Barefoot Training in the Martial Arts – No Shoes is Good News!

Most Students of the Martial Arts train barefoot when they are indoors. And, most martial art systems train 80-100% of the time between four walls and on a soft mat. So, for many, training without shoes isn’t much of a challenge.

In the Martial Science, we spend 80-100% of our time training outside. We still support the barefoot training philosophy and motivate students to do the same – even when training in the park.

Why should you go shoeless? Because wearing shoes just does not look cool with your uniform.

Okay, I do believe that shoes serve a purpose and some shoes do not look as ridiculous as a pair of over-cushioned running shoes (Tabi and Five Fingers for example).

I do however, prefer being without shoes. I love to run barefoot, hike, climb and generally just not wear shoes at all. In fact, I spend about 75% or more of my time without any shoes and prefer to stretch this into my sporting activities. I am not the only one.

* Abebe Bikila, Olympic marathoner, won the first of his consecutive gold medals without shoes.

Research barefoot running in Google and you will get a lot more hits on shoeless wonders like Abebe. For example, Michael Warburton published an online paper titled, “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 spent. As part of your stride, weight on your feet must adjust to a constant increase and decrease of speed.

Research shows that two 10-ounce shoes will make you more than five percent less efficient. That is good to know – especially when you consider the micro-movements the body has to make to keep from suffering an ankle injury.

Internal, External and Spatial Awareness

Next let’s talk about proprioception and don’t worry if you haven’t heard that word before – neither has Microsoft.

Proprioception (pronounced PRO-pree-o-SEP-shÉ(TM)n), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own” and perception) is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body.

Let us associate the senses with Mind, Body and Spirit and break them into three categories (only for the sake of learning this concept):

01 External (sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing and balance) – Body

02 Internal (senses that help us to perceive pain) – Mind

03 Spatial (sense that shares feedback in relation to our world) – Spirit

Proprioception is a sense that helps us to verify where the limbs of our body are located in relation to each other and space around us. It also helps determine if we are moving at the correct speed or using the correct amount of force.

In the Martial Science – we consider Spirit to represent life-spirit and interaction with the living world around us; people, nature and animals.

We get feedback from the world around us in order to adjust and improve our lives. Well, your body needs to do the same thing in order to function properly.

If you did not have proprioception and I put a blind fold over your eyes, you would just fall over. The police test proprioception to see if someone has had too much to drink. This is because you lose this sense when you have had too much alcohol. That is why they ask you to walk on a straight line without looking at your feet. Without proprioception, we must look at our feet in order to walk.

If you watch a baby move his hands around trying to grab for something, you will notice that his hand movements stutter as they begin to learn how to develop hand and eye coordination. Every time that they reach for something new, they are creating new data and feedback to build on.

The skill to spin a sword or catch a Frisbee both require that you have a very specific SENSE of the exact positions of your limbs, your muscles and joints involved. The development of this skill has to reach level 4 of the natural learning process:

1 You are unaware of your incompetence (you don’t know you don’t know)

2 You are consciously incompetent (you know you don’t know)

3 You are consciously competent (you must think as you act)

4 You are unconsciously competent (you can act without thinking)

Let us assume that you are a martial artist that would like to have natural cat like reactions. Not only that, but you want good timing, and to be able to kick with deadly accuracy.

At first, you are going to be unaware of the fact that you cannot kick properly or with precision (1). Then you see someone kick the way you would like to and begin to understand that you do not currently have the skills you desire (2). With some training, you can kick a bag or target on command (3). Finally, with years of practice, you can kick without thinking. You react naturally (4).

This sense must reach autopilot so that you can then focus on other important areas of performance, such as contemplating alternative strategies, observing your environment or punching while kicking.

A more modern way to label proprioception is to call it movement intelligence. This is of course with the belief that proprioception is focused on feedback. When the body moves, information is sent to the brain for further investigation, calculation and adjustments.

There’s more to it than meets the eye and foot coordination.

Studies researching ankle injuries suggest that our reflexes play a bigger role in staying injury free. When you wear bigger shoes, you are not going to have as much development around the core areas of your foot and ankle. Shoes alone could be the cause of many ankle sprains, knee injuries and back pain.

Here is a quiz. Pain caused by ankle sprains has to do with:

A Strength

B Endurance

C Flexibility

D Balance

The correct answer is D – balance / proprioception.

Having a strong ankle, physical endurance or flexibility will not save you from an ankle sprain if you have not also developed the neuromuscular system to react naturally. Shoes just do not help us with this development as much going barefoot does. Imagine wearing a shoe on your hands.

