Is it the Shoes?

5 12 2009

Shoes in the martial arts world have, typically, never really been fashionable. As a kid, I remember being able to get  a pair of “kung fu shoes” at Alpha Beta (old school grocery store) for about a $1.99. But never were they something that everyone here in the U.S. was rockin’. I’d see them around every once in a while, especially in less affluent communities.

Back in the day, you could get these and a loaf a bread for $2.50...

These were cool because these simple cotton shoes with a hard plastic sole were the same shoes Bruce Lee would wear in his films. These were also the shoes all the kung fu fighters in the old school Shaw Brothers flicks were sporting. Sometimes you could find these with hard white cotton soles. Even though all of the film stars wore them, these shoes are horrible to train in. The soles have no grip and even less foot support for demanding quick action foot movement. You were lucky if they didn’t fly off executing a kick.

Today’s version of these old school classics are stylish, yet remain as simple as the originals.

Old School Re-Do.

This goes for most other martial arts shoes as the big names like Nike, Puma, and Adidas, have all jumped into the martial arts shoe game with their version of foot support for the practitioner. For the most part, kung fu shoes or martial arts shoes never really made a fashion statement or their mark in pop culture until now…

Here’s my review of these new school kicks…

For Tai Chi

This is a simple white canvas shoe with a  slim rubber sole. The laces add overall support and the padding around the ankle is helpful but could cause some irritation if worn with a low cut sock. These aren’t usually worn by martial artists doing tough training. These are for Tai Chi and moving meditation practitioners. I remember seeing old people in Hong Kong wearing these types of shoes up early doing Tai Chi and playing chess in the park. Perfect for the retirement home…

Sticking with the canvas shoe..this is the Feiyue.

Universal Shoe

Feiyue is probably the most identifiable martial arts shoe out right now. This is a rugged canvas shoe with a medium sized rubber sole. The grip is superb on these kicks. Once they are broken in, they feel like a glove on your foot. This brand is based out of Shanghai, China and is easy to find all over, especially in Northern China. The extended lacing system provides incredible foot support for all intense training exercises.

Hi Tops aren't recommended for training.

The flexibility and comfort that Feiyue provides for martial artists, allow for long training sessions without discomfort. As mentioned, the rubber sole provides exceptional grip for all surfaces. The only downside to these kicks is, over a few months practitioners can expect to see the rubber detach from the canvas as the glue on these tends to fade. Feiyue doesn’t have the best Quality Assurance as they are mass produced. Martial artists can find these usually around $15 U.S, but if you’re in China and know how to say “Tai Gui le” (that’s too expensive!) you can get these for dirt cheap. Two pairs for $40 Kuai. (That’s about $5 U.S. a pair).

Gaining popularity outside of the martial arts community.

Feiyue has stepped outside of their martial arts roots and have been producing a casual shoe for civilians. They have been gaining momentum in France and of course the Asian market, but I have yet to see them in abundance here in the states.

Good looking. Definitely not for training. This is a kick it shoe.

Next up is Rubber Duck.

Same as the Feiyue.

This is the Rubber Duck version of the Feiyue. In fact, it is a Feiyue, but with much higher Quality Assurance. Minus the stripes and a well glued on sole. Here in the states they retail for around $45 U.S. For some odd reason they are heavier than the original Feiyue which is extremely light. Martial artists and civilians can get these in Navy, Army Green, Grey, Black, and White. I believe Rubber Duck is based out of Denmark, but don’t quote me on that. I got these from a friend of mine who is a rep for Rubber Duck. I have yet to give them a proper training session.

Sewn on label instead of stripes. Your choice.

A good light weight summer beach shoe?

Steering away from the canvas, let’s take a look at the leather martial arts shoe. First up, Nike.

Sleek, but any good?

