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Heroic Ambidexterity

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"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 (for most of us, 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 that the Heroic Ambidexter is strong even among the strong, and conversely, describing a warrior as ambidextrous is often 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 weak 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".)

Combatants with more than the usual number of arms fall under Multi-Armed and Dangerous.

Has nothing to do with Ambidextrous Sprite.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward Elric learns to write left-handed since his right is automail.
  • 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.
  • Hajime no Ippo: There are a few fighters that fight with no stance, which allows those boxer to be adept with either side of their body. The only explicit version of ambidextrous fighters are Randy Boy Junior and his father. Randy Boy Junior is proficient in both his left, his right, and "squared" (without a leading foot or arm). This gives Randy Boy Junior the advantage of not having any openings, and gives the opponent three different styles to fight against. It also gives him the ability to disrupt a counter-puncher's ability to setup counters, as Randy Boy Junior can freely switch between all three stances, making him significantly more unpredictable.
  • 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.
  • In The Prince of Tennis, the protagonist, Ryoma Echizen is shown in the majority of his tennis matches playing right-handed, until he comes up to a particularly strong opponent at which point he switches to his left hand, which is the stronger of his two.
  • Yukio of Blue Exorcist is a prodigy gunslinger who can both shoot and write with both hands.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Happy Heroes, Careful S. typically wields two swords (actually Kalo shapeshifted into them) in combat, and can engage with two or more targets at once, with or without duplicates, proving to be a prowess in battle.

    Comic Books 
  • Batwoman: Batwoman has not only been shown able to use orthodox and southpaw fighting stances, but is also ambidextrous in things like shooting, throwing batarangs, and using everyday items.
  • Judge Dredd: 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.
  • X-Men: Nightcrawler takes this up a notch by not only Dual Wielding swords in his hands but simultaneously wielding one with his Prehensile Tail.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Shooter: Bob Lee Swagger is predominantly a righty, but when his right hand gets injured, he is shown to be just as competent with his left. For the record, Mark Wahlberg is a lefty.
  • Like his comic-book counterpart, Dredd's version of Judge Dredd is able to shoot with both hands. He noticeably shoots an incendiary round off with his left hand, taking out several mooks at once.
  • Manco from For a Few Dollars More is an unusual example. In his Establishing Character Moment, he deals cards and performs hand-to-hand combat with his left hand, but all his shooting is done with his right.
  • Oblivion (2013) plays this in an unusual manner. Jack Harper wields rifles left handed, but pistols right handed.
  • The Last Jedi: During the battle in Snoke's throne room, Rey dispatches her last opponent—-who has her arm restrained and has her in a sort-of headlock—by dropping her lightsaber to her other hand as she ducks away to deal the final blow to the royal guard.
  • The Princess Bride: During the sword fight between Inigo Montoya and the Man in Black, Inigo pulls a surprise hand shift with his rapier, noting that he isn't left-handed. Later, at a point where Inigo has the Man in Black on the ropes, his opponent says that he isn't left-handed either, shifting his sword to his right hand and eventually winning the duel.

  • 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, 1 Chronicles 12 names 23 Benjaminites who "were armed with the bow and could use both right hand and left hand to sling stones or shoot arrows with the bow".
  • 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. This comes from an incident in her page training where another page broke her right arm, so she decided to train both just in case.
  • 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 Series: 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.
  • Jedi Quest character Darra Thel-Tanis can use her lightsaber equally well with either hand
  • In the Star Wars Legends novel The Han Solo Adventures, Han favors his right hand but is also perfectly capable of quick-drawing and and shooting with his left. This is how he defeats the gunman Gallandro, who's even faster and and a better shot than he is, but only with his right hand. He hands Gallandro a box of cash that's rigged with a shock device, and to make sure he has no time to notice and drop the box, activated it while they're both holding it. This temporarily disables both of their right hands. Han shifts his holster so his blaster is ready to be drawn left-handed, and the normally unstoppable Gallandro flees because he's now at a disadvantage.
  • Dark Shores: When Killian is shot in the right shoulder, he simply switches sword hands, and he is often seen fighting with two blades.
  • According to Word of God, the Whaddon Bypass in Grent's Fall requires this (one of the reasons it's so rare), as both swords would be used for both offense and defense.

    Live-Action TV 
  • John Reese in Person of Interest is equally accurate shooting either right- or left-handed. 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.
  • Inverted in The Flash (2014). While most speedsters can vibrate their right hands, the Season 3 Big Bad Savitar has a Blade Below the Shoulder on each hand and uses both at different parts of his storyline.
  • Game of Thrones: At the Battle of Winterfell, Arya Stark seemingly fails to ambush the Night King, as he grabs her in a choke hold just as she is about to lunge at him. Just as the Night King seems to have her at his mercy, Arya drops her Valyrian steel knife to her other (lowered) hand, which she then uses to thrust the blade into his belly.

    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 The Legend of Zelda series, has traditionally been left-handed; 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 left-handed. 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. The chainsaw is operated predominantly using the right hand on the trigger and the left on the support grip. 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.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Downplayed in Morrowind, where the player character shoots a bow left-handed while fighting with melee weapons right-handed.
    • 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. Likewise, if a shield is equipped, it is always relegated to the left hand.
  • Far Cry 3: Jason attempts to stab Vaas with a knife, who blocks it by placing his arm under Jason's right wrist. Jason responds by dropping the knife out of his right hand, catching it with his left, and stabbing Vaas in the torso.
  • It’s more like anti-heroic ambidexterity, but in the God of War series, Kratos is often seen dual-wielding the Blades of Chaos/Athena/Exile to devastating effect. In God of War 3, this also extends to the Claws of Hades, the Nemean Cestus, and the Nemesis Whip.

    Western Animation 
  • Arcane: In League of Legends, Vi is left-handed, meaning she would be a southpaw fighter. In the show, she fights with an orthodox (or right-handed) stance as a teenager, and is shown using both stances in her fight with Sevika in episode 5.
  • 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.
  • In Castlevania (2017), Trevor Belmont is just as capable wielding his whip with his left hand as he is his right — during his battle with Alucard, he switches his sword between hands and manages to hold off a stronger, magically-capable opponent wielding a longer blade.
  • Di-Gata Defenders: Adam has been shown casting with both his left and right hand.
  • In Voltron: Legendary Defender, Keith is able to use his sword with both hands, even teleporting it from a pinned hand to the other in order to gain an advantage.
  • On The Simpsons, after Marge injures her right shoulder in a curling match, she reveals that she's actually left-handed. She relies on her right to do everything in order to avoid seeming unusual and has become cross-dominant as a result. Using her uninjured left, she helps the US team win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

    Real Life 
  • This can happen with left-handed participants in sports like Kendo where everyone trains right-handed, leading to a Situational Hand Switch.
  • 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.
  • Switch-hitters (those who can bat from either side of the plate) in baseball are considered a bonus because those who can bat from the opposite side of the plate as the pitcher's throwing hand generally have an advantage. Switch-pitchers (who can pitch with either hand) are far less common, but are similarly seen as a bonus because neither righties nor lefties cant hit from an advantageous side of the plate against them. Switch-hitter versus switch-pitcher matchups are rare enough that it wasn't until 2008 that a rule was implemented on who has to choose first which hand they're going to use for the at-bat.