BUILD YOUR BASE: Best Shoes for Wing Chun Training 2020

Choosing the right footwear is an essential yet often overlooked aspect of proper training. Martial arts shoes such as the famous Feiyue line from China as well as leather dress loafers (both seen here) each have their place in training, ’cause you just never know…

Picking the right training equipment begins literally from the ground up, with the right shoes.  Once the heart of a Wing Chun fighter is born, it must be cultivated through a “trial by fire” training process which begins from the soles of the feet.  Choosing the best martial arts training shoe is vital for your Wing Chun training, be it for forms practice, a reality-based self defense scenario or for sparring or other full-contact training for combat sports like MMA, kickboxing or boxing.

The reason shoes are so important in training is simple: once someone has made the decision to make their Wing Chun training useful and practical for the street and in real-life situations, a shift in training must occur.  Mentality in training changes, techniques are approached differently and so on.

All of those are essential and immensely valuable for whoever seeks the “truth of combat” in their Wing Chun training; however, the the main ingredient in the soup pot of making one’s Wing Chun skills functional, practical and effective is changing the physical aspect of training itself to match the reality of day to day living or familiar scenarios you find yourself in each day.

Now since Occam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation is most often the correct one and is often times the one most clearly presented, it makes sense to me, then,  that if I want to begin making my training more functional and geared towards daily living, I should start with the one item all of us wear every day: shoes!

A classic example of choosing the right shoe: here the demo floor was nothing more than waxed plywood so slippage was a real concern. I chose to wear rubber soled lace-up training shoes similar to the Feiyue line listed here instead of slip-ons or everyday shoes. The traction they gave me allowed me to root as he attacked and retaliate with a series of Wing Chun straight punches that knocked him down. Good times.

How To Choose The Proper Shoe For Your Needs

Choosing the proper shoe for training in Wing Chun is dependent on several factors. They have to be firm enough to support the foot yet supple and pliable enough to accommodate a wide range of motion. The right shoe for Wing Chun training needs to have the right amount of traction to allow for gripping the ground during forms and chi sau training, yet not too much traction to impede stepping and shifting, which can lead to what is known as shearing stress on the knees which occurs when the feet stay in place pointing forward while the hips and torso rotate (this is a main reason why I never train in running shoes or cross-trainers: too much tread on the soles-great for running, but murder on your MCL’s).

During a demo for the Chinese New Year. There was a lot of snow and slush on the ground that day and I was running late so I figured I’d leave my training shoes at home. Big mistake. The carpet of this restaurant, while dry and not all that difficult to move on, kept catching the tread pattern of these shoes (high end running shoes) which I felt in my outer knees through every rotation or shift in this form. Experiences like this over the years are why I never train in running shoes anymore. Running shoes are for running, not for Wing Chun, as they make training correctly that much more challenging.

Wing Chun training, be it forms, fighting/sparring or self-defense, involves several things going on simultaneously: as a functional and practical self-defense art and system Wing Chun is predicated on body unity and center-axis rotation. The right shoe choice, therefore, should take into consideration all of the factors involved in proper and effective Wing Chun training for any of the 3 main phases of training listed above.

 

Demonstrating the Cham Kiu form during one of countless demos, this time at the annual Chicago Chinatown Summer Fair. These shoes were the indoor soccer type and while very comfortable and passable enough for forms training, the tread pattern made them a bit difficult for the 180 degree center rotations of this form.   As for sparring and mitt or padwork…prognosis negative.

3 Key Questions to Ask Yourself When Selecting the Right Shoe

Say you want to learn to swim.  You can read about anatomy and physiology, study the technique of each of the different swimming all day long and analyze every nuance of a kick-flip until feathered hair on males comes back in style again (God, please take me before that happens) but at some point it is unavoidable: you will have to dive in the pool and get wet.

In Wing Chun, our feet and rooting are the literally the root or essence of what we do.  The right shoes promote body unity, which is absolutely key for stepping drills, advancing on an opponent, retreating to cut an angle and all aspects of shifting and rotation.  You literally build your structure from the ground up so the vehicles for your feet, so to speak, play a much greater role in your development than most realize but should. When picking the perfect training shoe for your needs, you need to remember the 3 main factors that go into making the right choice.  They are:

