Tai Chi Shoes – Know Before You Buy


Choosing the right shoes for tai chi class is actually a really important discussion and is always one of the first things we talk about with the new students joining our class. It may sound counterintuitive but the shoes that you wear for most athletic events might actually limit your tai chi progress and in the worse circumstances cause injury.

As a general rule, the best tai chi shoes have a low profile so that the ankle can rotate, have a low heal or no heal at all so that your balance is not pitched forward, and have a rubber sole but limited traction so that added pressure isn’t placed on the knee when turning because the shoe isn’t allowed to slide on the floor.

The good news is that great shoes for practicing tai chi are relatively cheap, great quality, and easy to find on the internet so you don’t even need to find a store near you that sells them. You just need to know a few really important things so you can buy tai chi shoes that improve your health and strength and don’t lead to injury.

How do you know what shoes to wear for tai chi?

There are three important things that all good shoes for tai chi have:

  1. A low profile around the ankles. The low stances and stretches require a lot of bending. The sides of the shoes should not come up above the ankle bone and the best tai chi shoes are rounded so that the ankle can rotate.
  2. No or only a very small heal. One huge benefit of practicing tai chi is an increase in balance. After a very short time of practicing, you are not only more stable when walking and standing, but also when balancing on one leg and squatting down. This is difficult to accomplish if you are wearing a traditional athletic shoe. The big cushiony heal might be important for running but in tai chi it can pitch you forward.
  3. No or very limited traction. Wearing athletic shoes is okay to begin with but understand that the soles of these shoes have been designed not to slide.  Your foot is rotating frequently throughout tai chi which can put strain on the knee if there is any drag.  When you step in tai chi, eventually you don’t have weight on a foot that is rotating but initially this takes a little bit of practice. This is the greatest cause of tai chi knee pain.

Most of us have our favorite brand of shoes which is great but they should all meet the above criteria. I will share my favorites and what my students have reported back that they like from some of the bigger brands. Then, I want to tell you about a brand of shoes that really know martial arts and tai chi and their shoes are specifically designed for us to practice. But first, let’s talk about whether you need shoes at all.

Can you do tai chi barefoot or in socks?

There are only two times that I can think of where it is okay to do tai chi barefoot or in socks. If you are on a beach, being barefoot is actually more stable that wearing shoes. And, it just feels nice! I also have students that come straight from work and they have to choose whether to go home and change or be late for class. Sure, kick your dress shoes off and attend tai chi class barefoot.

In most cases, we are jumping, pivoting, stamping our feet, sliding, and working on our stability on one leg. This doesn’t lend itself to bare feet. Secondly, with the weapons forms or working outside I image this would be painful. Thirdly, if you are in a class that does push hands, you will probably get stepped on. Tai chi requires a lot of concentration and if you are thinking about our feet in makes progress difficult. So begin class with the shoes you have and then upgrade to one of the three cool choices below.

Traditional Tai Chi Shoes

traditional tai chi shoes

Traditional cotton shoes that are made of cotton or cloth are very practical for some practitioners.  The chief benefit is that you have immediate connection with the ground.  They are also comfortable, really cheap, and they pack up flat so they are easy to carry.

I can be a martial arts superstar and wear slippers? Yes! How about my bathrobe?  It depends on your school.

Traditional tai chi shoes can wear out on pavement, get dirty, and don’t protect you from rocky ground.  Additionally, if your school has a gloss/slick floor your feet can start to slide out from under you when you begin entering deeper postures.

Cloth shoes are ideal for indoor training where the floor has a rug or provides some sort of traction.  Note that these shoes also stretch a bit because they are made of cotton.  If you want to wear traditional cotton tai chi shoes make sure that have elastic at the entrance and/or heel.

Rubber Sole Traditional Tai Chi Shoes

rubber sole traditional tai chi shoes

Rubber sole tai chi shoes are a hybrid of the cloth shoes and sports shoes. They are often one of the best shoes for women because of the smaller sizes.

All of the rubber sole shoes seem to be the same regardless of where they come from. They are very comfortable, last a long time, and are inexpensive. I think these are a better option than the all cloth traditional shoes because they are more versatile and definitely more weather resistant. One great use of these shoes are for schools that have a uniform or do performances and want everyone to wear the same thing. The downside, like the cotton tai chi shoes is that they can stretch out so the size you start with can feel a bit big and loose after a short while.

Low Profile Tai Chi Athletic Shoes

A few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to write this article because the right style of shoes had to be ordered from China. This was difficult because the sizing charts never seemed to be right, it took forever to get your shoes and was always a gamble as to if you would be able to return the wrong ones. That’s no longer the case.

With the popularity of CrossFit and powerlifting, shoes with minimal tread and no heal are more available. Soccer fans who can wear a narrow shoe also have a great selection. Then we have the flat platform of many of the skateboarding shoes. These shoes tend to be heavier but they do have the right heal and ankle profile. So lots of choices exist today that meet the three criteria for shoes for tai chi classes listed above.

