Support Side Shooting: Train Both Sides of Your Brain

Creative thinking may mean simply the realization that there’s no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done. – Rudolph Flesch

Every human being has a varying degree of preference for one side of the body over the other. We also have one eye which is dominant in vision. When we shoot, this can cause some significant challenges. The right side of the brain controls the left hand and vice versa. If you can only shoot with one hand, you are a 180 degree creature in a 360 degree world. If you can only teach with one hand, you are half an instructor.

A recent study has determined that male left-handedness is about 11.6% and female 8.6%.  In ancient times, left handedness was seen as a mark of possession by the Devil. Both of my ex-wives and mother are left handed so this Devil connection makes some sense to me.  The Latin word Sinistra means left handed.   This is the root word for sinister.  Dexter, means right or favorable.  So, ambidextrous means both right. About one person in a hundred is ambidextrous and has no preference.

In baseball, the ability to bat from either side makes a hitter a more likely to get on base. Pete Rose was a very successful switch hitter. In martial arts being able to face your opponent with either shoulder forward can give you an advantage reaching around your opponents guard. Boxer Manny Pacquiao uses left handed stance in the ring even though he is right-handed.

Most martial arts training encourages ambidexterity by requiring students to do the same number of repetitions with the right side of the body as with the left.  Strangely, shooting instruction often uses the same dominant hand except for disabled drills.

Eye dominance is the tendency of the brain to prefer visual input from one eye. When the dominant eye is opposite the dominant hand, this is known as cross dominance. Not only do women have different brains, they are more likely to be cross dominant.  Most women do not have absolute eye dominance. Many females experience an indeterminate eye dominance with both eyes fighting for control.  There is research which indicates that the ratio of right/left eye dominance changes with different sports.  This may indicate that eye dominance can be learned and changed.

Unlike the hands, both hemispheres of the brain control both eyes.  Each half of the brain manages a different half of the field of vision. Vision is a global phenomenon which involves the whole brain.

Brain Function Diagram

There are differing degrees of dominance and a few people have no dominant eye. This is further complicated when one lacks of 20/20 vision in both eyes.

It is important that you know which is your dominant eye. The simplest way to determine eye dominance is to point you index finger at a distant object. The finger will line up with the dominant eye (usually the right eye if you are right-handed). Another technique is to focus on a distant object, then make a circle around it with both hands. Bring the hands back to the eye. The hands come back to the dominant eye.

Eye Dominance Test. Photo from southcarolinahunter.com

Most practical shooting instruction suggests shooting with both eyes open. Closing one eye eliminates depth perception, reduces situational awareness and makes movement difficult.  With both eyes,  your natural hand eye coordination is better and it is easier to judge of speeds and angles.

This simple concept, as with most things in shooting, is not easy. About 70% of us have an eye dominance that matches our handedness. If you are cross-dominant, that is right handed but left dominant or vice versa, you will find yourself fighting to get your eyes focused on the sights. Many shooters, such as police officers, who shoot predominantly handgun, may not realize they are cross dominant. They hold a handgun in front of their dominant eye and don’t notice it is in the opposite hand.

Eye focus in a gun fight is constantly shifting from target for threat identification to sights for alignment and back to the target for assessment and threat identification. It is a primal response to danger to look at a moving object momentarily. These are all distractions. You need to discipline yourself and train your eyes to see what you need to see, when you need to see it. This judgment comes from force on force training and experience.

If you are right handed and right eye dominant, you may think your shooting is instinctive. You instructor was probably just like you. The problem comes in when cross dominant beginning shooters are not identified. If they are left handed it is worse, because most of the demonstrations in their shooting education were right handed.

The corpus callosum (Latin for tough body) is a wide, flat bundle of neural fibers beneath the cortex which connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres and facilitates inter-hemispheric communication. This structure helps your left brain teach your right brain to shoot.

We used to think that women had a larger corpus callosum that men.  This was used to explain their emotion response to, well, everything.  With brain scanning technology, we have learned this is a software issue, not hardware.

If you are not cross dominant, try this simple experiment. Get a holster for you non-dominant side and do some simple drills. (Safety note: If you do this live fire, 85% of you will cross your thumb behind the slide, because that is where you dominant hand always puts the thumb. Don’t shoot like that.  You should strive to keep the blood inside your body at all times during shooting.)   The gun will feel strange because you are using the other half of your brain which has less shooting training. This is different than shooting support hand only. If you were not cross dominant before, you are now.

Try a magazine change, do a malfunction drill and clear a jam. You will see why ambidextrous features are desirable on  handgun.  If you are cross dominant. You may find it is easier to shoot with your non-dominant hand and your dominant eye. It is generally easier to train a hand than rewire vision.

All this talk about handedness and vision has a purpose. If you shoot with both hands, you can more readily adapt to changing conditions. Training devices such as the SIRT laser training pistol make this training low cost and low risk. If you use a rifle or shotgun, train on both sides also. One immediate benefit is use of cover is much more effective if you fire with the outside hand around cover.

If you are an instructor, you should demonstrate techniques with each hand.  Once you do this a few times you will realize that some manipulations are very different with the opposite hand. For example, if your gun doesn’t have an ambidextrous magazine release, a simple magazine change requires very different procedures. If you are left handed, you already know this.

Training with your non-dominant hand feels different. It is clumsy and difficult at first. We have a tendency to practice things we are good at. We want to shoot fast and maintain a high CDI (Chicks Dig It) factor. With a little practice, you will find you can shoot well from either side. You will become twice as dangerous and double your CDI factor.

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