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For the non-sociopathic, footwear is governed by fashion, mood, comfort and suitability for life or perhaps, workplace.
It is not usual for the average person (1) to consider footwear in relation to fighting as this is luckily not part of their everyday reality.
“What shoes would I be most likely to be wearing if I ever had to defend myself?”
The following thoughts are offered as a start towards an exploration of choices of footwear and how they may effect your ability to function in the low probability* context of survival fighting.
* Unlikely but not impossible…
One time, I returned home after a long trip and had literally just put a cup of tea on and gotten as far as sitting with one boot removed when I had to deal with a really aggressive guy who tried climbing into my front window. As has happened a couple of times in my life, this idiot had got the wrong house but I was left to deal with this wearing only one boot.
Another time, I had people break in during the night and was barefoot.
This has a definite psychological effect on you in the moment in terms of your confidence to respond physically.
I’d had a couple of trainees ask at sparring and other workshops too concerning what was the best type of footwear to have for this aspect of training.
I’m adding these questions to the “fighting surface” considerations as it has a direct effect on your ability to move on various surfaces and also how you can defend yourself.
Train for your daily life
Most training should be ideally done in at least an approximation of the clothing and footwear you are most likely to spend time in.
This goes for all forms of sparring too.
This is to create as close of a similarity as possible between what you experience in training and also what you might experience in an actual situation where you needed to defend yourself.
There is a need though to make some compromises between relevance and possible injury.
This is especially true in the case of footwear whatever that is for you personally on a day to day basis.
If you wear heavy work boots every day, then you need to train/ spar in them too.
This may not make you popular obviously with training partners.
Impact levels need to be agreed and relevant PPE worn.
There is also a place for training an agreed portion of the time in lighter footwear and barefoot.
Wearing lighter footwear or having bare feet in the context of survival fighting is replicating the type of footwear you are likely to be wearing in the home or during leisure time etc, so it has a definite place.
Kicks that need little form to be effective in steel toe caps will cripple you in bare feet! So you really want to have all variations open to you as a controllable factor in training and sparring.
Ideally, have a pair of softer shoes (preferably trainers rather than martial arts slipper type things as martial arts is the only time you'd wear something like that!) packed with you for training so that all options are available:
Heavier boots, sports trainers to bare feet.
I learned this many years ago as “the body’s awareness of position in space and time”.
For example, you put your foot down without looking and there is a communication, via the nervous system, between the the feet and the brain to correct foot position to maintain balance.
Trainers have varying layers of foam that can effect footing to greater/lesser degree - a thick, spongy layer of foam can dull your proprioception and make your footing unstable perhaps contributing to injury.
There are many that advocate barefoot athletic training (and even living) so as to cultivate this ability and it’s perceived performance and health benefits.
For many years, I attended various martial arts classes and intensely annoyed a couple of teachers by wearing converse type shoes rather than submitting to the regular uniform footwear (2) as they were what I wore outside most days and also they allowed me to have a very good feel of the floor throughout the full foot. In other words, if I could do a tactic in training, I KNEW 100% that I could do it outside. They were also really good for weightlifting.
I’ve stopped buying them as they’re really expensive and also I walk more daily in boots or trainers.
These below were selected as they have little cushioning on the front of the foot as a compromise between footing and cushioning - they’re also really cheap.
Consider the tread and traction of your shoe choice. Some can slip when kicking and moving. Others can anchor the foot and injure the knee when turning or shifting at speed.
Other types of footwear
On holiday, flipflops are very commonly worn but less beneficial if you were mugged by the beach, they can fly off and can also fold back to trip you. They should be stepped out of, if you have time, prior to defending yourself.
This action is also a huge tell if you are confronted by someone who then does this. In some cultures this is a well known prelude to a scrap.
Closer to home, Wellington boots are common to see on people locally as they bridge a gap between rural and town wear.
These boots will limit your ability to bend and flex your ankle joints and can fly off if loose when kicking!
Choices and habits
Consider what you wear on a daily basis, can it be adapted slightly to be a safer choice to wear if you needed to move quickly - for everyday type stuff, run for a bus etc?
Make a direct connection with training by wearing this footwear for practice. This doesn’t need to be every time (home training would be an ideal opportunity) but at least experience it every once in a while - it is part of who you are - and that is who you are training for.
Whatever your choice, be aware of it and take it into consideration as to how it affects your ability to defend yourself.
1 - We refrain in using the term “normal” to be applied to those attending training as after a couple of workshops it’s clear that it no longer applies.
2 - It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that other things about me annoyed them too but I’ll stick at footwear.
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Love this! I think quite a lot about footwear and because of a lifetime spent with horses, I would always tend towards more protection. What horse feet do to human toes is not pretty. In response to footnote 1, I think a number of people might consider footwear in terms of the ability to escape, even if fighting isn’t on their minds. For instance, high heels are not great for running at speed, and many women’s shoes seem to be designed with the sole intention of reducing friction, but it’s an interesting point about too much traction, I hadn’t really considered that.
Really interesting point about how vulnerable/weird dealing with stuff barefoot would be as well. I guess those that train that way would have the advantage in that context. I certainly found it odd in kickboxing, having bare feet but gloved hands.
Ha ha ha, I guess Footnote 2) could be true. The principle of training in what you would normally wear, at different times of the night and day, seems sound, though. Of course, plenty of people do live in sports wear. One book I read advocated training in various levels of undress to address that issue of night-time attacks. The fact that it’s so unappealing to do probably means doing it would be a good idea. Perhaps not in class, more of a solo practise thing…..