Wax bullet duelling at the 1908 Olympic Games, before the invention of airsoft guns

Back in the early 1900s, before the days of airsoft guns and paintballing, there was a way of gentlemen solving their disagreements without the need for bloodshed: wax bullet duelling.

Up until this, a gentlemanly disagreement could quite often result in two men squaring off, loaded pistol in hand and would result in one party living to quarrel another day. The other party? Well, you probably guessed it…

Wax bullet duelling still involved men shooting firearms at each other, but the difference is that the defeated party could live to fight another day.

The first public display of wax bullet duelling was recorded in America in 1909 at Carnegie Hall, between two members of the Carnegie Sword and Pistol Club. The men faced off 60 feet apart, kitted out in padded black robes and face masks.

The men were armed with .44 calibre French duelling pistols, but instead of regular bullets, they were loaded with French-imported wax bullets, much to the delight of a small audience who gathered to watch the spectacle but didn’t fancy the bloodshed.

Wax bullet duels appeared to have originated in France in the early 1900s, at a “School of Duelling” in Paris. The elite academy practiced duels with wax bullets, with trainees wearing protective face masks, following the rules of traditional duelling.

A version of the sport even made an appearance in the 1908 London Summer Olympics (albeit it as a non-medal event), alongside its inclusion in the international pistol and revolver championships.

Unlike modern day airsoft and paintball, wax bullet duelling was a one-on-one affair - rather than the team based sport we see nowadays - and was said to be best left to the professionals.

One man, a wealthy British duellist by the name of Walter Winans referred to the sport as being “a trifle dangerous”, mainly down to the danger of confusing live ammunition with the non-lethal counterparts. And when we say non-lethal, that should be taken lightly, as without adequate protection you could still lose a chunk of your body to the projectile.

After its moment in the spotlight, wax bullet duelling soon died out, but the concept of non-lethal combat sports still lives strong – although more for the love of the sport and the social interaction, as opposed to solving gentlemanly disagreements!