Going barefoot helps to improve proprioception because you can feel more of your feet, develop more muscle memory and thus increase chances of reacting naturally. The more you can FEEL the better, as this will create more signals and thus more data. In the end, that = more balance.

It all happens so fast and on such a micro level that it is not something we can consciously adjust to in the now.

Since most martial artists already train barefoot, I am suggesting that you also do the same when you are in the park training, or lounging around the house. If you want improved kicks, you need to start from the ground up. The more often you kick and train barefoot – the better.

NOTE: You must train with shoes too if you expect to know how to move in a real life situation (we do not go barefoot in the mall). Balance is key – but before you put on the iron man suit – consider training what is inside it first.

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3 Ways to Stay Current on News Without Losing Your Mind

If you are like me, logging onto Facebook or reading the news can be an emotional upheaval. Depending on what the news is, it can even become an anxiety trigger. At it’s worse; it can alter my energy and change the course of my day because of how it affects me.

I am happy to be a sensitive person who feels things deeply. I think this is a good experience of life and I would never change it. However, for those of you who are open and sensitive like me, you know how sometimes the truth of something can strike you at such a deep chord, there is no other appropriate response but grief and tears.

Staying abreast of current events is important. It is valuable to know what is going on in the world and to get involved and let your voice be heard on topics that are important to you. However, it is also imperative to keep your own wellbeing and health in the forefront of your attention.

Here are 3 things I do to help me stay grounded and vibrating at a high level (even while staying current on what is happening in our world.)

Set a timer

It is easy with social media and cell phones in our pockets to be constantly bombarded with news. We must decide on how much input is optimal for our health and wellbeing on a daily basis. Checking our phones every 30min is not going to change the world or what is happening in it – but it will change you.

For me, during the week, my maximum news/social media saturation is about 45 min. I usually check in with the world in the morning for around 30min, and then some days I check in again in the late afternoon for 10-15min.

I am also a firm believer in fasting. News and social media fasting, that is. It is important to go an entire day, or even an entire weekend without logging into social media or reading news on the computer. All of us have people and experiences in our lives that are more important than our screens (news and social media). I recommend looking at how you spend your time and making sure that the time you spend with each experience is in alignment with how important that experience or person is to you in your life. For example, if I am acting unconsciously, I can easily spend more time on Facebook than I do with my husband. Because my husband is vastly more important to me than Facebook, I find more joy, love, and connection when I live consciously and prioritize appropriately.

Each of us has a natural wisdom, and when we are constantly putting things in, we leave no time for that wisdom to come out. Furthermore, when we read things that create stress for us, our bodies are filled with the stress hormone cortisol.

Christopher Bergland says, “Scientists have known for years that elevated cortisol levels: interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease… The list goes on and on. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels also increase risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy.”

I witness daily how difficult it is for my clients to use their phone and computers with intention. I understand that for some (many) people self-control around how frequently they ‘log on’ is a challenge. However, when most people allow how it is affecting their health to really sink in, it becomes obvious that it has to monitored by your self-control.

Choose the time of day that you engage

Choosing the time of day that you engage in reading news and social media is really important. It is unwise to stress yourself out right before you go to work, have dinner with your family, climb into bed, or engage in a creative process. Knowing that you might see or read something that will create an emotional response in you, you have to choose the best time to expose yourself to that input.

I like to engage with news and social media in the morning before I exercise. Nothing helps me manage my stress better than exercise and nature. If I am emotionally triggered by news in my feed and then I go for a run outdoors, I can come back and begin my workday in a grounded and positive energy. If I read the news up to the time that I begin my work day, I will find it difficult to hold the space, think clearly, or be creative.

If I ‘log-on’ in the afternoon, I will try to buffer that by sitting on my porch appreciating nature for 5 min, or having a single-person dance party. This way I make sure that when I go into the last part of my day, which for me is dinner and time with my family, I can be fully present with them and experience the depth and width of my capacity for joy.

End on a positive note

I enjoy having a go-to list of websites, songs, videos, stories and poems that raise my vibration and leave me feeling upbeat, positive and hopeful about our world. It is easy to be saturated by the negative – but there is an equal (if not more) amount of positive. People are helping each other, they are showing kindness to each other, they are giving of themselves, and they are caring for animals and nature. Allow yourself to witness it and feel uplifted by it. Take care to gain perspective and see the entire picture so that your focus (thoughts and feelings) doesn’t become pinpointed on the negative in our world. Taking a few minutes to end on a positive note is like having an after dinner mint. It leaves your brain with a sweet and refreshed palate.