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Shoes, Flashy Uniforms, Etc...Are They Alright?

by Steven Franz, Editor

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In recent years there have been many technological improvements to martial arts training in all kinds of styles. Recently I was at a tournament and a young Tae Kwon Do student came out to perform his form and he was wearing shoes on his feet. The center official, who was from the old school days of Karate training, told him to remove his shoes or he would not be allowed to compete. Immediately I scanned the event to find that several of the competitors had on shoes, shin pads, flashy uniforms and what not. I had never stopped to notice how much of a spectacle modern martial arts competition has become. The student refused and his instructor was immediately at the ring raising Cain.

During the onslaught for accusations that continued it was mentioned many times that most Tae Kwon Do places allow students to wear shoes to train today. On some of the larger tournament circuits people are wearing specially designed shoes by Ringstar that have padding on the top just like our normal foot gear does. This shoe issue began to boil my blood a little, but not because he was wearing shoes but rather because this TKD instructor expected us to bow to his commands he was barking and then the parents started in. All three teamed up to shout obscenities and ridicule the center official because he stated that in the rules competitors are not permitted to wear shoes and must be in full uniform. I realized that the center official was getting bothered by the lack of respect on the part of the TKD instructor, as well as the parents. Finally the arbitrator for the event showed up, explained the rules and stopped all rings. He announced all competitors must remove their shoes for the competition. This ended the debate since everyone was told the same thing...at least for now.

What is important to note is over half the competitors were wearing shoes. Now, keep in mind this was a traditional "Karate" tournament, or at least that is what the flyer stated. During the event I was honored to judge with this same center official all day long. As a child in the martial arts in the 1980's I remember admiring him, his Kata, his fighting ability but more importantly the manner in which he commanded respect...all without ever saying a word to demand it from people. As the day drug on I noticed he was giving lower scores to students who wore flashy uniforms, rolled up their sleeves and even had non-traditional weapons. He never once degraded them for their Kata performance but did so for their "lack of respect" as he told me.

I found this to be very interesting because I, myself, have done the same thing over the years. When students began wearing shoes to train in the dojo, compete at events, etc...they violated the traditions of the culture that spawned the martial arts. We do not remove our shoes for any other purpose than to respect the invitation from our host and not mess up their homes. On the flashy uniform part, well that can be debated all you want and depends entirely on the system and its heritage. I am a traditionalist and love training and competing in authentic Karate. One of our main rules is to wear solid white uniforms to remind us that we are to be pure in heart, pure in mind and pure in our training, but I will admit I do own three or four flashy uniforms. When I competed all the time back in the early 1990's I would wear my solid white uniform to perform weapons and kata but it weighed 14 oz! I would then go and switch my uniform to a "flashy" red, white and black uniform that weighed 8 oz. so that I could fight easier and faster. Was this appropriate? Probably not, but almost everyone who competed seriously on the "Open" circuit did this very thing with their uniforms.

In closing is it right to judge a student lower because they do not respect the traditions of a martial art? Yes, but only if it is stated in the rules for the event the specifics on dress code. Are flashy uniforms alright? For competitions absolutely...after all it is a "showmanship" event and many people use uniforms to express themselves...just like we wear clothes everyday. HOWEVER...to those students out there reading this, or those masters who are...please remember that allowing your students to wear shoes within a dojo is disrespectful and if you are told to remove them from a judge...you had best do so with no argument, no disrespect and no ego! All I can say to that one competitor's Sensei is if it had been me you were talking to that day I would have disqualified you and / or worse for your lack of respect to the rules and the officials...but then again he was Tae Kwon Do and most of them have no understanding of the true martial arts traditions and etiquettes.

As always best wishes with your training.