Saturday, July 11, 2009

Southpaw - An In-Depth Look

The southpaw term is used for many reasons but for our purposes it is to connotate the position in fighting where the fighter has their right foot forward versus the traditional pose of the left foot forward. Of more interest to us is the advantages and disadvantages of one fighter having their left foot forward and the other having their right foot forward, and the reciprocal.

There is a long history of ancient cultures including the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese that prejudice left-handed use. It is seen as sinister, wicked, evil, etc. and many of the words for such are derived from the word left in these languages (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-handedness). In Chinese culture the major philosophies and religions believe in the universe spinning from left to right and things must always start on the left and move toward the right to remain in harmony. This expresses itself is in many of the Kung Fu forms that we see and is heavily documented in Tai Chi.

It is interesting as to why people usually place the left foot forward. It may very well be the majority of right hand dominant people versus left-hand dominant people. It may be a subconscious desire to protect the right kidney since it hangs slightly lower than the left, partially exposed without full protection of the rib cage. Placing the right side in the rear offers more protection to the flank. Keeping the powerful right in reserve if they are a righty. Who knows. It is not in the scope of this article to determine the root of these beliefs but rather what effect the Southpaw stance has on fighting.

What we do know is that people use this stance when they fight and knowing the advantages and disadvantages to its use can be quite beneficial. Here are some of the pros and cons to having your left foot forward while your opponent has their right and vice versus.

Pros:
  1. Easier to attack the flank.
  2. Cuts off the opponents second hand from attacking when on the outside.
  3. Sets up for trips, sweeps, take-downs.
  4. If dominant hand is forward - offers a stronger jab.
  5. If on the inside it squares up your opponent offering clear shots to solid targets. Exposes the groin to attacks with kicks, grabs, strikes, knees.

Cons:
  1. When on the inside you are in reach of both hands and susceptible to attacks not normally possible when directly in front of your opponent.
  2. Opponent can attack your flank hitting vital or destructive targets.
  3. Groin is exposed to kicks.
  4. Legs are side by side if opponent is on your inside making you more vulnerable to double leg takedowns.
  5. Fighting southpaw allows your opponent to sweep your foot when you shuffle in and if you circle to their inside you are walking right into their cross.
  6. This position also affects your range, placing the jab closer to your opponent and keeping the cross so far away that it is often out of range and awkward to throw unless the other person makes a mistake.
Know your weaknesses and capitalize on your gains.
What to do on the outside:
  1. If you are on the outside you want to remain there if possible, providing you have the correct angle. In this position you should be lighting up your opponent with hooks to the head, ribs, and kidney while attacking the inside line with your other hand using effective combinations.
  2. Ideal position for setting up a few throws like side leg scoop and thigh lift throw.
  3. In fight training it is common to fight one sided. In other words people choose a side to train and often ignore the other side or give it less attention. In these formats a Righty will spend most of their time fighting Righty's while a Lefty or Southpaw will spend most of their time fighting Righty's. This gives the Lefty an advantage as they spend a vast majority of time in this position and develop superior tactics and strategies.

What to do on the inside:
  1. Strike up the middle high and low while being aware of any position changes made by your opponent that may put you at risk.
  2. Kick or Punch to the groin.
  3. Perform Double Leg Takedown.

Examples:
Here are a couple applications from our Kung Fu styles that use this position:
  • Mantis Boxing
    Crazy Ghost Fist - The first move in Beng Bu. This move is a perfect example of proper use of the southpaw. Opponent punches and you move to the outside while blocking the arm and striking the ribs.
  • Tai Chi
    Deflect Parry Punch - exists throughout the long form. In this move you ward-off your opponents arm, use cross circle step to their outside and shift forward to Southpaw bow stance while pinning the arm with your outside hand and striking with the inside.
Southpaw can be a great advantage or a great liability in fighting depending on your skill level with using it. As a rule when I teach beginners I leave it out. If you don't understand the dangers then the advantages are not worth the risk. When you understand match stance (left to left or right to right) then you should begin to play with the Southpaw position.