related variables, you can cut your decision making down to a fraction of choices,” adds Kevin.

Authors note**Now THAT I can get behind since that is part of my equation in the pit as well.  Glad these guys are bringing their A game to this talk…

But that is only a finite part of the calculation.  And they know this so I asked what they thought  an individual player’s biggest hurdle in competitive paintball was.  They cut to the quick on this one.

“For youngsters, it has to be resources. Lets be real, paintball is an expensive sport like racing, and if you don’t have the financial support to be out there most weekends, it will be very difficult to climb the ranks young. Same reason why most NASCAR drivers come from money. It’s a lot easier to get your 10,000 hours if you can start early and someone else is footing the bill.  Despite the economic hurdles that will always create an uneven playing field in luxury sports, there has never been an easier path to advancing through the divisional ranks than today. When we were coming up, there weren’t BKi, Youtube channels, and GoSports streams of the events (or Zen bloggers for that matter). We had to piece it all together in a time when the sport was rapidly evolving. Now, since paintball strategy and format has somewhat plateaued, any player has access to relatively the same amount of knowledge. It’s just up to the player to put in the sweat equity and hold themselves personally accountable for improving their game.”

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Adam showing how drills for run and gunning pay off

Recently, I had asked Kevin and Adam to come say “hi” at a recent CEP off weekend practice.  I thought it would be a good idea to just bang on a non-layout weekend in a fun environment, do some team building, eat some good food and remember why we do what we do.  The Kevin and Adam part of the cocktail was to make sure they were grounded in reality!  And it didn’t disappoint.  I asked them to say a few words to the current iteration of CEP and they did great.  So, for this Gun Fu article I thought I would ask them what they believe is the one thing most divisional teams are missing today.  There was no hesitation in the answer from Kevin.

“Personal accountability – we hate to be the guys piling on this generation about being ‘soft millennials’, but we just don’t see the same level of intensity and accountability when we’re around lower divisional teams. We don’t think it is possible to advance in this sport without being able to accept harsh criticism. So my advice to any up-and-comers is the next time you receive criticism in practice, don’t make an excuse or try to explain away what happened just say ‘That’s on me’ and don’t make the same mistake again. Own your mistake, learn from it, and evolve as a player.”

This!  This times 1000!

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Kevin in the ole CEP days

Okay – I went into a quick lighting round but if you have ever been around Kevin and Adam for any amount of time, drinking a beer and shooting the stuff – that can turn into an all-day affair.  So here we go!

Tell us more about the Mechanical league you guys are competing in now? How did all that come about?

Kevin – “Oh man, we love some mechanical paintball. We definitely prefer mounds over hyperball and woods, but I’ve found the format as a whole to be extremely refreshing. When Tim Montressor re-packaged this classic format in 2017 with the Iron City Classic, we didn’t have any idea it would create this amount of momentum, but I decided to play it with Bad Company just as an excuse to get a break from the 2v2 training and visit with my old teammates. Needless to say, I could have done without tearing my hamstring in the finals, but I still really enjoyed the weekend as a whole. We’ve played all 3 ICC’s with Bad Company and we competed in the inaugural ICPL with the Saints (a reboot of Shawn Terry’s old early 2000s squad).”

“We are curious to see how this goes over the next few years though because this classic movement is like watching the evolution of paintball happen again at 10x the speed. At the 2017 ICC, every team was a throw together team and everyone was playing with either electros at 5.5 or antique auto-cockers. By 2018, you were already seeing the teams traveling to practice on the field, playing with their own private-label modern mechanical guns, and by 2019 I don’t think you can deny that it is considerably harder to field a competitive throw together squad. What I hope is that the level of play doesn’t increase to a point where it starts to scare away the weekend warriors.”

As players who played prior to and during the advent of X-ball and now playing mechanical, what is something that has remained consistent?

Adam – “For me personally, it’s the love of just putting it on someone. I don’t care if it is on the NXL center court or at a local scenario game, I just don’t think I can ever get tired of unloading on someone and watching them have a meltdown.  The bigger the meltdown, the better!”

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Adam playing mechanical ball recently

What is something you think paintball helps teach?  In other words, what’s something a player/individual can learn from the sport?

Kevin – “One of my biggest takeaways from paintball was just learning team dynamics. Little things like understanding what the good vibe feels like when you have the right team built and conversely understanding what toxic attitudes look like and how they can be cancerous to a team. When I got into business consulting was when I really realized how much my paintball coaching was going to apply to “adult life”. It’s funny that the same *^$%y attitudes that got people cut from teams are the same attitudes that get people fired. It makes me think of those memes you see ‘un-coachable kids become unemployable adults.’ 100% true.”

What were your thoughts on the whole Damian Ryan/NXL feud?  He is returning to the NXL and the Ironmen for Chicago.

“Man that’s a tough one. As a player, I consider Damian to be one of the most talented and dynamic people to ever play up the middle in the Xball era so I hated to see him step away from the field, but I think he made one hell of a miscalculation with how he voiced his displeasure with the current state of the industry. There are only a few ‘power players’ left in the industry and throwing a digital middle finger up to their joint venture (the NXL) pretty much ended how I thought it would.

Believe me, as two people who committed a lot of years to this sport, we would have loved nothing more than to have seen it end up as an X-Games sport with the financing power to make a lot of people full-time athletes, but that just wasn’t the hand we were dealt. Between some bad financial choices by the big companies pre-2008, a global recession, the end of paintball gun innovation years, the creation of airsoft, and a hard to watch sport for the casual spectator, the industry was destined for a significant setback after that many years of exponential growth. Personally, I would have preferred this happening a few years later (not at the peak of my playing career), but it was coming none the less.

I’m sure a lot of people will consider me a ‘homer’ since I played with Bad Company, but I think Tom Cole is doing a lot of things right for the current state of the industry. Would I like to see $50,000 first prizes for pro again? 100% yes. Tournaments held on Huntington Beach, 1000% yes, but that was just a different era and unfortunately, I don’t think we will see those days again. For people that don’t know Tom, they need to understand that you will not find someone who has invested more years into the growth and improvement of paintball. I think that’s what rubbed me the wrong way about the internet kids going after Tom/NXL. People want to complain about cities and venues, the NXL is in Vegas and back in Kissimmee. People want to complain about prizes, the NXL offered $50,000 for a 2-man event and hardly anyone had the balls to play it.

My suggestion for anyone who wants to create change in the industry is to start a dialogue not a flame thread. Compile a list of questions and lobby Matty to do another interview with Tom. Tom has never been afraid to stand at the podium and face the hard questions and I’m sure he’d be willing to do it again.”

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Kevin making moves

What was the best piece of advice you received related to paintball and who gave it to you?

“It’s funny because probably the most influential words of wisdom that stuck with me were given to a teammate after he got bunkered at the Memphis Indoor in 2001 or 2002. Someone from OBR or Farside had just dropped the hammer on him and gave him a few extra right in the back of the head. He of course was pissed off and wanted to fight the guy when he was told ‘You know why I shot you so many times?, so you’d be thinking about wanting to fight me rather than spinning on me and arguing to stay in the game’. My friend shut up and walked off the field. I never forgot that and called it a good policy.”

What is your favorite drill(s)?  Why?

“Run-Dive-Slides: Start on the baseline of a field, run 3 steps, dive like you are diving into the snake, crawl about 10 ft, jump up as fast as you can, repeat for the length of the field. At the end, you stand up. You never lay on the field.

Without a doubt the worst drill to end practice on and that’s how we ended every practice. It did 2 things. 1 – it was a message to all of our teammates that we don’t consider practice over until the tank is on empty 2 – it was a reminder to ourselves that we want it more.”

And there you have it people.  Take it from guys who have been there and made it happen.  Have the right attitude, have the right drive, put in the work, and make it happen.

Thanks to Kevin and Adam… who knows, maybe I’ll get out there with the Ole Auto-Whopper and play some mechanical with them…

Be water my friends

Gun Fu #10 – Heart

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

– Mark Twain.

Wading into something like the unknown can be daunting, scary… most are hesitant.  Some are warriors and welcome the challenge.  There is no right or wrong approach, as long as you begin.

I’m a firm believer in heart.  I love watching those players who get on the grind, get smashed, get up and do it again, get smashed… and do it again and again.  They don’t lose, they learn! That takes heart and if the player has the right amount of it, you’ll never beat them.  You may win… but you won’t beat them.  Heart is unbreakable.

I am drawn to people of that nature and this Gun Fu article is certainly one of those people.

His real name is Jerardo…

“I go by Jerry but my mom started calling me that so it stuck and was easier for people to pronounce.”

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The author and Jerry at the range

Jerry Caro is entering his 5th season of professional paintball.  He started his pro paintball career with the Los Angeles Ironmen, jumped over to PC Katana last year, and is currently rostered with Los Angeles Infamous.”  And he just turned 25 years old.

“My Birthday was a few weeks ago on March 17th, not a bad day for a birthday since it falls on St. Patrick’s Day. “

Said with an Irish grin no doubt.

“I first got into playing paintball with one of my childhood best friends Eli. We did everything together from Pokémon cards to riding bikes just to name a few. But what sparked the idea of paintball was BB guns. We got tired of just shooting cans, so we both thought it would be awesome to be able to shoot at each other with Paintball guns instead! That was just the beginning… not knowing what would happen next. We went to the nearest Walmart and each bought a Spyder Imagine, went back to his house where he had acres of land to run around on, and shoot at each other; it was perfect.”

He became instantly hooked.  Jerry and his friend Eli would then go on to look up the closest paintball field. The very next weekend they ended up at USPN (United States Paintball Nation) in Hollister, CA (About 50 miles south of San Jose).

