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What If We’ve Been Doing Handedness Wrong?

January 11, 2017

I recently took up the hobby of knife throwing. Since it’s a completely useless skill anyway, and I am currently equally clumsy at it with either hand, I am practicing almost exclusively with my non-dominant side.

I’ve long had the habit of doing certain manual tasks, like brushing my teeth or using utensils, with my non-dominant side, just to balance out my nervous system and keep my off hand from seeming completely useless. Over time I have noticed that, even if it seems awkward at first, with enough repetition any task will come to seem comfortable and efficient, even with my off hand.

My hypothesis is that as my off hand gets better at throwing knives, my dominant hand will largely absorb the skill by osmosis. I have found it to be true in other instances that whatever I can do comfortably with my off hand, I can also do competently with my dominant hand. I remember first being inspired to try this by a friend from college. He and his brother were studying a particular style of martial arts that emphasized using the right hand. His brother, who was left handed, would always have to learn and practice the drills with his right hand first. This was harder for him initially, but the payoff was that his left hand would more or less pick up the skill for free.

Yesterday it struck me that perhaps this is what Nature intended. Perhaps we have been doing it wrong all along by relying on our dominant hand to learn everything, and letting our off hand remain undeveloped and uncoordinated. Perhaps we should develop new skills with our off hand, and let them be automatically transferred to the dominant hand. Perhaps it is part of our design to function this way, so that we don’t have to practice continually with both hands to maintain bilateral proficiency and coordination.

To experiment with this effect yourself, I suggest starting with a skill that is new, so that you won’t feel frustrated, and non-critical, so that you won’t feel impatient. Writing with your off hand would be great if you could do it, for example, but it might feel prohibitively frustrating to do it with your off hand, and it might be a while before your off hand handwriting is good enough for practical use. So it will probably be easiest to start with a skill that is new to both hands and non-critical, so that it won’t feel unusually awkward and won’t interfere with the ordinary functioning of your life while you are getting over the learning curve.

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