Southpaw Stance Part I - Left-handed Fighters

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One can argue that left-handedness is a phenomena to which science is still trying to find its cause. It is estimated that there are around 10-14% of left-handed people in today's world, men being double in number than women. Science hasn't yet found the cause that makes a person left-handed, i.e. we still don't know what makes a person to be born left-handed or right-handed. Some research points to an anomaly in brain structure, whereas some other research and theories talk about genetic inheritance as well as the influence of the hormone testosterone. This would explain why there are so many more left-handed men in comparison to women. Recently, in 2007, scientists from Oxford University have identified the gene which rises the chances of a person to become left-handed.

Many scientists have oriented towards brain research and have found that there are significant differences in brain anatomy between left and right-handed people. Although we use both brain functions in everyday life, one side of our brain is still more dominant than the other. It has been proven that right-handed people's left side of the brain is more dominant, with centers that control speech and language. On the other hand, the right side of the brain has more control over our emotions. In left-handed people, this division is reversed. Also, in left-handed individuals, both brain hemispheres are equally developed, in comparison to right-handed individuals. This allows them a quicker transfer of information between hemispheres. Also, the excess fibers are an advantage that permits left-handed persons everyday adjustment to the world of right-handed people.

A significantly larger number of neural fibers in the brains of left-handed people is responsible for a quicker transfer of information between brain hemispheres, which is the reason behind better spatial orientation and a greater success in math, art, architecture. Also, if a left-handed person needs to perform a task with his or her right hand, he or she will do it better than a right-handed person would with his or her left hand (e.g. writing). Left-handed people have a totally different approach to problem solving than their right-handed peers and show enhanced abilities in divergent thinking, i.e. finding different solutions to the same problem (thanks to a better intuition and a greater diversity in ideas). Research has shown a larger sensibility among right-handed persons to their right side, while left-handed persons are equally sensitive to both sides of their bodies. The right hand is a bit larger and stronger in right-handed people, whereas, in left-handed individuals, both hands are equally developed.

Mothers that are over 40 years of age during pregnancy have a greater chance to give birth to a baby who will become left-handed. The chances for this to happen are 28% higher than in women who are in their 20's. Interestingly, as many as 90% of babies suck the thumb of their dominant hand while still in their mother's womb so the ultrasound can also give you an idea of what the baby will be like once it is born. As already stated, the connections between the left and right side of the brain are faster among left-handed people. This means that information is transmitted in a faster manner which makes left-handed people more efficient in processing a larger amount of information that are emitted through both sides of the brain. This is one of the main reasons why various research has shown a large rate of left-handed persons among professional athletes, especially in one-on-one sports, i.e. sports that include two opponents such as tennis, table tennis, baseball, martial arts or fencing.

Research has proven how visual information received by the sportsman (fighter or player) is processed by the right brain hemisphere. This is why information, in case the athlete is left-handed, travels faster to the brain center that is in charge of motor skills in as much as 20 to 30 milliseconds. Thanks to these better spatial skills and a quicker motor skill reaction, left-handed persons are more successful in martial arts. So, the advantage or left-handed persons in martial arts are both physiological and tactical. The reason being a faster connection between the left and right side of the brain hemispheres and, simultaneously, a more frequent usage of both brain hemispheres thanks to which they are, in addition to a better spatial assessment, capable of thinking and reacting faster.

Bruce Lee


Also, left-handed people are extremely adapted to those who are right-handed because they constantly come across them. In comparison, right-handed people adapt much more difficultly to their left-handed opponents. Sportsmen whose left hand is more dominant present a much bigger threat because of their "reversed” body stance. In all sports where athletes face each other, left-handed ones have a significant advantage so the same goes for martial arts. Their abilities are best seen in sports where a very quick reaction is necessary to confuse the opponent who is used to fight a right-handed person. The reason is simply because right-handed athletes are used to fighting right-handed opponents.

