Postby JerryKarin » Fri Mar 14, 2003 7:56 pm

A while back I wrote a little piece on shoes for taiji in the Third Rep column. Curiously this is the topic on which I have received the most mail. For a while I was adding letters I received to the bottom of the archived column, but I was thinking it might work better if we make it a bulletin board topic.

Recently, Andrew wrote the following to me:

"I am a new student of Tai-chi and find the discussion very helpful.

Unfortunately, I am "blessed" with feet that are so bad-flat that a traditional teacher probably would never have accepted me as a student if I came to him as a child. Balance is, as you can imagine, a real
struggle. I keep wondering if I should think of practicing with orthotics in my
shoes (thereby making the platform even higher and less flexible) or if I should
tape my feet.

Any thoughts from other flatfoots out there?"

[This message has been edited by JerryKarin (edited 03-14-2003).]
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Postby Wushuer » Wed Apr 02, 2003 10:50 pm

Coming from a guy with an arch that won't quit... Don't know if I can help.
I can say that from my end of things, the best shoes I've ever worn are those flat bottomed, no arch supported, cloth chinese shoes.
I love them for exactly the opposite reason of your reader. They make my foot quite a bit flatter on the ground than sneakers or gym shoes or running shoes or any other shoes.
So, while I can't add to the original discussion, those of us with really honkin' big arches like the old fashioned, traditional, plain old, cotton chinese shoes of TCC renown.

[This message has been edited by Wushuer (edited 04-02-2003).]
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Postby black cat » Thu Apr 03, 2003 3:50 am

I am very new to Tai Chi however, I do most things barefooted. Is there any reason one can not play with out any shoes at all? I even used to play soccer barefooted.
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Postby mnpli » Thu Apr 03, 2003 2:27 pm

Hello cousins!:-)

may i chime in? it's been a while

while an arched foot is probably easier on the body.

it does not mean that a flat footed person cannot enjoy the same type of succes in tai chi chuan as the arched enemy.:-))

both the arched person and the flat footed person have the same ability to find the bubbling well in the foot.

K-1 i belive it's called in chinese medicine.

if you can find and utilise that point, one is in the correct alignement.
so it does not matter much then if the foot has an arch or not for the purpose of tai chi chuan !

also to do tai chi barefoot is probobly better for one because of the natural contact with the ground.


[This message has been edited by mnpli (edited 04-03-2003).]
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Postby DavidJ » Thu Apr 03, 2003 6:24 pm

Hi Jerry,

A visit to an orthopedist or a physical therapist might be in order, as there may be another issue affecting balance.

But, starting with barefoot and progressing slowly, I suggest wider shoes and those built for lateral stability before trying orthotics.

I have a similar problem. When a foot flattens it is wider. My feet are happy in New Balance cross trainers. New Balance makes the wider shoes that most other companies don't make. The cross trainer has greater lateral stability.

If these alone don't help enough, there are flexible orthotics on the market, Alzner (SP?) type, phase 4 and the like.

Good Luck to Andrew.


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Postby Michael » Fri Apr 04, 2003 5:10 am

I used to have nice high arches, But not anymore. As you learn to sink into your "feet", flat feet or not--won't matter as far as tai chi goes. I can only second the thoughts of Mario and David--especially making sure the shoes are wide enough. MOst companies do not make a wide shoe. If yours are too narrow, it won't help you any. Check that out.

One other note on shoes. Myself, I don't like the hard rubber soled "kung Fu" shoes at all. I can't feel the ground as I like and they can be slippery. The cotton soled ones are great however, but VERY slippery on real smooth surfaces. I really like what I call slip on "old man shoes" that one can find at K-mart. Generally Black or Blue, canvas tops and a rubber bottom. Used to be about 12 bucks. I can still feel the ground to some degree but "No" arch support.

With all that said, I usually do sets stockingfooted at home or wearing the cotton soled shoe I mentioned. Outside or in class I use the K Mart specials. I recomend using all manner of shoes just so you are comfortable and connected if ever you need to use it. "Wait, before we fight I need to take my shoes off!"

But barefoot is really nice too. There is no better connection.

