Barefoot Martial Arts Training – No Shoes Is Good News!

Most martial arts students train barefoot when indoors. And, most martial arts systems train 80-100% of the time between four walls and on a soft mat. So for many, training without shoes is not much of a challenge.

In martial science, we spend 80-100% of our time training outdoors. We continue to support the barefoot training philosophy and encourage students to do the same, even when training in the park.

Why should you go barefoot? Because wearing shoes doesn’t look good with your uniform.

Okay, I think shoes have a purpose and some shoes don’t look as ridiculous as a pair of over-cushioned running shoes (Tabi and Five Fingers, for example).

However, I prefer to be without shoes. I love running barefoot, walking, climbing, and generally not wearing shoes at all. In fact, I spend around 75% or more of my time without shoes and I prefer to extend this to my sports activities. I’m not the only one.

* Abebe Bikila, an Olympic marathoner, won the first of his consecutive gold medals without shoes.

Research barefoot running on Google and you’ll get a lot more hits on shoeless wonders like Abebe. For example, Michael Warburton published an article online titled “Running barefoot.” Warburton notes that the extra weight of shoes is worse than a few pounds around the waist. The added weight means more energy is wasted. As part of your stride, the weight of your feet should adjust to a steady increase and decrease in speed.

Research shows that two 10-ounce shoes will make you more than five percent less efficient. This is good to know, especially considering the micro-movements that the body must perform to avoid an ankle injury.

Internal, external and spatial awareness

Next, let’s talk about proprioception, and don’t worry if you haven’t heard that word before, neither does Microsoft.

Proprioception (pronounced PRO-pree-o-SEP-shÉ (TM) n), from the Latin proprius, meaning “own” and perception) is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body.

Let’s associate the senses with Mind, Body and Spirit and divide them into three categories (just to learn this concept):

01 External (sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing and balance) – Body

02 Internal (senses that help us perceive pain) – Mind

03 Spatial (sense that shares feedback in relation to our world) – Spirit

Proprioception is a sense that helps us verify where the extremities of our body are in relation to each other and the space around us. It also helps determine if we are moving at the correct speed or using the correct amount of force.

In martial science, we consider that the spirit represents the spirit of life and the interaction with the living world that surrounds us; people, nature and animals.

We receive feedback from the world around us to adapt and improve our lives. Well, your body needs to do the same to function properly.

If you had no proprioception and I covered your eyes with a blind bandage, you would simply fall. The police test proprioception to see if someone has had too much to drink. This is because you lose this sense when you have drunk too much alcohol. That is why they ask you to walk in a straight line without looking at your feet. Without proprioception, we must look at our feet in order to walk.

If you watch a baby move their hands trying to grasp something, you will notice that their hand movements stutter as they begin to learn to develop hand-eye coordination. Every time they search for something new, they are creating new data and feedback to build on.

The ability to spin a sword or catch a Frisbee requires you to have a very specific SENSE of the exact positions of your limbs, your muscles and joints involved. The development of this skill must reach level 4 of the natural learning process:

1 Does not realize his incompetence (does not know, does not know)

2 You are consciously incompetent (you know you don’t know)

3 You are consciously competent (you must think while acting)

4 You are unconsciously competent (you can act without thinking)

Suppose you are a martial artist who would like to have natural feline reactions. Not only that, but you want good timing and to be able to kick with deadly precision.

At first, you won’t realize that you can’t kick correctly or accurately (1). Then you see someone kick how you’d like and you start to understand that you currently don’t have the skills you want (2). With some training, he can kick a bag or a target when commanded (3). Finally, with years of practice, you can kick without thinking. You react naturally (4).

This sense should hit autopilot so that you can then focus on other important areas of performance, such as contemplating alternate strategies, observing your surroundings, or hitting while kicking.

A more modern way of labeling proprioception is to call it motion intelligence. Of course, this is due to the belief that proprioception focuses on feedback. When the body moves, information is sent to the brain for further research, calculations, and adjustments.

There’s more to eye-foot coordination than meets the eye.

Studies investigating ankle injuries suggest that our reflexes play a greater role in staying injury-free. When you wear larger shoes, you will not have as much development around the central areas of your foot and ankle. Shoes alone can be the cause of many ankle sprains, knee injuries, and back pain.

Here is a quiz. Pain caused by ankle sprains has to do with:

A force

B resistance

C Flexibility

D Balance

The correct answer is D – balance / proprioception.

Having a strong ankle, physical stamina or flexibility will not save you from an ankle sprain if you have not also developed the neuromuscular system to react naturally. Shoes just don’t help us with this development as much as walking barefoot does. Imagine carrying a shoe in your hands.

Going barefoot helps improve proprioception because you can feel your feet more, build more muscle memory, and therefore increase your chances of reacting naturally. The more you can FEEL the better as this will create more signals and therefore more data. In the end, that = more balance.

Everything happens so fast and on such a micro level that it is not something we can consciously adapt to in the now.

Since most martial artists already train barefoot, I suggest that you also do the same when you are training in the park or lounging around the house. If you want to improve your kicks, you have to start from scratch. The more often you kick and train barefoot, the better.

NOTE: You should also train in shoes if you expect to know how to move in a real life situation (we don’t walk barefoot at the mall). Balance is the key, but before donning the iron man suit, consider training what’s inside first.

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