Footwear for Swordsmanship


Shane Smith

In The Western European Martial Arts, we have found flat-soled shoes to be ideal for fencing as they allow proper balance and a good feel for the ground no matter whether we are on a wooden floor or outside on the lawn. Many of my fellow ARMA Scholars wear simple wrestling shoes. What are you guys wearing for your intense hilt-work and why? footwear for me. Just bare feet. :) Then again, I'm studying a JSA.
Well first of all I have to say that this relates to a lifestyle. We dont wear footwear indoors in Japanese homes. Even in offices its sandals. We wear shoes because its dirty outside. Not only that but we like to get our shoes off and sit on the floor, be at one with nature. In budo "stamp the floor, sweat and learn the way of the sword". Japans history and culture and religion has deep connections of being at one with the earth. Musashi's book of the elements describes the fundamentals in the earth book.

Footwork and the way the legs move in relationship to the body are an essential part of JSA. The feet moving with an almost floating like feeling. The use of the feet settling slightly before to make use of kahanshin (lower body hara and hip power). For me there are certain similarities with sumo and a clay floor. The Jigenryu takes off shoes and socks to practice on clay. Its just something you cant get wearing footwear.

In my case body weight is never placed over one leg. The legs operate as a unit to move the body that is extended with a weapon. The weapon is part of that body. More like a set a wheels than some clump, thudding action. We sometimes compare heavy plodding to an elephant but in actual fact its a very gracefull creature when you see it transport so much weight.

But because of so much indoor (Dojo) practice many systems have adapted and narrowed stances to the extent that they look quite uncomfortable and gawky outside. The Classical work I do shows a lot longer or lowere stance with a very firm base that works both indoors and outdoors. Some systems operate on stretching legs and arms. I am supposed to keep both slightly flexed in preparation for a second attack.

Its still mostly a case of practice barefoot if you can. But never show the soles of the feet.

When doing demonstrations the feet really should be covered if you wear traditional costume with tabi (one toed socks). Many years ago it was white indoors and black outside. This is now the reverse but most people wear just white. There is a recent inovation of putting rubber soles on them. I tried them but they are too static. But I still wet mine a little so they dont slip on a very smooth floor.

Moving the feet first is very good indication that someone will attack and shoes slow us down. My old Kendo teachers feet were like hovercraft. You only knew he had moved as he hit you.

Doesnt Fiore dei Liberi have its concepts of the feet being immovable, like a fortress? I was thinking there were certain sililarities.
On-topic (for a change), does any koryu still practice in geta?

Come to think of it, I think I saw Fumon Tanaka doing tameshigiri in them... :rolleyes:
I am with Shane on this one. Modern tennis shoes do throw off period technique somewhat. This is particularly true when looking at the footwork found in Fior di Bataglia. It is pretty much impossible to perform a volta stabile, or a stabile turn, when wearing shoes that "stick".

For this reason, as Shane mentioned, I prefer wrestling shoes, period turn shoes, or martial art shoes when practicing Western swordsmanship. I have an old pair (9 years) of TKD shoes that I have completely worn out the bottoms of that work really well.
Keith Jennings said:
It is pretty much impossible to perform a volta stabile, or a stabile turn, when wearing shoes that "stick".
Just as important, if not more so, is the impact of that "stick" on a pair of bad knees.
Ran Pleasant said:
Just as important, if not more so, is the impact of that "stick" on a pair of bad knees.

Yeah, or if you have one bad knee like me. Excessive turning on the balls of the feet while wearing gym shoes is also a great way to screw up a pair of healthy knees.

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