The Sinister Handed

Not long ago, a colleague of mine brought up an interesting concept that had me rethinking bits of history.

There have always been legends of skilled fighters, men and women who stood over piles of defeated foes. Take a moment and think of legendary historical figures – conquerors, champions, raiders; people you read about in history books or have been popularized by modern fiction. We’ve got folks like Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Eric the Red, to start.

Now, picture your legendary historical figure living in whichever society and time they were in. Chances are, that society was predominantly composed of right-handed people; right-handedness makes up the bulk of just about every population (70-95% according to this article posted not long after Y2K), leaving left-handedness and ambidextrous-ness in the sharp minority. You know what else is in the minority? Legendary fighters.

See what I’m hinting at here?

Anyone who’s taken martial arts would recognize that there is a preference for “right handed training,” and with obvious reasons – most people are right-handed so when two right-handers engage in combat, they “mesh” together in their stances, strikes and blocks. In boxing, the left-handed stance is called the Southpaw stance, and I hear right-handed (orthodox) boxers hate fighting them because, well, they’re more easily countered. The same could apply to many forms of fighting. As said by Wikipedia in regards to the gladiatorial games: Left-handed gladiators were advertised as an interesting rarity; they were trained to fight right-handers, which gave them advantage over most opponents and produced an interestingly unorthodox combination.

Now, before any fighters or martial artists who happen to read this get irritated at me, rest assured I’m aware that switching stances is a very good thing to do, for this precise reason. Such training does exist; what I’m talking about is the intuitive majority of right-handers vs. the minority of left-handers. Picture two folks from vastly different societies/history pitted against each other – they’d likely not know how to deal with the other without advanced knowledge. The difference is that left-handers are more-than-likely aware of things, and have the advantage.

Since most mainstream things are right-handed (computer mice, Wii controls, even scissors and table saws), it ought not to be a surprise that the same thing applied to objects in the ancient world as well – like scythes and sickles. Thankfully in modern society, we not only recognize left-handedness as just something that is, rather than a sign of evil or some nonsense, but can devise specialty products to be made available for anyone who needs ’em.

Fun fact: Since the left hand is so often associated with evil and unluckiness (here’s 15 superstitions, my favorite being that Joan of Arc was depicted in paintings as left-handed to make her appear more evil), at least in Western cultures as far as I can find, it permeates our language in ways you may not even know. Perhaps you’ve heard of a left-handed insult, that’s fairly common, but did you know the word sinister – a word I thoroughly enjoy saying and typing – is a Latin adjective for “left” as well as “unlucky”?

Back to the main topic: legendary conquerors and fighters in predominantly right-handed societies. Just think over the idea:

What if conquerors of legend weren’t so much expert fighters who were blessed with talent, the favor of the gods, or made pacts with demons – what if they were simply left-handed? Or perhaps even more devastating: ambidextrous?

I suppose in one way, this could be construed to really downplay the achievements (if you can call mass murder an achievement) of a multitude of historical individuals, but on the other hand (oh snap!) it could be seen as empowering lefties everywhere. Yay. And no, for the record, I am not left handed.

As for me, I find this to be hugely inspiring for my own creative writing. I find it more interesting when the protagonist is a Badass Normal. And on one final note, do you know what legendary figure I first thought of when this concept was suggested to me?

Happy writing, dear readers.

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