It is a regular trend for me to use topics from my own training for posts on here. Today is no exception. We have recently been looking into purchasing the somewhat standard interlocking mats that you see in many Karate schools around the world. I would like to discuss the pros and cons of having foam mat flooring. While there are many different styles available, I am going to talk about the most common mats available, the 40″x40″ interlocking mat. These come in a large variety of colors, the most common being red and blue. Some of the more recent ones are available double sided with red on one side and blue on the other so that you can change the floor layout when needed.
Let us for examine reasons why it would be beneficial to have floor mats, as opposed to a wooden floor. The most apparent benefit is that foam padding feels much better on your body when you get thrown to the ground. In Karate-Do schools that practice take downs, sweeps, and throws, this is a huge benefit. When your fellow Karateka are not broken, they are more likely to come back and train with you again. Even with thinner mats, such as a 7/8″ mat, this is still significantly better for your body then falling on a wooden floor, or worse, concrete. I currently train in a former racquetball court with all wooden flooring. There are numerous times that we have to perform our movements at a slower speed or without actual completing the full movement for fear of hurting our training partner. This does not make a huge impact on our overall training, but it is a limiting factor and can be quite annoying at times. One of the benefits that I have taken advantage of at my Sensei’s dojo is that with different colored mats, we were able to define a space for sparing. While using duct tape or masking tape to make a square will work, it is not as apparent as two distinct colors on the floor. While you can find tape as you are trying to fight someone, it is hard to miss when the floor suddenly changes from blue to red. Another neat benefit is being able to track where you move during kata or exercises. The mats are normally either 20″x20″ or 40″x40″ and make distinct lines. These lines can be used to quickly line up a class of children or help you keep track of where you start and end a kata.
Now that we know all of the reasons a Karateka would want to train on these awesome mats, lets consider some of the pitfalls. The biggest one that I can remember is stubbing your foot. This normally the result of carelessness, and in retrospect the wooden floor may hurt more, but I have stubbed my toe on the mats and it leaves a pretty bad brush burn on your skin. Another problem is that, while a Karateka may be unwilling to try a movement for fear of hurting his partner on a wooden floor, that same Karateka may be willing to try a dangerous movement when they feel reassured that the mat will prevent any injury. Practice and proper instruction are the only things you need to prevent an injury, and more often than not, when you do not have proper instruction, no amount of padding will prevent the injury. The final argument that I can see against mats in a Karate dojo is one of nostalgia. If you compare photos of the Matayoshi Kodukan with that of an American Family Martial Arts school, you can quickly understand why people complain that using mats takes away from the look of a traditional karate school. If you however are in a racquetball court like myself, then you didn’t look like a martial arts dojo before and haven’t lost anything by adding mats.
There are many arguments for and against mats in a dojo. I am going to lean towards the side of safety over nostalgia. Although I think that every school should dream of having the kind of reputation that the Matayoshi Kodukan gained, there is no reason that this can not be done while providing all members the best safety equipment available. If anyone has differing opinions, please feel free to share them. Additionally, if you have a suggestion of a great mat/retailer, I have not placed my order yet for our new mats.