  • Purpose: What activity are you engaging in?  Forms training, drills and technique work, self-defense scenario training and sparring, grappling or other full-contact training aspects for boxing, kickboxing or MMA all have much different criteria for their respective training equipment, and shoes are no different.
  • Traction & Support: How much do you need?  Wing Chun forms training & stepping drills work best while wearing a pair of slip-on shoes with little traction, to promote body unity.  Training grappling and throws typically requires shoes with more of a gripping sole to prevent sliding which can cause loss of balance or injury but with less surface area than boxing, whose shoes are almost boot-like in their height for ankle support.  It all boils down to what you are going to be doing.
  • Cost: what is your price range? Obviously, budget is a factor but should never be to the point of not getting anything at all.  There are options for damn near every budget.  My favorite analogy for this issue is purchasing a gun.  If you can’t afford the top of the line $2,000.00 pistol for home defense, rather than save up and be unarmed for God knows how long, purchase the best firearm you can afford now then begin to save for whichever one  best suits your needs.  The same wisdom holds true for training gear.  As the famous Arthur Ashe saying goes, “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” 

I have trained in damn near every scenario imaginable, from 100+ degree days in a mosquito-haven forest preserve to almost zero degrees outside in knee deep snow.  I don’t recommend you do either -those days were when I was younger and, shall we say, a bit less intelligent.  Age has a way of tempering your extremes and forcing a sense of balance on you, for as local Chinese magician Egg Shen stated in Big Trouble in Little China, “the brave man likes the feel of the wind on his face, but the wise man has sense enough to get out of the rain.”

Deciding On The Right Shoes: As Easy As A,B,C

One thing I can tell you after 25+ years training is that training in different styles, arts, climates and environments in my quest to make my skills usable, practical and effective for self-defense and fighting application begets a need for different shoes.  I have split the list for training shoes into 3 distinct categories. They are as follows:

A.   FORMS / TECHNIQUE TRAINING

B.   SPARRING & COMBAT SPORTS TRAINING

C.  SELF DEFENSE & EVERYDAY WEAR

Each category has a distinct set of criteria based on purpose that must be met.  Forms training requires more of a gripping sole to prevent sliding which can cause loss of balance or injury, for example, whereas Wing Chun stepping drills work best while wearing a pair of slip-on shoes with little traction, to promote body unity.  Training grappling and throws typically requires shoes with less area than boxing, whose shoes are almost boot-like in their height for ankle support.  It all boils down to what you are going to be doing.

It’s about that time so, in the words of Ryan Seacrest, “dim the lights and here we go” with the best martial arts training shoes for 2018.


FORMS/TECHNIQUE TRAINING SHOES

A proper shoe for forms and technique training need a durable outer shell for long term use while having less traction to promote body unity.  They need to need to be able to allow you to slide, pivot and root with equal ease while not catching themselves on carpet or concrete; your body needs to glide as one unit while training so the proper “feel” of the Wing Chun motions can be downloaded into your body’s muscle memory.  When we inward tense the thighs, for example, this allows us to maintain proper structure and body unity while we pivot on our body’s center axis.  I prefer my forms and technique training shoes preferably be of the lo-top or slip on variety.

I don’t need ankle support for forms since wearing shoes that lace up hi-top style often function as a weight belt does for someone with poor lifting form, shielding the body from any pain that comes from doing something incorrectly.  Training your forms or stepping drill with lo-top shoes mimics training barefoot where nothing can be masked or hidden biomechanically if you aren’t doing things right.  Plus I have flat, wide platypus-like feet so these just feel natural.  Give them a look.

Cotton Sole Slip-On Kung Fu Shoes

Let’s start with a classic.  These were the first training shoes I ever bought at 15 since I saw Bruce Lee wear them in every one of his movies.  Comfort-wise, these are hard to beat.  They’re like slippers you would wear with your jammies on a lazy Sunday morning. 

The cotton sole is light and flexible, which will aid in sliding as one unit during forms training or performing drills such as your pak/lop/gum sau entries or stepping.  The canvas body of these shoes is actually quite durable and will last for a long time, provided you get the right size so that it hugs your foot. 

The cotton lining of this shoe is very comfortable and breathable but can hold sweat if you are really busting ass during a hard session, so be sure to air them out or pay the consequences although since these are machine washable so as long as you take care of them, they will take care of you-I always used the “delicate” cycle to maximize the life of these shoes and NEVER dry them any other way but hanging them up and letting them air-dry.  Think about it-cotton T-shirts and underpants shrink in the dryer, why would these be any different? 

The slip-on style of these shoes makes taking them off and putting them on easy and really quite effortless.  I have found them best for indoor use for forms training, chi sau or demos-do not wear them outside since asphalt or concrete will wear them out. 

