Most Martial Artists train with bare feet. It is possible this grows out of the Asian tradition of removing one’s shoes before entering a home. These days, most schools require bare feet to protect their expensive mat floors.
Forty-plus years ago, when learning under Sensei Logue, we trained barefooted outside, even in winter. Of course, winters in the south are mild, but still. However, for the last two decades I have trained wearing shoes; gym shoes, wrestling shoes, booties, or socks, depending on the allowances of the school I am in.
Part of this choice is general protection. I have never liked being stabbed by my partner’s toenail during kicks – I do not want to inflict the same on my partner. An old Ryu friend of mine, while in a tournament got his big toe caught in his keikogi pant cuff while throwing a sidekick and pulled his toe off – literally. Beyond physical protection, there is a hygiene consideration like ringworm and who knows what is on the mat. I have never liked walking into a school’s restroom with bare feet. Yuck.
All that said, shoes or barefoot is a choice. It is often regulated by the school, but always the student has some option. How we train, what we wear, affects how we perform. I have found it is often difficult for a student to go from barefoot to shoes. Another old training partner had gone barefoot his entire training life. When he decided to wear shoes, he found he could not do it. His balance was affected. He felt uncomfortable, out of control, and gave up after only one week of trying.
On the other hand, it seems the transition from shoes to barefoot is relatively easy. Many students, those who wear shoes, when we find ourselves in a place that does not allow them, seem to have no difficulty. Balance is learned inside the shoes – the floor simply becomes the inside of the shoe.
For those folk that find it difficult to transition into shoes, such as my old training partner, I often add this lighthearted instruction, “Look, if you get into a fight, you won’t be able to tell the attacker, ‘Give me a sec. Once I get these shoes off I’m gonna kick your butt’”.
Shoes, socks, or barefoot is a personal choice. However, always respect the school you are in and adhere to their requirements.
Here is a fun clip from Ip Man 3 that goes directly to the point.