[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 04-03-2003).]
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Postby Wushuer » Fri Apr 04, 2003 9:41 pm

A Wu family disciple of my acqaintance wears his motorcycle boots, those big, black, stormtrooper kind of boots, when he does TCC. Even in class!
He says that's the shoes he wears all the time, that's what he likes to practice in.
I wear either sneakers or the old cotton chinese shoes with the flat bottom, depending more on my mood than anything else.
When I'm at work, I wear my work shoes, which are mens loafers. I do about two thirds of my forms at work on breaks, so that's what I wear.
I too like the idea of practicing in whatever shoes you normally wear, at least enough to be comfortable in them doing TCC. As stated, you really can't expect people to wait to attack you until you get the right shoes on.
My arches have fallen considerably over the last sixteen or so years that I've done TCC, also. But they're still much higher than your average bears. You would not have believed how high my arches were back then. Most people can't believe how high they are now!
But if I have my druthers when it comes to shoes and practicing, give me the old chinese shoes.
I guess it's what I'm comfortable in.
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Postby JerryKarin » Mon Feb 07, 2005 5:33 pm

Recently I tried a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. These are the grand-daddy of all sneakers and turn out to be quite good for taiji. They are a bit like the Jack Purcells but somehow lighter, less stiff, and somewhat wider on the toe end of the shoe. They have a tread pattern but it doesn't seem to be a problem in turns and spins, though I haven't tried them on carpet.

These tend to be more available in stores than Jack Purcell. Also about 10 bucks cheaper than Jack Purcell. Recently the company started making them in China. If you can't find them locally try

Note: these are sized big so buy 1 full size smaller (or 1/2 size if your current size is just barely big enough) than you normally take. Of course it's best to try them on in a store if you can.

[This message has been edited by JerryKarin (edited 02-07-2005).]
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Postby Tracey » Mon Feb 07, 2005 9:05 pm

Please forgive this shallow sounding post but this particular issue is a bit of a pet peeve of mine - shoes.

When in uniform, the external visual flow (in my view) is as important as the internal flow..a symbol of harmony. Our forms exude a certain style and as such I feel it important to represent that.

No offense, but converse sneakers and uniform just don't cut it in my view. In fact even regular sneakers don't cut it but rather look like bozo shoes when worn with uniform.

I am sympathetic to wearing shoes that are comfortable and offer support, but so often I have observed (especially at competition) individuals wearing beautiful flowing Tai Chi garments only to ruin the style by wearing some dirty old sneakers..yuck.

All that said however, if just in (home) practice...then all means wear what feels best.

My Chaan-Tzu was such a stickler about uniforms. We even had to press creases in our pants so they looked "crisp" and use starch on our sashes. White socks, and any visable holes in clothing were a big no-no.

Ahh, such was the culture of that class...I guess some of it stuck. Still can't get with sneakers.
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Postby JerryKarin » Mon Feb 07, 2005 9:32 pm

Note the footwear:


I agree that for demos something more like traditional Chinese shoes might be more in order. For most of us, demos are few and far between and our big interest is footwear for everyday practice.

As far as 'uniforms' in class go, this is mainly a practice imported from Japan. Chinese teachers of taiji never had any tradition of uniforms that I am aware of.

[This message has been edited by JerryKarin (edited 02-07-2005).]
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Postby Kalamondin » Tue Feb 08, 2005 1:19 am

I wanted a shoe I could practice in daily and wear for demos. There are several shoes out there now that are in the “martial arts” style, or even specifically marketed for yoga or tai chi that look quite sleek. Some of these have a decent flat, relatively smooth sole and might be fine, but others, like these below, have a split sole design which I definitely do NOT recommend for tai chi. I liked the look of them for demos and spinning sweeps, but alas, twas not to be. Puma Asana Asics Ilyeo Adidas Mei

I thought they looked snazzy enough to try out Asana and Mei, but when I shifted back and forth in my bow stance it was clear that they would make fixed-step push hands very difficult. Although we are supposed to root through the bubbling well point, its sometimes necessary to recover one’s balance using the outer blade of the foot, or root through some other part, or “roll” the root from the heel to the bubbling well. The open gap in the sole on these made that very difficult—“without a leg to stand on” is the phrase that comes to mind. They seem to be made for going up on ones toes, like in certain pivoting high kicks in other martial arts (karate?) or flexibility in yoga (though I’ve never seen anyone wear shoes for yoga).

I probably could get used to that gap in the soles in time, the way that I know how to walk in heels, but it doesn’t seem like a great idea. Although, as an aside, somewhere in a Tai Chi Magazine, there’s a photo from the 70’s (?) of somebody’s daughter doing Single Whip or Snake Creeps Down (forget which) in black Mary Jane pumps with a 3 inch heel! Now that’s gong fu! Actually, maybe I’ll give a go at practicing with heels on at least a handful of times. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared and I can think of at least 5 different martial applications.