I’d keep them off grass too, since being a cotton sole they soak up dirt like a sponge and I always seemed to find the one friggin’ pebble in the grassy patch which will dig into your foot and make it a long day.  Overall, a classic shoe that is perfect for indoor or light training.   It’s always a good idea to have them in your bag for no other reason than as a backup pair any time you may need to wear shoes and forget your primary pair.


  Rubber Sole Slip-On Kung Fu Shoes

All of the features and benefits to the Cotton Sole Slip-On Shoe listed above apply to the Rubber Sole Kung Fu Shoes as well.  Made from breathable yet durable black canvas with a cotton lining and designed in the user-friendly slip-on style, the main selling point for these shoes is their flexible rubber sole.  These are the shoes to wear outside if you must wear them outside. 

I have slipped many times in parking lots or gravel since there is very little tread on these which makes sense, I suppose, seeing as how they are made for kung fu and tai chi not running or hiking. 

Unlike the cotton sole pair listed above, I have found these to be a bit too slick on indoor surfaces like lacquered hardwood, tile or polished concrete floors.  These work best on training surfaces such as carpeting or grass outside.  Like the pair above, these too are machine washable and should never be dried in a dryer; the shrinkage factor of cotton offset against the rubber soles will lead to excess stress on the stitching.  Pick up a pair if you ever plan on doing any outdoor training. 

They work great for just that, and also for bumming around the house or running light errands.  I’ve never been a sandal-type guy (I’m long out of college and really don’t care for Dave Matthews Band music) so these fit the bill perfectly for light everyday wear.


Tiger Claw Feiyue Training Shoes

 Tiger Claw’s Feiyue shoe is unquestionably the most popular kung fu shoe out there today.  f you have studied any style of kung fu or Chinese martial arts chances are high at some point you’ve either seen someone wearing Feiyue shoes or have owned a pair yourself.  I love these things and have just recently worn through my most recent pair. 

Made from high-quality canvas with metal reinforced lace eyelets and a sole that is exteemely durable yet flexible enough to be folded in half, the Feiyue training shoe shown here is the #1 shoe choice for Shaolin monks and masters. 

In fact, in China one can see hundreds of students training in these.  I have been told that for many poor communities, the only equipment they invest in are these shoes.  This perfectly validates my viewpoint that the essence of your training begins from the ground up, literally.

The tread is perfect for all martial arts styles and is my preferred choice for outdoor training.  I especially like the tread pattern on these since I like doing chi sau and self-defense training in parking lots or on other everyday/nontraditional surfaces.  Just be careful re: surfaces, these do not adequately protect the soles of the feet from pebbles or sharp objects, but that’s not what they are designed for. 

I have found them a bit too hard to move through forms with indoors on carpet or tile/wood, since the rubber tends to grip the ground a bit too much but, again, that’s not what these are designed for.  I have found them to be most useful in outdoor training or for light pad/mittwork.

Now I’m no “fashionista” but I have had folks ask me what kind of shoes these are when I wear them out and about, and have found them to be excellent choices for other activities such as indoor volleyball and badminton (yes I said badminton-don’t knock it.  A real badminton match is not the lollygag, family picnic-type lazy activity you may be thinking.  It is one hell of a good workout and a great supplement to Wing Chun and all martial art training as it fosters rapid darting motions, hand eye coordination, quick thinking and dexterity).

I HIGHLY recommend you pick up a pair and try them out -you’ll soon discover what the Shaolin monks have known for years about these shoes.


Tiger Claw Feiyue Hi-Top Training Shoes

A high-top variety of the iconic shoe listed above, these Feiyue Hi-Top Training Shoes provide extra ankle support for the foot by cradling both sides of the ankle.  Initially a bit reluctant to even try a pair out, I soon came to really warm up to these shoes after, of all things, a light trail walk one day. 

The ankle support provided just enough firmness and stability while not making me feel like I was wearing a boot.  These remind me of my old favorites, the Converse All-Star Chuck Taylors.

All of the same features apply to these as the Feiyue Lo-Top:  heavy duty canvas design with linen lining, reinforced eyelets so you can pull them tight before starting your training session (poor fitting shoes can not only be annoying but actually dangerous since a poor fitting shoe messes with your root and power base) and a tread pattern that ensures you will not slip or slide when you don’t want to.

Feiyue shoes are China’s most popular martial arts shoes and with good reason.  I have personally found them to be most applicable in my training for outdoor use in forms and chi sau, since the trad pattern of these offset against the particles in a parking lot or the smoothness of grass.  These things have lasted for years provided they are kept off sharp surfaces or gravel. 

