Last month I was invited by Vertical Combat in Wolverhampton to spend the weekend with them learning ‘the ropes’ (literally!). Vertical Combat specialise in training participants from all skill levels and backgrounds in rope assisted vertical assaults. During their two day full immersion courses, Vertical Combat provide a complete teaching of practical and theoretical understanding of a rope assisted vertical assaults that are all based on the OPEL principal – Observe, Plan, Execute and Learn. Students who complete their high intensity courses gain not just an intimate knowledge of using a roped system but they also become more competent in using Airsoft handguns and putting rounds on target under stress at height. Vertical Combat focus on teaching their students that they are only limited by their own mind and that you can take your body anywhere with the right mind-set.

Before I embarked on this adventure there were only two things I was told to bring – a pair of good strong boots and a head for heights. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have picked myself as an ideal candidate for this training course – I have never climbed a rope and I’m not overly keen on heights and was apprehensive about the whole experience, but as this isn’t your everyday Airsoft experience I just had to give it a go – after all, life begins at the end of your comfort zone right? We pulled up to the gate of Vertical Combat which is located on a quiet industrial estate in the centre of Wolverhampton and was greeted by our instructor Arno – who in the week is a rope access safety consultant and at the weekend is a power house in the use of firearms and ropes. After a cup of tea and a comprehensive safety brief we started to kit up ready for the day with the other participants. The uniform for Vertical Combat is provided and is a set of black overalls (so your own clothes don’t get caught in the ropes or other safety equipment) a safety helmet and a safety harness, accessorised with a Nuprol Pistol Retention Paddle Holster, a Nuprol double pistol mag holder, a dump pouch and to set it all off a WE Europe Glock 17 – all the tools for the task at hand.

Courses are ran over two days from 8.30 am – 4 pm on both days, this gives participants plenty of time to explore the practical element of the course. The course costs £250 per person for the full course and this includes lunch on both days. Although the course is quite expensive, in my opinion the experience is definitely worth the dollar – how often do you get to rappel into buildings?

As we walked out of the safe zone building and saw what exactly we would be climbing/abseiling from – a 4 storey purpose built training structure complete with targets, I will admit my stomach sank a little, and the fear of what we were about to undertake set in. Our training started with the basics - how to use the rope system competently, learning how to scale a building from the ground which was hard work and tough, abseiling from the first floor to the ground, scanning the room for insurgents and last but not least putting rounds into them. 

The biggest hurdles I personally faced over the weekend was my own perceptions of my own capabilities and skills and also learning to have faith in the safety equipment. Learning that it was not physical strength that mattered but technique and will made the tasks a lot easier to complete.

After we had been taught the baby steps of using ropes and the initial jitters were out of the way, it was time to abseil the building in its entirety – we made our way to the very top of the structure and set the ropes up – all of a sudden, looking at the drop the reality of the danger of what we were doing set in! Getting over the side safety rail and sitting in the harness with all your weight was terrifying yet exhilarating at the same time. We started our descent, scanning each window for insurgents and engaging them when we were at the correct height. We repeated this process over and over to get into the routine and to perfect our footwork, each time learning from any mistakes we had made previously. We also had to perform mag changes whilst on the ropes making sure we stayed out of the ‘fatal tunnel’ in order to stay in the fight and end the fight.

As part of the course we also learned the skill of applying different tourniquets on the ground to others (in this case a dummy) and also on ourselves whilst being lowered/raised on the ropes, it is extremely scary putting trust in 7 people you’ve never met in your life but I needn’t of had any reason to worry, with Arno’s teachings all of our group made it up and down the ropes safely.

The last module of our training included hostage extraction. This stage of the training required a new technique – breach the window using an Enforcer ram and rappel in! Rappelling is a lot harder than it looks, so much so that my first 4 attempts were quite shocking and Arno eventually threw me in legs first, with the prospect of being thrown in again, I pulled myself together and finally got the action down! Once inside the building we had to clear the room of insurgents, find the hostage and bag and tag them before attaching them to a rope and extracting them to our team above. This was badass.

On the last run of Sunday afternoon we amped the fun up a little – abseiling down to the level with the barricaded window and whilst the other rope operator breached the window. I prepped a purple EG18 to throw into the building and give us more cover from the insurgents on the inside! Once the window was breached we tossed the smoke in and rappelled into the room putting rounds into the targets until we fought our way out of the level – it was awesome!

Overall, my experience at Vertical Combat was exceptionally rewarding and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Arno is a fantastic instructor whose teachings combine the right balance of patient support and tough love when it is needed. I left with a new found confidence in my own abilities and a set of skills that I can apply at future Ops and events if the opportunity allows. Although it has to be said that the greatest lesson I learnt over the weekend is that if I put my mind to something, I can do it. For more info and contact details visit

Hardwick, K. (2016). Vertical Combat. Airsoft Action. 65 (September), 26-28.

Photography thanks to Dark Lens Photography

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