Martial artists have for years been taught to train so they will be able to execute any technique equally from either the left or right sides of their bodies. Countless hours have been dedicated to achieving this equality. Yet, despite this, the overwhelming majority of martial artists who train for equality in technique execution never achieve it.
For all their efforts, martial artists all have techniques and moves they use only when in a left lead, and those they use only from the right. Seldom, if ever, are those techniques the same. The vast majority of right-handed fighters, fighting from a left lead, use predominantly their right hand and leg. From a right lead they also use, almost exclusively, their right hand and leg. The techniques will differ, depending on the lead used, but they still use primarily the right hand and leg.
Typically, a right-handed fighter, when in a left lead, uses his left to block, cover, fake, or flick out a quick jab. Seldom does he use it for a serious strike. This disuse of the left is also true when in a right lead. Unless specifically trained to execute a certain movement or strike, the left hand usually gets little serious use. The fighter has not become multi-dimensional (able to effectively use both sides of his body), but is actually one-dimensional (using only one side, albeit from either lead). Training for equality in both sides, then, simply has not worked. Why?
Compounding the problems posed by the brain's hemispherical differences is the body's lack of real symmetry. Olympic trainers, using computer-aided video analysis, observed that runners do not take the same stride with both legs. Nor are their torso and arm movements symmetrical. Further, athletes trained to achieve equal strides and symmetry in movement showed significant performance reductions.
In the normal learning process, we move from a level of conscious thought and effort to one of subconscious reflex. Mastery over a given task (operating on the level of subconscious reflex) is directly related to the amount of conscious effort previously poured into learning that task. For example, how easily can you remove a screw with the screwdriver held in your left hand (or right hand if you are left-handed)? You can likely manage the task, but not without considerable effort. The left-handed maneuver requires substantially more conscious thought than one performed by the dominant right hand. Moreover, practicing a task of that complexity equally with either hand does not remove the natural preference for performing it with the dominant hand. That requires practicing the task ONLY with the left hand. Only by consciously establishing a preference for the left can the subconscious' dominance by the right be overcome.
Although the practice has largely been abandoned, there was a time when children born left-handed were made to write and eat using their right hand. Over time, constant use of their right hand in these functions overcame their natural preference for their dominant left hand. Gradually, these left-handed individuals grew comfortable using their right hand, eventually preferring it to their dominant left. The change from that which was natural to that which was not came about NOT from practicing both sides equally, but from training ONLY the side desired, thus developing a conscious preference for its use that was strong enough to overcome the inborn preference for the dominant hand. The majority of those so trained eventually became ambidextrous, capable of eating and writing, for example, with either hand. If that practice is successful for a complex task like writing, surely it works in learning to kick and punch.
To make this work, the fighter must initially be made to train and fight in one lead all the time. If, for example, he begins training in a right lead, he should perform his reverse punch only with his rear left hand; never his right. Being prohibited from practicing his reverse punch with his right forces the fighter to develop a conscious preference for his left reverse punch which eventually overcomes his body's inborn preference for the right. Although this approach will work for everyone, it is most effective when applied to beginners, since they have not already developed a reinforced (by training) preference for right-hand punches.
Only after the fighter reaches a level of confidence and preference for using the (previously "unnatural") left reverse punch, should he be allowed to practice the same punch from the left lead. He should have little difficulty learning it with his right and, more importantly, should not experience the confidence problems associated with learning the same strikes in the opposite order. Remember, it will take time to accomplish this new preference (for the left reverse punch over the right), so the fighter should not switch to the right reverse punch too soon. The fighter must still practice the left reverse punch twice as much as the right because it takes time to fully overcome a lifetime of preference for, reliance upon, and dominance by the natural right side. If left-handed, use the same procedure, but reverse the functions.
This "single-lead" theory is not new. Many top martial artists have advocated it for years. Joe Lewis, for example, prefers fighting from predominantly one lead. He uses this example. Take two fighters. Have them train the same number of hours, expending the same number of calories. Fighter number one trains using the "single-lead" method; fighter number two trains both sides equally. Square off those two fighters and, regardless which lead fighter number two assumes, fighter number one has the advantage because he has spent 50 percent more time training in his one lead than his opponent has in either of his.
Noted left-lead-only champion Bill Wallace agrees. When questioned about his being a "one-sided" fighter, Wallace counters that ...