 If you want a bit more reinforcement in your ankles or just enjoy the feel of a bit more structure and security while not sacrificing mobility or movement, pick up a pair and begin breaking them in ASAP.


  Timebus Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Training Shoe

As much as I love my Feiyues, this is my favorite brand of Chinese training shoe for Wing Chun.  In addition to being very comforttable and durable, I much prefer the tread patter and traction on these shoes to those of the Feiyue.

Wing Chun being predicated on body unity for both training and self defense, being able to rotate as one unit begins in the heels and I always had issues doing so with the Feiyues on. 

The unique dotted anti-skid tread on these shoes makes sure I will not slip while at the same time allowing me to slide across the when performing the stepping drill or the Cham Kiu form, while never catching or hindering motion the way I have found the Feiyues to do if worn indoors for forms or chi sau training.   These shoes provide just the right amount of “bite” on a slippery floor to keep me rooted and able to engage my training partners in class practice…no small feat, since I don’t miss any meals if you get my drift.

These balance the right amount of comfort and durability, and are so light it’s almost scary weighing it at just 7 oz. each.  The Timebus shoes are made with a wider toe space and medium width which is a bit wider than the Feiyues.  I have found this helpful not only as the proud owner of a pair of platypus feet, but also in allowing for more movement as I rotate, push-step, slide or angle out during the stepping drill or any of my entry drills. 

I have found the Feiyues to be just a hair too narrow for my liking in Wing Chun training, whoich these are not.  Now I love my Feiyues and will always get them for training as well as everyday use but for the right mix of form and functionality for Wing Chun, these just edge the Feiyues out, but not by much at all.  

As a final talking point, I have always loved the look, structure, design and feel of lo-top athletic shoes, and I think the Chinese martial arts “Wu” character on the side of the shoe looks quite bad-ass.  This shoe, in my experience and opinion, addresses all of the shortcomings I feel keep the Feiyue, an excellent top-notch training shoe and one of my all time faves, from being all it could be for my personal Wing Chun practice.


  Adidas ADI-LUX Martial Arts Training Shoe

What make these shoes so effective for training is their lightweight construction and streamlined design.  These are primarily taekwondo shoes but since taekwondo sparring takes place on smooth, even and altogether ideal surfaces, these are great for forms or technique training in Wing Chun as well, since their soles provide just the right amount of traction with glide, allowing you to easily and effortlessly glide across the floor as you enter in with a pak sau, for example, or receive your partner’s forward momentum in the stepping drill. 

Their lightweight leather construction make them ideal for indoor sports such as volleyball, racquetball and badminton where lightness on your feet is a prized attribute.

Much like the slip-on shoes listed above, their laceless design of these makes them very easy to slip on and slip off, elimintaing the need to stop mid-drill and drop to a knee to re-tie the laces and maximizing your training time, so no more having your training partners accidentally step on your laces during close-quarter drills like chi sau or stepping.  The snug fit also ensures that they stay put when training the Wing Chun dang gerk (ascending heel kick).

Built for comfort and durability, the Adidas ADI-LUX Training Shoe provides excellent arch support with what Adidas calls its’ “torsion system,” which as far as I can tell is the way these shoes are designed to lay gaainst the soles of your feet.  My only issue with wearing this shoe stems from my wide feet, since I have a tendency to wear out the pinkie toe edge of any shoe I wear that isn’t 100% flat but that’s just a preference. 

As Wing Chun folks, we need to rotate on our heels and although the shoe has a reinforced pivot point on the ball of the foot, pivoting on the heels is just as easy. Definitely a high-performance choice for training footwear and comfortable as hell.  As a bonus, these work better than the previous shoes also work quite well outdoors as well but my best experiences with them have been on tile and hardwood. 


Otomix Original Lite Martial Arts Training Shoe

This was the very first high-end martial arts shoe I ever bought (the first being the slip-on kung fu shoes listed first in this list).  If you are lor a shoe made by a martial artist for martial artists, the Otomix Original Lie Martial Arts Training Shoe is hard to beat. 

Otomix was founded by Mitchell Bobrow, a personal friend of Bruce Lee and one of the karate tournament fighting champions of the 1960’s.  Today, Otomix continues to churn out top-quality shoes and gear for not only martial artists but bodybuilders and weight lifters as well, but it all started with this shoe.

Lightweight yet durable, its’ synthetic leather shell, dense yet flexible rubber sole designed for indoor and outdoor use and slip on design with added laced top for an extra snug fit make this one a top choice for Wing Chun.  Several bodybuilders also swear by this shoe since it gives a true feel of being as close to barefoot as possible with the benefit of support and cushion in all the spots needed most.  I bought this pair back in 1996 from the back of Black Belt Magazine and had to get a money order from my local bank to send away for them (God, how old does that sound!)  I literally wore these until they fell apart.

