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Which lead is best?

Intro

Taekwondo students constantly train to execute all techniques equally well from either side. However, most fighters still have a good and bad side; they never achieve equality on both sides. Also, most fighters have individual techniques that work better on one side than they do on the other side.

So, with all the emphasis and training on learning to fight from both sides, why do taekwondo students still primarily fight from only one side? Maybe it is because the single-lead is the best way to fight!

Definitions

  • Lead. The side that is toward the opponent when sparring.
  • Single-lead. Training and fighting from only one side.
  • Double-lead. Training and fighting from one side and then the other, switching sides as appropriate.
  • Left-lead. The left side is toward the opponent, also known as the orthodox style.
  • Right-lead. The right side is toward the opponent, also known as the southpaw style.
  • Strong-side. The dominant hand side.
  • Weak-side. The non-dominant hand side.
  • Trailing-side. The side opposite the lead side, the side of the rear foot.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other

If you analyze the situation, the single-lead logically appears to be the best way to fight. If two fighters train the same number of hours with the same intensity, one using only a single-lead and the other using a double-lead, then the single-lead fighter will have trained twice as much on his one side as the other fighter will have trained on either of his sides.

There are also physiological reasons for using a single-lead. The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice-versa. However, since the neural mechanisms for each side of the body are not identical, each side cannot achieve identical physical motions. Also, the body itself lacks identical symmetry. The length, mass, and thickness of practically every muscle on the one side are different from those on the other side. Most people were born with right or left side dominance and they reinforce this dominance with their daily actions. All these differences affect how you move, punch, and kick. Therefore, even though right and left side techniques may seem identical, there are actually quite different.

Therefore, with proper training, we may expect to be able to kick or punch from either side, but it is unrealistic to expect to be able to kick or punch equally from either side. Most people cannot write, throw a ball, or swing a bat or golf club equally on either side, so why should we expect to kick or punch equally from either side.

Don’t force ambidextrous

As we learn physical actions, we move from a level of conscious thought and effort to one of subconscious reflex while performing the actions. A right or left-handed person, with minimal practice, can drive a nail with a hammer while talking to a friend. However, it takes intense concentration and considerable effort to talk and drive the nail with the opposite hand.

Mastery (operating on the level of subconscious reflex) over a given task is directly related to the amount of conscious effort previously used to learn the task. With extensive training, you may learn to drive a nail equally well with either hand, but this still does not change your preference for the dominant hand. This may only be changed by consciously establishing a preference for the non-dominate hand by only using that hand for everyday life. This normally occurs only when a person loses the use of the dominant hand.

In years past, some left-handed children were forced to use their right hand until it became their dominant hand. Many of these children grew up to become ambidextrous. If this works for a complex task like writing, then one might think it should work in learning to kick and punch.

You should train to fight from both sides (rather than training to perform all techniques equally on both sides). To do this, you should train each side to be "movement-specific," meaning that each side is trained to perform actions that the other side does not normally perform. For example, for a right-hander, only the left hand should be trained for back fist attacks and only the right hand should be trained for reverse punches. This means a fighter must fight from one lead all the time, even if it is the same lead side as the strong, dominant side. As a fighter gains experience, the fighter may train to switch leads, however, the training should concentrate on the dominant lead.

Which lead should you use?

Most people are right-handed so they fight from a left-lead; this means they find it difficult to fight a fighter who is using a right-lead. For this reason, if you make the right-lead your dominant lead, you will have an advantage over most fighters. Since left-handed people are in the minority, they are used to fighting right-handed people who fight with a left-lead. Whereas right-handed people are used to fighting other right-handed people who fight with a left-lead, so they fid it awkward fighting left-handed people who fight with a right-lead.

Therefore, if a right-handed fighter stays in a left-lead when fighting a left-handed opponent who uses a right-lead, the fighter will be at a disadvantage since he or she will be fighting an opponent with a different lead. However, if the right-handed fighter switches to a right-lead, while he or she may feel awkward in this lead, the fighter will be on more equal ground with the opponent, since the opponent will now also be fighting an opponent with a lead he or she is not used to fighting.

The "single-lead" and "strong-side lead" theories are not new. The great Joe Lewis prefers fighting from a single lead. Master Bill Wallace, who always fought from a left lead, agrees. He says it doesn’t make sense to use valuable training time to become a mediocre fighter on two sides when you could use the same amount of training to become an outstanding fighter on one side.

Al Dacascos, as well as the late Bruce Lee, believed fighters should train with the strong-side forward. Nature seems to agree since most animals keep their strong weapons in front (tiger claws, snake fangs, etc.). Having the strongest weapons in front allows them to be quickly brought into action. Lead-hand or foot strikes are much quicker than those from the trailing side, and, when the strong side is in front, the strikes have more power. This does not mean that trailing side strikes are weaker. As stated above, you should train the non-dominate side on different techniques than you use on the strong side. Then the trailing side becomes just as effective as the strong side. Then, even if the strong-side becomes disabled, the once weak side may take over.

Most double-lead fighters have a favorite side. If it becomes disabled, then the fighter uses the other side. Will that side be any stronger than the weak side of the single-lead fighter? Maybe, but even if it is, it will probably be no more effective than the weak side of a single-lead fighter.

Find the lead that naturally works for you and stay with it.

Sources

  • Orlando, B. (1989). The Complete Fighter: Program Helps Martial Artists Achieve Equal Rights-And Lefts. Black Belt magazine, July 1989.
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