Barefoot training in martial arts – 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 still 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 just doesn’t look good with your uniform.
Okay, I think shoes have a purpose and some shoes don’t look as ridiculous as an overly cushioned pair of running shoes (Tabi and Five Fingers, for example).
However, I prefer to be without shoes. I love to run barefoot, walk, climb, and generally just don’t wear shoes. In fact, I spend about 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.
Google barefoot running and you’ll get a lot more results for shoeless wonders like Abebe. For example, Michael Warburton published an article online titled “Running barefoot.” Warburton points out that the extra weight of the shoes is worse than a few pounds around the waist. The additional weight means that more energy is expended. As part of your stride, the weight on your feet must adjust to a constant increase and decrease in speed.
Research shows that two 10-ounce shoes will make you more than five percent less efficient. That’s good to know, especially when you consider the micromovements the body has to make to avoid sustaining 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 has Microsoft.
Proprioception (pronounced PRO-pree-o-SEP-shÉ(TM)n), from the Latin proprius, meaning “one’s 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 interaction with the living world around us; people, nature and animals.
We receive feedback from the world around us to adjust and improve our lives. Well, your body needs to do the same to function properly.
If you had no proprioception and I put a blindfold on you, you would just fall over. Police test proprioception to see if someone has had too much to drink. This is because you lose this sense when you have had too much alcohol. That’s 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, muscles, and joints involved. The development of this skill has to reach level 4 of the natural learning process:
1 You are not aware of your incompetence (you do not know that you do not know)
2 You are knowingly incompetent (you know you don’t know)
3 You are consciously competent (must think while acting)
4 You are subconsciously competent (you can act without thinking)
Suppose you are a martial artist who would like to have natural reactions like a cat. Not only that, but you also want to have a good time and be able to kick with deadly precision.
At first, you won’t notice that you can’t kick correctly or accurately (1). So you see someone kick the way you’d like and you start to understand that you don’t currently have the skills you want (2). With some training, you can kick a bag or target on command (3). Finally, with years of practice, you can kick without thinking. You react naturally (4).
This sense should go on autopilot so that you can then focus on other important areas of performance, like contemplating alternative strategies, observing your surroundings, or hitting while kicking.
A more modern way of labeling proprioception is to call it movement intelligence. This is, of course, with the belief that proprioception focuses on feedback. When the body moves, the information is sent to the brain for further investigation, calculation, and adjustments.
There is more to him than meets the eye and foot coordination.
Studies investigating ankle injuries suggest that our reflexes play a greater role in staying injury free. When you wear larger shoes, you won’t 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 test. The pain caused by a sprained ankle has to do with:
The correct answer is D – balance/proprioception.
Having a strong ankle, physical endurance or flexibility will not save you from an ankle sprain if you have not also developed the neuromuscular system to react naturally. Shoes simply don’t help us with this development as much as going barefoot does. Imagine carrying a shoe in your hands.
Going barefoot helps improve proprioception because you can feel your feet more, develop more muscle memory and thus increase the 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.
It all happens so fast and on such a micro level that it’s not something we can consciously adapt to in the now.
Since most martial artists already train barefoot, I suggest you also do the same when you’re in the park training or lounging around the house. If you want improved kicks, you have to start from scratch. The more 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 go barefoot in the mall). Balance is key, but before you don the Iron Man suit, consider training what’s inside first.
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