Years later I purchased another pair for Wing Chun and after training in them remembered why I had loved these shoes so many years ago in Taekwondo.  I also would wear these to the local “lifter’s pit” gym I  belonged to at the time and for a while they were in the rotation for my Monday night indoor volleyball league.

My main issue with training barefoot in Wing Chun stems from the close proximity to one another we are always in.  Toes get jammed or stepped on, insteps get stepped on and sweating during a session can reduce your rooting to damn near zero, making your technique training that much harder.  This shoe helps greatly reduce the first 2 and basically eliminates the 3rd.

Pick up a pair of these and you will see in short order why this design is a classic.  As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


COMBAT SPORTS / FULL-CONTACT SPARRING SHOES

A key aspect of any sparring or combat sports shoe is ankle support.  Full-contact fighting carries with it an inherent need to pivot, shift and dart in any direction.  The weak link in any of these is the ankle of the person doing the moving.  What separates this group of shoes from those in the above-mentioned list are traction, weight and ankle support.  The shoes in this section provide all of the above.  Have a look.

   Title Speed-Flex Encore Mid-Top Boxing Shoe

I have calves like upside-down bowling pins genetically cross-bred with grapefruits.  Many boxing shoes are of the high-top variety,  some going as high as mid shin which gets a bit uncomfortable for me.  What drew me to the Title Speed-Flex Encore is the fact that it is essentially a “mid-top” shoe, only 6 inches high.  This is a much more manageable feel on my legs. 

These are best suited for boxing training and mitt or pad work, since the ankle support provided by these shoes makes pointing the toe to round kick or pulling the toes back to strike with the heel in a Wing Chun kick a bit more laborious (but still totally doable).  The outside is made of durable synthetic leather. 

I’m normally not the biggest fan of synthetic leather (as stated in my reviews of training gloves and shin guards) but these actually hold up very well. 

Title Boxing has never steered me wrong, putting out high-quality products at a very reasonable price.  These shoes are no different.  I have found them to be most beneficial when training for a boxing or sanshou tournament however as a Wing Chun guy whose aim is to be as functional, practical and effective with hisWing Chun skills as possible, these work very well for training the Wing Chun straight punch either against a focus mitt held by a moving partner or against the heavy bag.  

If you are looking for a solid choice to bridge the gap from form to functionality, it behooves you to try these.


 Asics Mens JB Elite Wrestling Shoes

Having trained in various styles such as MMA, brazilian jiu-jitsu, kickboxing boxing all while viewing these styles through the lenses of Wing Chun, I have focused a percentage of training time on translating my Wing Chun skills for use in different areas of combat. 

Seeking ways and means of applying Wing Chun concept, theory and technique to different arts and ranges of combat is a subject I have much interest in. 

In order to properly get the feel of Wing Chun’s application ina  ground scenario, you need to get on the mat.  Wrestling shoes have proven to be the most versatile shoe for this aspect of training.  The traction, design, reinforced sole and ankle support of a wrestling shoe make it one of the ideal companions of anyone seeking to train Wing Chun for use in both combat sports and street defense.

The JB Elite Wrestling Shoe is constructed of a durable synthetic outside shell.  Like all top shelf wrestling shoes, the stitching is reinforced to withstand years of pivoting, pushing off the toes, flexing and all other manner of motion. 

What this means for us as Wing Chun folks is that this will allow us to seamlessly shift from chi sau drills to gor sau sparring, to sanshou or lei tai training and even to applying Wing Chun theory and technique to a self-defense scenario on the ground such as a tackle or takedown.

I love the rubber sole of a high quality wrestling shoe for these reasons.  For forms training, the high traction of this shoe makes it a less than ideal choice for the shearing stress on the knees as talked about earlier with running shoes, and for chi sau these tend to stick to the ground, prohibiting a smooth body-unity style flow towards your opponent.  That is not a smack against these shoes at all; it’s just not their purpose, hence this entire review.

All in all, a great choice and a very valuable addition to your gear bag insofar as making your Wing Chun skills functional, practical and usable for combat sports.


   Asics EVO Dan Gable Wrestling Shoe

Dan Gable is the Babe Ruth or wrestling.  I had the fortunate experience to meet him once (a humorous story that I detailed in another post HERE) and can attest that he carries with him a seriousness that is undeniable.

