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As we all know, kung fu masters wear colourful silks, ninjas wear ninja costumes, and karateka wear a white gi, a coloured belt and no footwear. What does your average thug or mugger wear? Comfortable, perhaps fashionable clothing, something that won't draw too much attention. And of course some kind of trainers or boots or whatever. Let's think about this for a moment.

When threatened with violence, most people would consider removing their galoshes a flawed course of action, indeed to most people such a notion would completely fail to occur. This is sensible. For one thing, while man may have marched the terra firma discalced for countless aeons before nike came along, mother earth's skin aint as soft as once it was and no amount of aloe vera is going to help. We have paved gaia and must now accept the consequences of our actions.

So we aren't going to be taking our shoes off. But what does this mean in terms of our mad unarmed combat skills? Will this affect our kicking? Or our balance? In short yes and yes. And yes to a lot more questions that haven't been asked yet. The addition of footwear to a trained martial artist has a great many effects, which on first sight may seem to be negative. But let's ignore footwear for a moment and consider the effects of your everyday clothing...

The primary issue with 'normal' clothes is the sheer range of different characteristics. Some clothes are heavy, some light, some loose, tight, restrictive, noisy, prone to electrostatic buildup, expensive, hot - the list goes on and on. There are three approaches as I see it:

  • Choose clothes with care
  • Learn to fight in the clothes you typically wear
  • Avoid fighting when your clothes hinder you excessively

Of course, the third approach is always preferable, but a commitment to avoidance is not preparedness so let's consider the first option. Choosing your clothes is a no brainer - you want to wrap yourself in clothing similar to that in which you train. Gi trousers are usually baggy and unrestrictive (particularly around the crotch region) and so you should try to find these qualities in your normal trousers. (That's pants to you yanks. baggy pants in the british lexicon means something entirely too silly to consider.) Similarly, trousers should be light, but strong. These qualities can be pretty easy to come by for street wear but it may be a little harder to get a suit tailored this way - it would probably look a little odd.

For the upper body, again the same principles apply - you want unrestrictive, light and strong articles, preferably as few as possible. Don't go so much for the baggy stuff here, if anything you want to keep your arms clear, but if you must wear sleeves, try to wear something as light as possible, fairly close fitting and preferably in some way elasticated. Unfortunately here is where suits really suck. Suit shirts (particularly cheap ones) can often be very restrictive - they're just not designed for this stuff. Try and find one that's more comfortable with movement, or ask your tailor to help you find one that's less restrictive - you could say that you have sensitive skin and don't like restrictive clothes - you don't have to say "make me a shirt for kicking ass in". If you have to wear a suit jacket on top then so be it. Try and get one that you can take off quickly. Firstly it's much harder to fight whilst wearing it, secondly it could get ripped or alternatively, if you're not so fussed about the jacket then you could use it as a weapon (provided you have some clue as to what you're doing). If you have to wear a tie then get a clip-on one that you can quickly remove. As for women's clothing, skirts can be very restrictive, not just to kicking, but also to general stance and balance. Looser skirts or dresses are better, but you may not especially want to kick someone in the head if you're wearing a dress. Women's clothing is generally designed even more from a fashion perspective than men's clothing, and balancing practicality and style can be very difficult.

The second approach - learning to fight in the clothes you typically wear - is worthy of some attention. In short, my advice is to at the very least evaluate how a particular get-up affects your movements. If you have been able to choose your clothing as directed above then you will find your movements less restricted. You should try to see which moves in particular are more affected. For example, you will likely discover that kicking above waist height is impossible in suit trousers or jeans.

Evaluate your clothing for disadvantages, for example, ties or scarves can be used by your assailant against you. Many ensembles may be unsuitable for scrapping, but can be made 'fight-ready' via some simple modifications. For example, a loose suit jacket can be quickly slipped off the shoulders, a clip-on tie can be detatched easily, short skirts can be hiked up a bit to become a bit less restrictive (with a bit of luck your assailant may be temporarily distracted by this action... particularly if you're a man).

Most important of all is that your arms are relatively free. Whilst your legs are stronger, your arms and hands are your primary weapons and defence. It doesn't matter if you're a Karateka or a wrestler, you need your arms. Practice punches, blocks and locks (or whatever you're adept with). Identify weakened moves and either adjust your clothing or learn to use other techniques in their stead.

