Ambidextrous training is like some medicine—it may be distasteful to you, but it helps you to take it anyway.
I have not always been as much an advocate of ambidextrous training with firearms—doing the same exercises and drills with both hands from both sides with rifle and pistol—as I have been over the past three or four years. On the other hand, I have done more gunfight-focused and tactical training in the last four years than I have in the ten or twenty preceding that and—to paraphrase Mark Twain—training as if you are going to be in a fight at any time you step out of your house, and sometimes if you don’t, has a wonderful way of focusing the mind. And one of the things that it focused my mind on was that it is helpful—not absolutely necessary, perhaps, helpful—to be able to swap hands at will with confidence that I can be at least adequate for the fight with that other hand.
A couple of months ago at the time of this writing, a polite question was raised about my advocacy of ambidextrous training on a closed forum where I am a member. I repeat the bulk of the well-done argument here:
“Although we typically use the term "strong side," what we're really talking about is dominant side. Except for a very small percentage of the population who are truly ambidextrous, human brains are wired to favor one side or the other. When the brain gets inconsistent images from both eyes, it picks one and deletes the inconsistent portion; the one it chooses is the dominant eye. When we learn to write, most of us chose one hand or the other. Some may have been forced or biased toward the right hand by parents or teachers, but about 90% choose that side naturally. Regardless of how much you train or practice, you will always be better with one side than the other.”
You know what? He’s right.
I DON’T CARE.
DO IT ANYWAY.
Another member, herself an instructor, put it this way on that same thread:
“It's in the wiring...”
You know what? She’s right.
I DON’T CARE.
DO IT ANYWAY.
Many times when the subject is raised, on that forum and every other one I’ve been on where it was discussed, one or more people will write that they won’t ever be as good with one hand/one side as with the other.
You know by now…
That may be true. (It likely is with most people.)
I DON’T CARE.
DO IT ANYWAY.
It adds an element of variety to your training. Even though you may be doing the same thing on one side as on the other, because of the difference in mental and physical dexterity that most of us have between sides, it can often be like learning something new. Switching sides and becoming as dexterous as you can pushes you out of your comfort zone and out of the box of complacency you risk falling into by doing the same things over and over. Looked at the right way, this can be a whole new experience for you to explore and enjoy.
It’s a way to challenge yourself. You’re looking at the same thing, but somehow it’s different; you’re doing the same thing, but somehow it’s different. There’s some stress generated and some effort, like when you were just learning something for the first time. There’s some uncertainty, too: Can you do it? Can you move the skills over? How good can you get? Think of it—without spending any money, without adding significant time, you’re having to focus again and work out the movement again. You both learn and reinforce what you know at the same time. It can be hard, but isn’t that the way some training should be? We can’t prepare for hard things by doing easy things; we have to prepare for hard things by doing things as hard or harder. Changing sides is an easy way to make things hard again. And when you do…
Doing it, training each side as far up as you can, gives you confidence and reduces fear. Consider that some training is not designed to instill a skill into the trainee, it is designed to condition the trainee to continue to act and move and try and do under conditions of stress, uncertainty, and fear. That conditioning is not as specific as skill training, and so the mind, under real-world conditions of stress, uncertainty, and fear is less likely to freeze up or get so confused and distracted that the person can’t act. It’s not the same degree of stress, but making yourself work through the awkwardness and frustration and even initial failure you may face shifting hands helps overall with other things. When you are faced with some other confusing or awkward or stressful situation, the subconscious calls on all those things you have been through, including this, and says to itself, “I have done that; I can do this. I have faced things like this before; I can do it again.” And so you don’t freeze from uncertainty. You act. Doing hard things makes it easier to do other hard things.
Having even a limited capability to switch hands gives you options you did not have before. If you don’t practice it, you don’t know if you can even do it, and you don’t know how well, how much, or when it is best to do it. If you haven’t done it even to a degree, you probably won’t think about doing it when it brings you an advantage or reduces disadvantage. Physical ability, then, gives you mental flexibility and choices that could make the difference in whether you live or die. In the fight, options and flexibility are good.
It gives you a way to surprise or confuse the attacker. We live in a right-handed world and we expect things to go in a right-handed way. That’s the reality of it. The attacker is most likely going to be right-handed, and the attacker is most likely going to expect the would-be victim to be the same way. The ability to either start with the left hand or to switch quickly and with confidence to left-handed employment could be just enough edge to get the initiative back and win the fight. Left-handers are troublesome to right-handers in a number of sports; offering the same kind of switch-hitting trouble to your attacker could work to your advantage. (Natural lefties, realize that you have this edge and bask in the glory of it as much as you wish, but keep training regardless. It’s a potential edge, not a guaranteed fight-winner.) It may not be a big advantage, but it may be enough to make a difference.
You need to be ready to do it if you’re forced to. This is usually the first reason offered for working with the other hand—that you might take a hit in the dominant side and have to switch over. Most people nod their heads in agreement, run a few minutes of other-side drills occasionally and call it Good. Is it? Is it good enough to get you through a hit to the ‘good’ side? Is it good enough to carry you through days or weeks in a sling following an injury and immobilization? (I’ve carried when one arm was in a cast. At the time I was doing that, if I had had to run the gun in a fight, I likely would have not been able to do it well enough to survive.) Is it enough, in other words, to live with?
“You’re talking worst-case situation,” you might say, “it doesn’t happen that often.” Neither does a gunfight or an attack where we would have to use a gun to defend ourselves, but we train for that. We, gun-carriers, are an optimistic kind of pessimist. We have a positive attitude because we prepare, mentally and physically, to survive the worst-case situations. And there are cases where defenders have taken hits in the gun-hand and had to switch to survive. If training for it provides the other benefits listed besides this very important one, why not add mirror-image practice to your schedule?
So you see the why of it…what about the how of it? How can you better prepare for the necessity, or choice, of switching to the other side to run the gun with? The most obvious way is to run parallel sets of drills and practice routines. You don’t have to immediately double the number of repetitions of an exercise or double the training time, either. Begin with a one in five or one in four ratio in time spent or in repetitions run. Gradually increase that until its 1:1 and continue from there. Another option is to schedule ‘broken wing’ sessions where you force yourself to do everything start to finish with or from the other side.
Something else you can do is to switch sides sometimes in day-to-day activity. We all favor one hand or another for lots activities like eating or brushing our teeth or combing our hair. Occasional movement to the other side, or something like a half-page of ‘abcs’ done with the non-writing hand now and again, can help to move us to general dexterity in mind and body that will help us to get ambidexterity with the gun.
Hard? Maybe so, for some. But it’s important. That’s why we do things like this even when they are hard.
Because there may come a day…
Be safe out there. If you can’t be safe…be dangerous.