  The Asics EVO Dan Gable Shoe carries with it the same no-bullshit attitude.  As a Wing Chun guy whose main focus is training for self-defense first and foremost, I can appreciate that approach to training and to training equipment.

A mid-top shoe with a durable rubber sole, this shoe will not come loose during rounds on the mitts or pads or after rounds of Wing Chun sparring using face cages and MMA gloves.

What I have always disliked about wrestling shoes are those goofy tongues that hang out of the front-I find them just plain cumbersome and annoying.  With my large lower legs, the sock would push against the laces and lead to the shoe untying itself, especially during chi sau since the position of the foot in the Wing Chun yee jee kim yeung ma stance tends to lend itself to pressure placed on the tongue of the shoe.  Not so with these.

These shoes have what is a called a “Mono-Sock” Fit System: basically it is an elastic internal sleeve which replaces a traditional tongue providing a “sock-like” fit much the same way the ADI-LUX or Otomix shoes above did as well.  While not quite as conveneient as a pure “slip on” shoe, for the amount of stress placed on the shoe, this feature sets it apart from the competition.  These shoes will allow you to spar, grapple, chi sau and work your Wing Chun with equal ease.

My favorite feature of these aside from the lack of a tongue is the little pouch for the laces to be stuffed into on the inside of these shoes.  I can promise you, your shoes will come undone during padwork, sparring and grappling.  This is a pain in the ass and can be a bit dangerous.  This shoe rectifies that issue nicely.  If you are looking for a shoe that can do it all combat-sports wise with a few added perks and extras that make adapting combat sports training to the proximity and structure of Wing Chun’s technique base and inherent close-quarters proximity, these fit the bill nicely.


  Otomix Ninja Warrior Stingray

The Ninja Warrior Stingray is Otomix’ premier combat sports shoe.  Made from polyester with a rubber sole, these shoes are lightweight yet extremely durable.  The higher design of the ankle provides much more ankle support, which comes into play not only for kickboxing or MMA but for weight training as well.

I have found the sole to be a bit too narrow for my foot, although this new Stingray design has widened the toe area to frame it out a bit more than, say, the Otomix Lite Original Martial Arts Shoe listed in the first category of this review.    The sole of the Stingray has a surprisingly high degree of traction for being such a lightweight shoe, making it an ideal choice for combat sports wortk such as focus mitts, pads and sparring where grappling or throws are an option.

If your foot is of the narrower structure, this is a fantastic choice.  I love the Stingray’s design and feel and the ankle support it gives you is, I feel, right up there at the top of the game insofar as training shoes go.  As a bonus, I have found Otomix shoes to need a bare minimum of “break in” time which is always a huge plus.

A truly versatile, durable and dependable shoe for all facets of combat training with the added benefit of ankle support where and when you need it most for integrating your Wing Chun skills with the unpredictabilities of sparring and full-contact training.


SELF DEFENSE TRAINING SHOES

In line with Wing Chun being a no-nonsense street defense art first and foremost, as well as my own personal approach to training, I have decided to include three what I call “functional” or “everyday” choices into this list.  These shoes are not training shoes per se, but you would be derelict in your duty as a practitioner of Wing Chun for self defense and combat proficiency (not to mention more than a little irresponsible in my opinion) to not include these into your training regimen as well.

Each of these shoes are not designed for martial arts training but rather for everyday wear, either leisure or work-related-which is exactly why I have included them in this list. Now I don’t know what area you live in, but rarely will I have the luxury of confronting attacker when I am decked out in martial arts training gear and the outside environment is ideal for effortless execution of a technique.  I have chosen to regularly train in the issues as well and my own abilities have grown immensely because of it.

Go and do likewise, folks.

Sperry Mens Top-Sider Casual Slip-On Sneaker

This one is perhaps my most worn shoe.  I think of it as a walking around version of the kung fu shoes I grew up watching Bruce Lee wear.  I wear these so much because they are flat and a bit wider, which fit my feet perfectly.

There are several advantages to integrate training in these shoe into  your regimen.  The traction on these is a bit lacking, which will force you to root more and pay attention to the inward tension placed on your thighs.  Parking lot training (provided there are no nails, glass or pebbles) is enhanced with these shoes since the slide factor is definitely at play.  This will force you to be more aware of not only your surroundings but your structure and body unity as well.

Practicality is key and since we will rarely have the luxury of choosing when and where shit goes down, we have to be prepared in  any area we find ourselves in, wearing any shoes we find ourselves wearing.  Personally, I wear these shoes all the time.

