Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An answer on the MBT "Barefoot" shoe

Someone asked about my opinion of this shoe a while back, after some research I have one

Don't Get Them!

I predict that these shoes will cause some serious damage over time, and they do not promote a more natural barefoot-like stride.

Also, they do not have anything to do with how the Maasai walk or run.

I lived in East Africa for some time, Arusha, Tanzania to be exact. I had (and took every chance I got) the opportunity to interact with and observe the Maasai people in detail. (note on spelling: The people to whom the name belongs prefer the spelling "Maasai" while the English dictionary spells it "Masai" I follow the wishes of the Maasai people in this, spell checker be damned)

As a people, I found them entirely admirable, though like all indigenous peoples, they had their problems.

One of the things I loved about them is that they refused to be assimilated into modern East Africa, and met the "dominant" culture on their own terms while doing everything possible to retain their cultural identity.

It is easy to spot Maasai, they will be wearing their traditional clothing rather than dressing like Europeans. This includes the shuka, a rectangle of plaid cloth in red and black (or purple and black) and sandals made from old tire. I'm not sure when they moved from leather to tire for their footwear, but it was some time back from what I understand.

You will notice in these pictures that when at rest, the front end of this sort of footwear tends to be a bit lifted off the ground and that the toes are quite far behind the lift. This is because the Maasai like to have some protection for the sides of their feet.

There are lots of thorns and other hazards to contend in the bush as a cattle herder, and the upturned sides of the sandal do offer substantial protection.

You will notice though that it is only the toes that are slightly elevated during rest, and most of the foot is flat on the ground.

when walking with the standard heel to toe motion there is no real effect, the sandal tends to flatten out under the person's weight and the bit of roll that happens at the toe has little effect, at least not for me when I experimented with Maasai footwear.

When the Maasai run, they use the same forefoot strike I have found all over Africa. I have never seen a Maasai run in the way that the MBT people advocate. The natural curve of the Maasai sandal actually aids a forefoot landing because there is no padding or support.

And of course, when the Maasai are relaxing and having fun, the sandals tend to come off.

Now here is what the MBT does to your stride.


I was near the good running gear store in this town yesterday, and tried a pair of these things out. I wouldn't wear them again on a bet. I found the movement to be completely unnatural to the way I walk and run.

Then there is another problem.

I looked all over the MBT website, and couldn't find a single thing about what this group was giving the Maasai for the appropriation of their name.

Personally, I have no love for companies that exploit a connection to indigenous peoples for their own profit, and do nothing to either get permission to do so, or make sure any of those profits go to the people who they are using.

So if MBT is in fact doing that, they should be boycotted on moral grounds, regardless of how good their shoe is. and in my opinion the shoe is not so good. The heels strike the shoe forces is going to send a shock up the leg that you really don't need. The really high portion under the mid-foot is going to destabilize your foot's arch just at the point in the stride when it needs to be strongest and most stable (at least that's how it felt to my feet).

My take is that this is just another one of those ideas that looked good on paper, but does not bear out in the real world.

Here's a little theme music to go with the review.


1 comment:

Steve Perry said...

Got to love Tracy. Heir to Joan Armatrading ...