Heroic Ambidexterity

He was the last man in Ireland who had equal dexterity in striking with his right and with his left hand. He was the last man in Ireland who had true valour.
The War of the Irish with the Foreigners

Most of us are only really good doing stuff with a specific hand, the so-called dominant hand (usually this is the right). The other hand is limited to an inglorious existence as the clumsy assistant of its smart twin. ... Isn't that, in a way, wasting a perfectly good hand? Wouldn't it be cool if both our hands were "right" hands? Wouldn't that make us twice as strong?

Presumably considerations of this kind are behind Heroic Ambidexterity: an old idea, first found in mythology and heroic epics, that great warriors and heroes, or some of them, excel at fighting with their right and with their left hand.

This covers two types of fighters:
  • Perfect ambidexters to whom there is no difference at all in using the right or the left hand.
  • People who are regularly handed but who have trained their non-dominant hand so much, or just have so superior skill, they can outmatch most opponents even when fighting with their weaker hand.

Heroic Ambidexterity is only vaguely related to real life ambidexterity, as Heroic Ambidexterity is exclusively combat-related; whether it extends to civilian tasks will usually not be discussed. Heroic Ambidexterity also only ever occurs in characters who have excellent dexterity in general and who would be powerful even if they were not ambidextrous (in real life, one can be ambidextrous and still have average or low dexterity). It follows from the latter that the Heroic Ambidexter is strong even among the strong, and conversely, describing a warrior as ambidextrous may be a shorthand for characterizing them as a distinguished champion.

If it is not simply stated, Heroic Ambidexterity may also be demonstrated by various feats which, for the sake of clarity, are here sorted into three classes according to their degree of difficulty, which is at the same time the inverse of their degree of realism.
  • Basic Ambidexterity: The warrior switches his attack weapon to the left hand, either to gain an advantage on the opponent, or because their main hand is incapacitated, or just to show off.
  • Advanced Ambidexterity: The warrior fights with two weapons at the same time. This includes but is not limited to dual wielding of melee weapons, firing two guns, and throwing two projectile weapons at once.
  • Impossible Super-Ambidexterity: Like Advanced Ambidexterity, but the warrior uses two weapons to successfully engage two different targets at the same time.

Heroic Ambidexterity is related to Dual Wielding, Guns Akimbo, and Sword and Gun; although whether these tropes are also cases of Heroic Ambidexterity depends on whether they are limited to particularly strong fighters. When everyone and their grandma is dual wielding, or the dual wielder is not particularly strong, Dual Wielding is not Heroic Ambidexterity. ("Heroic" here means "special/awesome people" like in mythology and heroic epics, not "a good guy".)

Contrast The Southpaw, who is lefthanded and gains an advantage from that, but is not necessarily adept or even competent with their right hand.

Hypothetically Handy Feet (and Armed Legs and Leg Cannon) and, better yet, Multi-Armed and Dangerous can give said individual even more options.

Has nothing to do with Ambidextrous Sprite, unless sprite mirroring causes a character's weapon hand to switch.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Teana Lanster from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS is ambidextrous, which doesn't escape her future mentor's notice in the manga, so the new Device she organizes for Teana is a pair of handguns.
  • The Seven Deadly Sins:
    • According the first Databook, Dreyfus who is one of the two main antagonists of the first part is ambidextrous. With the rank of Great Holy Knight, he is incredibly strong, and comes close to killing one of the main protagonists in combat.
    • The first databook also mentions that Gowther is ambidextrous. His ambidexterity is best shown when he wields his Sacred Treasure, a pair of twin arm-mounted Energy Bows with which he can simultaneously shoot a Magic Missile Storm of energy based arrows.
  • One Piece: Zoro had signs of being left-handed (such as in his one-sword techniques, he primarily uses his left hand), but he can dual wield swords (and one on his teeth) just fine. Quite a number of people in the series have been fighting with two swords, but Zoro is the best among them.
  • In the original Kanon, we only see that Mai fights left-handed, but the 2006 anime shows that she eats right-handed, making her ambidextrous and just preferring to use different hands for different tasks.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd has been depicted as shooting left handed almost as often as he shoots right handed. Other judges have been seen doing this as well, but most of them aren't as good a marksman as Dredd.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Legend of Total Drama Island, Eva reveals her previously unsuspected ambidexterity in the dodgeball match when she throws two balls at once, "for both her arms were as her right", to catch her target unawares at a critical moment.
  • Per Word of God, Hitomi Ichinose and Tsumugi Nikaido from Rhythmic Pretty Cure are both ambidextrous. Notably, Hitomi is able to use the ribbon with both hands, to the point where in one episode it's briefly mentioned that it's hard to tell which hand he favors, and he's also a switch hitter when playing for his school's baseball team. Also, any time Tsumugi, a cheerleader for the baseball team, is forced to take the mound due to a shortage of pitchers, she proves to be effective as both a switch hitter and a switch pitcher.

