bare feet vs. socks vs. shoes



Here is the real critical issue in tai chi: shoes, socks, or bare feet. For some reason, the MA community shies away from confronting this question. Why? What are we afraid of? I don't want to be accused of starting a flame war, but here is another thing on my mind - the appalling state of clothing worn in tai chi classes. The top items worn in suburban tai chi classes are:
sweat pants
t-shirts with environmental slogans
ratty sweaters
black leggings
scruffy slippers
shorts on people who should look in the mirror before they leave the house

Why can't we have lovely uniforms like other martial artists?


Mrs. Hubris Nimby
I've seen some tai chi classes that require uniforms. I think that
it stems from how much tai chi is being marketed as a form of
exercise, stress reduction, and relaxation. Heck, I even knew
one student who studied for a year, and didn't even realize it
was a martial art! :eek: Other things, like aerobics, yoga,
meditation classes don't require uniforms, and I think tai chi has
been lumped into these groups, more than it is associated with
martial arts. There's nothing wrong with that, the last article
I read about tai chi was how it's so popular among senior citizens
and has had a large impact on that community. That's one major
positive in my book! I'm not a senior citizen, but it's bee my
experience that those that "slow down" once they retire and
up being the only ones to get old.

Would the socks vs. bare feet discussion really start a flame war?
Are people that touchy on the subject? In my school, we're
allowed to wear socks, bare feet, or shoes. My instructor feels
that the chances of you getting into a situation where you're
forced to defend yourself while being bare foot is lower than
when you'd have shoes on.
Hey, Kirk - I'm not as funny as you, man. I was trying to make a joke. :D Actually, there are some tai chi chat boards where a flame war over socks vs. barefeet is within the realm of possibility, given the nature of some of the posters. My tai chi teacher is a big bruiser (sp?) of a guy. He is definitely into tai chi as a martial art. He teaches tai chi on all levels. He has classes specifically for the elderly, for stress reduction etc. But he also teaches tai chi as an MA. My pet peeve is that there is one guy in my class who does the form in bare feet. His feet sweat, and he makes squeaky noises as his feet rub against the floor. Truly, it is awful - like nails on a chalk board. I like socks best - can't do the form in shoes. If I'm ever attacked, I'll ask for a one minute grace period so that I can take off my shoes.
Heheheh .. great story, you had me laughing! I don't have any
problems with any footwear people at my school decide to wear,
but one guy who went barefoot had major athlete's foot, and I
just hated his foot coming anywhere near me!

Where abouts do you live? I looked high and low around here a
little over a year ago for a Tai Chi class that was more M.A.
focused, and couldn't find one!

So what are you classes like? How many are there, what do you
guys do in a typical class?
How much do you sweat?
I bought a pair of "Pine Tree" brand shoes and the soles fell off after two practices. After fixing that the leather has been really weak and is already about to wear thru in one place...

flat shoes make a huge difference though...

my opinion--- flat shoes, not just socks, barefoot is ok, tennis/running shoes can really screw you up...
Yo, Kirk! (Hi there, Crane! Thanks for stopping by. Sorry to be shouting over your head.) I live in the suburbs of NYC. It took me a long time to find a tai chi teacher with whom I could work. OK, this is going to be TMI, so those of you who don't care about the personal habits of Mrs. Hubris Nimby can just scroll. Oh my heck, it got real empty in here all of a sudden. Anyhoo, Kirk, to answer your question, I sweat more than anybody, man or woman, than you have ever seen in your life. (While I'm doing tai chi, that is. A lady never perspires - she just glows.) At first, while doing tai chi I got terrible flatulence. I never ate before tai chi class for fear of emptying the room. My teacher told me that the flatulence was a sign that the "tai chi was working." ) Fine, but what can it do for my stretch marks?) My teacher assured me that this situation would not last, and it didn't. But now I sweat like a ****ing stevedore. I have to bring a towel to class. OK, you can all come back. I'm finished.
ROFL! Thanks for sharing hubris! It's funny, I had the same
problem when I first started! I didn't know what the cause
was, cause .. well I'm a man, and enjoy letting them rip! ;)

Has anyone in your class tried martial arts shoes? They're the
most comfy thing you'll ever put on your feet, I can promise you