To simplify, a left-handed athlete is used to right-handed opponents and has frequently had the chance to fight them and has also trained among them. On the other hand, right-handed athletes rarely have the chance to train with or fight against a left-handed peer and this is where their shortcomings are best seen. So, when faced with a left-handed opponent, a surprise element comes into play which is an advantage for the left-handed person. A left-handed fighter leads his attack with his right hand and his fighting tactics are developed by using the right side of his body. He does this so he can give a stronger, faster and a more precise punch with his left hand which, in turn, confuses the right-handed fighter unadapted to this style of combat. Right-handed athletes develop their fighting tactics and punches with the left side of their bodies so they can hit more precisely and strongly with their right hand (after the left hand, they cross their punch with their right hand) so fighting against a left-handed opponent is confusing for them.

These left-handed advantages have been spotted a very long time ago so, more than 3000 years ago, a fighter named Ehud won and killed the evil Moabite King Eglon which was described in the Bible. According to the legend, Ehud came from the Benjamin tribe for which some biblical experts believed was trained by a warrior squad to use their left hands. Also, according to a legend, the Roman Emperor Commodus loved to fight in the Roman arena where one special characteristic helped him to be invincible- he was left-handed. Most martial arts fighters have used 90% of their time fighting right-handed opponents. This means that they will be very surprised to get punched from the other side, which is something they do not expect to happen. This advantage has helped left-handed fighters to be a bit more dominant in martial arts (55%) in comparison to their right-handed peers.

Rocky Balboa


First in boxing and, a bit later on, in other martial arts sports, the stance in which a left-handed fighter sets his right hand and leg forward, leading the fight with his right hand and then turning his right hip and punching with his left dominant hand is called the "southpaw stance”. According to some legends, a 19thcentury fighter called William "Bendigo” Thompson is responsible for introducing the southpaw stance. Some other boxing experts consider the left-handed boxer Al McCoy to be responsible for endorsing the stance. He became a world champion in 1910 and his nickname was Southpaw. According to some legends, the very name comes from baseball. Some sports historians claim that the term was coined because of the baseball pitch orientation (the pitch, i.e. its lines are oriented towards the west) so that the Sun wouldn't shine in the players' eyes. This is why the left-handed pitcher has his left hand turned towards the south. In the beginning, the term "southpaw stance” denoted something unusual and was known to be used in sports since 1840.

The advantages of left-handed fighters aren't expressed only among boxers (or in savate-boxing, kickboxing, Chinese boxing, etc.), but also in karate, tae kwon do, kung fu, capoeira as well in wrestling, judo, ju jitsu, aikido, MMA, fencing and other martial arts disciplines. The technique of performing certain grips is a bit different in left-handed fighters, their creativity is somewhat larger and their ability to adapt in using their right or left hand needs to be significantly bigger. This is why some left-handed fighters' techniques (certain punches, various punching combinations, throws, levers, pinning their opponent to the ground or choking) can greatly confuse a right-handed athlete. As said before, when a right-handed fighter is faced with a left-handed one, there is an element of surprise. The surprise is even greater if a left-handed fighter started the fight in a classic right-handed stance (his left hand and foot are set forward) and then, during the match, he switches to a southpaw stance, i.e. makes a switch-hitter. The term "switch-hitter” is used for those fighters who deliberately switch from a right-handed stance to a left-handed stance or vice versa, in order to confuse their opponents during combat.

Left-handed children who were forced by their parents or teachers to write with their right hands has caused a large number of (originally) left-handed people to use both their right and left hand efficiently. This is especially present in Asia, i.e. among the Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese because their script (because of its characteristics) cannot be written by using the left hand. This is why there are only 2% of left-handed people registered in China, i.e. only this amount of people have declared to be left-handed (they eat by using their left hand), while in Japan, this percentage is a bit over 4%. According to this statistics where, allegedly, there aren't more than 2-4% of left-handed people in Asia (which is impossible), we shouldn't be surprised that a term for left-handed fighters isn't specified in Eastern martial arts, in comparison to the "southpaw stance”.

However, people cannot be simply divided into two homogeneous groups (left and right-handed ones). It is more of a continuum on which ends there are two smaller groups of exclusively left and right-handed fighters. Most of us are somewhere in between, having a stronger or weaker predisposition to use our right hand.

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