Wearing the right pair of shoes can make a world of difference in your experience with tai chi, as it's crucial to be able to move freely throughout your form. Unfortunately, regular tennis shoes won't do the trick due to their bulky size and high-grip rubber soles. After comparing 15 popular pairs of shoes designed specifically with tai chi and other martial arts in mind, we're confident that we've found the best tai chi shoes for both men and women. For guys, we recommend the DT Martial Arts Canvas Shoes, and for girls, we like the Ace Martial Arts Canvas Shoes. Article Summary
Tai chi is a martial art often focusing on slow and gentle movements, meditation and inner peace. It is widely-practiced not only across China, its origin country, but also across the rest of Asia and the Western world. In the United States, tai chi is growing in popularity as a way to stay active without the high impact of running or expensive entry costs of other sports and hobbies. Inexpensive, gentle on the joints and a way to improve strength and flexibility – what more could you ask for?
Although tai chi requires very little gear to begin practicing, it does require a pair of specifically purposed shoes. Since the basis of this art lies in the various stances and postures, having proper footwear is essential. You might think that some padded-up pair of Nike’s will do the trick, but thin shoes that provide a low profile and a more direct connection with the ground are much better suited.
As we all know, shoe shopping in general can be a pain, and finding the best tai chi shoes is no different. In fact, it’s quite a bit harder, because you can’t just walk into any sports store and try on this specific type of martial arts shoe – you have to shop for them primarily online. With this in mind, we were very careful in how we did our shoe research for this guide. We found 15 pairs of shoes commonly used for this practice, and compared them based on their sizing, material, and most importantly, their comfort as reported by different customers. We also looked at which were best for men, and which were best for women. Once all the details were in, a few pairs stood out as being better than the rest. We’ve shown their details below; you can see men’s tai chi shoes here or women’s tai chi shoes here.
Best tai chi shoes for men
We’ll provide individual reviews of each pair below, but first here’s a quick table to compare the top three best tai chi shoes for men:
Our top pick
Here it is: the original tai chi shoe. Canvas upper, cotton sole and built to last – the DT Martial Arts Shoes are must-haves for an authentic and effective experience. This is by far the most coveted and preferred shoe by regular enthusiasts and experts alike.
These shoes are made in the traditional slip-on style with stitching all around the sole to ensure durability. There are elastic strips on either side of the tongue to ensure a fit that will not only be comfortable, but stay nice and tight to your foot so that you can move confidently. These are ideal for practicing indoors, but they can also be used to practice outdoor on non-abrasive surfaces like grass or dirt.
If you’re going to practice tai chi, why not wear the same thing the original masters wore? These are the closest you’re going to get, and if the original masters who developed the art did so in shoes like these, even as centuries passed, it is only natural that you would benefit from learning and practicing in the same. These shoes will allow you to comfortably slide from one position to the next and complete your forms with ease. The snug fit allows for slow, qigong-style application as well as more explosive movements.
Many tai chi shoes vary in their fit, but consumers have reported accurate sizing from this producer, which is an invaluable quality when you are shopping for anything wearable online. Being composed of canvas and cotton, this pair is also machine washable, which is one of the most applauded qualities by customers who have bought them. Extended sizing for men and comfort are also qualities that customers loved.
If you’re looking for the best shoes for tai chi, the DT Martial Arts Shoes are the top of the list. Their traditional design, true sizing, and coveted comfort make them more ideal than any other choice on the market when it comes to men’s light martial arts footwear.
The best rubber-soled option
One of the most versatile choices out there for men is Ace Martial Arts’ Tai Chi Shoe. These shoes feature all of the great breathability of having a cloth upper, akin to our top pick, but they have the added benefit of having a durable rubber sole. This sole allows them not only to be used for outdoor as well as indoor, but for every day uses like taking out the trash or walking around the house. Having this rubber sole will protect you from rocks and the abrasion from super hard surfaces.
Along with the durable sole, this shoe features elastic on both sides of the tongue and at the opening for a snug, comfortable fit. Having your shoe go flying off when you’re hitting the next pose in your form is embarrassing and dangerous for your classmates; this snug fit will prevent that from happening.
As with our top pick, these shoes are washing machine friendly, which will help you keep the stink away so you can practice without distraction. One of the other great features of this shoe, especially for men, is its extended sizing for bigger Western feet. Most kung fu, tai chi, and other martial arts shoes in the authentic style are only offered in small sizes due to the Eastern build, but this shoe accommodates that shortcoming.
With all of these great features, why is this shoe the runner up and not the top pick? Well, even though this shoe is great for indoor and outdoor practice, it has more grip than the traditional style (i.e. our top pick). This grip can make certain stances and movements more difficult when performing indoors, which is the most common practice in Western society. The durable rubber also presents us with a larger disconnect from the Earth, which is one of the most unwavering principles of this art form.
For those looking to practice outdoors as well as indoors, and even get some other uses out of their new kicks, the Ace Martial Arts Shoes would likely be the best tai chi shoes for you.