My only exposure to TC has been what I've seen on TV, and in
the park with ONLY senior students and teacher. It was just like
on TV, just slow movements, like a slow form. Don't get me
wrong, I'm not knocking it ... in kenpo we're told "do it a thousand
times slow before you do it one time fast". But I'm also curious
about anything other than this that goes on in a Tai Chi class.
Kirk (Hi, again, Crane. Would you like a glass of ice tea or something? Don't mean to be rude.) Yeah, Kirk, like I was sayin' - I've heard that the "typical" tai chi student in my area is female and fifty. (I overheard a snide remark one night at class "female, fifty, divorced, with a lot of baggage." tsk tsk. Unkind and not true.) So people think that tai chi is an arthritis cure or an activity for middle aged dames to take them out of the shopping mall for a while. So unfair, these stereotypes! I've met some tai chi players (men) who would turn a push hands exercise into a fight to the death. Some of these guys can break boards. You do ken po? Fabulous. This gives me a chance to tell you a story about Mrs. Hubris Nimby and the ken po attacker. I was at a party, sipping a refreshing beverage, when some loudmouth "friend" of mine blabbed, "Oh! Mrs. Hubris Nimby over here does tai chi!" (It was a wierd party - lots of triatheletes, gym rats, and bar tenders.) So this fellah comes weaving over to me, clutching a longneck beer in one hand and starts ragging me about how tai chi was not a martial art and that you had to suffer, bleed, sweat, &c &c to be a real martial artist. I kept walking away from Mr. Ken Po (yield/yin - know what I'm sayin?) But he tracked me relentlessly. I wanted to say, "Look, either get drunk enough so you pass out on the floor and then I can walk over you, or stop drinking so that you can start acting like a sensible person." I'm not saying all ken po people are like this. It's only an anecdote, OK?
Doesn't really, socks, bare feet...but you should train in what you might find yourself wearing if you need to use your art...(No, not bad shorts or funky tee-shirts)...

A very good friend of mine who trained with me (and taught me) about 20 years ago, used to be hounded by a "person" who trained in ???ryu do...

They knew the same people so frequently bumped into each other at day this ???ryu do practitioner challenged my dear friend..."That internal boxing stuff is so much crap." (or something like that)..."show me what you got." Well after being yin for so many previous encounters, my friend chose to be yang and planted an "internal" kick in the guy's middle that launched him (legs parallell to the floor) over the back of a couch and PLANTED him in the friend paid for the repairs and the other guy left Jim alone after that.

huh-huh-huh, cool... Tai Chi rules...the glory of Tai Chi is that, after a while, if you need it it just pops out...

my girlfriend likes to push hands a lot and she didnt know how strong the Tai Cji really was until she through my butt across the room...I got up, rubbed my aching butt, and told her "Yep, thats the idea..."

and Hubris...think nothing of first teacher was a 95 lb 75 year old Dutch woman who, if she couldnt evade my young male aggression, could soak up my attack like water and spit it right back in my face...that proved it to me...

Excellent stories! Keep 'em coming! I'm undergoing a "tai chi crisis" and I don't know if I can continue any more. ("Yeah, see that? No matter what the topic is, it's always about Mrs. Hubris Nimby.") Right, thanks. I can read thoughts over the internet, so watch it. Where can you get those martial art shoes, crane? Right now I'm stuck at Embrace tiger return to the mountain because I CANNOT get my legs in the correct position - kwa is too tight. I do tai chi in socks, and I'm going to wind up on my bum one of these days due to the sock-slippage problem.
I went to a fantastic Tai Chi seminar in New York City over the weekend. There was only one thing I didn't like about it - the floor. It was a filthy painted cement floor. Oh my heck! I wanted to bring my mop and all my cleaning supplies to class with me on Sunday after a day of standing and LYING DOWN ON that floor. You can take the girl out of the suburbs, but you can't take the suburbs out of the girl. Anyhoo, believe it or not the all important question of barefeet vs. socks vs. shoes actually came up at the seminar. (Thank the goddess!) Finally, a teacher who can unflinchingly face the really tough questions. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
Originally posted by hubris

I went to a fantastic Tai Chi seminar in New York City over the weekend. There was only one thing I didn't like about it - the floor. It was a filthy painted cement floor. Oh my heck! I wanted to bring my mop and all my cleaning supplies to class with me on Sunday after a day of standing and LYING DOWN ON that floor.

I have a painted cement floor too and even though I clean it a few times a week, it still gets dirty. The problem... people wear their outdoor shoes to class. They bring in the grime and dirt that they complain about (although I don't often hear complaints).

Granted, though, the floor should have been at least cleaned before the seminar. I try to do that before all events anyways.

I chuckled, too, at your comment and thought back to all those martial arts movies where the students worked out outside in the dirt; dust clouds flying everywhere and they're just going about their business. The dirt will wash off, but the lessons will last forever.