When most people practice karate, they practice left side and they practice right side. Even if they're better on one side, they still work both sides. Now I'm for that, but when you're fighting, you have a preference for one side or the other. So why not concentrate on that one side and make it much better? Why be mediocre on two sides when you can be very good on one side?Lewis supports single-lead training because it enables the fighter to make more effective use of valuable and often-limited training time. Wallace concurs for much the same reason, although neither advocates one lead over another. There are those, however, who do.
In fairness, we can ask the same question of the fighter who trains both sides equally. Like it or not, he still has a favorite, "strong" side. Whether placed up front or kept back, he still favors one side. What happens if his strong side becomes disabled? Is the disabled side put up front or kept back? There are too many variables involved for the question to be answered simply, but at the very least, the strong-side-forward (single-lead) fighter is no worse off than the both-sides-equal (dual-lead) fighter.3
Realistically though, will such a method of training ever catch on in the martial arts? I think not — but for us, that's a good thing. I'll explain why that's a good thing in a moment, but to explain why it will not likely catch on, we must first be clear on the difference between single-lead, asymmetrical training (see Footnote 1) and strong-side forward. Of the two training methods, single-lead is the only one that COULD ever catch on. This is because it would not require changing from the traditional left lead fighting stance to a strong-side forward, right-lead stance. I said "COULD" because 99% of martial arts teachers still believe in training both sides equally (e.g. 500 side kicks with the right leg, followed by 500 side kicks with the left leg, supposedly enabling the student to fight equally well from either lead). With so many teachers following the "way it has always been done," it is unlikely that single-lead, asymmetrical training will ever really take hold. If that left-lead training method is unlikely to occur, does anyone really believe that [predominantly] right-lead, strong-side forward training will ever be adopted en masse? Don't hold your breath.
As stated earlier, one of the most influential names in modern martial arts, Bruce Lee, strongly advocated strong-side forward, but observe classes in any JKD school today and do you know what you'll see? The overwhelming percentage of the time, empty hand training is done in the traditional left lead. Why is that? Simply put, because practically all martial arts teachers teach from the traditional left-lead, and if they don't/can't change, then their students are not likely to change.
In fairness, the problem reaches well beyond the martial arts. Look at sports: baseball and golf, just to name two. Strong-side forward could be very effectively incorporated into these and other sports, except for the fact that no one teaches it that way — or is likely to do so for that matter — meaning it will never be. However, the fact remains in baseball and golf, batting and golf's driving swing would be much, MUCH more powerful if they were taught strong-side forward. That's because the leading arm (the one nearest the ball) actually provides the bulk of the power used to propel and drive the ball.
Baseball instruction begins at a very early age for many players. So does golf. If coaches in these sports started their students with their strong sides forward, over time (granted, a few years), you would start seeing more "out of the park" home runs and drives in their respective games. But, alas, that's even less likely to happen than for modern computer keyboards in the United States to move from the old inefficient QWERTY 4 keyboard layout to something like the Dvorak Keyboard 5. The change to a more efficient keyboard layout has not happened because of the difficulty such a change would involve. The old layout is so engrained that practically no one wants to struggle through such a long and painful transition for better keyboard. You see, change is difficult. And changes that will only produce the promised benefits over a long period of time are almost impossible to make, be they in keyboards, baseball, golf, or the martial arts.
The greatest hurdle to overcome with these kinds of changes is that it would be a score of years before anyone started seeing the expected improvements. Moreover, it would be years before those still practicing the old-school methods (batting a baseball, driving a golf ball, or typing on the ubiquitous keyboard), retired, so you would have an extended period where people necessarily practiced both old and new methods. All those factors contribute significantly to why strong-side forward training will never become popular in the martial arts. Which brings us to why I said, "for us, that's a good thing."
For myself and other strong-side forward practitioners, non-acceptance of strong-side forward training by the overwhelming majority of fighters in the world is a good thing. Why? Because it gives those of us who do, a significant advantage. Consider fencing (sport-side of sword fighting).
In fencing, what makes left-handers successful? Fencing is a sport where the very best practitioners don't think; they react. Constant practice is required in order to develop such an instinctual approach. The scarcity of left-handers (fencers who fight in a left lead, with swords in their left hands) means that right-handers have relatively little chance to practice against left-handers and fail, therefore, to develop the needed edge. Conversely, left-handers practice against right-handers all the time, giving them the opportunity to develop higher skills against them. All that is equally true in boxing, for example.
©Copyright Bob Orlando, 1999-2016
All rights reserved.
Aug. 6, 2016
by Bob Orlando