This is a leather martial arts shoe with a thin rubber sole. Medium to heavy in weight. This shoe is more for the mixed martial artist, Greco-Roman wrestler, boxer or kick boxer. High ankle support for quick movement but difficult to perform lower stances. Hi tops generally take away from the flexibilty and range of motion the ankle demands for a lot of traditional martial arts maneuvers. Standard lacing system provides great foot support. Nike may have dropped the ball on this one as far as functionality goes. I wouldn’t recommend these for long training sessions as there is not much air circulating in and out of the shoe. The sole is more for indoor training, so grass and dirt are out of the question. I’d say this shoe is more for the weekend warrior and not the daily practitioner.

More functionality from Nike.

Here’s something with a little more versatility from Nike. A leather shoe with a smooth rubber sole with some grip on the bottom. The laces on the side are short, which is nice for sparring but offers less support for the ball and toe region of the foot. The wrap over flap is useful in sparring and bag training but can pinch at the front of the ankle during low stance work and depending on how tight the shoes are tied, could pinch all the time. Low cut at the ankle for good range of motion. Horrible design though. They may look narrow but once broken in, without that lower lace support, it will feel like you’re wearing a flipper instead of a martial arts shoe. The side lacing system is popular on their soccer shoe, not sure why they imported it into their martial arts shoe.


World Class, but do they work?

Here is a really lightweight leather shoe from Adidas. Nice upside covered lacing system, great for sparring and bag work. Narrow toe design. And a really thin rubber sole. Almost too thin. The sole on this shoe is its downfall. There is simply no grip. During sparring practice it is very easy to lose focus on your opponent because you’re trying not to slip and slide on your planted foot during a kick. Soft cushion around the ankle, low cut for more movement. Simple overall design and good stitching placement at the toe for low stance work. This leather breaks in very nicely and grips the foot. The only problem is the sole…Too thin and too slippery. For indoor use only.

Patent leather, not always a good look.

This is basically the patent leather version of the Adidas shoe above. Although the grip on these is a little better. Still an indoor shoe and for those practitioners who do demonstrations and competitions this would be ideal on a mat. Flash is cash, as they say in the strip clubs. But flash or shine on a martial arts shoe only says one thing about its wearer, looks are more important than usability. The leather is a bit thicker on this model as it is slightly padded. An OK training shoe but not sure it could endure months of hardcore training indoor or outdoor. Pricey as well.

Firepower Shoes.


The Firepower brand is ususally known for its punching equipment, gear, and bags. I wouldn’t consider them a shoe giant in martial arts by any means. This shoe is basically a cheap knock off of the Adidas. The sole has sharp edges which is not ideal for any martial artists, as most martial artists use all parts of their feet in combat and training. I would make the effort to save a little more money to buy a better quality shoe than settle for these. If you take you’re martial arts for a joke, it’ll come back and haunt you.

Last but not least, Puma.

Puma - Providing International Flavor.

Puma has a nice leather and rubber sole shoe. The overlaying flap is secured by a hook and loop. This makes for an unorthodox style of comfort and support. Padding on the top is good for sparring and bag training. Little comfort around the ankle as the rim is padded slightly. Sleek design, similar to their driving shoe. Different texture grips on the bottom for security on one or two feet. Not necessarily an outdoor shoe, but I don’t have any reason to believe that they wouldn’t hold up. Traction is important, which this shoe has. The tightness of the leather design and extra padding could lessen the room needed for the foot to expand during performance.

Generally, you’re going to want a shoe that is versatile and is comfortable. If you train daily and for longer than average hours, I would go with a canvas shoe. Canvas provides comfort and breath-ability. Canvas is lightweight and durable. Grip is also important, especially on a mat. If you train indoors for a short amount of time, I would go with a leather shoe. The thin rubber soles on the leather kicks works well on gym floors or polished surfaces.

Really study your training regiment and ask yourself what is ideal for what you do. Every shoe offers something unique.

Martial arts shoes have come a long way since the old kung fu movies and are now specialized and highly fashionable. These are just a few I decided to review, there are numerous styles by a number of manufacturers. Do your research as always.