Oh, and my preference... MA shoes for Tai Chi. Damn comfortable if you ask me.

Yeah, good points. Now here's another angle - pedicures & nail polish or the natural look? I realize that fuschia nail polish may seem kind of un-taichi-ish, but that's my favorite color. I always do tai chi in socks (unless I'm outdoors.) I noticed at the seminar that several barefooted women had nail polish on their toes - even the teacher. So now I feel that it is OK for me to have lovely feet. But maybe I'll switch to Mocha Mauve as a color. I love getting pedicures because I get a foot massage at the same time.
Once, a long time ago in a city far, far away, I began studying Yiliquan. At first we wore whatever we could get a hold of - some had white karate uniforms, some had the cheap-o thin cotton kung fu uniforms (with removable inner collar lining), some wore sweat pants. We wore what we had until we could get better.

Because the school's main training floor was carpeted, we wore the cotton soled Chinese shoes. These were difficult at first, as the brand new shoes were very slippery on the tight pile carpet. But, with time and training, the soles would get worn down from the friction of pressing against the floor while moving. Then, the shoes had great traction, and were excellent training tools. Yes, I said training tools! If your stance was incorrect while moving, and you attempted to root, you would slide across the floor like an ice skating champ. If your stances and steps were executed correctly, no worries.

Eventually, having a broken in, worn out pair of training shoes was something of a status symbol. The more worn out the sole, the more foot-forming the upper, the better off you were. Then there became the issue of what socks to wear! A few of our more adventurous students made their own collegiate fashion statements by regularly wearing plaid socks with their uniforms!

And speaking of uniforms, after a time we all had "regulation" kung fu uniforms, and there was never a moment when a "modified" uniform was allowed - if it was hot, you kept the jacket on and were told to punch faster to fan the air. ;)

Now, I wear a pair of authentic Chinese wu shu tennies (paid a whopping $10 for them at a martial arts supply shop in Seattle's Chinatown, and I am planning on going back to buy more!) when I am training in class officially, but I wear (in addition to the uniform) both regular street clothes and regular daily shoes when I train at home, and when I am training at a gym I wear my black judogi and bare feet.

All three "ensembles" have their merit, but the hippie enviro-psycho outfit should be done away with. All the students should have some semblance of uniformity, not so much to "stifle their individuality," but to link everyone into a group mentality while training.


Yiliquan - Thank you for your well written and thoughtful post. I agree with everything you said. I wanted to start a thread on "tai chi fashion" but I thought I'd get slammed by the tai chi community for being superficial. As far as I'm concerned, fashion is NOT superficial. You stated the case eloquently. Now where can I get a pair of those shoes? (I live in metro NY.) When I was in NYC last weekend at the tai chi seminar, I saw several people who were wearing shoes like you describe.

Don't hate me because I shop at Nordstroms.



Mrs. Hubris Nimby
Originally posted by hubris

Yeah, good points. Now here's another angle - pedicures & nail polish or the natural look? I realize that fuschia nail polish may seem kind of un-taichi-ish, but that's my favorite color. I always do tai chi in socks (unless I'm outdoors.) I noticed at the seminar that several barefooted women had nail polish on their toes - even the teacher. So now I feel that it is OK for me to have lovely feet.

Funny you should say something about this. I've often heard that one reason many women don't like martial arts classes was because they were required to go barefoot. They didn't want their smelly feet exposed to others for ridicule.

To me, it's all good. What you wear on your feet shouldn't impact the lessons taught as long as you're comfortable with it. And if you want your feet to look nice, go for it. I personally like the manicured look rather than the disgusting, swollen hang nails.

The only reason I request shoes is for better arch support, protection against getting your feet cut by something, and protection against viruses. I have had several people go barefoot with no problems in both Tai Chi and Kung Fu classes.

Hey, I'm just funnin' with ya. I happen to like to wear socks when I do tai chi, which is just as well because I'm very vain about my feet. It would be show off-y of me to do bare foot tai chi. I have beautiful feet and I don't care who sees them, or smells them. There is a show off-y type woman in my class who does the form in bare feet. I think she's the only one. Except for the one man who sometimes takes his socks off. I mentioned him before. He makes me crazy because his feet sweat and make a squeaky sound on the floor. I can't smell his feet, but I can hear them.
ok, aside from naked taiji, i wear wushu sneakers and kung fu pants, the only time when it seems beneficial to go barefoot would be on the grass or bare earth, i do that once in a great while. rubber soles neutralize the magnetic connection, so bare feet in direct contact to the ground is an easy way to synchronize yourself. at least that's my belief. :p

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