It starts with the shoes
Just like the foundation of any martial arts is the feet, the foundation of any kit is the shoes! So how do you select the perfect pair of shoes? I believe it comes down to three key factors
Walls, Tread, and Box
Your shoe walls are the most important aspect to finding a good shoe. Like the walls of a castle, your shoe’s must resist all manner of punishment. So what is a shoe wall? Well if you don’t know, don’t worry, you are not alone. The wall on the shoe is what keeps you properly in the shoe box instead of blasting out the side of the shoe. “How do I select the correct wall?” Simple! AVOID TENNIS SHOES!!!! “But why? I love my hokas, and they feel like I am walking on a cloud” you exclaim. Well my dear reader, because you will destroy those precious $150 dollar runners. Let me explain… with pictures!
Here is a standard runner. See that little nub in the front? THAT is your shoe wall on a runner. Why is it so puny? Because runners only need to stop your foot from traveling in one direction. Runners want their shoe to be as light as possible, so why waste materials re enforcing a part of a shoe that will never need it?
What does a good shoe wall look like?
Ideally the wall will encircle the entire toe box as you can see below
An indoor soccer shoe is a great example of a full walled shoe. It will make sure that you don’t break down your shoe prematurely and will keep your foot in the right position. BUT I do not think it is the best shoe for HEMA and that has to do with our next point….
Treading new ground
Unfortunately, our modern lives have us walking in thick sole shoes. What does that matter? Well, when sparring you want to be able to feel the ground and have your foot flex to increase stability and connection to the ground. Being able to push into the ground with certain parts of your foot allows for greater control in cutting and changing direction.
Thick soled modern shoes limit your ability to make micro-adjustments in your movement by pushing the entire sole of the shoe to the ground rather than the part you desire. That is why we recommend a softer sole shoe. A wrestling shoe is a great example of a soft sole shoe. Using a shoe with a softer sole allows your foot to push off the ground in the precise spot. This facilitates those micro-adjustments that fine tune your footwork and measure. The softer sole allows for the foot to move more naturally and you can get the full benefit from the micro-adjustments your foot can make.
The picture on top, you can see the thin sole and how that would allow for flex of the foot. With the picture on bottom, you can see from the tread and the circle areas from the picture, the wrestling shoe is designed to flex in those around and allow for greater cut control. Compare that to the soccer shoe…
A thick and reinforced shoe and one small zone for flexing on the ball of the foot. In HEMA, we spend time using each major zone our foot has. Toes, inner ball, outer ball (the pinky toes major joint) and our heel. When we put a hard plate between those zones and the ground it greatly reduces our foot's ability to make precise movements, slowing our reaction time and weakening our response to our opponents.
Foot’s gotta move
“But don't our feet move when I walk?” Yes…and no. Do me a favor: put your fingers together and push against a hard surface like the picture on the right
Not super comfy right? Now lets try opening our hand up like the picture on the left
Felt more natural and comfortable right? That is because the bones need to be able to comfortably move around to increase your balance and stability. Same goes for your feet! So how do we make sure our toes can spread out like our fingers? Well, we could go barefoot, but that certainly is not the safest route. That means we need to get some wide toe box shoes. The are specifically designed to give our feet wide areas to spread out more naturally. How do you find such a shoe? Well shoes labeled as “minimalist” will usually get you there. Brands such as vivo, xero and nobull have a great selection of shoes with a wide toe box.
What makes a great HEMA shoe?
A shoe that meets the previous criteria, high wall, soft sole with flex, and lastly a wide toe box, what shoe do we recommend?
The Xero 360
As you can see from the pictures below. It has the wall around the shoe and they are reinforced at high stress zones to make sure your foot stays in the shoe. The sole is designed for maximum flexibility in the key areas of the toes, inner and outer ball, as well the heel. Lastly, there is a generous toe box to allow the foot to move freely and securely.
Now, this does not mean that any of the other shoes we talked about are unusable, nor unsafe for HEMA. Nor does it mean that other shoes do not fit the criteria that we have listed out, it just means that in our experience the Xero 360 is a great fit for what we need and can get you the edge in mobility.
If you want to get a pair for yourself and to help out the school, feel free to used the link below as we get a small percentage for each sale that goes through the link.