Martial arts training shoes are not generally worn by practitioners, especially those who train the various Japanese martial arts. It is much more common to see people training barefoot in the dojo while doing karate or judo. There are two main reasons. Firstly, removing outside or training shoes shows respect for the art and its traditions. The second reason is purely practical. In throwing arts such as judo, jujitsu and aikido, matted training areas are used. So outside footwear is removed to prevent dirt from ruining the mats, and also to protect them from damage, so they do not need replacing too often.
Chinese Martial Arts Versus the Others
The Japanese art of ninjutsu is different to other Japanese fighting traditions in that footwear is worn. This footwear is called tabi, and can consist of both tabi boots and tabi socks, both of which are characterized by having the big toe separated from the other ones.
In Chinese kung fu it is fairly standard for shoes to be worn, whether they are of the kung fu slipper style that Bruce Lee was known for, or simple black plimsolls or sneakers. However, if training in a dojo, especially if they are using a matted area, the Chinese kung fu practitioners will train without their shoes, both as a sign of respect to the martial art normally practised there, and also to assist in protecting the mats.
Reasons to Wear Martial Arts Training Shoes
The question to consider is whether martial arts shoes should be worn by all martial artists in the twenty-first century, or whether it is better to respect the traditions of our martial ancestors. Here are four compelling reasons to at least schedule some training sessions using footwear.
It is very common in areas where lots of people go barefoot, for skin and fungal infections to spread. This problem is particularly prevalent in locker rooms and sports changing rooms. For martial artists who train barefoot, this poses two potential problems. Firstly, if the student is respectful of his fellow classmates, he will not train while suffering from a skin condition. This of course is detrimental to the student’s training regime.
The other potential problem is if the student ignores a skin health problem and trains anyway. This is not pleasant for the other students and the infection can then rapidly spread. An easy preventative measure is for the students to train wearing martial arts shoes.
Many martial arts classes meet up to train in a hired room which may not be part of a professional school, or even in a sports complex. Instead, the room could be in a church hall or some other local building not used exclusively for martial arts. If the room is not normally used for any kind of sport or exercise activity (such as yoga or pilates) then the floor may not be ideal for training barefoot. It might be a simple, cold concrete floor, or a rough wooden one with damaged or uneven boards. These kinds of floor can pose an unnecessarily high risk of injury. Even proper matted judo surfaces have been known to cause broken toes, as it is easy to trap a toe between the mats if you end up on the receiving end of a sweep kick. Light training shoes are imperative in cases like this to prevent needless injuries from occurring.
3. Protection During Sparring
Most martial arts include sparring as an integral part of the training, so that students can practise techniques against a real opponent. Some commercially available martial arts training shoes are elasticated slip-on type shoes, which incorporate thin padding across the top and instep. These can be helpful to both students when practising during light sparring. They are also normally light-weight and thin enough that proper shin guards and foot padding can be worn over the top of them for more intense, full-contact sparring.
4. Authenticity in Real Self-Defence Situations
The most obvious reason for doing part of any sparring training wearing shoes is that it is extremely unlikely that you will be attacked while you happen to be barefooted. It does pay to train for this eventuality, but in general, any need to use self-defence techniques will occur outside the home and while you are wearing shoes or sneakers. If you are not familiar with executing your martial arts techniques while wearing shoes, the you will be at an automatic disadvantage in any physically dangerous situation.
So even if your martial art normally trains barefoot, it is certainly advisable to do some occasional practice sessions wearing everyday clothes and shoes, in order to make your self-defence training as realistic as possible.