There is a long history of ancient cultures including the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese, that prejudice left-handed use, or left-handed people. It is seen as - sinister, wicked, evil, and many of the words for such are derived from the word left in these languages.
In Chinese culture, the major philosophies and religions believe in the universe spinning from left to right; things must always start on the left and move toward the right to remain in harmony. This is expressed in many of the Traditional Kung Fu forms that we see and is heavily documented in Tai Chi manuals. The symbol for Yin Yang depicts this cycle as well.
In stand-up martial arts - a majority of boxers place their left foot forward in fighting, just as a majority of baseball players stand on the left side of the plate at bat. By and large, right-hand dominant people outnumber left-hand dominant people, but this does not give cause to ignore the significance of this change of position when faced with a 'southpaw'.
The term 'southpaw' is typically used to define a left-handed boxer. A fighting position, or stance where one fighter has their right foot forward versus the traditional pose of the left foot forward used by right-handed boxers. Of more interest to us, are the advantages and disadvantages of this opposing, or unorthodox stance.
Why Staggered and not Square
Before we discuss that, let's hammer out why someone stands one foot in front of the other in the first place.
A squared up stance in hand-to-hand combatives can be good from a power based perspective. You give equal power to both arms, as well as equal reach. Some self-defense systems teach this at their core. The cost however outweighs the benefit.
Being square is something you can be successful with in martial arts such as Wrestling, Shuāi Jiāo, or Judo; striking arts change the game. The square position exposes our centerline to our opponent, giving access to vital targets on our body such as the solar plexus, liver, bladder, groin. These can be game-over strikes if they land on us.
By taking up a staggered stance and slanting the upper body, what we call 'blading', we decrease our profile (smaller target), but strikes are more easily deflected off the angle of the body, protecting these sensitive targets. An opponent is then required to circle to the inside line in order to access our centerline. This is easily read by veteran boxers.
In a staggered stance where both fighters are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of being square versus bladed, there is another, deeper component that becomes a major liability - when one fighter is on the opposite foot.
Meaning, boxer A has their left foot forward, and boxer B has their right foot forward - this is where southpaw becomes the challenge. Here are some of the pros and cons to the southpaw position:
Pros of Southpaw
- Easier to attack the flank - kidneys, ribs, temple, ear, and occipital lobe, brachial nerve; all exposed from outside angle.
- Cuts off the opponents second hand from attacking when on the outside line.
- Sets up significant number of trips, sweeps, take-downs.
- If dominant hand is forward - offers a stronger jab stunning the opponent.
- If on the inside line, it squares up the opponent, offering clear shots with the power hand to solid vital targets. in the face and body.
- Exposes the opponents groin to attacks with kicks, grabs, strikes, knees.
Cons of Southpaw
- When on the inside line we are in reach of both hands and susceptible to attacks not normally possible when directly in front of your opponent.
- Opponent can attack our flank hitting vital or destructive targets.
- Groin is exposed to kicks.
- Legs are side by side if opponent is on our inside line, making us more vulnerable to double leg takedowns, crashing tide, leg wraps, etc.
- Fighting southpaw allows our opponent to sweep our foot when we shuffle in, and if we circle to their inside, we are walking right into their power punch.
- This position also affects 'our' own range; placing the forward punch closer to our opponent, yet keeping our reverse punch so far away that it is often too far, or awkward to throw unless the other person makes a mistake.
In training, it is common to fight one-sided. In other words people choose a side to train and often ignore the other side, giving it less attention. In these formats a righty will spend most of their time fighting other righty's, while a lefty, or southpaw, will spend most of their time fighting righty's. This gives the lefty an advantage over the righty. They spend a far more time in this position and are then able to develop superior tactics and strategies from such.
Be aware of this tendency, and train diligently to overcome this challenge by putting yourself in weaker positions on purpose. This will allow you to adapt to this change and be hypersensitive to it in sparring/fighting.
Know your weaknesses and capitalize on your gains
What to do on the outside line
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.
Look for throws that work from here. Side Leg Scoop, and Tiger Tail Throw, Reaping Leg are all obvious choices.
What to do on the inside line
- Strike up the middle high and low while being aware of any position changes made by your opponent that may put you at risk.
- Kick or Punch to the groin.
- Attack with Double Leg Takedown.
The Crazy Ghost Fist of Mantis Boxing
Mantis Boxing's Crazy Ghost Fist - The first move in the core form known as Bēng Bù (Crushing Step 崩步). This move is a perfect example of proper use of the southpaw position.
Our opponent punches. We move to the outside line while blocking the arm and striking the ribs/liver with a reverse punch.
Check out this video on how it's applied.
Southpaw can be a great advantage, or a horrible liability depending on your skill level and how you use it. As a rule, when I teach beginners I leave it out.
It's more important to understand the basic orthodox stance first, and change stance with the opponent in the early stages. This keeps your blocking system intact. Once a boxer is comfortable with this position, then we begin to explore the Southpaw advantage.