Martial Artist – Jennifer Lawler

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by Faye Rapoport


Jennifer Lawler of Lawrence, Kansas, is a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She earned her black belt in 1994, when she was almost 29, and says she “wishes she’d learned to kick butt a lot sooner.”

Lawler has studied other martial arts, including Hapkido, Aikijutsu, and Escrima, has trained in kickboxing and boxing, and has studied weapons. But she has exercised her brain as much as her body. Lawler earned a Ph.D in English (medieval literature) from the University of Kansas in 1996 and is a former college English teacher.

Combining her training and English careers, Lawler has written extensively on the martial arts, especially about women who train. Her published titles include: Dojo Wisdom: 100 Simple Ways to Become a Stronger, Calmer, More Courageous Person (Penguin Compass) and Martial Arts for Dummies (Wiley).

She has been a tournament competitor, judge, referee, and martial arts and self-defense instructor, but Lawler currently devotes most of her time to writing and speaking about martial arts training. She recently answered’s questions about foot health and care in the context of her martial arts experience. Jennifer, can you tell us a little about the different types of martial arts you do?

Lawler: My main style is Tae Kwon Do, but I’ve trained in other styles as well, including Karate, Aikjutsu, kickboxing and others. I’ve been training for more than ten years. What about martial arts inspires you on a day-to-day basis?

Lawler: Martial arts is truly a way of life. I tell people that I use my martial arts training every day. They may envision me kicking people, but what I mean is that I use the discipline, focus and perseverance I learned in the training hall in my life and my work every single day. Training in martial arts also helps keep me balanced. I tend to work too much, and practicing a form or hitting the heavy bag helps me de-stress. Many martial artists train in bare feet. Do you, and if so, why?

Lawler: I usually train in bare feet. It’s traditional for many martial arts styles. It connects to the Asian practice of removing your shoes when you enter a home (in other words, it’s considered courteous). It keeps you from tracking outside dirt into the dojo (training hall). In addition, pivoting, jumping and turning in heavy athletic shoes is much more difficult than doing the techniques barefoot. Training in regular athletic shoes can actually be a bit dangerous — if the shoe is heavy and doesn’t pivot as you kick, you can wrench an ankle or knee. It’s much trickier to do a roundhouse kick in shoes than it is barefoot. Also, you need to be able to see that your foot, toes, ankle, etc., are all in the correct position, and wearing shoes makes that harder.

However, there are good martial arts shoes on the market now. They’re very lightweight, and they have a pivot point so your foot moves when it’s supposed to, decreasing the likelihood of ankle and knee injuries. I use these if I’m going to be training outside or if I want to protect my feet for any reason (a bruise, a cut I don’t want to make worse, etc.). And training in shoes also helps you learn to do the techniques in shoes, which comes in handy if you ever have to fend off a mugger while walking home from work! What foot health issues come up when you train in bare feet?

Lawler: When you train in bare feet, you have no protection at all, so you can get bruises, calluses, even stress fractures. My biggest problem is calluses that get really thick and then start to peel away. If I’m not careful, they’ll tear and my feet will bleed. Yuck. Have you ever had a foot condition or injury that affected your training?

Lawler: I have rheumatoid arthritis, and sometimes it flares up, affecting the small joints in my hands and feet, so it can hurt to train. I’ve also had calluses that tear, and you can’t stick a band-aid on a callous on your foot and expect it to stand up to training. I’ve occasionally had bruises on my feet that make sparring a little harder because it hurts a little more. And sometimes if I’ve been working harder than usual, I’ll get cramps in the arch of my foot — and I have to completely stop what I’m doing to make the cramp go away! How did you treat these conditions?

Lawler: An athletic trainer taught me to use superglue to glue the calloused area together so it wouldn’t tear 🙂 I’ve actually used this technique when I had to do a tournament or demo and didn’t have any other good options.

I’ve also found that good long soak helps relieve the pain of arthritis in my feet and helps keep the skin soft so it doesn’t tear. I use a nail scissors to keep any dead skin trimmed so it doesn’t catch and tear. I also do my own foot massages to keep my feet feeling good and help prevent cramps. If I rub some lotion on my feet while I do this, it also helps keep the calluses down. Besides treating your injuries and arthritis, do you have an everyday foot care regimen that helps keep your feet healthy?

Lawler: I’m careful to wear comfortable shoes when I wear them at all. I think that’s really important. I remember from all my years of working in corporate offices that you could feel absolutely crippled after a day in tight or uncomfortable shoes, so I really dress my feet for comfort now.

I also am careful to keep nails trimmed — they can catch on something when you’re sparring or even cut your partner if you’re not careful. This helps prevent hangnails and ingrown toenails, too. Also, I give myself at least a short foot rub every morning and every night just to thank them for putting up with all the abuse. Do you do any special strengthening exercises for your lower legs or feet?

Lawler: I do a lot of stretches to keep flexible including ankle stretches. I also do calf raises as part of my strength training regimen. What kind of footwear do you wear for other fitness activities?

Lawler: I wear cross trainers for weight training. I wouldn’t trade my Avias for anything. I wear comfortable walking shoes for wandering around the neighborhood with the kid and the dogs. How important, in the end, are healthy feet to a martial artist?

Lawler: Essential! Your feet take a beating in martial arts and they have to be up to the challenge.


Note: Training tips and product/footwear recommendations in Athlete Interviews represent the professional and personal opinions and experiences of our interview subjects, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or the Advisory Board.

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