I am aware they are not ideal choices for Wing Chun or combat sports training…which is excatly why I choose to train in them.  They are designed for comfort so their fit is snug enough but also quite loose and relaxed.  Training in these allows me to mimic a non-ideal situation should anything happen when I am out and about with them on.

The lack of traction on these shoes makes pivoting and forms training very easy on a variety of surfaces.

Too many folks have conditioned themselves to need a list of factors optimally met before they can train.  I once saw a guy drive to the gym, come in, stretch, warm up, get on an elliptical machine and then immediately get off and go home-all because he forgot his iPod.

Nonsensical and more than a bit pathetic – I mean, are we all regressing back to 4 year-olds that need to be amused by spangly shiny things just to do this or that?  That dude should have used his 20 minutes as an exercise in focus and mental power.  He didn’t, instead opting to go home.  Training in these slip-on sneakers present the same opportunity for us to hone our skills in an environment full of non-ideal factors.

Any shoe you wear often can be a great training shoe for you.

If you’re serious about training for self-defense, order a pair of these.  You’ll find out pretty damn quick that training doesn’t depend on the ideal circumstance; true training dictates circumstance.  Train this way for a bit and you will feel much more comfortable in your  rooting, stepping and shifting skills as a whole, and especially when going about your day.


Dockers Mens Agent Slip On Oxford Loafer

Dress or smart-casual shoes have traditionally been piss poor for traction as far as shoes go.  I have fallen on my ass more times than I can recall wearing dress shoes or dress loafers on days when it is rainy, or when there was much snow, ice and sleet on the ground.  That shortcoming in functionality begets a great opportunity to train.

The way I see it, if I am ever attacked and I am in a position where I am wearing either a dress or smart casual shoe and I have never exposed myself to the realities of such training, I’m dead in the water.

Loafers and dress shoes have a feel all their own, and must be trained in to be appreciated.  Dress shoes, for example, have next to no traction and can be very dangerous for us as Wing Chun folks if we do not take it upon ourselves to make it a point to train in.

I love these Dockers Loafers.  They are comfortable and have a minimal tread pattern that is OK in dry weather but can get slick in the winter or the rain.  They go with a variety of clothes so after training with them a few times, I have a newfound confidence in my ability to apply my Wing Chun skills should I ever need to in an environment where fighting or self-defense may be the last thing on my mind.

These are worth picking up a pair for no other reason than to have a dedicated pair for training so you don’t have to bang up or knock around a pair of dressier shoes you normally will wear out.


Steel Toe Chukka Work Boots

No other pair of shoes have been as eye-opening to me for Wing Chun training as an old pair of steel-toed Chukka work boots issued to me back in 2002 when I reported to Great Lakes Naval Base after joining the Navy Reserve.

These things taught me so much about movement.  The steel toe nature of these boots means I have to really focus on both my feet and my inward tension on my thighs, since the added weight literally feels like you are wearing small bricks.  This begets a sense of awareness in every aspect of moving.  The sturdy heels plant you to the ground, making you have to pivot on the heels and not the toes, thus reinforcing Wing Chun’s center-axis rotation.

You cannot shuffle your feet with these on; you must pick up each foot and step, which proves valuable when training the 2nd and 3rd sections of the Cham Kiu form since most folks meander through forms trainign with little or no regard for proper footwork and how that bleeds into every other aspect of Wing Chun movement and function.

Obviously these are not ideal for combat sports training; their value lies in drawing awareness to just how often we don;t pay attention to how and why we move our feet the way we do, relying on the lightness of our shoes to get away with certain slightly incorrect methods of moving.  Now since finding military issue boots for sale to the general public can be a bit time-consuming and inconsistent, the boots shown here represent the closest civilian equivalent to the style I have and love training in.

Pick up a pair for home use-they are great to have in the trunk of your car for any old thing like getting stuck in the mud (itself a very “be prepared for anything” Wing Chun reason)

As a bonus, they are great for power lifting moves such as deadlifts and squats if that’s your thing, since they really aid in rooting and make you feel like you are anchored to the ground. I once deadlifted 455 lbs using only my trusted Chukka boots and lifter’s chalk and on a separate occasion did 901 consecutive Hindu squats with them.  Start training in these babies and watch your power and root grow almost overnight.


In Conclusion:  The Heart and “Sole” of Your Training

You wouldn’t wear the same shoes to hit the gym, go to work, play in the mud or snow and attend a wedding, would you?  I hope to God not!  Why then would you train the same way?

