Dual Wielding: A Movie Trope We Wish Was That Easy

Travis Haley dual-wielding
March 7, 2024  
Categories: Learnin'

Dual wielding weapons is a technique that looks extremely impressive, but nine times out of ten is not practical. Maybe 99 times out of a hundred, perhaps even more! Though it looks easy in movies (as most truly challenging things do), the only time it is effective is when the user is fully trained, and typically they would have to be well-matched in a fight. There is a rich history behind the skillset, particularly with regard to dual wielding swords or other paired weapon types used in martial arts. But dual wielding in real life today? It doesn’t hold up well for a ranged weapon like a firearm.

Clint Eastwood dual wielding revolvers.

Clint Eastwood dual wields two revolvers in the classic Western movie, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales.’ (Photo Credit ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ via darktowerwiki)

Dual Wielding (verb)

Dual wielding is a technique using two weapons, a main hand weapon and an offhand weapon, for training or combat.

"Stacy the Lioness" with some dual-wielding Tomb Raider style cosplay.

“Stacy the Lioness” with some dual-wielding Tomb Raider style cosplay.

Generally, two weapon fighting is more often seen in a piece of fiction or a video game (like Elden Ring or Dungeons & Dragons) than something you see on the news or in real life. The second weapon (the off hand weapon) is usually similar if not identical to the primary weapon. In The Mummy (1999) Rick O’Connell showcases his two weapon dual wield skills with a matched pair of Chamelot-Delvigne Model 1873 revolvers. His compatriot, “Mr. Daniels” uses a brace of Colt New Service revolvers. In Iron Man 2, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) fights with a pair of electrified whips.

It’s not uncommon to see it romanticized in media, such as in chapter fifteen of the popular fiction novel, ‘Children of an Elder God’:

Two swords came out. One was covered with orange-red flame, the other shone with pale moonlight. They rose, dispelling the gloom that had fallen upon the balcony, then sliced down in unison. The Regent caught one with each hand, and the fire and light were snuffed. “Fire dies and light fades.” His hands twisted and the flaming sword was wrenched from Asuka’s hands, falling at Cassilda’s amber-frozen feet. The moon sword simply snapped in his hands, then crumbled away to dust.

But the technique is not seen in real life for a reason, as most people don’t possess the skills to control two weapons simultaneously with equal dominance. This fact leaves those who want to use two weapons at once using combinations like a sword and a shield. Melee weapons, such as Tonfas, used together must be small and nimble.

This isn’t to say a dual wielder can’t put rounds exactly where they want ’em with two guns simultaneously. It can be done, but usually, that sort of skill is the purview of a metahuman like Jerry Miculek.

HRH Jerry Miculek not only dual wielding pistols, he's running two double-barrel 1911.

HRH Jerry Miculek not only dual wielding pistols, he’s running two double-barrel 1911. So is that quad wielding?



Dual Wielding in the Media

Many weapons dual-wielded in media require two-handed handling. A common trope in action movies is for the hero to dual-wield two handguns with sharp accuracy. A handgun’s recoil alone would make dual wielding impossible, if not incredibly challenging. Even more critical is how it negatively impacts accuracy. To accurately aim a handgun, the user needs to use one eye to look down the barrel. Typically, people use their dominant eye, though some are cross-dominant. Real accuracy isn’t possible if you’re dual wielding, even if you are cross-dominant. If you can handle the recoil, great! Your shot won’t do you any favors, so just shoot appropriately with one firearm at a time.

Lara Croft from the game 'Tomb Raider' dual wielding twin pistols.

Lara Croft in the game ‘Tomb Raider: Anniversary’ famously dual-wields her twin pistols. (Photo credit: ‘Tomb Raider: Anniversary’ via tombraiderwiki)

The History

There is a history behind dual wielding, but it’s not how movies portray it. Though it doesn’t appear in military practices, it shows in weapon-based martial arts. One example in history is a class of Roman gladiators named Dimachaerus. They were known for carrying and fighting with two swords.

