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Should the path to Black Belt be walked in bare feet?

The question of shoes for Taekwondo…

It’s traditional to train barefoot but what if that doesn’t work for you? Is wearing taekwondo shoes for training a cop-out? Only for sooks? First, a story…

My 10 year old son is a rule follower. My son Lucas and I

This might sound like some kind of parental godsend but alas.

What goes with this rule-following territory is a child who is:

  • Mind bogglingly black and white about stuff
  • Meticulous in his pursuit of everything (I mean EVERYTHING!) being fair and
  • Unappreciative of grey areas or compromise.

That’s right! STUBBORN. He gets that from his father! *cough

A small example to demonstrate this character trait (we’ll get to the shoes in a minute)…

Son (no joke real actual quote): “Mum you said they were going to be here at 5 o’clock. It’s 5 o’clock now and they’re not here?”

Me: Okay when I said 5, what I meant was I suggested to them that would be a convenient time to arrive but in life it’s very difficult to control every aspect of their journey from their house to ours to ensure they arrive DOT on 5. (or something equally wise and eloquently explained)

The rule following thing I have to admit, he probably DOES get from me. *sigh Daggy eh?

That means I like doing things the way they are SUPPOSED to be done.  And that means when I started Taekwondo training in my 40s, I naturally went along in bare feet.

Tradition right?!?

In my club there’s a big mix of ages and some people wear shoes, some don’t. We train in a high school gymnasium (not a purpose facility) on wooden, often sandy, floors.

Only a few weeks in, my feet and ankles were complaining LOUDLY. And given how just about every other muscle in my entire body was responding to this completely new form of movement I had never in my LIFE subjected them to, LOUDLY means L.O.U.D.L. EEEEEEEEEEEE.

I toyed with the idea of shoes to help.

I wasn’t happy with the plan.

It felt like a cop out. Like I wasn’t REALLY doing it right if I wore shoes.

Eventually though my loud feet won out and I conceded, purchasing some Adidas SM3 martial arts shoesAdidas SM3 taekwondo shoes

I forced myself to realise that I wasn’t going to (hopefully) reach my Black Belt grading one day and have the Grand Master point at me and say:

“No Black Belt for you. You trained in shoes. Your Belt will be only very VERY dark grey.”

(Small Lego Movie joke there in case you missed it!)

On a more serious note though, I didn’t want to NOT get there at ALL because of pain or injury associated with barefoot training that would put me off continuing altogether.

Plus: If wearing shoes at training is good enough for my Taekwondo Master, then pretty sure it’s ok for me.

One day I asked Master Justin why he chooses to wear shoes.

He’s a 6th Dan Black Belt, a five times Australian Open Black Belt Champion and won international gold.

This was his answer:

“I wear shoes because of 30 years of impact on my feet.  I personally have a long-term Taekwondo goal so looking after my body is my number one consideration.

“Taekwondo shoes allow me to train and protect myself so I can enjoy this fantastic art right up to my older years.”

In researching the topic online, I found a pervasive attitude towards shoes for martial arts of “just toughen up”.

Pretty sure you couldn’t apply that kind of logic with someone like Master Justin wearing shoes. He’s broken nearly every bone in both feet during his highly decorated sparring career.

In fact, I’d dare you to tell him to “toughen up”.  Let me know when you do though, I’ll bring popcorn!

Other arguments talk about tradition and the custom in Asian cultures of leaving shoes at the door but the information on the specifics of that seem pretty sketchy. Though as a rule follower by nature, I can understand the thinking around traditions.

Another Master I communicated with on the topic spoke of feeling physically ill about the idea of wearing shoes for training.

Many people I came across in fact, had VERY strong opinions on the topic – some were pretty practical about it, saying the floor they trained on didn’t have mats and just wasn’t suited to bare feet – like mine!

Or those in a purpose facility with expensive floor mats required bare feet. Fair enough!

Others talked about the definite requirement to train with bare feet because of issues around the biomechanics of the foot and leg when it came to developing balance, technique and strength.

Again, those made sense to me too – and I have to admit, as much as I LOVE my shoes now, I do take them off from time to time.

So my conclusion on the topic?

Wear them if you need them. *shrug

For me personally I had to ask myself, can I achieve what I want to achieve with my training if I wear shoes?

YES.

I certainly have no intention of trying to set the Taekwondo world on fire. My training is about:

  • Keeping fit and active as I get older
  • Setting new challenges for myself to keep life interesting
  • The stress relief and relaxation I feel as a result of my training
  • The friends and connections I’m making
  • An incredible bonding experience of training with my son

(Psssst! You can read more about the suprising benefits I have discoverd from Taekwondo in this previous post.)