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“There was a team called Inflict that was there getting ready for a tournament they called the World Cup we knew nothing about…” he says with a laugh.  That’s where he met future Royalty/Ironmen teammates Al Fernandez (currently on the Ironmen), Danny Ibarra, Toke Hamil, and Jason Vitalich.

“They were all guys I looked up to and wanted to play like.  They all were kind enough to teach me how to play the game.”

Jerry is a lot like many of us.  His love of the game is obvious and he happily explains it.

“I love so many things about paintball; one being that it’s constantly challenging. It drives me to become a better person/player/friend/teammate.  Paintball gives me life; it’s an escape for me. Nothing beats the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, and the lessons I’ve learned from this sport I’m so passionate about.”

Hey but it isn’t all fun and games.

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Fun and games – Left to right: Sean, Zen, Timmy (Katana), Jerry, and Jason

“Sometimes politics get in the way and can cause it to lose some of the fun at times but I try to ignore that whenever that kind of stuff happens.”

But it wasn’t always about paintball.  No, our hero was quite the football player for a time, even playing in college!

“I’ve played Football from the age of 7 all the way up until college. I was able to somewhat balance the two and make it work between Football and Paintball most of the time. I took a few years off from Paintball to focus on school and football. Being in shape for football and then transitioning back into paintball wasn’t what I remembered. I felt stronger/faster but I just had to get used to the agility movements again.

Okay, so we know how it started and why.  But what about becoming a professional in the sport?  How did that happen?  Was that the plan all along or did it just kind of happen?

“My paintball journey to the professional ranks was something I never had in my head and it wasn’t really a goal of mine. I just love to compete and be the best I can possibly be. Every time I went out to play, I wanted to get better and learn something new. I would work on my weaknesses from snap shooting left handed to running and shooting left handed until my left side felt just as comfortable as my right. It didn’t matter if I went to the field without paint or even a gun…”

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*Author’s note – pay close attention to this next part – remember we were talking about Heart?

“… I would literally play pretend with a paintball squeegee. I would ask the Ref if I could play (without a gun) and I didn’t care if I got shot.  The goal was to get as close to the opponents and make them surrender.  I had to figure out ways to be sneaky and communicate since I couldn’t shoot back.”

WHAAAT?!!!  Awesome…

And the motivation?  Where did it come from?

“I would work at my local paintball field and Ref all day Saturday to be able to play on Sundays. I remember playing a 7-man tournament and I only got to play a few points.  I was sat a lot and not being able to help lit a fire in my heart and since that day I played as much paintball as I possibly could so that wouldn’t happen to me again. After that, my game started to improve.  I had always heard from my teammates or friends “Dude you’re going to go pro someday.” I wouldn’t even think anything of it.  I’d just continue to play the game I love.”

So how did it eventually happen?

“That day of becoming pro was starting to pop up in my head when the Ironmen and Royalty merged into one team. The Men would practice at Santa Clara paintball, my local field in San Jose, California. I was on Royalty division 3 at the time and we got to play the Ironmen a couple times and I knew we had to bring it to them.  We weren’t just going to let them smack us around because they’re Pros. Shane Pestana was the coach of the Ironmen at the time.  I honestly didn’t really know much about him because I was so in tune with focusing on my game.  I guess he started to notice and saw something in me that he liked…”

What do you think he noticed?

“I don’t know what it was, you’d have to ask him yourself!” he says laughing.

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Jerry mentions a moment from the 2014 World Cup that he recalls vividly.  The Ironmen had just lost to Tampa Bay Damage in the semi-finals.  Jerry had been in the pits during the match.

“I remember the looks in all the guys faces after the loss. So many emotions from tears, frustration, and their heads down. I could tell how disappointed they were. I went up to Shane gave him a hug and he told me “Be ready next year kid”.  Words I wasn’t expecting!

And that started the fire.

“I’ll tell you what, I was ready that moment! Little did I really know what he meant but I felt like I was ready.”

That next year during the off season, Jerry got an invite to come out to Camp Pendleton in order to practice with the Ironmen. He was anxious the entire car ride down to San Diego (9 hour drive) and didn’t know what to expect.

“That all went away once we were on the field playing paintball. I thought I had a decent weekend of practice. They ended up losing a guy by the name of Steven Pits. I think he injured himself going into the Dallas event.  Shane calls me two nights before the event, “Hey kid, so here’s the deal.  We need a guy but I need to know now if your able to go”.

And with that, Jerry donned the shield.  Shane put it in perspective for Jerry that very night on the phone when he told Jerry, “Don’t thank me… it only gets tougher from here on out!”

“It was a blessing and something I will cherish till the day I die.”

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Jerry and his lovely sister… and some guy.

Jerry is one of the most humble guys I know and incredibly self aware.  He pushes himself all the time.  He wants to do well in ALL things, not just paintball.  Interestingly enough, he encourages everyone else too.  He genuinely wants everyone to do well, be happy, and live a good life.  He’s accountable, almost to a fault.  He’s powerful that way, at least in my mind.

I asked him, like I do all the Gun Fu professors, what is the best advice you have received for your paintball life?

“The best advice I’ve received was – have fun, enjoy it and play the way you know how to play. It wasn’t so simple for me, Paintball is a mental game and I would put too much pressure on myself and that wouldn’t help me to a certain extent. I notice when I just play the game the way I know how to play and have fun, my mind felt clearer. I clear my head of anything negative,  any doubts I have I will think as if I am back home at my local field playing and having fun.  No pressure. That mindset helps me focus on the task at hand. That doesn’t mean don’t work hard… it means work smarter. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself to the point where you’re just beating yourself up. For the longest time, in my professional career, I would put too much pressure on myself. I would worry about getting shot, making a mistake, being overly aggressive or not aggressive enough. I would hesitate and start second guessing myself… That hurt me and my play time. Recently, I started to take a different approach. I now think back to why I started and everything I have done to be in the position I’m in today, realizing I’m doing what I love at the highest level.  Now I just need to apply everything I’ve worked for and learned along the way and play the game the way I know how to play.”

Honesty and humility… awesome.  This is why I love this guy.

So what drill does Jerry love to do?

“There isn’t a drill I don’t like doing if it’s going to benefit me and my game.  If it does, then it’s going to benefit my team. It’s important to have a goal going into any practice and life in general for that matter.”

See what I’m talking about?  But I digress… come on, give us one.

“My favorite drill would probably be 2v2.”

Really?  Why?

“It’s a great drill because you pick a buddy and it’s you and him against two other guys and you have to communicate. Once you shoot one, you immediately have the advantage. You let your teammate know ‘hey he’s on me’ so he can make a move and close it out. I also like the fact that, if you end up being the 1, you have to keep your head on a swivel.  It’s challenging but rewarding if you figure out a way to beat them.”

Let’s give them what they want.  Let’s talk about the Skeleton crew… You’re new team Infamous.  How is that going?

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“Joining Infamous I didn’t know what to expect honestly.  But change is usually good for the most part. I knew some of those guys have been playing for a while and I felt like I could learn something from them and them from me. I’m really confident that this team has what it takes to win and be a top level team. I love how many people doubt us.  I’m really looking forward to how the season goes and I know we will progress every time we play together.”

Let’s get the ‘infamous’ Thomas Taylor head shot moment out of the way (see what I did there?)  What was going through your head at that moment (besides a couple of .68 caliber Tylenol gel caps)?

Laughing “Man… let me tell you, my lights went out for a second or two!  I took a jump shot over the fifty snake.  I knew I was able to shoot the snake side can from that side of the field since it was higher. Everyone on the team knew we had to score big so everyone knew we needed to put points up on the board. There was one guy left.  It was Scott Coleson, my former teammate and great friend of mine at this point.  We all smelled blood in the water and wanted to get the last guy but I was the one who got the worst of it getting shot by Thomas! We have practice coming up so who knows maybe I’ll get some payback… just kidding” he chuckled.

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Jerry getting the best of his new teammate Thomas Taylor last year…

Any final comments?

“Shout out to all the people who have helped me get to where I am. I couldn’t have done it alone that’s for sure. And to my mom and family for always supporting me. Much love!”

Gun Fu #8

If I have said it once, I have said it one hundred thousand times…Commitment, belief, and a positive mental attitude are all aspects one must possess in order to become a success, whether you’re in sports, in business or, what have you.  Now, I have a tendency to begin a lot of my blogs with a quote.  Here’s one; I believe it was Muhammad Ali who said, ” It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

Not many of us can say we have won a National paintball event, much less two or more, or even more impressive, the World Cup.  But that’s exactly what the subject of this Gun Fu blog did.  And after reading this, I think the quote will make more sense.

Born in the small town of Madisonville, Louisiana and raised just outside of New Orleans, Stuart Ridgel will celebrate his 28th birthday later this month.  And just like a good many of us ballers, it all started at a birthday party…

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World Cup Champion Stuart Ridgel of the Gulf Coast Hurricanes

“I was around 10 years old when I first played paintball. I was invited to a childhood friends birthday party. I remember one game we played capture the flag and I grabbed the flag from the center 50 area and ran it back to our starting area without getting touched. I thought I was invincible at that moment in time, I was praised for doing that by my friends and the parents. That was my first experience with paintball, it was a positive experience.”

When talking to Stuart (Stu as his friends call him), its obvious he has a love for learning as well as sharing.  It’s pretty contagious actually.  But there is no doubt he is competitive.  And he is a truly honest and humble guy.