Most folks don’t think about the role their footwear plays in their evolution as martial artists, fighters or combat sports athletes.  The right shoes can literally make or break the effectiveness of any phase of your training.  Purpose, the degree of traction and support required for each aspect of training and cost all swirl into the mix to create the proper criteria you must weigh to decide which shoe fits each particular need.

The purpose of this review was to provide you with a handy, go-to resource to cut through all the BS and guesswork to decide what you need and go.  For best results, pick one pair of shoes that best fit your needs from List A, B and C, integrate them into your training equipment rotation and get after it.

Having trained exclusively in Wing Chun for the last 17 years as well as having been a martial artist for the last 25 years I have worn and worn out more shoes during training then I can recall off the top of my head. One thing each pair of shoes had in common was that each pair I wore and trained in addressed one of these factors (if not more) yet there was always one aspect missing. that prevented a most truly effective training session from taking place. 

In Retrospect: How I Found The Right Shoes For training

Looking back on it, that is a main reason as to why I tried out so many different pairs of shoes.  Had I adhered to the list I am going to present to you later in this review as well as the 3 point selection process we will get into, I could have saved enough moolah to take a week long cruise in the Caribbean but hey, what the hell, right?  Live and learn I guess.

This rather frustrating process led to me delving deep into this often overlooked aspect of one’s equipment to find those shoes I have personally worn over the years at one time or another whose structure and design meet all of my necessary criteria for inclusion into this list. All of these shoes listed below have one key thing in common: they can take your training to the next level.  My advice is to read this list thoroughly, study the criteria listed, weigh your options and integrate them into your training equipment toolbox ASAP.

Wing Chun is a dynamic fighting system; the small curriculum and finite number of “techniques” foster a sense of adaptation and ever-expanding list of application for any scenario you should find yourself in.  From purposeful and dedicated technique and forms training to download Wing Chun’s key principles and techniques into your mind and muscle memory to slam-bang full-contact combat sports training such as lei tai fighting, sanshou kickboxing or tournament sparring to preparing yourself for the ultimate realities of any self-defense encounter by training in parking lots after the rain at night, Wing Chun has your back.

Start building your base from the ground up with the proper shoe for any phase of training and your abilities can only go in one direction-and it sure as hell ain’t down.  Train well and your combat skills will serve you when you need them and always remember, Wing Chun only works if YOU do.

 

Train Smart, Stay Safe

Sifu Bobby

2 comments

  1. Hi Robert, Interesting aspects. Shoes to train in, I never thought boots would be suitable. Isn’t there a chance to harm others? Ok in real life that is what you want but in the training? now I understand if I never use the boots in training, I will not be prepared in real life. Thank’s for the interesting post.
    Have a great time.

    1. Stefan,

      Thanks for the reply, and exactly! The main reason I recommended the footwear I did is because I have found that the structure of Wing Chun is easier to apply in footwear that would be considered “non-traditional” in the sense of being non-athletic wear. My feet, for example, are wide, flat ands prone to over-pronation which is just a fancy term for saying that the outside edges of my feet roll outward. As a result, the pinkie toe side of my shoes tend to get worn since there is greater pressure put on them. Any gym or running shoe is very light mesh which frays quicker to me. My main beef with running shoes stems from their treads and the way they cradle the arches of the feet. The best shoes for Wing Chun training I have found have little or no tread or groove for traction, allowing for smooth pivoting on the heels as well as for the stepping drill. Also, running shoes and cross trainers tend to cradle the feet, which does not let the foot stay flat on the ground thus screwing with the ability (in my opinion) to root firmly to the ground.

      Insofar as reality, the boots and loafers pose no issue for safety due to the pointy or steel toed nature because their value lies in their structure and what they do for your structure training. Obviously any type of kicking a training partner with those types of shoes should be coupled with a solid shin pad or groin guard but any time kicks are introduced those pieces of equipment should be being used anyway. Check out my “What I Use” page on my site for what I recommend and personally use for these drills but just to clarify, the boots and loafers use and value lie in their being A. what one would likely wear outside of the gym or in a non-training environment and B. they aren’t built with the “athletic task” in mind which makes them better for training not only for reality but also in their flat, smooth nature. I am a believer that wearing running shoes or cross trainers everyday all day weakens the bottoms of the feet since it cradles arches; Converse All Stars would be a much better choice in my opinion.

      Thanks for the reply! Let me know if you have any questions and stay tuned for more unbiased and straight to the point reviews and topics. As a Wing Chun guy (WSL lineage) I think there is too much BS around Wing Chun; I’m just trying to express my thoughts and maybe even vent a little about stuff that gives Wing Chun a bad rep or feeds Wing Chun folks wrong ideas.

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