A Dimachaerus gladiator from a video game dual wielding swords.

A video game illustration of a Dimachaerus gladiator dual-wielding swords. (Photo credit: ABeconis via reallusion)

According to warriorsandlegends.com

The dimachearus gladiator was well equipped for offensive and close quarter combat, with their name translating as ‘bearing two knives’ which aptly describes the dimacheari armaments. The Dimachearus were armed with two scimitar blades known as siccae, curved and perfectly designed for slicing attacks on an opponent.

These gladiators are shrouded in mystery with very little information from Roman times about them, but their legacy has still survived to this day as that rarity of a gladiator with no shield. 

In Asia, multiple Japanese martial arts include dual-wielding techniques, such as a technique made by Miyamoto Musashi that involves the dual wielding of a katana and wakizashi in two sword techniques called Niten Ichi-ryū. Specialized schools still teach this technique in the modern day. Many other martial arts have dual-wield techniques, such as Krabi Krabong and Kalaripayattu. These attack techniques are very advanced and should be left to the properly trained. 

Martial artists demonstrate Heiho Niten Ichi-ryu Kenjutsu and dual wielding wooden swords.

Students of Kajiya Takanori Sensei demonstrate Heiho Niten Ichi-Ryu Kenjutsu, known for using two swords. (Photo credit: Aikido – Guillaume Erard via YouTube)

Miyamoto Musashi dual wielding two swords.

Miyamoto Musashi dual wielding two swords. (Photo credit: Yoshitaki Tsunejiro via allthatsinteresting)

Contrary to popular belief, in America’s wild west, most cowboys didn’t dual wield. In reality, it was more common for cowboys to carry two guns at once to ensure an available backup. It was typically urban legend for cowboys to dual-wield their revolvers; however, there are a few instances where it happened. Bat Masterson was said to be ambidextrous, but there isn’t much evidence to say he would dual wield often.

William Hart dual-wielding two revolvers.

William Hart dual-wielding two revolvers in the movie ‘Tumbleweed.’ (Photo credit: Tumbleweed via thefirearmblog)


What is Dual Wielding?

Dual wielding is when one uses two weapons simultaneously, one per hand. This technique is commonly seen in modern media using swords or guns.

Is It Effective?

Not really. That is, unless you’re a fictional character that just went through a training montage. Dual wielding isn’t a realistic or practical technique for the everyday person. Even for the highly skilled, it still wouldn’t be as effective a single weapon at a time. However, there are select martial arts in which it is tradition to use two weapons, and within their practice, it is effective.


The most common weapons used to dual-wield are two swords or handguns. Other weapons can and have been used throughout history, both in weapon-based martial arts, and popular media. A unique trope uses one large sword in one hand and a small dagger in the other. Either way, attempting to dual-wield is still not recommended unless properly trained.

Skill Set: Two-Gun Shooting


Man shooting two guns simultaneously.

Two-Gun Shooting can be a skill set. [Tiger McGee]

I enjoy reading the classics, especially Ed McGivern’s Fast And Fancy Revolver Shooting. There’s no denying McGivern and his contemporaries, the “old” guys, knew a lot about using firearms. So, Fast And Fancy is where I started for information on how to accomplish “two-gun” shooting.“Why,” you ask, “do you want to shoot two guns?” That’s a legitimate question. Carrying a spare pistol — or knife, flashlight, etc. — is a good idea. In 1854 Jonathan R. Davis successfully defended himself against an attack near Sacramento, California, with his two Colt pistols and Bowie knife. All eleven attackers died.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Lance Thomas, a watch dealer in L.A., used multiple pistols against several armed robbers. He had pistols positioned all around his shop, within easy reach. Mas Ayoob tells the story of a store clerk who had his pistol taken away in a robbery, and drew his second, backup gun, to stop the threat. It was “just in time,” according to Mas.

