Dual wielding is using two weapons, one in each hand, during combat. It is not a common combat practice, since it does not offer much advantage. Although historical records of dual wielding in war is limited, there are numerous weapon-based martial arts that involve the use of a pair of weapons. The use of two weapons simultaneously confers no notable advantage to the user as compared to more conventional means such as using a two-handed weapon or a one-handed weapon and a shield. The use of a companion weapon is sometimes employed in European martial arts and fencing. Miyamoto Musashi, a Japanese swordsman and ronin, was said to have conceived of the idea of a particular style of swordsmanship involving the use of two swords.
In terms of firearms and handguns, this style has been popularized by television and shooting enthusiasts. Though using two hand guns at a time confers an advantage by allowing more ready ammunition, it is rarely done due to other aspects of weapons handling. Dual wielding is present in many films and video games, which have the freedom of ignoring the impracticality of the style. The term itself is often invoked in the context of games.
Dual wielding has not been used or mentioned much in military history, though it appears in weapon based martial arts and fencing practices. This style of combat requires special training, since the user is unable to swing both weapons at the same time. Due the positioning of the body and the need to maintain balance, the use of two weapons requires the practitioner to use one weapon offensively and the other defensively. To perform an attack by the defensive weapon after the first, the user needs to perform a separate and distinct action. The main advantage of using two weapons is the user can use one as a holding weapon after contact is made and use the other to attack the open area of the opponent. Otherwise, there is not much advantage compared to a user who wields a single weapon with both hands in terms of power and control. The latter has more maneuverability due to a more controlled center of gravity; a person using a single weapon can use their legs for kicking or tripping. Though the dual wielder has more options for attacking or defending, they will still be weaker. A single-handed grip on each weapon also means it can be knocked away with a sufficiently powerful blow.
The use of weapon combinations in each hand has been mentioned for close combat in western Europe during the Byzantine, Medieval, and Renaissance era. The use of a parrying dagger such as a main gauche along with a rapier is common in historical European martial arts. Traditional schools of Japanese martial arts include dual wield techniques, particularly a style of classical Japanese swordsmanship conceived by the Miyamoto Musashi involving the katana and wakizashi, two-sword kenjutsu techniques he called Niten Ichi-ryū. Eskrima, the traditional martial arts of the Philippines teaches Doble Baston techniques involving the basic use of a pair of rattan sticks and also Espada y daga or Sword/Stick and Dagger. Okinawan martial arts have a method that uses a pair of sai. Haidong Gumdo, which is a form of Korean martial arts, mentions the use of two weapons simultaneously. Chinese martial arts involve the use of a pair of Butterfly swords and Hook swords. Gatka, a weapon-based martial art from the Punjab region, is known to use two sticks at a time. The Thailand weapon-based martial art Krabi Krabong involves the use of a separate Krabi in each hand.
It should be noted that all the above-mentioned examples, involve either one long and one short weapon, or two short weapons.
In modern terms, the use of a gun in each hand is most associated with the American Old West, mainly due to media portrayals. Some people of the era preferred to carry two guns, but not to use them at the same time, as shown in movies, but rather to use the second one, instead of having to take the time to reload the first. The second handgun was rarely used in the manner portrayed especially in movies and video games. Wild Bill Hickok, a folk hero of that time, was said to not use a second gun in his off hand. Dual wielding two handguns was popularized by the passion of gun enthusiasts and television.
Documented use of this technique is rare likely because of two significant drawbacks. Apart from having a dominant hand, human eyesight is subject to ocular dominance. This has the effect of making it impossible to use the sight line of both guns at the same time, thus severely impairing the accuracy of the off-hand pistol. Additionally, pistols are reloaded in a standing position with the off-hand while the main hand holds the weapon. Occupying both hands with handguns means that one cannot conventionally reload either without discarding or holstering one.
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It is unknown when dual wielding was first used in fiction, but it was likely from early western novels before spilling over into other works. In the early 20th century, numerous examples abound of heroes and heroines of pulp novels, paperbacks and comics depicted wielding two pistols, most notably the pulp hero, The Shadow.
The use of two pistols simultaneously was used in the movie adaptation of the Spider character (a contemporary of the Shadow), The Spider's Web. The style was resurrected by Hong Kong cinema, notably movies directed by John Woo and often featuring Chow Yun Fat.
The use of this tactic was initially a rarity in Western films, as until then it was thought to look cumbersome. The concept of dual wielding became more acceptable and achieved somewhat of a cult status from Hong Kong action cinema. In movies featuring old western themes, people fired two revolvers by alternating firing each rather than firing simultaneously.
Action films have been a major influence on action gaming. Rise of the Triad and Marathon, both released on December 21, 1994, were the earliest first-person shooters to integrate dual wielding with pistols. The first game to dual wield almost every gun was Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64. In Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.² and Shadow Man, this tactic was developed further, allowing the player to wield two dissimilar weapons at once, firing each one independently. Dual wielded weapons have become the trademark of some game characters, most notably Lara Croft.
In Mythbusters, there is an episode in which they compared many firing stances, including having a gun in each hand and found that, compared to the two-handed single gun stance as a benchmark, only the one handed shoulder level stance with a single gun was comparable in terms of accuracy and speed. The ability to look down the sights of the gun was given as the main reason for this. In an episode the following year, they compared holding two guns and firing simultaneously—rather than alternating left and right shots— with holding one gun in the two-handed stance, and found that the results were in favor of using two guns and firing simultaneously.
The pervasive image of dual wielding in pop culture is that of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of comic book, animation, cinema, and video game fame.
Dual wielding striking weapons is usually presented as a combat style in role-playing games. In Dungeons & Dragons, the style is emblematic to the ranger class (though other classes can learn it). In D&D and other role-playing systems, numerous penalties are applied to the style, which must be offset (usually via feats, special skills, or whatever the particular system offers), and it usually helps if the off-hand weapon is light and small (mirroring real-world parrying daggers).
Dual wielding entered the Star Wars franchise through video games before making an appearance on-screen in Attack of the Clones. The practice of dual wielding lightsabers is known in the expanded universe as "Jar'Kai", although this term is not consistently applied and is frequently ignored. From a physics perspective, Jar'Kai is possible because lightsabers have no additional weight when activated, enabling Jedi and Sith to use two long weapons without being hampered by weight as they might in the real world. Numerous video games also depict the dual wielding of blasters.
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