The internet shows a world where seemingly everything is practiced. The presence of developing ambidexterity is no different. Videos online show some of us simply dabbling in it, while others have been doing it for years.
History’s MMD practitioners include quite a few notables, but it’s the contemporary practitioners I want to focus on since they’re the ones we can still learn the most from today.
The following practitioners, who all grew up right-handed, are the most advanced ambidexters I know of today. The average age of these practitioners at the beginning of their ambidextrous journey was 22. Collectively, their stories make it clear and simple: we are ALL made for MMD.
-MVP Athlete and Captain, Team USA Beach Handball
“I was not born an “ambidextrous prodigy.” It took years of practice before I could deliver world-class performance with my left hand.”
Ebiye Jeremy, from Los Angeles, CA, is Captain of Team USA Beach Handball and winner of multiple MVP awards. He’s the world’s most ambidextrous professional in his sport, but wasn’t born this way.
Through adolescence, Ebiye performed all sports and activities right-handed. By age 15, though, Ebiye began working to develop his left hand after considering all the advantages ambidexterity could bring; throwing from either side as a quarterback, shooting from either side in basketball, batting from either side in baseball, etc.
It took Ebiye time to develop his non-dominant side, describing it as, “taking one step back, to take three steps forward. The earlier you start, the better.” In the end, the work paid off. Ebiye gained enough proficiency on his left side that, by the time he focused full attention on handball, he was 20 years old playing for Team USA and offered his first professional club position at age 22… exclusively as a left-handed player. His goal, though, was to become a fully ambidextrous player.
Ebiye is now, not only, that fully ambidextrous player he desired to become, but also a world-recognized ambassador of the sport, known internationally as the “Handball Ninja.”
In January 2020, I sat down with Ebiye in Hermosa Beach, CA, to hear the details of his MMD journey:
“Today, ambidexterity is a way of life. If I’m learning anything new, I work to learn it on both sides, mainly focusing on my less-intuitive side. That’s how you reap the most benefit.
“You can train more if you incorporate your non-dominant hand. As an average player, I may be able to do 100 throws before becoming fatigued. As an ambidextrous player, though, I can do 75 throws with my right arm and 75 with my left arm before feeling fatigued, getting in 150 throws. From a neurological perspective, I’m gaining greater spatial awareness in whatever skill I’m learning.
“If you can perform ambidextrously, there are a number of benefits across a multitude of sports where you offer yourself options that a unilateral dominant person does not have in competition.
“Your dominant hand will get better, even when you aren’t training it, because (by focusing on your non-dominant hand) you’re developing a more holistic, neurological understanding of the body, including both sides of the brain through the corpus callosum. Your overall awareness of spatial movement grows to a level that you can’t access if you only ever do things unilaterally. As I’ve worked to develop my left side, I’ve learned things about my right side that I wouldn’t have become aware of if I didn’t have that training with the left to serve as a sort of teacher.”
To begin the ambidextrous journey, Ebiye suggests, “just start with the small things, like turning on a light switch; choose your other hand. This begins the development of a body awareness that unlocks many unique benefits, including the ability to better learn new things you’ve never practiced before. You feel this rush of neurons and mild euphoria when learning new movements. It’s a fun journey!”
Dr. Kathryn Ko
-Neurosurgeon and Fine Artist
“Choosing to develop my non-dominant hand was the best thing I ever did.”
The world has its share of neurosurgeons and fine artists, but how many do both? Kathryn Ko is acclaimed by peers for her exceptional contributions in these two, seemingly polar, professions. In a 2014 New York Times article, Kathryn says, “Life is short, and if you have two things you’re passionate about, why not do them? Why not use as much of your brain as you can while you’re on earth?” Neurosurgery and Fine Art, originally, were not dual pursuits for Dr. Ko. Rather, her talent in fine art began to develop as she worked to develop ambidexterity.
Dr. Kathryn Ko grew up in Oahu, Hawaii, where she attended medical school. As a kinesthetic learner, Kathryn found herself frequently falling asleep in class when seated for too long. The one thing that helped Kathryn stay awake was the challenge of learning to take notes left-handed. Up to this point, Kathryn had only ever written right-handed. Learning lefty not only physically challenged Kathryn, but also cognitively. “It’s like learning a second language,” as Kathryn puts it during a Medicine Remixed podcast interview.