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Belief

“I played rec sports throughout my childhood so I enjoyed competing and I was always very competitive. When I made my way to high school I played a season of football and didn’t play much probably because of my size mainly, then I tried out for baseball and didn’t make the team. I was already playing woodsball quite a bit and dabbling in speedball playing a couple local tournaments. After my experience with high school sports, I wanted to do something where I could actually contribute to a team and compete. That’s when I really started to play speedball a lot more, I was playing with guys around the field older than me and actually shooting them. I thought this is awesome I can beat grown men and hold my own, it didn’t matter how big or how strong I was. Then at the end of 2004, at my home field 10 minutes down the road from my house, the New Orleans Rock-It-Kids hosted a tryout because they were moving into Xball from 10-man. For the Rock-It-Kids to be that close to my house I think I was just destined to play paintball. I was 14, tried out and they picked me up because they saw potential and could mold me. At our first D2 PSP event LA SoCal Open 2005 we won first place.  I only played maybe 4-5 points, but I was hooked. First time flying in an airplane, traveling halfway across the U.S. with older guys to play paintball. I was in love.”

In case you missed it, Stu and his team the Gulf Coast Hurricanes won the Division 2 World Cup back in November.  And they did it in an impressive manner.  After their first match which they tied, they found their rhythm.  They finished the prelims with a 3-0-1 record landing the 3rd place seed headed into Sunday (right in front of another team who had a pretty decent coach… but I digress).  They would dispatch their first opponent 6-2 in the Ochos followed by a mercy rule win (6-1) over the 2018 NXL Atlantic City Champions Carolina Crisis.  They would follow that win up in the semis with another mercy rule will of 5-0 setting up their greatest challenge of the event.  *Side note – Yours truly was coaching the team in the pit right next to them most of Sunday morning. The composure these guys showed was awesome to behold.  A back and forth match, the ‘Canes were triumphant in the end winning 4-3.

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Big show

“I always wanted to start my own team and have control of a team or organization. After experiences with other organizations that had policies and practices I didn’t agree with, I knew I wanted to call the shots one day and have more control. Being one of the youngest on these other teams, I didn’t really have a voice yet but I knew I didn’t agree with the way things were. I eventually stopped playing with them and looked for something else.

Then a couple years later after Aftershock and way too many 13 hour drives to Chicago. I decided I was going to start a team of my own. I hosted tryouts in 2015 and we had probably 30 something players (including almost all of the core D2 players) that formed the NO NAMED TEAM. I was just looking for like-minded players at this time to see what we were going to do and where we could compete. You know how paintball players come and go, we lost half of them from lack of commitment before the first season. A couple months after the initial tryouts Matt Hamilton came to me (He was already on the no named team at this time) and told me he was opening a field, Gulf Coast Paintball and wanted to help fund a team. He gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse and we agreed to name the team Gulf Coast Hurricanes and that’s how the Hurricanes were born.”

And now you know.  So Stu had seen a lot and learned a lot from teams like the Rock-It-Kids, Warped Army, and Aftershock among others (for the record, he doesn’t consider himself ever having really played professionally.)

“I only played 3 events with them (Aftershock) at the professional level. I can say I’ve been shot by a lot of pro players though”

So he took what he had learned and, partnering with Matt Hamilton of Gulf Coast Paintball in Slidell, LA, the Hurricanes were born.

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2017 NXL Chicago Champions

To understand Stu and the ‘Canes, all you have to do is ask them about their mindset coming into the 2018 season.  I think it speaks volumes about the team and their positive and confident approach.

“The team’s mindset was to compete and win at the D2 level one last year before all of us got ranked up. We felt the 2017 season had a few unfortunate things happen to us at the events (like most teams I’m sure) even with winning Chicago in 2017. We knew our group of guys had the experience and talent to compete with the best D2 teams in the league and we were ready to win.

We just needed to figure out the financial portion of the team and what we could realistically afford. Unfortunately, we could only afford 3 events during 2018 Vegas – 2nd Place, Dallas, 5th Place, and World Cup 1st Place. When you only have 7-8 players in your organization that are ready for this level and 1 is a college student with no money national paintball can get expensive.”

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Ah yes, don’t we all know it.  But the story of their win at World Cup doesn’t end there.  There is one other aspect that I think makes this a great story about a team that not only overcame adversity financially but one other thing as well… they won the event with only 5 guys!

“This was our last opportunity to play at the D2 level together and we were playing no matter what. We have played events in the past where 90-95% of points were played by 5 players with only 7 on the roster. I knew we had the stamina to run the race, we just couldn’t get hurt and luckily no one got hurt. This is a group of veterans that have put in years and have made their sacrifices to compete and win. I wasn’t really worried about only having 5, I believed that whatever was meant to happen was going to happen and it happened for us. The guys on this roster have a lot of heart and I knew you would have to drag their lifeless body’s off the field for them not to play.”

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Andrew Rodriguez, far left, played with the team on Thursday.  Not pictured is Jacob Searight who showed up Friday and played the rest of the event

Motivating yes?

But what’s next?  The team is planning on stepping up to the Semi Pro\Division 1 next season.  So what adjustments will they make and what do they feel they need to fix in order to be competitive in a division that has teams like Indianapolis Mutiny, NRG Elite, and Montreal Image?

“We need to be better at working together and communicating. We all have very good gun skills, but where a team separates themselves from the pack is their level of communication and how well they can accomplish points together. Communication is the key to success in this sports.

We’re still trying to figure out our player situation and who is looking to commit possibly new players, but our core group is still around and I know they can compete at the semipro level.

This organization needs a dedicated coach and scouting/assistant coach. The top teams have that coach they can count on. This is something that we really don’t have at practices leading to the event. We do have Jamie helping at events, I’d love to have a coach with us for practice running practices and giving us feedback. It’s extremely difficult to do that as a player.”

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Okay, so they won World Cup with 5 guys and are headed to the semi pro division for 2019… but how does Stu plan to approach the next season?  What keeps him and his crew motivated?

“My own progression and watching the people around me work hard, want to progress and get better motivates me. THE EFFORT motivates me. It’s a gratifying experience to watch someone dedicate and sacrifice so much of their time and life just to try to accomplish a goal. It motivates me to want to continue to work hard for the team, people around me and contribute to winning. Wins can come few and far between, but when you finally get it, you’re on a natural for that moment that’s indescribable. Paintball has taught me to be disciplined and if you work hard eventually you will be rewarded. It took me almost 10 years to get my third national tournament win, from 1st place Boston NPPL 2007 to Chicago Open 2017. Then 2005-2018 to finally get my first World Cup win, it takes time.”

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Stu is always one to give credit where credit is due.  What I love about the guy is how he is quick to rattle of the people he credits with his success.  He will tell you he didn’t do it alone.

“I look up to Matty Hotard old captain of Rock-It-kids for teaching me how to lead a team and play with heart. Drew Bell for always putting in the work week in and week out throughout the years and just leading by setting the example.  Then just almost all of the guys in my organization, in the league and around me that I’ve come in contact with. I try to look for, look up and be influenced by any and everyone that I can take something good away from. I like to search for little gold nuggets in everyone. I’m a strong believer that any and everyone has the potential to influence and teach you something positive, you just have to observe and listen.”

Any favorite Pros or team?  I love this answer by the way.

“No favorite pro team. I just enjoy the grind and watching great play.”

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Some other things you may not about Ol’ Stuart Ridgel.  He has been published – that’s right.  You could say he wrote the book on paintball communication (literally).  You can order it here!

https://www.amazon.com/Paintball-Communication-101-Guide-Tournament/dp/1542682398

And he has a youtube channel!  Check it out here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6msmaaRbQog521LKw1Lp_g

When you ask him about what is the one piece of advice he wish he had been given when starting out, the response is almost predictable.  Same goes for what he tells other teams just starting out.

“Communication is the most important aspect of tournament paintball. I wish this would have been stressed to me from the beginning.

I’d tell them that an okay team that can work together and has an open dialogue during the game can beat a group of good players that can’t work together any day. Study the aspects of communication and learn how to work to accomplish points together. When a player not only has the capacity to have complete field awareness for himself and know the accurate kill count, opponent’s positions, and his team count, but he can make every single teammate on the field completely field aware and understand the game situation that’s when you start to become a truly great player.”

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Here’s another thing I like about Stu.  All of you know how I emphasize the basic fundamentals of paintball.  I believe no matter how experienced you are, you need to find time to do certain drills.  After all, these are perishable skills since muscle memory can fade.  So I asked him, what is your favorite drill?

“Fundamentals – Breakout shooting and snap shooting. Win the break and your probability to win the point is exponentially higher. Win a gun fight and you possibly win a tournament. I feel like if I would have won this one gunfight in Vegas this year during the very first point, we would have won that event.

There is a communication circuit drill and a communication situational drill we do that is a lot of fun and helpful, but it’d take me quite a bit to write.”

Love it.

So, in case you were wondering what it feels like to be a World Cup Champion, Stu sums it up for us.

“It feels like all the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices I’ve made to play this sport finally paid off. I’ll cherish that moment for the rest of my life. Being on the field with my brothers and sharing this moment with them will be etched in my brain until I leave this form. We have all worked hard together and that day we became Champions together! It’s something special.”

Be water my friends

Gun Fu #7

I am always looking for ways to improve. Not just myself, no, I am genuinely interested in finding a way that can translate into improving others. The pursuit of developing processes to improve an individual or team capability is important to me (why else would I do this blog?) Trust me, when you see that lightbulb go off in a players head, when he/she “gets it”, it’s a great feeling. And you can learn a lot from watching and listening to others, as well.  I also appreciate a good success story, mostly because I enjoy learning about someone else’s path, the struggles and the successes. This is one of the reasons I am more interested in Divisional player’s accomplishments and journeys. I think they bring a great perspective and insight to the process. Which brings me to this month’s Gun Fu article.

