Improve Your Practice By Optimizing Your Tai Chi Shoes – Also for Kung Fu and Qigong

First off, always consult with your doctor about any pain or if you need orthotics. Anything you choose to do with this information or not, is solely your responsibility. That said, primarily understand that tai chi shoes (or kung fu shoes) are about as close to being barefoot as possible. Their simple, thin design is to allow you to feel and control the movement of your feet and treat upon the ground as unencumbered as possible. Once you find a pair of shoes that fit and are comfortable, purchase a water repellant spray. Following the directions, apply the waterproofing outside, and on the inside edges of each shoe. This will extend the life of your shoes, especially if you use them outdoors or in humid climates.

If one of your legs was assessed by a healthcare provider as slightly longer than the other, you can build up that needed height in your shoe. Again, this is only if you are not required to wear orthotics but wish maximum performance. Go to a dollar store and buy a pair of shoe liner cushions. Use only one of them in the shoe of the shorter leg. That will give you up to 1/8″ extra height. If you experience any back or joint pain, remove it and visit a chiropractor or doctor. If you need more height, put the two cushions back-to-back, and insert them into the one shoe of the shorter leg. Test your balance and performance by practicing in the shoes for at least three days. It should start to help ease aches and balance issues due to slight leg length discrepancies. And yes, that eighth to a quarter of an inch can make a difference!

Tai chi shoes have no arch support. Folks with high arches or flat feet could use the help of a partial shoe insert that offers arch support. Most drugstores or discount stores house a variety of such shoe inserts. If your heels are narrow, use an ankle/heel cushion or adhesive moleskin to line the upper, inner back edge of your shoes.

Mature folks, especially women, tend to lose the natural fat cushion on the bottom of their feet. That can lead to pain on the ball of the foot. Gel inserts made for this purpose provide a great source of comfort. If the inside seams of your shoes rub on your feet, this can lead to painful corns and calluses. To remedy that situation, use thin adhesive moleskin – or adhesive felt pad (from a craft supplies store or hardware store) – to smooth over those areas in your shoe. You should also wear socks, or if not, then use a good foot powder on your feet and in your shoes for health and comfort. Tea tree oil or tea tree powder is a natural, cooling, healing and antifungal solution.

The last thing you should do is “level” your stance by using ankle inversion/eversion corrective inserts. These little wedge-like partial inserts are placed on the edges of the heel area inside the shoe. How do you know if you need them? Check a pair of shoes you’ve worn on a regular basis. If the inner edges of your shoe soles show more wear, you may tend to roll in too much. Put the shoe inserts at the inner (medial) edges inside your shoe to “tilt” your foot more outward. If your shoe soles show wear on the outer edges of the soles, you tend to roll outward too much. In that situation, place the inserts toward the outer edges inside your shoe, to tilt your feet a bit more inward. Again, it’s always best to consult with a qualified physician first.

You don’t need to put all these things in your shoes! Just insert what is needed to help your geometrical structure. But if you need to put several things in your shoes, be sure to get a shoe size large enough to accommodate everything. Your feet should never slide around in the shoes. And tai chi or kung fu shoes are meant to fit more snugly than normal street shoes. Its best to have a pair that you only wear indoors and another pair that you reserve for outdoor use. Don’t bring the dirt, germs, and “bad” energy of the outer world into your home or guan.

Always test-drive your shoes for a while to see how the inserts affect you. Remember that it takes your body a few days to adjust to any changes. Sometimes just these little changes will make all the difference in your practice!