After medical school, Kathryn moved to New York City to begin her residency in Neurosurgery. Living in the Big Apple introduced her to a new love: Contemporary and Fine Art. Around 2007, while Kathryn was developing her practice as a neurosurgeon, she began taking evening art classes. Ultimately, this led to Kathryn earning a Masters in Fine Arts in Representational Painting and Drawing. The blending of Kathryn’s two professions shines through her art; Caravaggio- and Warhol-inspired works depicting brain anatomy and operating rooms in various mediums, from oil and acrylic on canvas, to plastic, to video, and even holograms.
“Doing art helps me become a better neurosurgeon by increasing my operative skills; tapping into different cognitive abilities of perspective and color. Likewise, the focus required in neurosurgery helps me become a better artist. I’m living proof that you should NOT let anyone tell you that you have to focus on only one thing!”
So, how long did it take Kathryn to develop ambidexterity? In her words, “It took me 10 years, off and on, to develop proficiency with my left hand. My nephew, though, focused full-time on it, when he was 18, and learned it in four months!”
In addition to practicing ambidexterity, Kathryn says sleeping only 3 to 4 hours per night also helps her accomplish everything she does.
“When I was getting my Masters in Fine Art, after doing so many paintings, week after week, I’d be working on a painting that was going nowhere. Then, suddenly, I’d think, “Kathryn, switch to your left hand,” and I’d break through that barrier. Non-dominant handwriting does something to my brain that makes me think more efficiently. It opens up a new channel and seems to access my non-dominant brain hemisphere more.I think everyone would benefit from this practice, especially artists.”
Michael J. Lavery
-Ambidexterity Trainer and Author, Whole Brain Power
“The better I hit the ball left-handed, the easier to hit it right-handed. The hands grow the brain!”
Michael J. Lavery is an artist, musician, athlete, researcher of applied neuroscience, and author of Whole Brain Power–the Fountain of Youth for the Mind and Body. Living in Los Angeles, CA, his findings on brain training and plasticity are based on years of client case studies, personal development as an ambidextrous athlete, and practice of memory drills, perfect penmanship, and Da Vinci-style mirror writing.
Lavery claims ambidexterity training is directly connected to brain growth, body chemistry modification, and increase of muscle mass and density through a process called myelination.
Clients of Lavery report major improvements in academics, athletics, music, communication, and short-term memory processing. Other benefits include mood elevation, greater focus, enhanced sleep, decreased stress, faster reaction time, and greater manual control.
Lavery’s sports include baseball, golf, hockey, and tennis, the former through which, at 29 years-old, he started the ambidexterity journey. Michael was a strong tennis player, but lacked a solid backhand. In 1988, after losing a tournament, he said, “Scrap the backhand. I’m going to learn a left-handed forehand.”
There was mixed success until 1991, when he decided to start writing left-handed. Lavery says non-dominant handwriting – particularly mirror-style, which is a truer, ambidextrous method, and the one used by Leonardo da Vinci – is the cornerstone to rewiring the brain; “That’s when everything started changing and accelerating.”
Within three months, Lavery began crushing opponents. Not only did his left-handed game improve, but his right-handedness went through the roof, being able to serve a tennis ball at more than 100 mph with either hand.
Michael wondered, “Would this technique work for a sport I don’t yet play?” So, by age 43, Lavery took up golf to find out. He knew he would never hit a golf ball as often as those who had played their whole lives, so he worked to mimick Tiger Woods in his famous Nike commercial by learning to bounce a golf ball on the face of a sand wedge, doing so hundreds of times a day. Today, Lavery can hit the ball more than 350 yards from either side of the tee and execute an array of trick shots, such as driving the ball with an upside down 3-wood. After four years of playing ambidextrous golf, he was shooting par.
“There has been a lot of research over the last 40 years on how the brain works, and we’re discovering that different portions of the brain are used in different areas of athletics,” Lavery says, citing Putting as a right-brain activity (more spatial, intuitive and creative than the more logical, analytical left-brain). “It stands to reason,” Lavery says, “that someone who isn’t good at putting can improve by increasing the use of the right side of their brain. One way to do that is to engage in activities such as left-handed writing.
