by Faye Rapoport
Thomas Clifford has been training in martial arts for more than 20 years, and has traveled to China, Taiwan and Brazil to work with some of the world’s greatest martial artists and teachers. Already a 5th degree black belt in karate, Clifford is training with David Adiv and Royler Gracie toward becoming one of the few American black belts in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, one of the most admired martial arts forms in the world. Clifford, whose influence has been felt throughout the United States through his work with national martial arts boards and professional organizations, is chief instructor at Thomas Clifford Karate Academy, with locations in Orangeburg and Nyack, New York.
Foot.com: Tom, can you tell us if martial artists face any particular challenges in caring for their feet?
Tom: Each martial art is unique and very different, and that includes different challenges regarding foot health and footwear. At our school, our karate and jiu-jitsu students train mostly barefoot. In some martial arts, wrestling shoes or other footwear are worn. So the challenges you face depend on the art and the type of footwear and training.
Foot.com: What problems can occur when you train barefoot?
Tom: Some students form calluses on their feet where the pressure points are, or have to deal with dry, chapped skin, especially in the heel area. And of course, there is always the risk of injuring the feet during exercises like kicking practice using pads as targets. But we minimize those risks with a strong emphasis on training basic skills like kicking in every class from beginner through expert.
Foot.com: How do you personally deal with dry, callused skin?
Tom: I sometimes gently file off excess callused skin, and have at times used foot creams or Vaseline overnight to combat the problem. But I am prone to this condition, so generally I accept that because I train barefoot for much of the day, I will live with it and it doesn’t bother me.
Foot.com: What about injuries?
Tom: Over the years I have dealt with things like broken toes that have occurred when my foot has made contact with a training partner during a kicking drill. I taped the toes and avoided drills that might re-injure them until they healed, but continued training.
Foot.com: What kind of footwear do you wear when you are not training?
Tom: I invest in good running shoes for running, and generally wear shoes with a high, wide toe box to give my forefoot plenty of space. For everyday, I usually wear open-toed sandals for the same reason.
Foot.com: What about athlete’s foot and other fungus problems, with so many students training barefoot on the mat?
Tom: Cleanliness is extremely important in any karate school. We clean our mats daily to avoid problems. In an art like jiu-jitsu, fungal conditions like ring worm can pass between training partners during grappling exercises. So it is important to monitor your own skin, maintain a clean training facility and uniform, and to use appropriate medication if you do find yourself with any kind of skin condition.
Foot.com: Is foot strength important in martial arts?
Tom: Strong feet are a critical aspect of many martial arts, whether you are practicing kicking, grappling, or even just holding strong standing stances. But it’s important to remember that although the body is one important aspect of martial arts, the mind and the spirit are also trained and nourished through training. So anyone, even someone in a wheel chair who cannot walk, can benefit from training in martial arts.
Foot.com: Thank you for your time, Tom, and best of luck with both your karate and Gracie jiu-jitsu programs.