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Barefoot Training in the 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 outside. We still support the philosophy of barefoot training and encourage students to do the same – even when training in the park.
Why go without shoes? Because wearing shoes just doesn’t look good with your outfit.
Okay, I believe shoes serve a purpose, and some shoes don’t look as ridiculous as a pair of over-cushioned running shoes (for example, the Tabi and Five Fingers).
However, I prefer to be without shoes. I enjoy running barefoot, hiking, climbing and generally wearing no shoes at all. In fact, I spend about 75% or more of my time without shoes, and I prefer to extend that to my athletic activities. I’m not the only one.
* Abebe Bikila, Olympic marathon runner, won the first of his consecutive gold medals without shoes.
Google barefoot running and you’ll get a lot more hits on shoeless wonders like Abebe. For example, Michael Warburton published an online journal called “Barefoot Running”. Warburton points out that the extra weight of shoes is worse than a few pounds around the waist. Extra weight means more energy is expended. As part of your stride, the weight on your feet must 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 when you consider the micro-movements the body has to make to avoid an ankle injury.
Internal, External and Spatial Awareness
Next, let’s talk about propriety, and don’t worry if you’ve never heard that word before—nor 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 adjacent body parts.
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 right speed or using the right amount of force.
In Martial Science – we consider Spirit to represent the spirit of life and interaction with the living world around us. people, nature and animals.
We receive feedback from the world around us in order to adapt and improve our lives. Well, your body needs to do the same thing to function properly.
If you didn’t have proprioception and I put a blindfold on your eyes, you’d just fall over. The police do a breathalyzer test to see if someone has had too much to drink. This is because you lose this sensation when you have had too much alcohol. That’s why they ask you to walk straight without looking at your feet. Without proprioception, we have to look at our feet to walk.
If you watch a baby move their hands trying to grasp something, you’ll notice that their hand movements stutter as they begin to learn how to develop hand-eye coordination. Every time they look for something new, they create new data and feedback to draw upon.
The ability to swing a sword or catch a Frisbee both require you to have a very specific FEEL for the exact positions of your limbs, the muscles and joints involved. The development of this skill must reach level 4 of the natural learning process:
1 You Don’t Know Your Incompetence (You Don’t Know That You Don’t Know)
2 You’re Consciously Incompetent (You Know You Don’t Know)
3 You are consciously competent (you have to think as you act)
4 You are unconsciously competent (you can act without thinking)
Let’s say you’re a martial artist who would like to have natural reactions like cats. Not only that, but you want good timing, and be able to kick with deadly accuracy.
At first, you’ll ignore the fact that you can’t kick properly or accurately (1). Then you see someone kicking the way you’d like and you start to realize that you currently don’t have the skills you desire (2). With a little training, you can kick a bag or a target on command (3). Finally, with years of practice, you can kick without thinking. You react naturally (4).
This feeling should go on autopilot so you can then focus on other important areas of performance, such as thinking of alternative strategies, observing your surroundings, or punching while kicking.
A more modern way to describe proprioception is to call it movement intelligence. This is of course with the belief that proprioception is focused on feedback. When the body moves, the information is sent to the brain for further investigation, calculation and adjustments.
There is more than meets the eye and foot coordination.
Studies investigating ankle injuries suggest that our reflexes play a bigger role in staying injury-free. When you wear larger shoes, you’re not going to get as much growth around the core areas of your foot and ankle. Shoes alone could be the cause of many sprained ankles, knee injuries and back pain.
Here is a quiz. Pain caused by ankle sprains is related to:
The correct answer is D – balance / proprioception.
Having a strong ankle, physical strength or flexibility won’t save you from a sprained ankle if you haven’t also developed the neuromuscular system to react naturally. Shoes just don’t help us in this evolution like going barefoot does. Imagine wearing a shoe in your hands.
Walking barefoot helps improve proprioception because you can feel more of your feet, develop more muscle memory, and thus increase your chances of reacting naturally. The more you can Feel the better as this will generate more signals and therefore more data. In the end, this = more balance.
Everything happens so fast and on such a micro level that it’s not something we can consciously adjust to in the now.
Since most martial artists already train barefoot, I suggest doing the same when training in the park or relaxing at home. If you want improved 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 situation (we don’t go barefoot to the mall). Balance is key – but before you put on the iron man suit – consider educating yourself on what’s inside it first.
Enroll in Live-In Martial Arts and Adventure Camp in California or Thailand. Short and long term programs available. Attend the weekend, 1-2 week, 1 month or year long camp to become certified as an instructor. For more information, visit the link below.
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