Shoes for Taiji
The feet are the foundation of the physical body. Any weight-bearing exercise program--including taiji--should begin with assessing your foot health, getting your feet into shape, and finding shoes that will promote foot health. And yet in western culture, the feet are the most abused and misunderstood part of the body. This makes no sense. Allowing your feet to function up to their full potential will improve your balance and your ability to do taiji up to your full potential.
Foot Health Information
For those of you that are interested in learning more about foot health, the education section of the Natural Footgear website is a great place to start. It has a very comprehensive, well organized collection of articles by health care professionals and excellent short videos by podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan. They also sell selected shoes from several companies that they feel they can recommend. The site is run by a naturopathic physician and a chiropractor.
If you are interested in learning more about the functioning of the feet and foot health, I highly recommend The Barefoot Book by Daniel Howell, PhD. This is a very clear, concise look at how the feet work and the body mechanics of walking. There is also a lot of information about shoes that are bad for and good for your feet.
Characteristics of good shoes for taiji
You can go through your shoe collection and see if you already own something that will work. Look for the following:
- Completely flat, thin, flexible soles. Bend and twist them to test the flexibility.
- A wide toe box. Flip the shoe over and stand on the sole and spread your toes as wide as you can. If your toes extend over the edge of the sole, the toebox is not wide enough.
Of course the best choice is going barefoot, but if you are not comfortable with that, there are many models of shoes that will work. Yoga socks are another great alternative. These have non-skid on the soles that help prevent slipping, but do not change the flexibility of the socks.
Below are some resources for finding appropriate shoes.
Xero Shoes Their Z-trek sandals, Oswegos and Prio athletic shoes are the one's I (Jen Kano) wear for taiji. They also sell huarache sandal kits which are a great way to get health-promoting footwear at a fraction of the cost of ready-made, and it's an easy, fun, do-it-yourself project.
Lems Shoes Their Primal 2's are a good choice for taiji. They are very flexible and have a nice wide toe box (wider than Xero shoes styles).
Softstar Shoes This company makes all their shoes by hand in the US. Because of this they are more expensive than shoes by Xero and Lems, but they do make great shoes. Their Run Amocs are an excellent choice fot taiji.
Dr. Ray McClanahan's list of recommended shoes Dr. Ray is the world's foremost authority on nautropathic foot care. He also designed and sells the Correct Toes orthotic for improving toe spread. Not all of the shoes on his list are best for taiji. Shoes will high ankles or heavy soles will not work well even though they are flat and have wide toe boxes.
Making your own huarache sandals (cheap)
Not so sure about this minimalist shoe thing? You can make your own very inexpensively to give it a try. All you need is a pair of cheap zori (flip-flops) and some polyester cord. You can get suitable zori (make sure the soles are nice and flexible) at Walmart for about $1 a pair and some 5/32" paracord for a few dollars at either Walmart or Michaels. Cut the uppers off the zori and use the existing holes to add your own laces. Lacing instruction videos can be found at Xero Shoes. It's easy and fun--give it a whirl.