One day, Lavery began bouncing golf balls off the heads of hammers. He got so good at it that Stanley Tools filmed his official record of 3,194 consecutive hits. In 2005, that footage made ESPN’s “Top 10 Plays of the Day,” which led to an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Traditional hammers led to ball-peen hammers, which led to sledgehammers, which led to his nickname, “Hammer Man.”
“I can write backwards with my left hand at the same time as writing with my right, and you can’t tell the difference. I think that has trained my brain to do things that it, otherwise, couldn’t do. I think that’s why I have the ability to bounce a golf ball off a hammer or serve a tennis ball with either hand. It’s a degree of coordination and spatial intelligence I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve taught my brain how to multitask, which helps my short-term memory, and pick up golf as quick as I have.”
Lavery says the practice of learning ambidexterity is increasing as we are learning its association with the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease,as well as new research that shows our brains are more plastic than once thought. In other words, the brain can improve with bilateral, symmetric exercise, just like the rest of the body.
Lavery‘s goal is to show there are ways to enhance the brain’s ability to become more flexible and stronger – to actually grow as we age, not atrophy. His students’ results show that ambidextrous development improves brain function, physical strength, and motor skills.
-Artist, Educator, and Author of Creative Brain Training
“Ambidexterity is life changing; we should all be taught ambidexterity from birth.”
Depressed, heart-broken, and facing academic probation, 2011 was a low time for Diego Irigoyen. That would begin to change one year later, thanks to an encounter with the ambidextrous, Michael J. Lavery.
On the cliffs of Laguna Beach, CA, Lavery introduced Diego to the practice of ambidexterity. Diego quickly adopted the practice and incorporated some additional elements: meditation, deep breathing, and early morning routines. His primary activity became mirror and inverted cursive penmanship.
Within a few months, Diego began noticing some major changes. He had greater focus, improved memory recollection, increased energy, deeper sleep, impulse control, creative output, athletic ability, weight loss, muscle definition, lower blood pressure, and decreased anxiety.
Diego’s practice turned him from a student on academic probation to one of 4.0 GPAs, multiple Deans List awards, honors in Art History, Experimental Art, and teaching his own curriculum on the topic, creating dozens of ambidextrous students in the process.
With bachelors degrees in, both, Art History and Art Education, Irigoyen taught at California State University, San Bernardino, and at prisons in Southern California. His book, Creative Brain Training, Diego lays out the practice and subsequent benefits of learning ambidexterity, which include, increased production of growth hormones, dopamine, cerebral gray matter, and serotonin secretion. “I learned that most of my short comings in performance were due to a chemical imbalance of serotonin in the body and brain. My ambidextrous practices began to rectify these imbalances and produced homeostasis (a perfectly balanced chemistry).
“I increased blood flow through the brain and began to consume 40% of my daily calories via subsequent brain stimulation. This relieved my stress levels and made me more productive than ever. My most dedicated students report an increase in hunger since they are now consuming more calories through the brain.”
One of the principles of neuroplasticity states that, regardless of your age, the brain can continue to change and rewire itself to improve performance. Diego saw this, first-hand, in one of his most dedicated students, Tim Haerens, who was in his 60’s when beginning Diego’spractices.
“What we’re trying to do through ambidextrous development, and specifically penmanship, is increase blood flow through the brain, initiate the growth of neural pathways, and trigger an increase in glucose consumption. You stimulate the hippocampi regions of the brain and expand procedural memory.
“Everyone knows what happens if you eat a lot of candy and don’t brush your teeth. Well, the same thing happens when you allow glucose to build up in the brain; it will rot and atrophy at a premature rate. Many scientists today are now considering Alzheimer’s to be a type 3 diabetes because of the correlation between glucose abundance in the brain and the diagnosis. The practice of ambidextrous penmanship will begin to rectify this.
“The more often you switch between hands, the more you create conductivity through the corpus callosum, (the bundle of axons connecting the two brain hemispheres) and the more the two brains can learn from each other. You will also see that your dominant hand improves simply by training the opposite hand.