Best Name Brand Shoes for Tai Chi Class

Many of us have our favorite brand of shoe that fits our feet perfectly. I will share some that I really like and ones that my students feel are great for them. If you are dead set on getting a certain brand of shoes then these might be the ones for you. As you click through them you will see that they are sometimes 4x the price of Feiyue choices and how they define “low profile” still has quite a bit of heal in some shoes. Check them out and then scroll down because Feiyue were designed for tai chi, they are high quality, and the price is right. Here are some examples. These are on Amazon so you can click on the links to read the reviews.

BrandBest Shoes for Doing Tai Chi
Asics Tai Chi Shoes for MenWHITIN Men’s Cross-Trainer
Asics Tai Chi Shoes for WomenASICS Women’s Gel-Rocket 9 Volleyball Shoes
New Balance Tai Chi Shoes for MenNew Balance Women’s WXC700
New Balance Tai Chi Shoes for WomenNew Balance Men’s MX00 Minimus 
Nike Tai Chi Shoes for MenNike mens Ah7453-007
Nike Tai Chi Shoes for WomenNike Women’s Sneaker Running Shoes
Onitsuka Tai Chi ShoesOnitsuka Tiger Unisex Mexico 66
Puma Tai Chi Shoes for MenPUMA Men’s Roma Basic Sneaker

Feiyue Shoes – Made Specifically for Tai Chi

For those of you wanted to get your tai chi shoe mojo on, the brand Feiyue is the way to go.  Feiyue shoes began in Shanghai in the 1920s and they have been the go-to Chinese tai chi shoe for decades. The company transitioned to France in 2006. This a really good thing because they retained all the quality and design but became more of an international brand so that they are available to us, everywhere, at a good price. They also have a kid’s line which my shorter female students are so thankful for because they can actually find women’s tai chi shoes in their size.

When you look at their styles and colors you definitely see that they are branching out into more fashionable shoes. Again, I am happy to see a high-quality company be successful because it means we continue to get good products at a good price. Almost everything that they have is a good shoe for tai chi but make sure to stick with the low profile selection.

Men’s Tai Chi Shoes

Women’s Tai Chi Shoes

Tai Chi Shoes for Kids

Black Tai Chi Shoes

Do we need to buy shoes to practice tai chi?

The verdict is yes.  Protect your knees and hips until you get the stepping and rotation down.  Tai chi is a very inexpensive hobby or sport but this is one place where a few dollars are worth the investment.

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

10 thoughts on “Tai Chi Shoes – Know Before You Buy

  1. When I first started training, I blamed lack of root on the shoes. Nick Gracenin told me that I can not blame the shoes

    1. Likewise, I am always tempted to blame a high poster on tight pants. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

  2. I think the most desirable option is always barefoot.But, realistically, the choice of footwear depends upon the surface on which you are practicing and the circumstance in which you begin. Heavier footwear may aid your balance. Lighter footwear may show that you have established a valuable routine.

    P.S. The comment section is hard to read. The type needs to be darker..

    1. There is a huge movement back to barefoot training including running and many other athletic sports. They are even linking problems with foot pain and gate to “high-heeled sneakers.” I think you are absolutely correct. The main take home message is that shoe choice shouldn’t cause physical injury. So this is dependent on place and person. Sticking tread on carpets can tire the knees. Slick shoes on polished floors can cause slipping.

  3. I have Proper shoes for Ti Che, but I haven’t worn then a couple of times. I think sometimes my balance is better in ordinary sneakers. My balance is bad.

    1. Balance is a key issue in tai chi. It has the power of really improving balance so we wouldn’t want to make a choice on shoes that would compromise it. If we spend much of our time in a certain type of shoe our balance is going to be “off” if we make a change. Transitioning to a lower shoe and then on to bare feet might be called for with some people or they can wear what is comfortable to them. Your body might be used to the elevated position of a tennis shoe which might match work shoes or boots. A flatter shoe does give the body the ability to reintegrate some of its original balance habits. Most important is that your shoe doesn’t grab the floor/carpet (think running shoes on carpet) when rotating or slip out during longer steps or stances (think cloth shoes on polished floors).
      Thanks for the comments!

    1. Hi Terry, sorry for the late response. I am located in Austin Texas. If you are in the area feel free to come on by:
      Chen Tai Chi Association of Austin
      http://austinchentaichi.com/

      Otherwise let the list know which city you are in and someone may respond. Cheers!

    1. Thanks for the input for people looking for shoes. The initial link had a bunch of pop-ups but all of the shoes are view-able on Amazon.
      http://www.amazon.com/s?field-brandtextbin=Vivobarefoot&page=1&rh=n:7141123011

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