Finally, shoes and other footwear. Firstly, it should be obvious that the rules above apply directly to shoes as they do to clothing. However I've made this a separate section because footwear mustn't be overlooked. If you do nothing else, you should consider your footwear. Why? Simple. Because you need your feet to work like feet. Not stumps, wheels, stilts, roots or pogo sticks. If you can't run in your shoes then you can't fight in them either. It's that simple. Your feet are your interface with the ground, and if they fail then you're in big trouble. Unfortunately, as we all know, most women's footwear is utterly unsuitable for actually moving about in. Ladies you have two choices:

  1. Ditch the heels
  2. Get quick release footwear

The best footwear for fighting in is that which is as close as possible to no shoes at all. This doesn't mean less material, it just means less deviation from feet. Light trainers - good. Simple, comfortable shoes - ok. Good boots - variable, usually ok but see later. Sandles - bad. Heels - bad. Platforms - bad. Stilletos - don't be silly.

Boots can be ok provided they're not too far removed from basic army or walking boot format. Goth boots are usually just too damn heavy. They'll anchor you to the floor ok, but if you stumble, or try to kick, or have to run then you're in trouble.

If you have to wear something inappropriate then make sure you can get them off fast. Yes that does mean you'll be barefoot, but grazed feet is better than broken ankles. Better still there's actually an upside... stilletos make fearsome weapons! Whip em off, grab one (lift your foot to your hand, don't stoop or you'll get rushed) and then assume the position. If your would-be assailant is now facing a 3 inch steel point they may have a sudden change of heart.

If you're wearing goth boots then try to assume a solid stance and don't move from it unless utterly necessary. Bear in mind that you can still work low kicks and grinds with your foot-armour at close range. Also you're less likely to get your legs kicked out. Knee strikes can also be effective and if you can get them up fast the extra weight will add considerable momentum (but of course be harder and slower to lift). Tall platform goth boots are just dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. They make you unstable and can't be removed quickly.

Avoid wellies.

You can get martial arts training shoes with specially molded 'pivot points' and so on on the sole. These are obviously ideal for fighting in, but might look a little weird if you wear them out and about. Also expect ridicule from your martial arts buddies if they see you in them, because they know what they are! Obviously it's not illegal to wear fighting footwear of this kind (concealed or mounted blades are a different matter of course) but if you do get in a fight, the authorities may not look favourably on your plight if you are seen to have been overly 'prepared' for battle. It may be seen as premeditation, and, coupled with a particularly effective win, (ie you hospitalise the bad guy) could make things go very badly for you in the courts.

Whatever footwear you end up wearing, try to find time to practice in them. If kicks are impractical don't worry too much about that, but make sure you can hop and jump about as you might expect to in a fight. Try runnning in them. You'll be surprised how tiring just a little added weight can be. Few martial arts schools will allow you to train in your day to day pumps - this is usually for insurance reasons - so you'll have to practice at home. If you have a like-minded friend then you can work together. Just remember to warm up and stretch properly before hand. Yes I know, in a real situation you won't have a chance to do lunges before you knock heads, but at the time you'll be pumped with adrenalin and won't notice your torn hamstrings until the next morning. Also, take it slowly, be sensible. Shoes grip the floor differently to your feet, and you lack the sense of contact with the ground. Your balance will be affected, and it's easy to damage your ankles if you don't take care. Work on a variety of surfaces - wood, soil, grass, concrete etc.

One last point: There's no substitue for practice, and unfortunately for you, your assailant is liable to have had a lot more practice fighting in his street clothes. What's more he'll be dressed for the occasion, and may even have a few tricks up his sleeves should things start going badly for him. Be careful. Avoid fighting if you possibly can. A good anti-mugging tip is to keep all of your old credit cards and buy a cheap wallet. Fill it with the old cards and about ten quid (twenty dollars) or so, and a bit of change, and carry it in your opposite pocket. Firstly if anyone threatens you and asks for your wallet you can give them the 'fake' one - they go away happy and you don't lose your important stuff. Secondly it means you always have some spare change for emergencies. Always throw the wallet over and don't appear to be looking too hard at the attacker because they may attack you if you 'see too much'. But always expect the attack. Just know it's coming, and be ready to defend and retaliate. And if you do have to retaliate then do a good job - don't let them counter-retaliate or that may be the end of you. (Don't kill them though, or you'll go to jail. Fun this isn't it?).

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