Should the path to Black Belt be walked in bare feet? The question of shoes for training from Taekwondo to any martial art…
Martial Arts Makes Us Rule Followers
My 10 year old son is a rule follower.
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 vs Reality
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 entirely 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 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.
What did my teacher say?
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 shoes 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?
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
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!