Barefoot all over, all over: Part SIX: Historical Shoes

All of This Thing about Shoes is Relatively Recent History.

These ol’ boots don’t agree with me

These ol’ boots probably don’t agree with me

I hear this a lot. “…they’ve (we’ve) been wearing something on our feet for the last 5,000 years or more.” Nah, sorry. I don’t see that as correct.

Today, when you head to India, vast areas of Africa and many other huge areas of the third world, most commonly, people are barefoot.

The Native American’s, until they were decimated, etc., mostly wore no shoes, or light soles. It is mostly the Europeans and their influence and relatively recently at that, that gave us the stiff constricting leather, which became popular norm. Rubber soles are new since just the fifties, something that further insolates us from the Earth and those energies. Even shod European countries saw bare feet commonly, until more recently. European shoes were light and form fitting and used for practical reasons, until it became a social status thing. There have been exceptions of course, and some very bizarre ones at that.

I remember the “Naked and Afraid” show. They had taken off across the desert barefoot, putting water as a priority, knowing about the numerous prickers from the local shrubs. I yelled at the screen, “No, make some shoes, fool.” They suffered infection, pain, bloody tenderness, when they could have made foot protection in an hour or two. I sat back smugly, crossing my arms and thought, “I told you so.” There can be a place for foot protection in travel and the hunt.

Sandals of reed and some thick leather were used to protect feet and keep them warm, often with socks. Sure, protection for the top of the foot and shin guards are handy in a shield wall, but even for combat, when it got close at hand, bare or nearly bare feet were recognized as better for grip, balance, and fluid movement, by the masters of sword and combat.

Horses were status, so riding boot style was popular and maybe practical, but those guys didn’t walk. The heels were great for a stirrup, but the function wasn’t any good off a horse, except to make mister macho look taller.

It is certain that people have been using foot protection in many circumstances for a very long time, but bare feet in most instances are better, easier, and require less energy to produce and therefore have been preferable in most circumstances. This thing of getting up in the morning into slippers, and continuing with modern shoes for every purpose is new. The common Joe didn’t wear shoes nearly always and in warm climates, many never did and still don’t.

Like clothing in general, these modern shoes make little sense and they are unhealthy.

The end result:

Not to be argumentative, but I must throw a few bits out. Boots, all or most of the time, no matter how well made are ultimately bad for health. For around forty plus years, I mostly wore handmade custom boots mostly made by a craftsman who knew feet better than my podiatrist. After all of those years, I began to realize back and foot problems associated with those perfectly fitting boots. I stopped that. Going barefoot, near barefoot, massage, earthing, with time and patience have made dramatic corrections to those ailments.

I sometimes stub my toe on the trail. This is when I’m tired and dragging my feet like I used to do with heavier boots and I’m moving more heel to toe. If I pick up my feet as my bio-mechanics require, that seldom would happen, if I’m aware of what I’m doing. I might also add to being aware, that my bifocal glasses cause a lot of blinded toe mishaps.

Walking Sticks:

I see the point of a walking stick and see it as mostly personal preference. I suspect for millennia it has been a matter of preference and protection, a tool. My walking stick served me well when I wore boots. This had to do with helping me to loosen up my body movements that had been restricted by boots. The swing of a cane creates a rhythmical saunter. It also helped a body balance that was leaning forward off of heals. When I’m more barefoot, I have better balance and find the walking sticks get in my way, especially when I’m climbing over things and could need the use of my hands and arms. There are so many good uses for walking sticks. It is too bad that they tend to turn into a crutch. They are nice to lean on when I’m standing, but certainly not necessary.

A long stick is handy to flick a rattle snake off of the trail, or the snake bites it first, or for testing dark areas and tall grass. I used to do many medieval martial arts. With that knowledge, I once had a good battle with a very quick bull snake who would rather get run over that get out of the way of my truck tires. I had gotten out, coaxing it away from the road. It then crawled further under the truck. It got a swish, certainly didn’t understand my good intentions, and curled up ready for battle. I was glad for the stick and my training, I was quick, like the snake as it struck at me. Realizing that I was just too much bother, it retired off of the road and to a safe place.


You learn a lot when you’re barefoot. The first thing is every step you take is different.
Michael Franti

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