Monday, April 22, 2013


Okinawa at sunrise - sketch by Soke Hausel
Ever wonder why Okinawan martial arts are practiced without shoes; while Chinese martial artists wear shoes? It’s because of geology!

Japan is a volcanic island with more than 200 volcanoes (20 are classified as active). In the southern reaches of Japan, 50 or so of the Ryukyu islands (Okinawa) are formed primarily of uplifted coral reefs (limestone) with lesser volcanics. The subtropical climate and tropical vegetation of Okinawa are favorable for chemical breakdown and disintegration of these rocks converting them into soil. This is the reason why Okinawa has so many caves. During World War II, this was a problem for the Allies during Operation Iceberg in an 82-day battle for Okinawa that began with an amphibious assault. During the operation, Allied forces had to search hundreds of caves in karst topography to drive out Japanese soldiers and snipers.

Because of weathering and erosion of limestone (as well as some volcanics), large parts of Okinawa today are blanketed by soil with some sandy beaches. Many rock exposures in Okinawa are formed of limestone (similar to concrete). The combination of limestone, tropical weather, and soil produced good surfaces for running around without shoes.

Soke Hausel practices side kicks (yoko geri kokomi) on the 1.4 billion year
old Sherman Granite between Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyoming.
In contrast, China is underlain by what geologists call “craton”, a very old continental core with many hard and protruding rocks: the weather in many places of China is also cold. For geologists, cratons are great places to find gold, diamond and other gemstones. Anyway, as a result of the hard rocks and variation in climate, much of the Chinese population wears shoes.

So it’s all about the feet, rocks, weather and climate. Those of us in Arizona, Utah and Wyoming should consider the periodic training in shoes, so we can match our local geology. But it doesn’t matter. If one day you end up having to defend yourself, you won’t even realize you are wearing shoes.