Savate (meaning “old boot”) is a martial art, similar to kickboxing, from France developed from a Parisian street fighting style used around the late 18thand early 19thcentury and a fighting style used by sailors in the Western Mediterranean.
Although the beginnings of Savate came from the Paris slums, formalisation of a fighting style using predominantly kicking, rather than punching (as was the case in English boxing at the time) began with the French Navy developing Chausson— meaning “slipper,” in reference to the sailors’ footwear at the time. Chausson soon became a local street game about Marseille, Aubagne and Toulonand was named jeu Marseillais (game from Marseilles).
During the Napoleonic Wars the average Frenchman’s exposure to Chausson increased as they were conscripted into fighting, which served to spread the fighting style and perhaps was influential in exposing Chausson and Savate practitioners to each other. At the time both Savate and Chausson did not involve striking the opponent with the fists, probably due to fist fighting being outlawed by the French government. Instead, they preferred to use open-hand techniques such as slapping to defend against kicks and to strike opponents. Again, another influence on Savate came during the Napoleonic Wars with French prisoners of war being exposed to boxing by their British captors, but it was until much later did boxing make its way into the fighting style.
During the 19thcentury, Savate became the fighting style of choice for the Surete Nationale, the first undercover detectives to work in the Parisian underworld, formed of ex-convicts by Eugene Francois Vidocq (1775-1857). Savate was still regarded as a brutish style of fighting by the general public, due to its origins in Paris slums, but from the early 1800s it became an interest of many of the young aristocrats, who often used it as a means of settling disputes and matters of honour.
Savate began to be regulated with the opening of the first salle (official training school) by the famous instructor Michel Casseux (1794-1869), also known by his nickname of le Pisseux. Disallowing such techniques as head butting, eye gouging and grappling, Cassaux created a system of Savate and added la canne (cane fencing), calling it the “Art of Savate.” He went on to teach to many famous members of French society but it was his most outstanding student, Charles Lecour (1808-1894), who had a great impact on the style. Lecour was responsible for introducing boxing into Savate after seeing a bout between English pugilist Owen Swift and Jack Adams in 1838 and later in the year engaging in a friendly sparring session with Swift. Lecour noted that his hand techniques verses the Swift’s punches were sadly lacking in effectiveness and so he engaged in a boxing training regime in order to lean the techniques for introduction into Savate. He went on to name this adaptation of the style as la Boxe Francaise.
One of the most important Savateurs to emerge during the mid 19thcentury was Joseph Pierre Charlemont (1830-1914). A student of Lecour’s, he built a formidable reputation through defeating a large number of exponents of various other fighting systems. Charlemontprofessionalized Savate by developing a defensive and educational system succeeded by his son Charles Charlemont who himself contributed greatly to the development of the system as a regulated and professional martial art.
Through the work of Count Pierre Baruzy — one of Charles Charlemont's students and 11-time Champion of France and its colonies — Savate was later codified under a Committee National de Boxe Francaise. Savate was split into different disciplines —Savate de Defense, Defense Savate, Savate de Rue — to remove elements which were not included in the sport version.
With the coming of the 20thcentury Savate became wore wide spread, travelling across the globe to many countries, and due to this appeal was formed into two distinct disciplines of self-defence and sport. In 1924 Savate received a point of notoriety when it was included as a demonstration sport at the Paris Olympic Games (at which Count Pierre Baruzy won two championships), which prompted a promotional tour to London with demonstrations being held at the famous Southwark boxing stadium, "The Ring," in 1927. In America from the late 1920s, and throughout the Second World War, Savate was included in the syllabus taught to the Marines, the F.B.I. and Department of Justice, while in France many of the French Resistance were trained in the fighting art.
In 2008, Savate was recognised by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) - this recognition allows Savate to hold official University World Championships, the first will be held in Nantes, France in 2010. The 25th anniversary of the founding of the International Savate Federation, in March 2010, was celebrated with a visit to Lausanne, to meet with IOC President Jacques Rogge. FIS President Gilles Le Duigou was presented with a momento depicting the Olympic Rings. In April 2010, the International Savate Federation was accepted as a member of SportAccord (previously known as AGFIS) - a big step forward on the road to Olympic recognition.
Characteristics and Structure
Savate, also known as boxe Française, French boxing, French Kickboxing or French Footfighting, uses the hands and feet to strike the opponent. Kicking is only done with the feet, knee and shin techniques are not allowed. A male practitioner of Savate is called a Savateur while a female is called a Savateuse.
Savate has two distinct disciplines or schools, la Savate Defense — self-defence aspects, which include training in la Canne,le Baton (staff or baton fighting), le Couteau (knife fighting),le Poignard (dagger fighting), la Chaise (chair techniques) and le Manteau (overcoat techniques) — and la Boxe Française-Savate — more commonly known internationally as just Savate.
Savate practitioners wear shoes during training and bouts, as well as other protective gear such as mouth guards, groin guards, headgear and shin guards. Clothing during training is often a t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, but during official competitions an Integrale (all-in-one tunic) is often worn.
Within the sport version of Savate there are three levels of competition:
Assault – allows competitors to focus on and develop technique, minimum contact.
Pre-combat – fighters wear head gear, shin guards and such, full-contact fighting.
Combat – no protective gear other than groin protection and mouth guards, most intense level of full-contact fighting.
Ranking within Savate takes the form of glove colours to indicate the practitioner’s level of proficiency, although this is more symbolic than actual as fighters do not have to change their gloves every time they progress to the next level. Often coloured patches with the symbol of a glove are worn on the shirt to indicate the level currently held. Ranking order and colour are as follows:
Silver gloves are for those students of outstanding ability, with multiple levels of silver following, much like dan grades on other martial arts. Beginning student start out with no-colour gloves. From the ranking of red glove students may take testing and training to become an instructor. Teaching ranks include Initiateur, Aide-Moniteur, Moniteur and Professeur, the rank of Professeur taking 8 to 12 years of study to acquire.The level at which a student can begin competing varies according to the association they belongs too. In France competition begins at the level of yellow glove, in Belgium green, in the US a novice of 6 months may begin competing and in Russia a student can begin with no-colour gloves.
Technique wise, the permissible forms of strikes, kicking and punching, allowed in the self-defence and sport versions of Savate vary. Sport Savate only permits four types of kicking — which can be high (figure), medium (median) or low (bas) — and punching:
fouetté– roundhouse using the point of the toe
chassé– side or front thrust kick
revers– hooking kick making using the sole of the shoe
coup de pied bas– sweep kick to the shin using the inner edge of the shoe
direct bras avant – jab
direct bras arrière– cross
Savate Defense has included, besides the above strikes, techniques using knee and elbow strikes, locks, sweeps, throws, head butts and takedowns. Additonal kicks to the defence system include:
chassé italien– a kick to the attacker's inner thigh with the toe pointed at the groin
coup de pied bas de frappe– coup de pied bas to the attacker's lead leg
Links of Interest: