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Tau's picture

From a seminar yesterday I picked up an interesting perspective on one small aspect of training and my mind started expanding on the thought.

To provide context it was a grappling seminar. The technique in question was the combative stand up, initially as a solo exercise but quickly put into practice as an escape from closed guard to regain the feet. The instructor taught that the closed guard is essentially a neutral position so movement in either direction is appropriate. On that basis make the stand up specifically to end up in your dominant guard for the next aspect of the fight. I'm a southpaw so I deliberately stood such to end up right foot forwards ready to grapple, strike or escape depending on context (pragmatism vs sport,) personal preference, the actions of my training partner and so on.

To do what degree is ambidexterity necessary?

We know that kata often teach the same motion to both sides depending on the attack. We also know that sometimes the motion may be performed on both sides but actually it's responding to different attacks. Often the transitions that matter not the final position. Often things are performed one sided.

Years ago whilst training in Karate I was taught a view erroneously attributed to Funakoshi which went to effect of train your good side ten times and your bad side twenty. Alternative one of the Gracies (Hickson I think) maintains that you only need to be able to work off one side, but you must be able to make that one side work against attacks from either side.

So how important is it to be able to use both sides? Or is it important at all?

Neil Babbage
Neil Babbage's picture

It depends on the technique, but in general being able to work on both sides is important. Notwithstanding this, training on the non-dominant side benefits dominant side performance https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1034/j.1600-0838.2003.00296.x

Anf's picture

Here's how my thinking goes.

If I'm in a fight, that means at least one other person is trying very hard to hurt me.

They might succeed.

If they succeed in hurting me such that I physically can't fight best side forward, I'd better have some ability on my less dominant side, otherwise they've already won.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Tau wrote:
To do what degree is ambidexterity necessary? …

… So how important is it to be able to use both sides? Or is it important at all?

Good topic! My answer would be, that is depends entirely on what you are training for; and what specific method you are training.

Combative sports tend to favour a dominant side. Boxers, Judoka, MMA fighters, etc have a favoured side. As a rule of thumb: strikers have their dominant side back, and grapplers have their dominant side forwards. The judoka and boxers I have trained with always stick to a plan that works in accord with their dominant side being positioned accordingly. On the floor it’s a little different because the dimension of up/down is in play, as well as front/back. However, with sporting stand-up fighting I don’t think it is necessary to do things on both sides; because they don’t generally switch sides and which side is forward as they engage under the control.

For self-defence, there is the argument what the increased variables mean skill on both sides is important, but I’m not sure I buy that. The key reason being is most self-defence training is delivered to non-martial artists: so, we are talking about rudimentary skills and little time to develop them. Better a person has lots of practise at striking with a dominant side palm heel; that halfling that practise time because of a perceived need to work the other side too. Better one solidified strike in line with natural proclivities, than two weaker strikes that go against natural proclivities. It’s a little different when we are talking about lifelong martial artists applying relevant elements of their martial arts studies to self-defence. The ability to work both sides could be helpful, but that’s not the main reason we work both sides.

For martial arts, where skill development (for its own intrinsic value) and physical health are more of an issue, then both sides should definitely be worked. It’s good for mental dexterity and it can prevent injury by ensuring balanced muscular development. If you do techniques on one side only for years and years, then body will become asymmetrical and that can lead to health issues. Martial arts therefore demand working both sides.

Aside from these broad issues, it also depends on the method too. Do you tactically need to be able to work this method on both sides? Some you do, and some you don’t. I need to be able to deal with a throat grab irrespective of whether it was the left or right hand that grabbed me; but I don’t need to be able to work a pull/kick takedown from the rear on both sides because I can chose the side I want to do.

I think it depends entirely on what is being practised when set against the specified goals of the training.  In short, being able to use both sides is vital, useful, irrelevant and unimportant :-)

All the best,


Marc's picture

It never hurts to be able to do things left and right. Think about brushing your teeth, writing with a pen or wiping your butt. One day your preferred hand might be injured, then you'd be happy that you've practiced using your other hand.

Of course with limited training time you must decide which techniques/methods require ability on both sides and with which it is enough to practice one side.

For most things in life it would be OK to think about praciticing with the other side when the need arises (injury in preferred hand). It will probably never happen, and if it does, your teeth will be fine if you need a few weeks of practice before you can brush them well with your other hand.

In self defence this is different for two reasons:

a) As Anf said, you might just have to switch sides. So you're better off if you have practiced at least a little with your non-dominant hand. No time for accomodation. Then again, you must decide if you make the best use of your training time. When training time is limited it might be better to focus on delivering a great technique with your dominant side than mediocre techniques with both sides.

b) Situations may dictate a sidedness. What I mean by this is this:

If the attacker grabs you by the lapel with their left hand, you want to get to the outside of their left arm and away from their right fist. If they grab you with their right hand, you want to move to the opposite side. The situation has sidedness. A left grab is different from a right grab.

If, however, the attacker grabs you by the lapel with both hands, the situation has no sidedness. You can chose to do whatever your appropriate response is with either side. For example, put your left arm over and across both their arms and punch with your right. You can always do it this way. No real need to practice it the other way around.

Or like Iain said, if you are behind the attacker, you can chose one side. They don't mind.

Looking at what our katas tell us, if we refer to Tekki/Naihanchi kata, it wants us to always practice both sides. A kata like Jion on the other hand, has many techniques that are mirrored left and right and some that occur one-sided only. I'd suggest this is precicely for the reason that they deal with either sided situations or non-sided situations, respectively.

As a side note, most katas seem to presume that you are right-handed. So, if you are left-handed you might want to consider practicing your katas in a mirrored way. For Tekki/Naihanchi it doesn't make any difference. For a kata like Jion it makes no difference for the sided techniques because they are mirrored anyway. And for the non-sided techniques it perhaps makes sense to practice them according to your dominant hand.

Take care everybody,


Heath White
Heath White's picture

FWIW, Choki Motobu says explicitly to practice your weak side twice as much as your strong side.

Marc, that's an interesting thought about the sidedness built into kata.

Tau's picture

Heath White wrote:
Choki Motobu says explicitly to practice your weak side twice as much as your strong side.

There we go. I was told it was Funakoshi but I haven't seen it in any of his writing. That is why.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Heath White wrote:
FWIW, Choki Motobu says explicitly to practice your weak side twice as much as your strong side.

I’m not in agreement with him on this point. As pre my previous post, I think you can divide this down into the broad categories of self-protection, combat sports, and martial arts. For none of them does working your weaker side 66% of the time make sense.

Self-protection: You are working against a person’s natural proclivities and encouraging self-protection students – who will not be training from very long; and, even then, the physical will only be a small part of their instruction – to strike in ways they find unnatural.

Combat Sports: It makes no sense for a right-handed boxer to spend 66% of his training time in southpaw; and vice-versa. The training needs to be focused and goal specific.

Martial Arts: This ascribed unequal training will cause unbalanced development and ultimately injury. Unbalanced is unbalanced; not matter which way that imbalance leans.

Lots I do agree with Motobu on … this point is not one of them.

All the best,