A couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Chinatown in NYC for a late-night snack. After a great meal at Wo Hop Chinese Food restaurant, I decided to browse some of the local tourist shops for a pair of Tai Chi Shoes. I wanted a pair of tai chi shoes I could use when I practice tai chi on a smooth wooden floor. I was looking to purchase a pair of the traditional tai chi shoes with the plastic sole. I walked into the first store I found that visibly carried tai chi shoes and asked the lady working in the store if they had a pair of shoes in my size. I told her my shoe size, the Tai Chi shoes she sold were sized with a much higher numbering system then we are used to in the US. The clerk opened a cabinet that contained a large amount of tai chi shoes. She rummaged through quite a few pairs of shoes for me to try on.
RUBBER SOLE TAI CHI SHOES
After a few tries, I found my size in the traditional plastic bottom sole tai chi shoe. I then noticed mixed into the pile of shoes she was digging through a pair with cotton bottoms. This pair of shoes looked to me to be a better quality tai chi shoe, they even had a slight cushion to the sole. It was relatively late at night and the clerk mentioned that the store would be closing in a few minutes. I had to make a quick decision so I purchased what was the seemingly better quality tai chi shoe with the cotton bottom and then headed home. I live a long distance from New York City.
The first thing the next morning I decided to try out my new Tai Chi Shoes. I put the shoes on and they felt very comfortable. When I began practicing my tai chi form it felt like my feet were sliding out from under me. The whole time I was practicing my form it felt like I was just trying not to slip. Maybe they just need some time to get used to it. In my opinion, these cotton bottom tai chi shoes were way too slippery to use on a smooth wooden surface.
*Update: On December 19, 2015, I took another trip to Chinatown NYC and visited the same store to buy a pair of plastic bottom Tai Chi shoes. I am size 10.5 US and fit into a size 45 comfortably. I ended up paying $12.00 for the pair. I knew I might be slightly overpaying for the new pair of Tai Chi shoes but it was late at night and I didn't want to shop around.
COTTON BOTTOM TAI CHI SHOES
I left the store and walked around Chinatown a little more, I found another store that sold Kung Fu and Martial Art supplies. I asked "Do you sell these Tai Chi shoes here?" the merchant replied, "Yes, they are $7.00 a pair." I realized that if you shop around and browse a few stores you can get the best price.
The next morning I tried the shoes out and found the traditional flat plastic sole Tai Chi shoes were perfect for use on a hardwood floor. The plastic bottom Tai Chi shoes slide and grip the floor very well. I may have paid a little extra money but I am definitely happy with my choice. I have come to the conclusion that the cotton bottom Tai Chi shoes are best used on a carpet while the traditional Tai Chi plastic bottom shoe can be used for both carpeting and pavement.
In summary, to date, my most used and worn pair of Tai Chi shoes is the rubber bottom shoe. Second is my pair of white Kung Fu shoes, and my least used and almost brand new Tai Chi shoe is my cotton-bottom Tai Chi shoe. For me, my favorite would be a slip-on Kung Fu shoe. Just like the white pair in the photo to the right. Only they would not have shoelaces.
Do you practice Tai Chi on carpeting, concrete, or hardwood? That is the question you should ask yourself. When choosing a Tai Chi shoe, choose a pair that fits your need.