Orthodox or Southpaw?
Ah, the age-old question. When I first started training, I fought orthodox. My reasoning was because I’m left-handed I could make better use of a hard jab and left hook. It wasn’t the worst idea, after all Bruce Lee himself advocated for your strongest hand being closer to the target, and he might actually be the most famous southpaw in history, certainly the most famous martial artist.
Then about six months into training I changed to a southpaw stance, which has been my main stance ever since. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a lot of Diesel peeps have had that same experience. Most beginners tend to be under the impression that they should lead with their dominant hand.
So, should we be orthodox or southpaw?
Well for a start, if you’re experienced you should remain in the stance you currently use, rather than starting from the beginning again and re-learning a new stance. What if you’re starting out though?
The raw truth of the matter is that it doesn’t actually make much difference whether you stand orthodox or southpaw, at least not when it comes to power. We often make a big deal about the power hand going in the back, but in practise most knockouts come from lead hooks in boxing, and for most fighters that lead hook is coming from their non-dominant hand.
What makes a strike powerful is not which hand it comes from, as your hands dexterity has nothing to do with punching power. Punching power comes from the strength of the core, legs and the leverage of a punch. If you are strong in these areas, you’ll have power regardless of which hand you’re punching with.
What matters a little more is your accuracy when starting out.
Your lead jab is the closest strike to the target, and it doesn’t take much accuracy to land when compared to the rear straight. Equally if you throw a cross counter, that punch will have to come from a further difference than a lead hook counter. When travelling that extra distance, the superior hand eye co-ordination actually will matter.
So, for a beginner, though it’s annoying, you really do want your dominant hand in the back.
Frequently I hear people claim that they are ambidextrous, or equally good with their left and right hand. What this usually means is that they are equally bad with their left and right hands. True ambidextrous people are rare, and popular switch hitters like Max Holloway (who we have more on here) typically stay in one stance for most of a fight and switch for moments where they can have an advantage.
Even if you feel equally competent with both hands, it’s still best to choose a stance and stick with it for a few years of training before taking up any switch hitting. One of the major flaws with having your power hand in front is that all to often it results in a one-handed fighter who is only ever throwing their lead hand and nothing else. A good example of this would be Georges St. Pierre, who while a great fighter was so reluctant to throw his right hand that most of his fights ended up being non-stop jab affairs. Similarly, Miguel Cotto lived and died by his left hand and rarely threw the right. Both fantastic fighters no doubt, but not ideal.
But can I train to be a Southpaw even if I’m right-handed or vice versa?
Absolutely! After a few solid months of training in the ‘wrong’ stance, you should feel completely fine. Boxers like Miguel Cotto and Oscar De La Hoya are left-handed orthodox fighters, and in Muay Thai is it very common to have right-handed southpaws. However, you will need to specifically work on your accuracy with your ‘weaker’ hand.
With good quality training and hard work, a lot of this becomes extra fluff that you don’t need to worry about, however there are a few things to consider when choosing between orthodox and southpaw. While southpaws generally have the advantage over orthodox fighters, there are some things that orthodox fighters are able to do much easier, when against an orthodox opponent (IE most opponents):
Orthodox fighters have an easier time punching the liver. The closed stance match up brings the orthodox fighters left side close to their opponents right side, where the liver sits. Not only does this make hooks to the liver easier, it also makes it a lot easier for an orthodox fighter to fight on the inside. While they do exist, it’s not common to see a southpaw who excels at fighting inside, they usually perform better at mix and long ranges.
On the other hand, the southpaw left kick to the liver is more powerful and reliable than the orthodox switch kick. It comes from further away making it lower risk, and it lands with more power than switch kicks do. Southpaws also benefit from southpaw double of the left hand and left body kick (which we wrote about here).
A good southpaw only needs to do a few things well in order to succeed, but it is also harder to find a coach who knows how to train a southpaw correctly, and there are fewer resources online to teach southpaw techniques (thankfully if you’re training at Diesel London this isn’t a problem).
What if I’m a grappler?
Typically grappling martial arts encourage a fighter to lead with their dominant hand. This is in part why there are a lot of southpaws in MMA compared to other sports, though still a minority. If you’re coming from a grappling background, then it may be best to stick with the stance you’re comfortable with and learn striking from that stance.
However, don’t overthink it – as grappling within an MMA context is completely different, set ups are entirely different. Wrestling lessons in MMA should give you the technique to finish a takedown, but the conventional ways of getting a takedown in wrestling are practically useless in MMA, due to the difference in distance, presence of strikes and in how different hand fighting is.
Regardless of which stance you choose, the most important thing is that you commit to learning that way. This is why for most people I recommend them having their weak hand in front, simply because for most people that will be the easiest in the long run, to prevent you from becoming a one-handed fighter.
That being said, being a converted southpaw is perfectly legitimate, plenty of Thai coaches are happy to not only teach a right hander southpaw, but flat out change a fighters stance and say ‘you’re southpaw now’ and re-train them to have those southpaw advantages. You just need to know that it’s going to be hard work, and you have to commit.