When I began Systema, I wore wrestling shoes. I used to wear them during my brief stint on a high school wrestling team so I thought that I should also wear them at Fight Club. I enjoyed the extra grip that the shoes provided. I wasn’t the only one. Lots of us more shoes at that time. Unfortunately, the extra grip put too much strain on the mats so Emmanuel put an informal ban on the practice when we moved to the current club from Coxwell.

It was easier to hold a push up while wearing shoes with grips. Wearing socks, I found that my feet slipped, putting more strain on my abdominals. Sparring drills became more difficult as well. I couldn’t keep my ground. Socks, at that time, put me at a tremendous disadvantage. It wasn’t long before I took the socks off and went bare feet. Skin on the mat gripped enough to prevent slipping. I trained that way for years.

Four months ago, however, I badly injured one of my toes. Wrestling and working bare footed led to aggravations of that injury. My toe kept catching on the mat or on someone’s body, leaving me in a great deal of pain. Socks, ironically, suddenly became a solution to my problem.

What I was surprised to discover is that training with socks on did not pose the same difficulty for me that it had before. For instance, I can hold a push up now wearing socks without any extra effort and perform all of the other drills without impediment.  Somewhere along the way I must have learned to distribute and apply my weight to stabilize my position!

I’m not sure what the lesson of all this is. One lesson might be that hard work sometimes produces invisible, unexpected benefits. I spent a long time working on distributing my weight evenly and on keeping good form in the push up position. Another lesson is that small changes reveal big truths. Shoes and bare feet were for me not so much a crutch as they were training wheels. When I gave myself a more slippery surface to work on, the subtlety of my skills (meager as they are) became apparent. So perhaps every once and a while we need to tweak things just a tiny little bit. Doing so (I cannot resist the pun) keeps us on our toes.

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