For the first few Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes I attended, I packed my old wrestling shoes. Up to this point, my entire grappling experience had been in the wrestling room in high school and wrestling shoes were mandatory. Walking into my first few classes I realized that in a BJJ gym the culture around footwear was different.
You should not wear shoes for jiu-jitsu classes. It is frowned upon to wear footwear on the mats unless there is a medical reason to wear them.
I wanted to dive deeper into the topic in order to determine some of the positives and pitfalls of wearing shoes on the jiu-jitsu mat. I did the research and decided to share some of my findings in order to help you make your own decisions about the use of footwear at your own BJJ classes.
If you prefer a video, I recorded one about the use of shoes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on my YouTube channel. I encourage you to check it out below.
Are Wrestling Shoes Allowed in BJJ Competitions?
Wrestling shoes and other footwear are not allowed to be worn in most BJJ competitions. This ensures that competitors do not have an advantage based on the gear on their feet.
You can find IBJJF rules at this link and download the rule book for reference.
If you are just here looking for information on what to bring to your first BJJ class, I go over everything you need to know about your first BJJ class in my post here.
Since shoes aren’t allowed in competition, people who are inclined to compete would best be served by training all of their techniques barefoot since that is how they will need to execute them in a competition setting.
What Changes in BJJ When You Wear Wrestling Shoes?
There are a number of aspects of grappling that will change when you introduce footwear into the equations, this is even more prominent when you are using wrestling shoes that have increased grip on their soles and typically have significant ankle support.
Wrestling Shoes Change Ankle Support and Mobility
Wrestling shoes are designed to support your ankles to prevent sprains and rolled ankles. It will impact grappling because it will allow you to more aggressively pursue your takedowns and other techniques without risking your ankles. This also tends to limit your full-range ankle mobility. Without your full range of mobility on your ankles, it will be more difficult to pull off foot hooks in a variety of situations.
Wrestling Shoes Change Grip and Friction to the Mat
Wrestling shoes are designed to provide a lot of grip on the mat. This is especially noticeable after the mat gets slippery and wet from sweat later into practice sessions. Having increased grip when maneuvering is invaluable when you are grappling. This results in better control in grappling.
Wrestling Shoes Make You More Vulnerable to Grips for Foot Locks and Leg Locks
When you wear wrestling shoes on the mat you will find yourself getting heel-hooked and generally under a lot of leg-locking pressure from anybody who has any competence with those move sets. This will happen primarily because it is far easier to grip onto feet and maintain leg locking positions with the presence of a wrestling shoe due to the relatively easier to control the semi-immobile ankle joint and the presence of the easier-to-grip shoe material.
Should I Wear Shoes on the BJJ Mats with a Foot or Ankle Injury?
When you have a minor foot or ankle injury that you need to protect but still need to or want to train, it might be a situation where you could wear wrestling shoes or some other footwear that could protect or support your injury.
However, before you step foot on a jiu-jitsu mat wearing footwear you really should clear it with your instructor. In general, it is far more respectful to ask permission before you execute something out of the norm in your jiu-jitsu school.
If you like you can benefit from wearing wrestling shoes I recommend these shoes that are available on Amazon since I have had good experiences with them and recommend them to all my training partners.
Take a look below for a representative list of some of the situations in which wearing footwear might be worth doing at a BJJ class.
- Cuts, burns, and toenail damage – depending on where exactly the injury is and what level of damage you have you might not be able to adequately protect it with athletic tape and could benefit from instead using some type of shoe.
- Twisted ankles and ankle sprains – wrestling shoes, in particular, can support your ankle and reduce your reinjury risk on minor twisted ankles and sprained ankles.
- Stress fractures and broken bones post-recovery – after you have given your bones time to heal up properly, you will likely feel that the area is a little bit weak and vulnerable upon getting back. There’s nothing wrong with a few sessions of being extra cautious.
Generally speaking, if you have a legitimate medical reason your instructor and your training partners will be understanding and supportive of you using a shoe and won’t hold it against you.
Check out my post on athletic cups if you want to know whether or not you should be wearing a groin guard when you train in jiu-jitsu.
Are There Alternatives to Shoes for BJJ with a Foot Injury?
There are a few alternatives you can use to help with minor injuries on your feet that won’t require the use of a wrestling shoe or other form of footwear.
- Use Athletic Tape – using athletic tape is extremely common in jiu-jitsu for all types of minor injuries. It can be used to prevent bleeding from open cuts and can even be used to create support by taping toes together or stabilizing a joint like an ankle.
- Socks – if you don’t trust your ability to tape up your injuries you can wear a fresh tight-fitting sock that you put on right before getting onto the mat. It can help with protecting some cuts etc. but if you’re into training BJJ seriously you really should look into learning proper taping techniques. They’re all over YouTube.
What to Do When Wearing Wrestling Shoes on the BJJ Mat
After you have spoken to your instructors and received clearance to wear shoes on the mat, you can get on the mat and lace them up on the mat. However, keep in mind that just because you are wearing shoes doesn’t mean that you can walk anywhere in them.
Wrestling Shoes Should Only Be Worn on the Mat
Whenever you are training wearing a wrestling shoe you need to be absolutely certain that they are not worn anywhere else. This is for hygiene purposes and to keep your training area safe from all manner of germs. Never wear your training shoes on other surfaces, and especially never wear them to the bathroom.
Clean Your Wrestling Shoes
I’ve talked to people who resist the idea of cleaning their wrestling shoes after use. I couldn’t imagine training in a gi I’ve worn every day for a week without washing due to the bacteria and odors that would accumulate. It is important to make sure that you are at the very least spraying your wrestling shoes down with some rubbing alcohol if you aren’t going to properly wash your shoes.
In most cases, it is not appropriate to wear wrestling shoes or other footwear during normal jiu-jitsu classes. Many moving parts of grappling change significantly so without a very compelling reason you should avoid using footwear.
I personally have never needed to wear them but have had several training partners with sprained ankles and large cuts that have temporarily used wrestling shoes on occasion. Always run it past your instructor and be mindful when you need to use them.
If you are interested in information about the use of shoes in other martial arts check out my post Do You Wear Shoes in Martial Arts?
Wearing a mouth guard is something that you should consider doing to maximize your safety while training. I have a post here that is worth checking out if you want to know why it is so important.