I met this player in 2016 at a WCPPL event.  We were teammates.  We were both guesting on a team and hit it off.  I learned back then that this guy was motivated and I appreciated what he brought to the pit as well as the field. We would meet again that same year, except this time across from each other in the Semi-finals of World Cup.  Afterwards, we shook each other’s hands and promised to keep in touch. And so we have.

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Mr. Stephen Mazurek

Stephen Mazurek is 27, lives in San Diego, CA, but is originally from Commerce, MI. He first stepped on a paintball field at age 13 with his church group. He already had a passion for toy guns and nerf so, it was a natural fit. This happened at Atomix Paintball, an indoor field, close to his house.

“The first game I played I did some work in the snake and decided it was my calling.”

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Snake work

Stephen plays with the Camp Pendleton Raiders these days. The program has had some big names on its roster: Ryan Martin and Toke Hamil played with the Raiders (Ironmen), along with Andrew Johnson (TMG Outlaws), Ryan Collette (Ironmen), Rich Avila and Joel Buffington (XSV), and Rodney Squires (Dynasty).  They are currently ranked 2nd in the NXL series less than 2 points out of first place.

“They started in 2012, as Camp Pendleton’s home team, which is I think when NPPL was reborn again. They had their first professional win at the New England Open in 2013.”

The road to the Raiders roster was a long one but not lacking of adventure or experience. It even involves a solid name in paintball that has been mentioned here before regarding our last Gun Fu interview:

“Prior to the Camp Pendleton Raiders, I played with quite a bit of other teams from Michigan. My friend and I started our first 3-man team, Detroit Vengeance and took 3rd at our first young guns. From there I went onto Detroit Action, then Grind, a couple guest appearances with the Farside Kids NPPL team, a few events with CRU LT as well, but then spent a majority of my blood, sweat, and tears with 810 Thug Life! Gotta throw a quick shout out to Raw Material as well!”

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The Camp Pendleton Raiders

So how did he end up with the Raiders? After all, they are based out of Camp Pendleton (its right there in the name) out near San Diego:

“…I was in somewhat of a repetitive cycle back home in Michigan. For Christmas my family took a vacation to California. My sister, brother, and I each got to pick one activity to go do while we were there and of course mine was to go to the infamous Paintball Park at Camp Pendleton. I got dropped off at this awesome venue, with 4 turfed fields, complete with pits, air stations, gun racks…and no one to play because of the holiday weekend (the recreation side and tournament side are almost two different worlds). Luckily two now good friends, Fran and Nikki showed up, along with a couple walk-ons and we got to play a few 3 on 3’s. By noon everyone was done and as I was getting ready to call my dad. Nate Schroeder (former Ironmen, currently Infamous) showed up and Nikki introduced me. We had a good drill session and after he invited me to experience San Diego down in Pacific Beach; let’s just say I had too much fun followed by another awesome day at the Paintball Park! About a week later there was a post for a Combine at the Paintball Park. That was my sign. I talked with my parents and they were very supportive. So I drove out with all my savings and nothing but a dream. It was a 3 weekend long combine and by week 2 the Camp Pendleton Raiders claimed me as one of their own!”

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Stephen and Nate

Think about that? When this guy decides to commit, he commits! That is truly believing in yourself and your dreams. So I decided to test him, to really see what he was about. Without fail, he showed a maturity and straight forward thinking I find rare these days. I pressed him about the Raiders’ record in the NXL’s semi pro division. They struggled in that division but saw some success in D2 in 2016 with two Sunday appearances.

However, they went back to Semi Pro in 2017 and struggled again. This year, Stephen and the Raiders have been competing in NXL’s Division 2 and started the season off right winning the first event of the year in Las Vegas followed by two Sunday showings in Texas and Atlantic City. So I asked him about that decision process.

“It unfortunately was an easy decision to make. Our team seems to do a small rebuild every year, which is why we are always on the bubble of Division 2 and Semi-Pro. I’ve learned the hard way multiple times to take it slow. Baby steps. Forcing ourselves to compete at a level we are not ready for, can hurt a lot more than it will help. Although, I am always one to push for us to play at the highest level possible but, if it is not productive, it will not be beneficial. The gaps between divisions can be a great one. Not always for an individual but, for a team it can be and you have to do what is best for the team.”

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So what’s the big plan? What are the aspirations for himself and the Raiders?

“Of course my aspiration for myself and the Raiders is to compete on a professional level one day but, besides that, it’s really to just continue a forward, positive progression to being the best we can be, whether it is on or off the field. I think that is the most important thing.”

I love that answer… forward progression and being the best we can be on and off the field.

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Epic photo

Now that we have a baseline, let’s get into the nitty gritty. Let’s find out what makes Stephen tick. What does he love about the game? What does he hate about the game? Again, he approaches the questions with a well thought out and mature answer.

“Wow, tough question. What I love and hate is the same thing and that is how amplified every detail in paintball can be, yet you only have control over so much. The fact that I can work to have the best snapshot, but my paint can still bounce. You can have perfect game plans but, if you’re team doesn’t work together, they will fail. Win an event, but not know exactly how it happened. On the opposite end you can have had a bad shot but, the paint will break when it counts. Bad game plans but, if the team puts in the effort they can be executed to success. Or lose an event and know every detail why. It’s a constant battle from event to event, weekend to weekend, even day to day, to achieve perfection without knowing all the answers. Once you do achieve that win, it’s impossible to replicate even though it just happened and you can replay it all exactly how it happened in your head. Long story short, the path is always changing. I love it and I hate it, but that’s why I stay on it.”

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Excellent. So how does Stephen “stay on it”? How does he train? What does he as a player focus on? What are his strengths/weaknesses?

“I really focus on game plans which turns into both my strength and weakness (funny how that works). I have a good ability to understand the whole plan and what the next step should be to complete it. That brings on the stress of worrying about a lot more things than myself. So I have a constant battle of staying focused in my own mind, while still thinking about the team. Although it’s not a bad thing, there is already a lot one has to do to play at 100%. Adding on extra thoughts just makes it that much more difficult, but when the team needs answers, it’s nice to be able to give valuable input with the overall team in mind and not just what I can do better to win.”

So, what are some of his favorite drills to run? Why? How do the Raiders prepare for an event?

“I do these drills I call “advanced tactics” because it sounds cool but, it’s really just one, two, or three shot drills. Unlike normal one or two shot drills, you do them with the full intensity of a game. Accuracy and speed are both important. I create each “advanced tactic” based on what I think I need to work on. Because no two points in paintball are the same, why should the drills be? For example, the Atlantic City layout I played back center, mostly shooting snake side. So I set up two targets. One for the second dorito on the snake side and one for the corner. I would call the 5 seconds just like the point but only have two shots to hit the targets. Come off the gate full speed and try to hit them in the right time with two shots. If I can do that, imagine what I can do at the full 10.5 bps! I create these for running and shooting to a bunker where I know a player is usually posted, or an odd snap shot (like completely wrapping a corner to put one ball at the back center) on a layout that would be really beneficial to have in my arsenal”

This is somewhat reminiscent of a Bruce Lee thought…

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Stephen isn’t shy about who he admires or wishes to emulate.

“Ryan Greenspan. Even though most people know me for playing the snake side, I really pride myself in my ability to be a utility player and I think Ryan is the best utility player out there. He can play all the spots with great precision and can go from the snake side to dorito side and back in the same match without hesitation.”

If there was is one piece of advice you could give to up and coming players, what would it be?

“Be the best YOU can be for the TEAM. I don’t mean be selfish. What I mean is that everyone’s perspective or reality of 100% time, contribution, and, dedication to paintball is NOT the same. As long as you are giving 100% that is all that matters and you will get to where you want to go. I show up early to drill because I have the time, I spend less money on paint because I don’t have extra to spend, I fill extra pods for my teammates, but will play every point at practice if they let me. Do everything you can to be the best individual, always.”

Wise words my friend.  Very wise indeed.

Thanks to Stephen for the back and forth and best of luck to him and the Camp Pendleton Raiders as they prepare for Chicago and World Cup!

Be water my friends….

Gun Fu #6

Aristotle used to say that good habits formed at youth make all the difference.  And he couldn’t be more accurate.  This is especially true when referring to this episodes’ subject of Gun Fu.

I first met this player in Dallas TX at the 2015 PSP Dallas Open.  We didn’t talk much as we were too busy trying to take each other’s head off on the main field for 1st place in Division 1/Semi Pro paintball.  It was a mud fest.  However, Seattle Uprising had gone completely undefeated that very first event of the season and they weren’t going to be denied.  They tied it up with 7 seconds on the clock, took us into overtime and won the point.  They would go on to the first NXL finals match in D1/Semi pro at the Great Lakes Open undefeated as well but lose a hotly contested match to Distortion 2-1.  That was their only hick up as they took first at Virginia Beach (losing only one match to AC Dallas) as well as World Cup (undefeated).  Quite a year to play Division 1 paintball and only lose two matches the entire season!

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Alex Gray of Seattle Uprising

The next time I would meet Alex Gray of Seattle Uprising, was at a WCPPL event held in Las Vegas in 2016, except this time, we would be teammates.  My friend Shane Pestana had invited me out to play with a team he was helping out that season.  Alex was asked to help too.  You come to realize that Alex is quite the competitor and what was surprising to me was how similar we thought about attacking the field.  Alex has that youthful energy but there is wisdom in his search for knowledge.  I dig that.

His history is quite fascinating actually.  You may not know this, but the young man is a New Yorker.  His interest in paintball started after seeing paintball on ESPN.

“I think it was 2006?  I saw an NPPL tournament on ESPN and then I started watching the indoor Smart Parts League on ESPN.  Once I realized this was an actual sport, I wanted to know more about it.  My uncle and I started looking for paintball places in Long Island.  We landed at Cousins Paintball in New York and the rest is history.”

Oh, not so fast young man.  Much more history to discuss.  Like many of us in Paintball, we didn’t start there but came from many other sports.

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Making the read

“Sports are a big part of my life.  I played football and lacrosse.  I was a receiver on offense and corner back on defense.  In lacrosse I was a midfielder.”

And also like many of us, there were many different aspects that drew him to our sport.

“The actual sport aspect of the game – scoreboards, jerseys, intensity, and people having a good time.  That really caught my attention.  Playing indoor, it was new and exciting… shooting paint at each other.  I stayed with this sport for many reasons, the people being the main one.”

But it was that first tournament experience that made all the difference.  And listening to Alex tell the tale, you know it was the catalyst that fuel injected that drive of his.

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“My first tournament was a 3 man young guns.  Me and two dudes who I thought could play ended up playing as walk-ons.  We only won one game that day. I was hiding most of the day and not engaging.  But that one game we won…we won because I consciously made a decision to move and bunkered a guy at the 50 and I will never forget it.  It opened my mind.  You have to launch if you want something to happen.  That moment changed everything for me.”

The spark had now been lit.  Alex would continue to grind with different teams from around the New York area never really doing better than 2-2 at events.  He wanted to go pro.  So, in 2014, he was a senior in high school and made the decision to go for it.  He was flying out to Oceanside California and trying out/practicing with the Los Angeles Ironmen.  That’s where the opportunity arose that would take him in a slightly different geographical journey.

“When I would fly out to play, I would stay with Nate Schroeder (a Seattle Washington Native and former Ironman) and I became closer with him. There was talk about how some of the Ironmen were going to go play the upcoming CXBL (Canadian Xball league).  The first event was June 28th and I graduated the day before the tournament.  I skipped my graduation party to be there.  Now that I think about it, I missed a lot of social events to pursue what was, in my mind, a big deal.  So, I get to the tournament thinking Marcello and Alex Goldman and those guys would all be there.  But they weren’t, though some were.  Brandon Cornell, Toke Hamill, Danny Ibarra… and then there is this redheaded guy, Graham Arnold.  And I’m like, who is this redhead guy talking to me?  He didn’t really stand out but afterwards he asked me if I would want to join Uprising in D1. I had just been cut from Avalanche D1 team because I wasn’t able to make a lot of the practices because of high school lacrosse practice.  I had always looked past them (Uprising) but decided to play the West Coast Open with them.  That’s when I realized how awesome Graham was.  I mean, he really is one of the best players in the pro division. We did well, went 4-0 prelims… This was a first for me because in divisional paintball, my teams always went 2-2 (saw better success with Wolfpack).  But I just remember, man, Uprising had calculated game plans, we were shooting people on break… we got 5th that event and then 2nd at World Cup.  That’s when I realized that paintball was going to be a profession for me.  If we had beat TMG (we got a major), we might have been pro in 2015.   Our first tournament win came against Birmingham Prime in D1 finals at Dallas.  (Yeah, I know… thanks a lot.  While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a paper cut and pour lemon juice on it lol)”

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One thing I love about Alex is his sincerity.  He really loves this sport and he counts himself blessed by the relationships he has in it.  When you talk to him, you know he genuinely wishes to share.  He is a great ambassador.  When he and I discussed his playing style, he gets to the point.  I asked if he felt he was a specialist, for instance on the snake side.  He said he hates playing snake.  I followed up and asked him what he felt his strength was on the field to which he went right back to that fateful day of that first tournament.

“Getting down the field.  I prefer getting to the 50 and it doesn’t matter which 50 it is.”

So what helps you make those reads?

“Those other sports I played.  Being a cornerback and slot receiver helped me recognize how to use speed and quickness to get something done.  Being able to combine that with the mental aspect of paintball… reading the field… seeing the move.”

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But with every strength a player has, there is always something they wish they could shore up.  And Alex is brutally honest about it.

“The mental aspect of the game is a work in progress for me; knowing what to do in low body situations, not piecing it together fast enough, not just being the front player.  The chess match…”

I responded by saying, “Processing speed right?  The flow of the game and recognizing where it is headed and what best to do based off the given data.”

“Right.”

That, to me, is what will continue to make Alex an even better player than he is today.  He recognizes that, even if you are playing at the highest level, you can never settle.  You can always improve.  A young man after my old heart.

So what advice would he give an up and comer?  What advice would he share if he could only give one piece of it?23167969_10155411711401634_7166771274875806776_n

“I remember talking with Matty Marshall… he told me that the only chance you have is to be so good at what you do that people are forced to notice.  Once you start to live life on that spectrum, it doesn’t matter what people think.  It’s an all in approach. You have to put in the work.  You have to put everything into it and you will notice it around you, you will start to see the changes, whether in yourself or those around you taking notice.

Good stuff right there.

But being the sharing type, Alex doesn’t stop there.

“Play against people who are better than you every opportunity you get.  There is no quick or better way to get better.  When you get the @#^* kicked out of you, you either have to quit or get on their level.  I lost that fear little by little.  Getting bunkered 10 times in a row at age 12, once you become accustomed, you lose fear.  Fear holds so many people back.  The psychological effect of fear stops most people because we ponder the outcome.  When you star reacting without fear, that’s when the magic happens.  That’s when you see those game breaking moves.  It’s a long time coming though.  Your experiences in practice lead to this.”

So, as with every Gun Fu article, I asked Alex’s favorite drill.  Without hesitation, as in I almost didn’t finish the question, he said, “One on ones!”

And he shared his reasoning too:

“You are forced to think the most.  Everything gets worked, your snap shot is tried, your athleticism is tried, your brain, the fear of being exposed, people watching you play is faced…it’s just an all-around work out.”

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Alex interviews Ryan Greenspan of San Diego Dynasty for his podcast

I like the way this guy thinks.  And you should too.  If you would like to hear more from Alex, you can!  He has his very own podcast that you can check our regularly.  Its called the AG21 Show.  Don’t wait for a Zen article with him, listen to him directly (but keep reading Zen).  Check it out here

 

I have enjoyed getting to know Alex the last two years and I expect great things from him and the rest of Uprising.  I want to be the first to congratulate him on his upcoming graduation in May from San Diego St.  And I want to thank him for his time.

Be water my friends!

Zen

Gun Fu #5

Imagine winning the series Championship for the semi pro division in the NXL.  Now imagine being asked to be the latest and newest NXL Pro team.  You will now step out on the field the following season playing against the likes of Bobby Aviles, Archie Montemayor, and Ryan Moorehead.  Your opponents are now teams named Houston Heat, Edmonton Impact, and San Antonio X-Factor.  What would that be like?

This is the scenario PC Katana’s very own Collin Cherry found himself in.  The 24-year-old Memphis TN native took some time to speak with me for this edition of Gun Fu.  Collin and I have known each other for a long time now and I was really pleased he agreed to this interview.  He is most certainly one of the most down to earth guys you will meet in professional paintball.

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But where did Collin’s paintball career begin?  It wasn’t your standard birthday party like most.  He didn’t even have a gun the first time he played, much less a rental.  He couldn’t even shoot back!

“The first time I played paintball was probably in my next-door-neighbor’s yard when I was about 10 years old. He’d stand on his deck while we would run from one side of the yard to the other, tree to tree while someone would shoot paintballs at us from about 20 yards away. I wore a Motocross helmet my first time through the gauntlet” he laughed.

“I played a lot of sports growing up. I loved playing cooperative sports. Basketball, Baseball and Lacrosse were the ones I found myself playing the most. I played other sports while I was playing paintball in high school.  It was always funny explaining welts on my arms on a Monday basketball practice after a tournament. Other sports have played a big part in shaping the way I look at the game. You can compare certain situations in paintball with any other sport. You can appreciate what guys are doing in the NBA and NFL. They hit their big shot in the biggest of moments. With literally, millions of people watching sometimes. I just try emulating what they do as best I can on the paintball field.”

But what drew him away from those other sports to focus on paintball?  I am always interested in peoples answer to this question as it really gives you some insight into their psyche.  Collin’s was of little surprise.  It essentially boils down to legally shooting someone.

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“What drew me to paintball initially is what still draws me back every weekend now. Shooting someone with a paintball is just fun. You go from standing on a back deck shooting at your helpless neighbor, to dodging paint in a gun fight. The feeling never changes. It only gets more intense after each ball you see goes splat on someone. Those who have taken time off from paintball often call it, “the itch”. Because it does itch, you feel it in your bones when you haven’t tasted the paint in a while.”

No ladies and gentlemen, this does not make him a psychopath.  Quite the contrary, I would argue.  It keeps most of us from becoming one I would imagine.  But I digress…Keep in mind that Collin isn’t necessarily new to the professional division.  Some of you may remember him from when he was a member of the former professional team Chattanooga CEP.

“I try not to compare the two teams really. They’re two different squads. I’m grateful for my time with CEP. I’m fortunate to have two of my best friends, Logan and Zuppa join me from CEP.”

He is referencing Logan Landry and Mike Zuppa.  And he follows it up with an interesting point when I asked him what he felt was the biggest difference between the two squads…

“The CEP players on Katana are at different stages in their game now. We’ve seen how it can be and know what to expect now. All the players on Katana have been in tight games before. We’ve won some and lost some heartbreakers. But we train hard to recognize and execute when those situations arise again.”

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When you ask Collin about who he admires in our sport, you get a very straightforward answer:

“I admire the guys in paintball who are trying to play any tournament, and teach every clinic. No matter where it is in the world. I think Ryan Greenspan is one player who is truly a professional paintball player. Traveling the world to win paintball games. If you can do that and make money doing it, why wouldn’t you? You get to travel and play paintball. If either is crummy, at least you got to do the other.”

PC Katana has played the first three NXL events placing 14th out of 16 teams in the professional division the first two events and improving to 10th out of 16 recently at the third NXL last month in Atlantic City.  A marked improvement.  But he doesn’t mince words when it comes to the competition.  I asked him if he felt they were creating any rivalries:

“I feel like we have rivalries with the teams we play the most. Last year it was Distortion. This year we’ve played teams like Boom twice and had some good games. We practice Damage in Florida and have played them once. There’s never bad blood in our rivalries…for the most part. So, it’s really just a matter of time until we develop another good rival.  And these Pro guys don’t take kindly to new comers…” he says with a smile. “Everyone is trying to rip your head off every single point out there. I think that kind of pressure allows the toughest players to shine.”

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So what got Collin to this point and the team for that matter?  What does he bring to the equation that is PC Katana?

“I think my strengths are reading the field and putting myself in a position to break open a point. I like being able to sit back, see a breakout, then make a move from there. I like to be aggressive. I like to remain unseen. I like trying to catch someone by surprise. I’m looking for the best move in each situation. If I see a big move, I’m gonna take it. “

But there are two sides to every coin.  That’s what I really like about Collin.

“An area I’d like to improve on would be gun fighting and survivability. You’ve got to be alive to make plays.”

So how does he do it?  How does he stay sharp on the professional level?  What does he do to keep his game up and prepare for events?

“Drills.  Drills I like are running and gunning while shooting a fixed target from various ranges. 4 on 2’s, 1 on 1’s. And the classic snap shooting. I like to have an even mix of fundamentals and live action application. I like to get in a good rhythm shooting a target and then jump into a 4 on 2 drill to put the new knowledge to the test.”

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Does he have any advice for the up and comers in the sport?

“Advice I’d give anyone in paintball is to always have fun. And always play to win. Paintball will test your limits physically and mentally. Train hard, work hard. Strive for excellence. Love the feeling of winning, but don’t be afraid to lose. You see the move; take it. “

What was the best advice he ever got?

“I can’t think of any specific advice anyone has given me, but I love to watch paintball. Old Derder or Mwag kind of stuff. I tried to emulate their moves. Like Fedorv with his diving, John Richardson periscoping over a temple. They were guys I’d watch and copy. And now I’m playing them. It’s really a dream come true for me.”

See kids?  Eat your Wheaties and pay your dues.  Work hard, play hard.  The opportunity is there.  Thanks again to Colling and best of luck to him and the PC Katana Camp!

Go With What You Know (Gun Fu #4)

“Mistakes are always forgivable if one has the courage and character to admit them” – Bruce Lee

How many times have you thought to yourself, “Man, I would be good at that?” or perhaps “I bet if I were to apply what I learned over here to that thing over there, I could make it better.”  Have you ever taken something you heard or learned and applied it to paintball?  I do this all the time as there are much smarter men in this world (and no longer in this world) than me, especially regarding leadership qualities, processes, and teamwork.  In addition, there have been several instances where I applied elements from my career or job or education.  And, surprising (or not depending on how you look at it) they bore fruit in the paintball team arena.  Using what you know and have seen work, well, that just makes good sense.

In this episode of Gun Fu, we are featuring a gentleman I know who has successfully done just that.  He is the Lead Technical Project Manager for a university in the northeast and his strategies and tactics have proven to work.  He also owns Warzone Paintball & Airsoft up in Rhode Island.  Ladies and gentlemen, since Gun Fu is about getting sage advice from those in the paintball world, I give you Jeff Stein.

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Jeff Stein’s signature move

Jeff started playing paintball as a freshman in high school.  He had come across a paintball magazine and wanted to give it a go. So he convinced his neighbor to take him out to the local field.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that there was the added pleasure his younger brother, a talented athlete, couldn’t go.  Later, when that same younger brother was old enough to go with Jeff, Jeff made it an experience his younger brother would never forget.  He snuck up behind him and put one on the back of his brother’s melon.  The brother hasn’t played since.

When you ask Jeff about his sports background, you will find he played sports here and there recreationally and in youth leagues but what is truly fascinating (and makes sense) is he was more of a Chess Club guy.

Now, those of you not in the know, Jeff started the former professional team New England Hurricanes.  He started the team in 1998 and played with them until 2002.  He transitioned to team manager in 2003 and remained in this position until 2009 when the pro team folded.  He eventually retired the team name in 2011 after two seasons in D1.

“Dave Adams (Coach DA) handed me the reigns of a local team – Team Green – when he went off to serve our country in 1995. In 1999, the NPPL was coming to Boston (Slam Paintball on Cape Cod). I, and some of the guys from Team Green, wanted a team for the Boston NPPL so we went out and recruited people. I mean, a super grass roots effort (if Jeff Stein from 1998 messaged me today, I’d probably tell him not to bother, I didn’t know shit about shit). But we got lucky, we grabbed some good players and we practiced all the time. We reffed a tournament series to help raise money and we made it happen. Took 6th place.”

Afterwards, the team ended up sticking together and went on to compete at the World Cup.  Now, Jeff mentioned to me a story about being summoned to South Boston to meet with an alleged mob boss.  I want to hear this story and will to its full extent when I speak to him next.  Needless to say, the team moved on and prepared for the next season.

“For the most part, I was figuring things out as I went along. Roster changes, good events, bad events and learning through doing. Mistake-driven learning. Lotta mistakes.”

Read that last part again Zen crew. “…learning through doing. Mistake driven Learning”.  Love it.

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Photo courtesy of Sonsini Media – Jeff surrounded

“At some point – 2002, I think – I got elected to the NPPL Steering Committee and that gave me access to team owners in higher divisions. I started peppering anyone who would talk to me with questions. Rosie, Mooner, Lane Wright, Glenn Forster, Chuck Hendsch, Paul Alders, Frank Watson, Phil Dominguez and, the big one, Rocky Knuth. I’d spam the hell out of these guys with questions and anyone foolish enough to answer would get spammed even more. Rocky, he was nuts, he’d get on the phone with me and talk through issues. After practices, I’d call him and we’d go over what happened and what I should do.  Part of the reason I do the JeSSoP page* is give back because without all these people taking the time to help me, NEH probably would not have been what it became.”

*The JeSSoP page (Jeff Stein’s School of Paintball) is a private FB page where coaches, players, etc. come to exchange ideas and concepts

Before Jeff and the Hurricanes decided to embark on the Pro Circuit, they did a little scouting.  He and two of the players flew out to the NPPL Championships in 2003 to see what skill level they felt they would equate to in 7man.

“We decided we’d be pro (we were young and full of ourselves), hooked up with Redz and made the jump. I’m generally somewhat risk adverse, so I don’t know what I was thinking, but it worked. We avoided relegation in 2004 and from there we learned and started to grow.  We stayed pro until the end of 2009, always playing NPPL, sometimes playing NXL either as NYX or as NEH. We took a handful of top 4’s in NPPL, ended the 2008 season ranked 4th. Then the NPPL folded, we had a miserable year in the NXL – we sorta sucked – and I shut down the pro team.”

But the story doesn’t stop there.

“I picked up a bunch of D2 players with a few returning Hurricanes or D1 kids from NEX and created a new roster to play D1. We played 6 events between 2010 and 2011, winning one and taking top 4 two other times. Then I shut down the team and took a year and a half off. It didn’t end well. That’s probably my fault. I don’t play well with others.”

It is worth mentioning who was on that roster:  Billy Bernacchia (X-Factor), Matt Darula (187 cRew/Tampa Bay Damage), Keith DeVit (formerly Heat, currently in contention to join the Ironmen), Thomas Mantoni (187 cRew), Benny Carroll (New York Outlaws, also in contention to be an Ironman). From the looks of things, that team certainly had the talent needed to compete.

“We just couldn’t put it all together.”

So what did Jeff learn?  What did he do after this?

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Photo Courtesy of Mike Oates – A Stein Monster in it’s natural state

“… I use what I learned in running the team every day at work. Managing people, managing situations, remaining in command even when you are not in control, setting expectations, communicating.”

Coaching a paintball team and managing a paintball are not necessarily synonymous.

“I’m a manager, not a coach.”

What’s the difference?  Jeff lays it out for us:

“Coaches need to play the following roles:

  • Game Manager: Manages the clock (knows when to concede a point, when to call a timeout)
  • Head Coach: Calls plays & lines in match. Deciphers what the other team is doing and counters it.
  • Scout: watches other teams to learn what they do, or try to do, what their tendencies are
  • Trainer: works on individual skills, comes up with drills, conducts drills.
  • Administrator: sets goals and expectations, enforces accountability and follow through. Sets agendas and tracks performance

As far as traits… general organization, communication, the ability to understand people and get through to them. Anything you’d look for in a leader.”

When it comes to questions regarding success in paintball, Jeff is point blank and lets it go with both barrels.  When I asked him what he thought is the one thing a team or player needs to excel in our sport, he didn’t mince words.

“Money. I mean, I agree with drilling. I’m a big fan of drills, both individual and team. There are a ton of factors that go into it. Discipline, commitment, drive…. But paint is the lifeblood of our sport and paint costs money. If I have $1000 to spend on practice paint and you have $500, then I can shoot twice as much paint. If we assume equal organizational skill (you and I can both set up practices that are value-add and move the team forward) but I have twice the paint, I’ll get better faster.”

I appreciate the way Jeff cuts to the quick when it comes to team dynamic and improvement.

“All the other stuff are table stakes. If you aren’t committed, you don’t belong on a team. If you don’t have heart, you don’t belong in sports. If a player doesn’t have the things my team needs, I can find a player who does. So the PLAYERS need those things. The TEAM needs money.”

But again, the story doesn’t stop there.  Jeff has been managing the now Division 1/Semi Pro team, the Bay State Bandits.  They were the 2016 NXL Division 2 series title winners.  Again, that full bore honesty is on display when you ask him about how they plan on tackling the semipro division and what his feelings were regarding the series win last year.

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2016 NXL Division 2 series Champs

“It would be a lot better winning the division with two 1st places and three 5ths. Not getting that event win sucks.”

Now pay attention to this part Zen readers –

“Contributing factors? Well, I guess, to start with, we have the “four foundations” of a team – management, ownership, coaching and players. We had great practices with the New York Outlaws at Matt’s Outback in CT and with REVO and A-Team (and others) out at Paintball Adventure Park in MD.  We have a great deal with GI Sportz that provides us with a tech in the pits during matches. Half the time Alfred was just hanging out (I even remember one time he was filling pods because there wasn’t much else for him to do), but just having him there provided peace of mind for the guys. Having the All In tents, too – just little things to provide a sense of normalcy and familiarity when you are traveling.”

Summation?  My interpretation of that is the following: They are organized, have descriptive understood goals, everyone pulls their weight, the have a support structure, and they are all pulling in the same direction.  They are all on the same page.  Something 90% of most paintball teams are not.

But it was his answer to my next question that really made me understand his approach as I share this same mentality and have been preaching it for a long time.

“You build success over time. You lose in the moment.  What I mean by that is, winners overcome. Every team, every season, something is going to go wrong and you either take that and learn from it, overcome it and become better for it, or you let it overwhelm you and beat you and maybe it starts you down a death spiral.”

Bam!  See Primates and Zen followers, it ain’t just me who thinks this.

“So a winning season requires a team that is comfortable with failure-driven learning, that can deal with setbacks without losing their composure. It requires faith in the organization and the people involved. Winning is the easy part, staying the course when you don’t is hard. Look at the winners of the NXL Semi-Pro division, PCK. They took a 7th, a 4th, two 2nds and a 1st. That’s actually a tough season. If they got discouraged early, they never would have been champions. Bay State took a 4th, 5th, 3rd, 2nd and a 9th. Looking back, it’s great to have won the division but living through it, that season sucked.”

Now, those who read my blogs know how I feel about drilling.  Jeff agrees and feels that there is an “overemphasis” on point driven practices.

“I think, in general, teams should be doing more drilling. At least local to me, there is, in my opinion, an over emphasis on playing matches versus running drills.”

Addicted to Jeff’s whiskey and cigar approach, I couldn’t resist and asked him what was the best advice he had ever been given regarding our sport.

“The best way to make a small fortune in paintball is to start out with a large one.”

This stuff never gets old.

“Yeah, it’s a joke, but it’s also not a joke. If you are in this for the money, you are in the wrong sport. If you think you can break even playing tournaments, you can’t. Either do it because you love the doing or don’t do it.  I’m going to go with that. The fact is that Ronnie Butler had a profound impact on my approach to life and Rocky Knuth spent a lot of time teaching me about how to run a team, but those things didn’t break down well into soundbites.”

As we were wrapping up the interview, I wanted to understand how he was preparing the Bay State boys for the jump to semi pro division.  Which, in itself prompted another question about where we thought the biggest jump between divisions is most difficult.  This is an interesting discussion and one I have had with many.  Jeff, in the Stein way, had an opinion on it as well.

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Photo Courtesy of the NXL – Bay State on the break

“Semi-Pro to Pro is a big jump. The skill of a D1 player versus the skill of some of those top players is huge. Hell, the Bandits hire people to come give us clinics that we could conceivably be competing against next season. Then you add in the infrastructure of those top pro teams – the professional level coaching, the experience of players, the money. You aren’t just stepping up against better players, you are taking on all the inertia and establishment of the pros. BUT, I would actually say jump from D3 orD4 5-man to X-Ball. As with every transition up, you are now facing better players but with this one, you just went from an individual game-based format to a match-based format. You are introducing the idea of coaching and pit crew. You are introducing the pit. You are introducing the need to turn around quickly. That’s a lot to ingest, especially when you consider that majority of groups making that jump are younger.”

So what about the Bandits and how they will approach the new season and division?

“The same thing we’ve been doing, just hopefully doing it better. We may make some roster changes – since 187 broke up we have some local options that could help us. We’ll adjust our practice schedule. Part of my role is to be constantly evaluating things. Are we getting good practices? If not, what can we change? Are events running smoothly? If not, why not? We are lucky in that we have the independence to make changes on the fly if we feel we need to.”

Excellent.  And there you have it… a look inside the mind of a team manager. Does any of this sound familiar?  Or maybe some of this is completely new to you?  Either way, take a look at your own house and see if these comments and ideas could help make yours better.

bruce-lee

Be water my friends.

Gun Fu – Episode #3

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Zen and the Art of Paintball present Episode #3 of GUN FU

By today’s standards, big number 55 is considered one of Pro paintball’s elder statesman.  With a pedigree that reads like a who’s who of top competitive teams and a career that began at southern California’s renowned SC Village, it is no wonder Mike Paxson of the Los Angeles Ironmen is this episode’s Gun Fu focus.

It would appear we have a cousin to blame for Mike’s entry into the paintball world.  At age 15, his cousin invited him to SC Village for a day of rec ball starting out in the bamboo arena.  Mike realized that he could get “sneaky” and dispatch his opponents with the simple request of “Surrender!”  After his first victim surrendered, Mike thought to himself, “This is easy!”.  He quickly found another victim and dispatched him in the exact same manner.  Brimming with confidence, he moved on swiftly to find yet another potential victim.  However, this particular victim had other plans.  As Mike rounded the corner and asked him to surrender, fully expecting the helpless individual to do so, that “victim” simply turned and promptly blew Mr. Paxson’s face off.  “Ever since then, I haven’t asked anyone to surrender.” Said with a grin, mind you.

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Serious is as serious does

Prior to joining the Los Angeles Ironmen, Mike began his pro career with another notable name in paintball.  One who has actually birthed the career of several other famous paintball players.  The Bushwackers, led by none other than the infamous Ron Kilbourne.  Mike speaks highly of Ron, “Ron Kilbourne who was not only my mentor and coach during my time with the Bushwackers, but he was also my teammate.” Ron and Jose Palma (currently with Los Angeles Platinum) shaped Mike’s approach to the game.  They left lasting impressions on Mike and they continue to do so to this day.

When you ask him about when he knew he wanted to be pro and why, you will get a matter of fact answer, “Ron Kilbourne wanted to take the team (Bushwackers) to the next level and so I went with the decision to go pro.”  After a time, Mike moved on to join Aftershock, followed by Las Vegas LTZ and eventually landed on the Ironmen’s roster in 2007.  He has been there ever since.

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Mike with the Bushwackers

Mike is not afraid to share.  It’s in his DNA.  And that is something that, when you first meet him, you pick up on pretty quickly.  Jerry Caro of the LA Ironmen had this to say about his teammate, “There is no one like Mike Paxson.  He shoots a lot of people and is a huge threat on the field.  I just don’t like it when he’s in the snake!  That means something went wrong! (laughs)… He can play anywhere on the field.  Most importantly, he makes paintball really fun for all of us Ironmen.  He’s been at the top level for years and knows how to win.  That is one of the reasons why we are working hard to improve our game but more importantly for the team.”

Being around Mike, you realize that this “paintball thing” is pretty encompassing for him. “I always tried to make myself available to people and help out where I could. I was never afraid to get dirty and do grunt work when needed and didn’t think of myself as being any better than anyone because of my status as a pro player. I also tried to participate in anything paintball and played woodsball, played with a pump gun, played big games and scenarios even before other tournament players started to do so.”

Mike has lots of interests.  Before that fateful day with his cousin, Mike had other plans; “I wanted to be a firefighter.  And I want to fish a lot more than the average person.”

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Modern Day Pirate and fisherman

But let’s get down to the nitty gritty.  Mike has strong opinions regarding a common mistake he sees a lot of beginning players make.  “Protecting each other. It’s not just about what you see to shoot, it’s more relevant to look out for one another and even how you can help your teammates make the shots, too.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, the one drill Mike does ALL the time is simple.  “Shooting off the break.  If you can get someone off the break, you’re already ahead.”

So what is the one parting advice he has for players?  If you know Mike, this one shouldn’t surprise you; “Listen to what the more experienced players have to say, even if you don’t agree with it. You never know when you’re going to need their help down the road. Oh, and read Zen.”

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Pax and Zen back in 2011

 

Solid advice. Especially that last part.  Thanks to Mike Paxson for taking the time to speak with me and keep your eye out for the men in red at this year’s NXL World Cup.

In the meantime, since Mike mentioned laning as one of the drills he does a lot of, and keeping with the theme as of late on Zen, check out this latest laning video.

Gun Fu Episode #2

 

Abraham Lincoln said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” This certainly appears the case regarding our next Gun Fu sifu. I’ve known this gentleman for a little over 5 years now and never once during that time doubted his resolve. When he made the jump from divisional play to professional team Omaha Vicious, I was confident he would make the best of it. And he did, eventually ranking 2nd best player in the league when the PSP was keeping stats during the 2014 season. He eventually fell to 6th after World Cup but man, what a run.

Matt Sossoman’s journey to the pro ranks began when he was 10 years old in the back yard of a friend’s house shooting a phantom pump. The friend’s older brother had an automag classic which terrified the Soss but didn’t stop him from falling in love with the game.