    Film 

    Literature 
  • In The Iliad, the Trojan Asteropaeus throws both his spears at once, "for both his arms were as his right", when he faces off against Achilles. One of the spears hits Achilles in the arm, making Asteropaeus the first Trojan to give Achilles a wound. Nevertheless Asteropaeus is slain in the ensuing sword-fight.
  • The Bible: In a long list of famous warriors who served King David, Chronicles 1,12 names 23 Benjaminites who "were armed with bows and were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed".
  • According to War of the Irish with the Foreigners, Brian Boru's son Murchadh (a.k.a. Murrough) "was the last man in Ireland who had equal dexterity in striking with his right and with his left hand", which is why he fought with two swords in the Battle of Clontarf.
  • Invoked in Gesta Danorum (Book 5): Young king Frode of Denmark asks for the daughter of the king of the Huns in marriage, but the princess declines because Frode has not yet earned fame by heroic deeds. Frode's messenger goes on to praise Frode's physical qualities, one of them being that "he use[s] his left hand as well as his right". The intent of this is apparently to convince the princess that Frode has all the potential to become a famous warrior.
  • In the Icelandic Sagas:
    • Heimskringla:
      • King Olaf Tryggvason "smote equally well with both hands and shot two spears at a time."
      • The reign of the Danish governor Svein Canuteson is challenged by Tryggvi, who claims to be the son of Olaf Tryggvason and the legitimate heir to the kingdom. Svein's supporters in turn accuse him of being an impostor who is really the son of a priest. In battle, Tryggvi "shot spears with both hands at a time; he said: 'Thus my father taught me to chant!'" Nevertheless Tryggvi is vanquished.
    • Njal's Saga: Among the many exceptional abilities of Gunnar of Hlidarendi is that "[h]e could wield the sword and shoot equally well with either hand".
      He was tall and strong and well skilled in the use of arms. He could wield the sword and shoot equally well with either hand, and he could deal blows so swiftly that three swords seemed to flash through the air at the same time. [...] It has been said that no man had been his equal.
    • Viglund's Saga: Defending himself against an ambush of Jokul and his companions, Viglund has already killed several attackers when he finally faces Jokul. As Viglund is already wounded and exhausted, the fight is looking bad for him until he throws up his axe and shield and "since he could fight equally well with either hand" catches the shield in his right and the axe in this left hand. Jokul is unable to counter this and Viglund cuts Jokul's right arm off, which settles the fight.
    • The Saga of the Faroe Islanders: After fighting "a very long while" with the viking Randver, Sigmund "throws his sword and sent it flying into the air, and he catches the sword with his left hand and takes his shield with his right and strikes with his sword at Randver and cuts away his right leg below the knee." Later he uses the same move on the Swedish coast-guard Vandill and then again on the Jomsviking Bui, his greatest victory;
      "for he is equally skilful with either hand in a fight, and against this few men could defend themselves, or none."
  • Judge Dee: Judge Dee is mentioned to be ambidextrous, as are all high-level swordsmen.
  • Averted in Gor: Tarl's master-at-arms wants him to train to cast a spear and otherwise fight with his non-dominant hand, in case he's injured during battle. This is the one combat-related skill Tarl never masters.
  • Alanna from Song of the Lioness can fight just as well with either hand, a skill that helps her win her first duel.
  • Rudi McKenzie, from the Emberverse setting, is a born warrior, which includes ambidexterity. He fights equally well with either hand, and switches whenever it would help.
  • In the second book of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, after his right hand is mutilated by some mutant lobster creatures, it's revealed that the ambidexterity required by Roland's Guns Akimbo fighting style is the result of long training. He's trained so hard and fought that way for so long that he really is just as adept at shooting with his naturally non-dominant left hand as his right. He struggles at other tasks (such as field dressing a deer) with his left, though; his ambidexterity is strictly limited to shooting.
  • In the Deryni works, Alaric Morgan is noted as training himself to fight with either hand, and often wields a sword in his right hand and a stiletto in his left. Morgan also advocates such training to his king Brion Haldane, when the king had an expressed preference for having all his pages and squires train to be right-handed. Morgan sensibly observed that fighters lacking training with their left hands would be defenseless if their right hands or arms became injured.
  • The Dark Elf Trilogy: Drizzt Do'Urden is initially supposed to train as a mage but the family's weapons master Zaknafein feels Drizzt's talent would be wasted in that position. After Zaknafein forces Drizzt to display his instinctive reflex speed and natural ambidexterity in front of his mother, she is forced to agree that he will better serve the family as a warrior. He becomes an exceptional swordsman, twin scimitars being his weapons of choice.
  • The Princess Bride: Both Inigo Montoya and Westley are right-handed, but have trained their left hands so much they can beat most other swordsmen even when fighting with their off-hands. This enables them to fight a left-handed duel against each other, with neither of them realizing that their opponent is only feigning to be left-handed.
  • Invoked in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber: In one of Mitty's daydreams about being a grandiose and heroic person, he finds himself as the defendant in a murder trial. His defender argues that Mitty could not have shot the victim because his right arm was injured. Mitty cuts him short by boasting that he "could have killed Gregory Fitzhurst at three hundred feet with [his] left hand."
  • In The Moment of Truth by Vladimir Bogomolov, Tamantsev is a trained ambidexter whose preferred fighting style is Guns Akimbo (which he's actually famous for and has a reward from recent shooting competition). In the climax he engages a left-handed enemy agent in a duel and manages to disable the enemy's left arm, causing the agent to drop his weapon, but doesn't let his guard down, musing that his adversary still has a spare gun and very well may be a villainous version of this.
  • Gilan of Ranger's Apprentice is a Master Swordsman with his right hand, and "only" very dangerous with his left hand. It's mentioned that his master taught him to be this way so he can pull off an I Am Not Left-Handed.
  • Kane is naturally left-handed, but he can use his right hand equally proficiently, which often surprises his opponents. But then, he had a lot of time to train.