Benefits of Two-Gun Shooting

If one hand/arm is injured, your “second” gun is easily acquired with the other hand. Plus, don’t forget the “New York Reload,” which applies to malfunctions, too. Carrying two pistols that are exactly the same is even better. Consistency is also good between team members. There are many reasons to have several clones of your favorite pistol.

There’s plenty of dry practice involved. Revolvers are much better suited for this. This assumes one already knows how to use both hands safely and efficiently. With time, McGivern tells us, “…both guns can be fired together.”

Henry FitzGerald, in his classic “Shooting,” recommends firing up close in the beginning. Firing, “double action and pointing, no sights used, the arms stiffened when the muzzle is pointed in the right direction.”

Practicing the Two-Gun Method

After extensive dry practice, it’s time to see some results. I started with a pair of “J” frames. These are matching pistols, which is mandatory, especially concerning trigger action. The technique that works best for me is with each pistol canted slightly inboard. This allows one sight picture using two sets of sights. These are “work” revolvers so, a few extra dings resulting from them “kissing” each other during recoil won’t matter.

Using a “flash” sight picture on the sights, a quick visual confirmation of front sights, and target alignment with smooth compression of the triggers, results in good hits. It was much better than I expected. It’s even possible to hit the chest with one pistol and the pelvic area with the other.

Later I switched to a pair of GLOCK 19s. With semi-auto pistols an aggressive stance is mandatory, rolling the shoulders forward to ensure the pistols have the resistance needed to function properly. I thought the semiautos might be difficult but they’re easier and more efficient than the revolvers. The split times between shots is shorter, and there’s a marked improvement in accuracy.

Working with two guns at once is fun, and the results were rewarding. Could this be done in a fight, against an actual threat? I guess that depends on how much one practiced. I do know that the two-gun drills have improved my general shooting skills across the board. It also makes you think a lot more about gun handling and manipulations. Just remember, Safety is always your first and primary concern.

Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy. He is the author of The Book of Two GunsAR-15 Skills and Drills, has a regular column in American Handgunner and makes some cool knives and custom revolvers. Visit Shootrite’s Facebook page for other details.

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Grace Ainsworth

Grace Ainsworth

About the Author

Grace is a freelancer of many talents: writer, artist, designer, and photographer. Maybe also smart-aleck and gunslinger, we're not entirely sure. We'll know better after she's been with us a while!


  1. Stephen A Skubinna

    The legionaries of the late Roman Republic and early Empire fought with the gladius, or short sword in the right hand and the scutum, or shield in the left. And they trained to use the shied both defensively and offensively. They could strike with the shield, for example, to unbalance and opponent and then stab with the gladius.

  2. Chuck

    I always practice shooting with both hands, but only one hand at a time. My weak hand is still not as good as my strong hand but it is considerable better since I started practicing with both hands. I fire a magazine full with the left hand and then fire a second magazine full with both hands but he left hand operating the trigger. I then switch sides and do the same, right hand single hand; right and left hand, double handed. Of course, I have an advantage because way back when I started shooting pistols, everyone shot one handed with the other hand either in your pocket or on your side. No hearing protection either. Cops regularly stuck empty .38 cases in their ears for hearing protection. I preferred cotton to .38 cases myself.

  3. Vincent

    I am ambidextrous. Always have been. And I can and for practice do shoot either 1911’s, or single action revolvers in each hand. My trick is to fire 1 weapon at a time. Left, right, left etc. I can and do sight with either eye, depending in which weapon I am firing. Again, an ability I have always had. Haven’t tried it with DA revolvers or other auto loading pistols simply because I don’t have a pair of any of them. I have tried with different firearms such as a 45 DA revolver and a 38/357 DA revolver. Weight differences and trigger pull differences make tight groups a bit difficult. With practice, I likely could do better, but I have no practical reason to do so. I generally don’t carry 2 firearms, and usually keep a spare/back up weapon in the lock box in my truck or car. Of course, I also doubt I will honestly need to get involved in such a gunfight. I don’t go into the city more than once a month. Less if I can avoid it. And the likely hood of such gunplay out here in the rural, and small town area I live in is quite low.

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