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Glamour Shot Soss

However, it was in the locker room for a high school football try out that led Matt to pursue paintball in full capacity. And it was ultimately due to a mistake. He had left a form stating that he had passed his physical at home. The coach, a hardliner for rules and regulations, was adamant that you must have the form in order to try out. This led Matt to realize how much he loved playing paintball as opposed to football. BAM! Paintball received a new force to be reckoned with as he entered his first 3 man tournament the following week.

As paintball evolved over the years, one thing that never changed was Matt’s drive to win and his love of winning. “Winning is fun . . .” he will tell you matter of factly. So much so that he did just that his first time out, winning that 3 man tournament with his team. When asked what he enjoys most about our sport, sure enough, you see it in his answer: “I’ve had a few different thoughts about it over the years . . . from shooting people, bunkering people, playing with friends, creating friends, traveling, etc. but nothing can compare to winning.”

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Champion Soss with Kung Fu grip

The Soss Man realized quickly that in order to obtain the level of expertise it requires to be consistently competitive, you have to get out there and get after it. “I feel I excelled at gun skills. I spent hours and hours by myself working on laning, running and gunning, and snap shooting.”

That isn’t to say there weren’t obstacles. “I got over looked a lot growing up because I wasn’t the skinny guy on the team running to the snake off break or screaming down the D-side of the field. My biggest issue was my body. I could play and play and play but I wasn’t fast, I couldn’t run for miles, but I tried my hardest.”

When asked how he overcame this, once again in that matter of fact manner, he said, “I overcame it in two ways, eating better and out working everyone else. If you are out working everyone else it doesn’t matter what you are or look like, you will be better.”

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Big Head Soss from his Skill School

The road to professional paintball was paved with the corpses of several teams, none of which Matt wanted to die. “I never wanted to change teams as many times as I did but every time things were going well the owner would pull the plug on the team. There was Goldrush, Tainted, Circus Runaways, Gridlock, Cross eyed paintball, Raiden, New Jersey Jesters and then Vicious. The route to Vicious wasn’t an easy road, I had worked my whole life for this chance to obtain my first goal of playing pro. I saw they were having tryouts on PBNation which I actually missed the first set of them. I talked to Jake Topping (Team Manager) and set up a tryout for when the team went to Kick’n indoor park in Missouri. I bought a plane ticket, rented a car, got a hotel room and paid for my tryout and the rest has been amazing history. There is hands down no better two team owners in paintball than Carl and Karen Bortol.”
(Side note, I am going to argue with that last statement. As much as I like the Bortols, there is no better team owners than Prime’s very own McGowan family…. Just saying)
Matt won’t mince words when it comes to what he thinks most new/up and coming players struggle with and I couldn’t agree with him more. “Lack of drills in their preparation for events. Everyone really loves playing games and games and more games. But I can take four hours to run 4 drills and get 100% more out of my practice than someone that just plays points all the time.” Word.

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Run n Gun Soss

So, what is Matt’s favorite drill to run and why? “Snap shooting. I love to start out very simple in spots that are close then move back until I am shooting corner to corner. I am huge on making things hard on myself.   So I get three shots to hit a target, if I don’t hit the target in one of those 3 shots I will do 5-10 push-ups depending on difficulty of the drill. The best thing about snap shooting is that you can make it as hard as you want or as easy. Never move on from a shot until you have mastered it.”

I think that last sentence says a lot about Matt.

Matt Sossoman, like many of the Pros/Sifus we will interview here in Prime’s Dojo, has his own website which is a great way to learn the sport of paintball.

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Got paint Soss?

As a lot of people know I have retired from playing in 2014 with Vicious. It has really given me more of an opportunity to grow my Skills School. I started my Skills School out of what I thought was a necessity. There were so many teams around my area with no guidance on their practices or skills. There aren’t many other sports that you can work with a pro for a few hours and take what they have to offer and immediately get better.   I thought back to when I learned to play. I would have loved a guy that would take the time to help me but I learned by getting shot 20 times with unlimited rate of fire. I now coach 2 teams on a regular basis as well going to Las Vegas to coach Pr1me in division 2.   If anyone wants to check out my Skill’s School Facebook page you can search Matt Sossoman Skill School or check out this link. https://www.facebook.com/MattSossomanSkillSchool/

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Soss and yours truly being creeped on by 5 case himself

Now, have a look at a short video below showing a quick demonstration of one of Matt’s favorite drills.  I promise the production on these will get better… when I have the time to really put into them.

https://youtu.be/yaQa5aWWnkY
PS. Thank you to Matt for his guidance at the 2011 World Cup as well as this season’s opener for the NXL in Las Vegas!

Previously Posted

The Prime Dojo – Gun Fu Episode #1

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Benjamin Franklin was a pretty smart cat. He invented the Franklin stove, bifocals… he created an artificial fertilizer and charted ocean currents. He designed a flexible urinary catheter (What??!!) and swim fins. Did you know that he even designed an improved glass harmonica with spinning goblets? And, of course, he was one of the Founding Fathers, in my opinion, his greatest accomplishment.

But did you also know that he never patented his inventions or ideas? Get this… He said, “As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”

Classy.

Which leads me to the point of this post… The members of Prime and I have had numerous opportunities to learn from some great people in the paintball world. And through these years we have created lasting friendships and memories. Like Franklin, we have always felt we should give back. However, unless you were physically at the Prime Farm, these gifts weren’t readily available. That being said, we have decided to take it to another level. Hopefully this is successful. Without further ado, I am proud to present to you Prime Paintball’s first edition of “GUN FU”!

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Waaaasssssaaaaahhh!

To kick things off, it just made sense to have this young man as our first resident SME (Subject Matter Expert) or Sifu. He is someone who wants to give back too and has been doing so with his BKi paintball page. I had the opportunity to meet Grayson Goff early last year when we reached out to him in regards to BKi and Prime forming a relationship. We were looking for guidance after Coach Paul passed. As most of you probably know, Paul Richards coached X Factor prior to their World Cup win in 2013. Grayson came to the Farm and spent 3 days with us putting us through the paces. One thing you learn about Grayson in just a short time being around him is he is a born competitor and absolutely, without a doubt, loves the sport of paintball. What he has accomplished in his 30 years on this earth as a member of San Antonio X-Factor and what he has given back to the paintball community with BKi is remarkable.

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Grayson at the Prime Farm

You could say Grayson got his start in paintball by being the 11th man. He was invited to a kid’s birthday party because one of his other friends couldn’t go. They needed 10 so… Grayson got the call. The party was at a paintball field and that’s all she wrote. “I was instantly hooked on the raw competitive spirit and started spending any money I made doing chores around the house towards paintball.” He eventually joined some teams (Vaqueros, Arch Angels, Smart Parts Factory) and worked his way up through the divisional ranks to where he is now with X-Factor.

The man eats, sleeps, and breathes paintball. If you ask him what he does outside of paintball, he will tell you “Teach people how to play paintball.” And teach people he does with his BKi website. He started BKi for two reasons; first, his obvious love for the sport. Like I stated earlier, if you are around him for any amount of time, you see his love for the game. “It’s taught me more about life and myself than anything else.” His second reason is just as obvious. He wants to share that love and the ability to learn with others. That’s what I love about Grayson. There is no ego here. “BKi offered the perfect channel to reach out to as many players as possible. I want to play a role in the next generation of paintball players. As a professional player, we only have so many free weekends a year to teach clinics. There’s also a ton of players out there that have and may never get a chance to learn from a pro in person. With BKi, they have a pro dedicated to helping them improve their game no matter their location or schedule.”

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hint hint

Grayson is engaging and is always looking to improve his craft. He is a firm believer that the mental aspect of the game is certainly the most important. I asked him what he believes is one of the more difficult hurdles in the sport; “As paintball players, we have to take in tons of information, quickly analyze it, and make smart decisions. Sometimes this can occur in the span of the less than a second of time. The ability to do this effectively is the hardest thing for most players to overcome at our level. It’s what separates good players from the great ones.”

One of the ways he works his mind out (mental push-ups so to speak) and stays sharp is literally studying the game itself. What we use to call back in my day “watching film”. This is a great way to see how things can be done, should be done and vice versa.

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Rockin’ Exalt, VForce and DYE Rotor

“I improved my ability to analyze situations by doing just that. Instead of just ‘watching’ games of paintball, I would (and still do) constantly analyze the situations players were in, situations teams were in and think about what each player or team as a whole could do to win that specific game.”

“Whether it’s two pro teams facing off at an NXL event or a D4 team practicing against their D5 feeder team, I will watch and analyze. I believe I can learn something from any game of paintball. So many people waste valuable time out at a paintball field bullshitting around while they wait for their chance to play. I made the best use of this time growing up intently watching and expanding my knowledge.”

Good stuff.

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If you aren’t shootin’ or talkin’ you better be movin’

At this point in Prime’s Dojo, we would present you with a small video clip of a drill that Grayson suggests to improve an aspect of your game dutifully presented by a member of Prime. But Grayson does this ALL THE TIME. Be sure to check him out at BKi paintball.Here is the link.

http://bkipaintball.com/

Be sure to subscribe. I promise it is worth it.

I did want to leave you with one thing Grayson shared with me that I certainly appreciated. He shared what motivates him.

“I love the raw emotion paintball brings out of people. It’s that you vs. me, no holds barred fight mentality. It pushes us to our limit and in those moments we’d sacrifice anything to win. And at the end of every failure, we’re left with a few reminders of our mistakes. That coupled with the fact I hate losing in anything motivates me the most.”

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The author and THAT guy

I want to thank Grayson for being my Guinea pig and taking the time out of his busy schedule to placate me. Xiè xiè nín de bāng zhù, Mr. Goff 谢 谢 您 的 帮 助

Check out this youtube video of Grayson running one of his clinics, pay particular attention to his comments on a steady platform while running and gunning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pX1gTFyG3Q

Previously Posted