A more modern look
Finally, our last pick for men’s shoes are the Onitsuka Tiger Tai Chi LE sneakers. These would be ideal for a combination of indoor and outdoor practice.
The durable upper is made of 100% leather, and while that makes this shoe a whole heck of a lot tougher than traditional tai chi shoes, it also takes away breathability and lightness. The lace-up construction of this shoe allows for a tight fit, which is good, but the rubber sole restricts rotation and sliding motions, which can cause ligament and joint strains, with eventual injury a possibility as well.
If these kicks look familiar, it could be because Uma Thurman donned them in Kill Bill, with her Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss-esque yellow jumpsuit. Before you ask – no, these aren’t women’s shoes, they are unisex. These are iconic and fashionable, which make them a great everyday wear, but that fact also jacks up the price to being easily the most expensive item on our list, costing about six times more than our lowest priced product. This high price gets you value in the way of versatile use and fashion, but not much in the way of the actual practice.
If you’re looking for a shoe that can be used mostly for outdoor tai chi and everyday fashion, with the occasional indoor practice, the Onitsuka Tiger’s are definitely worth checking out. Also, don’t let the comparison to traditional styles turn you off completely – these shoes, when compared to most other modern versions, are still excellent for training due to the thin and flat sole.
Best tai chi shoes for women
We’ll provide individual reviews of each pair below, but first here’s a quick table to compare the top three best tai chi shoes for women:
Our top pick
For indoor practice, look no further than this classic, affordable and essential tai chi shoe: the cotton-soled Kung Fu Shoe by Ace Martial Arts. These are textbook, honest-to-goodness shoes specifically purposed for the practice of indoor tai chi and are similar to what the first practitioners would have worn.
The cloth upper of these shoes provide a comfortable and snug fit, while allowing the foot to breathe during strenuous movements or extended practice sessions. The modern updates include elastic straps on either side of the tongue and elastic at the opening of the shoe allowing for movement with no danger of the foot falling out of the shoe.
Along with the cloth upper, this shoe features a classic cotton sole. This sole slides easily on hardwood, laminate and other sanded, polished surfaces, making them perfect for tai chi. The ease with which slides and posture switches can be achieved is of paramount importance to preserving the health of your knees and ankles, which would be compromised by a shoe with more grip. The cotton sole and classic of this style of this shoe will have you looking like a professional in your studio.
Another aspect that makes this pair incredibly coveted in the tai chi community is that they are machine washable. The ability to toss your shoes in the washing machine after extended use and have them come out fresh and ready to go again is extremely useful when related to a sport that can be intense and competitive. Any athlete will tell you about the smells gear can accumulate, but if you can just toss them in the wash, all of that nastiness can be gracefully avoided.
To put it in one sentence, Ace Martial Arts’ Kung Fu Shoes are the best shoes for tai chi practice. Although they are ideal for indoor, they will certainly last outdoors with regular cleaning and care regarding which surfaces they are used on. Comfort, agility and easy to pack and travel with – these are the real deal, and also the best deal considering they have the lowest price out of the other choices in our guide.
The best rubber-soled option
Tiger Claw is a trusted brand in the martial arts community that produces a wide array of equipment, including shoes for kung fu, tai chi and more aggressive forms of martial arts like taekwondo and hapkido. Their Feiyue Martial Arts Shoes are by far the most popular “modern-style” kicks.
Although this shoe may look like a regular sneaker, it is actually specially designed for the use of tai chi. Most people love the stylish appearance, durability and versatility of this shoe. They also come in black and white, giving you more options than many other models that only come in black.
This pair is the runner up for one main reason: the rubber sole. The rubber sole increases the difficulty of practicing indoors by increasing friction between the shoe and the ground. Traditional cotton-soled shoes allow for easier movement while practicing indoors and puts less stress on your joints. Since indoor practice is the most common in Western civilization, the rubber sole can be a big inhibitor if you want to take classes, and may not be allowed in some classes.
Some of these drawbacks can also be viewed as positives for the right individual. The laces on the shoe allow for a super snug fit and the durable rubber sole allow this to be a multi-use shoe, making it a great value. Another thing that makes this model a good value is their durable upper construction. While most shoes have uppers with thin material and minimal stitching, these have a very durable upper construction with thick material and double stitching.
If you’re looking for a shoe for outdoor and occasional indoor practice, or even something that can be worn around the house comfortably, the Tiger Claw Feiyue Shoes are a great choice.
A more modern look
The Double Star MR Shoes are the furthest removed from the classic, original style, which is why they are the furthest down on our top picks list. To that effect, this pair is ideal for outdoor use, but by comparison to the previous models reviewed above, these are also the most difficult for indoor use.
These shoes have a thicker upper made of chunky cotton with a lot of cushion for everyday wear and a cross-compatibility with other sports like tennis or badminton. Although they will last you a lot longer than traditional canvas/cotton construction, and can go through more wear and tear, they are more generally designed, giving them a few downfalls for the practice of tai chi.