    Live-Action TV 
  • John Reese in Person of Interest is equally accurate shooting either right- or left-handed. On a side note, his actor Jim Caviezel is ambidextrous in real life.
  • Shawn Spencer in Psych. He's typically right-handed, but in "Shawn Takes a Shot in the Dark," he manages to successfully shoot out a car's engine using his left hand, with an injured left shoulder.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ambidexterity is a common perk in Tabletop RPG systems, such as Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS. It allows you to Dual Wield weapons much more efficiently than otherwise, even if you're already trained for it. Some settings require the player to have a sufficient Dexterity score to do so.
  • Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games like Deathwatch cast Space Marines, genetically enhanced super soldiers and arguably the main heroes of the setting, as equally capable of using any weapons with either hands thanks to their extensive training.

    Video Games 
  • Prince of Persia: In the Sands of Time continuity, while he wasn't initially, by the time the prince came to the Island of Time he was able to use both hands alike, to the point of wielding the dagger in his right hand and two-hand sword in his left in the climax of the Two Thrones.
  • Link of the Legend of Zelda series, has traditionally been The Southpaw; but in the earliest games, his sprite would switch hands depending on which way it was facing, and in later games, to accommodate motion controls, he reverted to being right-handed in order to match the majority of players (although handedness doesn't actually affect gameplay). Word of God decided that he's ambidextrous with a preference for his left or right hand, depending on incarnation, in order to smooth over the inconsistencies.
  • Playable characters in Final Fantasy IV are each assigned a handedness stat; of the main cast, both Yang and Edge are ambidextrous, while Kain is The Southpaw. Equipping a weapon in a character's non-dominant hand inflicts a penalty to attack power and hit percentage.
  • Uncharted:
    • Nathan Drake is only right-handed in the first game, but the next games bring him the ability to switch hands with his weapon when the cover he's currently using would require using the right or left hand to provide maximum cover. One can master it and turn around to trigger a shift when hiding behind short walls, in order to optimize the angle of shooting.
    • In the multiplayer modes, since any player can choose any skin, every character has the ability to switch sides while being "normally" right-handed and wearing right-handed equipment (such as holsters).
  • Some of the Splinter Cell games allow Sam to switch his weapon over to his left hand for the same reasons. Conviction removed this ability.
  • Unreal has the option to keep the equipped gun on the left, right or center of the screen, a choice that impacts the orientation of the projectiles. In the "right" and "center" options, the Player Character holds the weapon right-handed, while for "left" (s)he goes full southpaw. You can change the handedness at any point, even during a game in progress, and in fact at least one Game Mod that introduces leaning swaps weapon hands accordingly.
  • Quake II had a similar option.
  • The first Soldier of Fortune allowed the player to switch hands when using the Silver Talon, though bizarrely not with any other weapon.
  • Doom had an interesting take on this trope; The Marine punches and uses the pistol with his left hand, but fires the shotgun and plasma rifle with his right. It's hard to tell which hand he uses for the Chaingun, rocket launcher and the BFG9000, as they're just in the centre of the screen. Doom II adds a right-handed double barrelled shotgun as well as a chainsaw operated predominantly using the right hand on the trigger and the left on the support grip.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim allows the player to be either left or right handed with a one-handed weapon or spells. Two-handed weapons are still always used right handed, though.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Zuko is trained to dual wield twin scimitars, and uses this skill to fight against benders when he wants to hide his identity and his knowledge of fire bending. When explaining what he was taught he says that when using two swords you have to treat them like "they're part of the same body" and move them in sync.

     Real Life 
  • One of the biggest things Tae Kwon Do has going for it is teaching this. Tae Kwon Do schools tend to focus equally on fighting both Northpaw and Southpaw.

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