“What we’re ultimately doing through these exercises is, first, increasing the amount of blood flow (oxygen) through the brain. Secondly, we increase daily glucose consumption in the brain and body. Lastly, we stimulate the growth of new brain cells, neurons, synapses, myelin, and white brain matter.
“One of the greatest, most creative, and most confident minds in the history of western civilization was that of Leonardo da Vinci. I would argue that his genius was not granted at birth, but rather nurtured through the practice of ambidexterity. The same with Michelangelo; during his painting of the Sistine Chapel, it was reported he alternated hands as they got tired.
“Athletes have as much to gain from this program as do intellectuals. If you are an athlete, these practices are going to enhance your body chemistry and hormone output so that you can become a superior force.
“Another big reason for practicing this program is that mental disorders and diseases are on the rise. The neurological changes from this program can stave off mental disorders, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
“A euphoric sense of happiness is something that was very notable, which has mainly to do with the increase in hormone secretion. When you stimulate the neural pathways through ambidexterity, you’re stressing the brain similar to the way you stress a muscle, therefore it adapts. To combat this good, active stress, the brain needs to thicken myelin, create new brain cells, and new synapses. All this requires more hormones, so your hormone count will begin to increase. The result is more energy and a better mood.
-Author of BIG3MMD and Founder of AmbiLife
“I developed most of my dual-dominance after 30. The results of practicing MMD, along with the stories of other practitioners, show me that any average person can become ambidextrous.”
Starting at 12 years-old, I spent every day I could riding a skateboard. For the next ten years, I skated exclusively regular-stance (left foot at the front of the board, pushing with my right foot). By the age of 22, my body couldn’t handle the repetitive, single-sided movement anymore. After dozens of visits to various chiropractors, without lasting relief, I had to quit skateboarding.
That same year, in 2006, I moved from Pennsylvania to the epicenter of skateboarding: Southern California. My love of skateboarding, contrasted with my inability to actually do so, made that first year in San Diego really tough. The temptation to skateboard was everywhere, even from my own roommates, a couple of whom were skaters.
Over a year later, and still frustrated, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t yet tried: switch-stance skating (the opposite of your normal stance). I grabbed my roommates’ board and tried it out. Skating switch was insanely difficult. Even though I could barely do it, I realized skating switch didn’t hurt my body. So, I went back out the next day and tried it again. Then, again the following day. And again, and again, and again, and again…
After four years of skating exclusively switch, my body started to feel great again. It felt so good, that I (nervously) tried skating regular stance. Bizarrely and beautifully, I found I was able to do new tricks that I could never do before! This made me wonder, “How would my body feel if I started doing everything else switch?”
So, in 2011, I began using my left hand for other tasks: brushing my teeth, eating, texting, shaving, cutting, using chop sticks, etc. By 2016, I entered grad school and began writing notes left-handed. This was no easy task, but it did get easier over time.
I also began a new sport: urban rail walking (URW). A couple years beforehand, I started slacklining, but, having recently moved to the urban sprawl of Tijuana, Mexico, tree-lined parks to set up a slackline in were very limited. Tijuana, though, does have a lot of handrails. Growing up skateboarding, the vision of being on top of handrails was cemented into my mind, so stepping onto one, as if it were a slackline, wasn’t the most foreign concept. I also attribute the ease of learning URW to MMD, as my general balance was greatly improving.
By 2020, I had moved back to Pennsylvania and began mirror writing after learning it was a practice of Leonardo da Vinci. I continued picking up new activities: wallball, soccer, pool, ping pong dancing, chalk street art, inversions, long-distance longboarding, and mirror reading.
MMD has made me the most active, coordinated, and creative I’ve ever been. This practice has not only rejuvenated my body and allowed me to continue skateboarding for more than 25 years, but has brought a level of mental and physical fun to my life that I never had before. I love feeling my body become realigned!
I know there are many more of us who want to feel this good and are willing to adopt the MMD lifestyle to achieve it. I’m happy to say that I don’t miss depending on chiropractors, giving up my favorite physical activities, or thinking that my most active and enjoyable days are behind me.