Traditional Iaido practice is done on a hardwood floor. Many new students in Iaido find performing seiza waza quite uncomfortable on a wood floor. Even experienced students will probably find kata starting in tate hiza unpleasant for the left leg. Some groups regular practicing on firm tatami or canvas mats in Aikido or other jujutsu schools may attend seminars done on hardwood gym floors and find practice quite uncomfortable (I know I did!). Even those practicing on a hardwood floor may still find it a bit much to practice without protection all day over several days. The fact that there is some claims that older practitioners who have practiced for many years primarily on hard wood have more knee and other problems than those who practice on mats do may also give one pause. If you visit Japan you are pretty much guaranteed that you will be practice on a bare floor. So there is a need to find a way to take the edge of practicing the traditional way without sacrificing stability or having equipment that gets in the way during performance. I think I have found the best solution available.
I have used many different solutions over the years for extended training on hardwood floors but in my experience by far the best solution is this one. The foam is thick enough to do the job without being so thick that it creates instablility in sitting and moving or shifts the stress onto the ankles and feet. The open back reduces sweating and reduces the need for talcum powder to prevent excessive chaffing of the back of the knee. The ultimate pad is the Trace Extra Long Style Knee Guard for Women’s’ Softball!
the second item on this page is what I use and recommend,
Trace Extra Long Style Knee Guard
(Click image for enlargement)
Premium grade vinyl / nitrile foam pad for maximum protection, while
minimizing compression set. Get protection when fielding and sliding.
Fits comfortably on back of leg without restricting freedom of
movement. Nylon/spandex fabric. 14″ length 3/8″.
similar are the same Softball knee guards can be found here,
You may be able to find it at any local store that carries softball equipment. That is the way I originally discovered them, but so far online seems to be the easiest and reliable way to get them. The one important advantage of finding them in a local store is getting the right size for you. If you get a size too big you may have problems during practice of them shifting too much down your legs which can be annoying if you several kata in a row without break. This is certainly a problem during demonstrations!
However, as great as this is, it still doesn’t protect the top of your feet. If you have a funny kink in a bone on the top of one your feet like I do or other imperfections, sitting in seiza or tate hiza on a hardwood floor can become pure torture. What you don’t want is a lot of padding that interferes with your kata, you want a little dose of neoprene to take the masochism out of your practice!
The right Rx is some ankle neoprene slip-on like these that actually cover the top of the foot and allows you to move well all day on a hardwood floor by exposing as much of the bottom of the foot as possible for decent traction.
These kind of ankle neoprene supports are little easier to find as many national and local drug store chains like CVS or Walgreens carry them in addition to sporting goods stores. The key is to find ones that cover as much of top the foot as possible to do the job of taking the edge off. The neoprene is not as thick and so it may not take away all or most of the discomfort like the kneepads do. I personally think this is a good thing. You want it to be good enough to take away the torture, but not so effective that it removes you so far from the floor that you don’t experience the firmness of the floor. Without some discomfort you won’t be motivated enough to learn good habits. Good habits like not sitting all your weight back on your feet in seiza or tate hiza. When you sit you weight should be shifted further forward taking the pressure of the feet. The thicker padding of the knee guards allows to find a position of greater comfort. This arrangement of padding then is helping you to learn to sit correctly and move correctly and the thinner neoprene on top of your foot becomes a non issue. Over time you may find you can do without the ankle neoprene pullover or no padding at all for shorter practice on a hardwood floor. Therefore too much padding will prevent you from finding this out and leave you dependent on always using padding or practicing on mats.