For daily practice, however, I favor the Ryka Stability Walk:
Although they were super pricey, I love the nitrogen cushion cells for shock absorption when landing after having been fa-ed backwards, or when attempting to emit energy myself. They really are very stable when doing push hands. The Rykas have plenty of room in the toe box, plus a narrow heel designed for women. The slight upturned curve in the sole is nice for skimming the ground with the forward foot before making contact with the heel for a bow stance. You will have noticed that Yang Jun generally doesn’t pick up his foot very high when moving it from place to place. When I wear flatter soled shoes I sometimes trip over the toes when stepping out—although this is more about having to wear shoes that were too big for me before I found these. The more I practice tai chi, the wider my feet get and I used to have to buy one size up to accommodate my spreading toes (it’s sometimes hard to find wide shoes).

For more on feet and tai chi, Robert Chukrow has some things to say about strengthening the feet in “The Tai Chi Book.”

There’s also a description of what I suspect happens to tai chi practitioners’ feet at this website.
I’m guessing tai chi practitioners’ feet come to look more like the feet on the left than the ones on the right (in the first picture on this site). This makes standard shoe shopping more challenging, but I’d much rather have the use of my feet!

At the other end of the expense spectrum, in a local martial arts shop I found a pair of black canvas sneakers called, simply, kung fu shoes. They were something like $5 or $7. and they looked just like classic Keds, only black. The sole quickly wore down smooth (in fact, I wore it out). No arch support to speak of, but they were accommodating enough to fit a flexible arch support shoe insert. I did like the contact with the ground, as the sole was very flexible (if I stepped on a pebble, I could feel the lump).

I’ve never been able to practice in the cloth soled tai chi shoes—my heel just tends to slide off the sole in back (women have narrower heels), but it sounds like many people have good luck with them.

Chucks might be nice for summer or indoors, but the soles always come unglued and I end up with wet feet in the rain.

I have been wondering about the following shoes: bowling shoes, skateboard shoes, boat shoes, indoor soccer shoes (would the circle at the ball help with spins?), and felt soled wading shoes (more like boots, actually). Has anyone tried any of these?

OK, that’s probably more than enough!
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Postby chris » Tue Feb 08, 2005 1:52 am

I have low arches also. I don't like practicing in those cheap rubber or cloth slippers, after 1-2 hours my heels often get sore.

A few months ago, I got a pair of New Balance 1122s. They are expensive and look funny, but I recommend them anyway.


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Postby JerryKarin » Tue Feb 08, 2005 4:07 am

Some good points there, Kal. Yes, the ungluing problem (happens in hot weather on hot blacktop) and the vulnerability to water are two big disadvantages of the canvas sneaker. You also need to rotate shoes more often with canvas sneakers. I also find that stresses created by pressure between the two feet tend to stretch the shoes out or deform them. However, I do like the flatness of the soles and the ability to feel the ground well. I've tried a lot of different shoes, including recently a pair of Vans and a pair of Airwalks. (Why do they make those fat tongues?) I still find that I prefer Chucks and Jack Purcells. I just wish Adidas would bring back Gazelle and Campus!
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Postby JerryKarin » Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:32 pm

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR><font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Tracey:
My Chaan-Tzu was such a stickler about uniforms. We even had to press creases in our pants so they looked "crisp" and use starch on our sashes. White socks, and any visable holes in clothing were a big no-no.

Ahh, such was the culture of that class...I guess some of it stuck. Still can't get with sneakers.</B></font><HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I met your Chaan-Tzu a few years back in New York. An awesome guy, fine martial artist, and a very snappy dresser.

I was thinking about criteria for what makes a shoe good for taiji. Kal touched on this. My thinking is the sole must not be too thick, so you can feel the ground, not too mushy or spongy so you teeter when standing on one leg in the kicks, jin ji du li, etc, rather wide so the front of your foot can spread, and tread pattern not so sticky as to sabotage the turns and spins. As Kal mentioned it must not be possible for your foot to 'fall off' the sole of the shoe. Beyond those criteria I suppose come general comfort, looks, durability, price, availability. Also 'support' though it is not easy to define what that should be. Naturally, different people have different shaped feet and tastes so there can never be
only one answer to these questions. What works well for some simply won't fit for others.
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Postby gene » Wed Feb 09, 2005 12:09 am

Hi guys:

Actually, I think Tracey is selling the Bozo shoe short. When you're about to be pushed out, you just detonate the explosive charge in the toe. Victory follows quickly.


P.S. I don't like the hard-soled kung fu-type shoes either. Too slippery, and kind of hard on the knees if you do any stomping-type movements.
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