I'm starting to notice that only after a few weeks away from training the callouses on my feet are starting to soften up. One might think that this isn't such a big deal and that they will start to rebuild themselves as soon as I return. A few months after I arrived at the dojo I began to appreciate the importance of the callous. On the surface (no pun intended) it's quite obvious that callouses are good simply to keep the feet tough, true indeed. But upon further introspection into the deeper nature of the callous in relation to martial arts training I was able to determine exactly why I appreciate the callous sooo much.
In some of my earliest blogs I wrote about my feet cracking, splitting and concequently bleeding. An annoyingly painful situation made worse only by the realization that it wouldn't go away because I was training so much. All of the more experienced deshi told me to just grimace and stick it out and that my body would get used to it. Of course this is their general response to any painful or uncomfortable ailment, a blanket statemet that is the equivalent to a doctor suggesting Advil for a slipped disc.
So back to the prodding question of WHY the callous is so important. The callouses on my big toe, heel and ball of the foot makes those spots hard which in turn allows them to slide on the mat just a bit. I've started to really depend on this slide for lots of little things which are going to be particularly hard to put into words but the single most important thing is the slide. If the feet can slide then they can't stick. Soft, ie. sticky, feet... well... stick to the mat. You might think that sticking to the mat is a good thing and it is in the sense of gaining traction. But if the toes stick then the equally soft skin between and underneath the toes tears and cracks. The callouses allow just enough slide between mat and foot so that the skin isn't stretched to the point of failure. Once the callouses on my feet reached a certain level the cracking stopped. That's not to say that you can't ignore the callouses once they've gotten there. You need to take care of the callous. Appreciate the callous, love the callous. Callouses themselves can get too dry and leathery leading to cracking so remember to moisturize every now and again.
If you are interested in training on a full time basis or just on a higher level you need to build up the callouses on your feet. Try going barefoot for a bit and stick to sandals or flip-flops. Wearing shoes and socks tended to keep my feet soft and prevent the growth of callouses and I suspect has been the main reason for the break-down of the ones I've got. If your feet have started to crack already or if they do then there are a few things to do so that you can continue training. First off for a quick fix make sure that the cracks/tears are clean and the bleeding has stopped, then dump a fair amount of superglue in the crack. Stings like hell but it definitely works, don't bother with the liquid bandaid stuff, it stings just as much and doesn't to the job. Use Neosporin and bandaids at night when you're sleeping and your toes aren't moving around so much, again don't bother trying this during the day.
This is just my two cents for getting your feet ready for what's to come if you're interested in this level of martial arts training. Appetizing I know but this stuff will come in handy! Enjoy!