“Filthy lefties!”: The humorous stigmatization of left-handers in historical European martial arts

Research papers
By George Jennings

Left-handed people, constituting 10-13% of humanity, are overly represented in combat sports. However, over the centuries, left-handedness has been associated with bad luck, clumsiness, witchcraft and devilry. Historical fencing styles and the manuscripts that explain them were developed for right-handed people fighting right-handed adversaries. The reinvented versions of these historical European martial arts (HEMA) are now flourishing worldwide, forming their own specific subculture. This article draws from an ongoing ethnography of The Blade Academy (pseudonym) in the UK which utilises my own apprenticeship and observant participation as a left-hander. Inspired by the meta-framework of linguistic bodies (Di Paolo et al., 2019), I examine how originally right-handed techniques are adapted for left-handed people. Utilising Goffman’s (1963) notion of Stigma alongside Benign Violation (McGraw & Warren, 2010), my analysis depicts humorous approaches to the stigmatisation in a right-handed world. The jokes about these “filthy lefties” (as opposed to “righties and the righteous”) draw on centuries of stigma from Roman times in which the sinistra (literally, “sinister”) is now a subject of banter. I argue that the inclusion of previously excluded groups (such as left-handed women) is welcomed, although the humour around them reveals the historical legacy of discrimination.

  • Fencing
  • stigma
  • left-handedness
  • HEMA
  • humour
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info