Shaking Things Up: The Left-handed Scout Handshake

What’s one of the most common forms of nonverbal communication used between two people?  No, it’s not the fist bump, high five, a hug or even a kiss.  It’s the handshake — a simple handshake involves extending one’s hand ─ typically the right hand ─ to another person, clasping hands and then briefly shaking them up and down.

The Multi-purpose Gesture

A customary gesture in business and social situations, the traditional handshake has been used throughout history as both a greeting and parting ritual between friends and strangers, as a means of offering congratulations or expressing gratitude, as a sign of  good sportsmanship (notice how members of sports teams shake hands with one another after a game) and to finalize agreements.

It also plays an important role in Scouting, serving as a formal way of greeting other Scouts.

The World of Handshakes

Most cultures have their own customs for shaking hands. Some find it inappropriate for a man to shake a woman’s hand. Others consider shaking hands unacceptable. Some cultures have a habit of shaking both hands, while others prefer hugs of handshakes.

In some Muslim countries, a grip that is too firm is considered to be rude behavior. Weak handshakes are preferred in China, and the custom is to hold on for an extended time after the initial shake.

Stress to your Scouts the importance of being sensitive to and having respect for cultural customs ─ including handshaking.

The Left-handed Scout Handshake

Scouts have their own variation on the traditional handshake. What makes it unique is that it uses the left hand instead of the right.

The 1935 Boy Scout Handbook says that “By agreement of the Scout Leaders throughout the world, Boy Scouts greet Brother Scouts with a warm left hand clasp.”



While the exact origin of the Scouts’ left-hand handshake is unknown, many attribute it to Ashanti warriors whom Scouting founder Robert Baden Powell met long ago in Africa. It is said that when Baden Powell entered Kumasi, a city in the Ashanti Region of South Ghana, he was met by a great chief. He saluted the chief and then offered his right hand as a sign of friendship.

The chief transferred his shield from his left hand to his right hand, and offered his left hand. He explained by saying ““In our land only the bravest of the brave shake hands with the left hand, because to do so we must drop our shields and our protection.”

Others believe Baden-Powell may have adopted the left handshake from author, illustrator and co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America, Earnest Thompson Seton.  Yet another explanation is that because the left hand is closest to the heart, extending it in a handshake was a token of friendship.

The current edition of the Scout Handbook offers this two sentence description:

Extend your left hand to another Scout and firmly grasp his left hand.

Made with the hand nearest your heart, the Scout handshake signifies friendship.


The Scout handshake uses no interlocking fingers; it’s just a normal left-handed handshake.Cub Scouts have their own unique handshake too. It’s done by putting the index and middle fingers of the right hand against the other person’s wrist.The Cub Scout handshake signifies that those who use it help others and obey the Laws of the Pack.cub

Get Shaking

Encourage your Scouts to discuss the various scenarios when shaking someone’s hand is the proper thing to do. Discuss cultural differences in handshakes.  Practice shaking hands.  Ask them to demonstrate the official Boy Scout and Cub Scout handshakes. The handshake is so integral to our society that we often take it for granted.  Give it some attention today on National Handshake Day – and reinforce its importance every day.


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