Along with the grippy rubber sole, this shoe features a raised arch. For an athletic shoe for more intense sports that involve running or extensive jumping, this would be ideal; however, for slow, precise movements and posture changes, this further disconnects the practitioner with the ground and takes away from the experience and form. The added grip can also, like our runner up, lead to possible injury from added difficulty of rotation of the knees and sliding of the ankles.
With that said, the Double Star MR’s can serve the purpose of practicing outdoors. These types of shoes aren’t as good as our runner up for outdoor training due to the raised arch and more rigid construction, but they are better than most options with a more modern design, giving them the added benefit of a super durable construction.
Choosing the right type of tai chi shoes
Learning tai chi can be done nearly anywhere – in a dedicated studio with an instructor, at a local park with a group, or you can even use instructional videos to learn tai chi at home by yourself. Either way, if you’re practicing outdoors, indoors, a combination of both, or in a strict dojo with certain regulations, you’ll need different types of footwear.
Cloth shoes with cloth sole
This is the most popular type of shoe for indoor practitioners. Cloth shoes with cloth soles are the cheapest to purchase and the most convenient, folding flat for easy transportation in any purse or small gym bag. Cloth shoes also offer the ability to slide easily, which is required for several poses and forms. There are a few drawbacks to this type, however. Cloth soles will get dirty very easily and are not very durable when exposed to harsh walking surfaces or sharp rocks, this is why they are preferred for indoor applications and practice.
Cloth shoes with rubber sole
Overall, this is the most popular type of shoe in general. Versatility is the biggest benefit due to their lightweight construction but protective sole. Not only are they light and comfortable, they offer the durability of more Western martial arts shoes. These shoes can be used for indoor and outdoor practice; however, there are some dojos that won’t allow shoes that are used outdoor in their indoor space, so make sure to clear it with your instructor before bringing them. The rubber soles also make sliding a bit more difficult, but they are often flat with limited grip, unlike trainers or traditional sneakers, so that sliding into different poses can still be achievable with relative simplicity.
Tai chi athletic shoes
Some martial arts shoes are made with accessory purposes in mind, like walking around the neighborhood or running out to the store to grab a few things. Tai chi athletic shoes are basically the classic, Western sneakers you know and love, but with a VERY thin, rubber sole. This type is often stylish enough to wear just about anywhere, and durable enough to take abuse from rocky parking lots and sidewalks. With that durability, fortunately, there is a lightness from the material and thin sole that still make them a good shoe for tai chi. As with the rubber soled models, the sole is made with minimal grip in mind for easy sliding, so these are not the best for a casual game of basketball.
Why you shouldn’t use regular shoes for tai chi
“Why can’t I just use tennis shoes?”, you may be asking. Tennis shoes and other modern sneakers are made for a few specific purposes, but the main purpose where most models compete is grip. A basketball or tennis shoe that doesn’t allow the user to make quick turns or stop on a dime is basically useless. In tai chi, sliding is good and necessary, therefore models that grip aren’t going to do the job well. This is why practitioners most often wear cloth shoes or those with flat soles that lack grip.
Lower extremity rotation is one of the biggest staple movements in this art. Smooth rotation of the knee and ankle is essential to keeping your joints healthy and reducing potential irritation or inflammation. If you are wearing footwear that has a lot of grip, by their very purpose they are eliminating smooth rotation and causing tension where there shouldn’t be any. Shoes that grip cause more tension on the knee while rotating; which, in turn, places extra stress on the tendons of the knee. This can lead to injury and eventual breakdown of tissues in knee, rendering its mobility more of a painful task than a recreational activity.
Sliding the feet forward, backward and in a circular, sweeping motion are all also integral movements. These movements cannot be achieved with soles that are meant to stop these motions. These restrictions can place stress upon the ankle joint due to drag and friction of the shoe on the ground. This added stress to the ankles can not only lead to eventual injury, it will make you unable to perform the forms and movements correctly, as having a stable base from which to draw power and strength is one of the core principals of tai chi.
If you’re just beginning for the first time, check out the video below from famed instructor Dr. Paul Lam of the Tai Chi for Health Institute introducing the basics:
Wrapping it up
Tai chi is a great, versatile practice that can serve multiple purposes. Looking for a relaxing way to stay active and increase mobility? Maybe you’re looking for a new sport to pursue and compete in? Either way, tai chi can benefit you and be the path to learning skills and ideologies that you otherwise might have missed out on. Practicing this fine art can be done at home, in a dojo, at the park or anywhere you have a bit of space to yourself – this only adds to the existing flexibility of the art, making it one of the most adaptable and approachable sports and systems of movement in existence. Just make sure you have the right shoes wherever you practice. If you’re mostly indoors, we’d suggest going with a cloth sole. However, if you’re often practicing outdoors, a rubber sole will suit your lifestyle better.
• How to Do Tai Chi by WikiHow