Unlike countless others who are (of course!) at a different stage in their lives and training, I’m not in competition with anyone. Only myself.

Can I achieve what I want to achieve if I DON’T wear them?

Probably not. The discomfort, pain and potential ongoing injury from barefoot training means I may have even by now, resumed my position back on the sidelines where I used to sit watching my son train and mindlessly playing with my phone.

So with all that in mind…I’ll be training in shoes!

Love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below!

Discussions

  1. Rebecca Reply

    Thanks Kristy, this is a really good read.
    In my experience, many people do not consider the biomechanics aspect of training shoed vs barefoot. The movement of the small bones, muscles and ligaments in our feet are what give us a lot of our balance ability. But suddenly swapping from wearing shoes all the time to having our feet open to the world can be a big distraction to the brain, leaving us feeling very uncoordinated.
    There are 206 bones in the human body and a quarter of those are in the feet. Our feet carry us through the entirety of our life’s journey, so it’s important that we take care of them.
    I did purchase a pair of martial arts training shoes some time back and completely wore them out within a short period of time. So for me, during class I go barefoot (with bandages on some of my toes to prevent blistering) and wear vibrim toe-shoes when training at home. This seems to balance out really well for me.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post, looking forward to reading more 🙂

    • Kristy Reply

      You make some great points Rebecca and your more in-depth knowledge of the workings of the human body is obvious. It’s so interesting to hear other’s experiences on this whole shoe topic so thank you for contributing yours. 🙂

  2. David Ianetta Reply

    I truly enjoyed reading this, I found it both entertaining and informative.

    As for me, I train mostly in bare feet, but that’s because in both my personal Do Jang “Shed” and my school i have a matted floor. In summer the Addidas shoes I purchased are great for when I train outdoors in my back yard.

    I can see one reason for hard core traditionalist not wanting to train in shoes. When I studied Tang Soo Do 30 plus years ago, we kicked not with the instep but the ball of our foot. So you had to basically stretch your toes backwards, hoping they get out of the way, before you strike something.

    My foot still wants to do this at times, it’s a hard habit to break. The shoes keep the toes in place and I have often kicked the bag, straight on the toes!

    My wife actually was recording me once when I did that, pretty funny to watch but wow, that hurt!

    So some old timers might avoid them for that reason.

    Thanks for posting this!

    David

    • Kristy Reply

      Thank you for your kind comments David and for your willingness to share your own experiences with shoes. You reminded me of many early kicking attempts where my toes wouldn’t point properly and i’d catch them square onto the target. OUCH indeed!!!!

  3. Melanie Reply

    Thank you Kristy – this is an intriguing topic, written solemnly but witty and inspiring a very interesting conversation.

    I tried some of the less expensive TKD shoes and found I was slipping and sliding on the surface of our training facility. I am now going barefoot, which alleviates this problem and gives me much better control of my body position and balance (haha – in my head anyway). However, it sure brings about some other challenges related to injuries to the foot, such as sharp unexpected objects and blisters from balancing out the turning kicks.

    After reading your convincing report about your own experience Kristy, I might give the Adidas a go and try them out this winter! It does get a bit cold and wet where we train. Nice story, thank you for sharing it!

    • Kristy Reply

      Hi Melanie! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m pretty sure the picture we all have in our heads about how we look when we train is a little different to how we ACTUALLY look! hahahaha. Let me know how you go if you decide to try the shoes! 🙂

  4. vicky Reply

    My experience. ……..I’ve been doing tkd 22 years, I’m now 43. I’ve competed internationally for England, I’ve trained hard……I can no longer.
    I had time out for kids and came back 3 years ago and my ankles and feet hurt so bad that I have had to give in to shoes also. I love breaking and can no longer do that, so I suppose it depends on each person rather than a yes or no .
    I’ve taught for about 15 years, throughout winter I wore my tkd shoes, only when teaching, or my feet got so cold. Now, I wear actual running shoes for warm ups as tkd shoes, to be honest, have no support. They stop blisters yes, but so would toughing your feet up. I suggest if it’s an impact thing, wear proper running shoes , then take them off for the actual tkd. They are flat with no support .
    Like you I wish to continue tkd forever, so if wearing shoes prolongs that then great. I just wouldn’t suggest them to your average student though

    • Kristy Reply

      Hi Vicky! I’m truly honoured that someone of your rank and experience would drop by. Thank you kindly for contributing to the conversation here on shoes. It does seem to be a very individual choice but yes, if it allows a more prolonged involvement in the training, then absolutely worth the change.If you felt comfortable to do so, I’d love to hear more about your career? If not here then please feel free to drop me an email to kristy@brownmouse.com.au or you can find me on facebook @themortalmouse for a facebook message. 🙂

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