Savate and French Weaponry

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I- The Stick: object of domination, mythology and legends: During ancient times, the stick had a special significance and in most cultures at certain periods in time, it manifested itself as a prestigious object: Tutankhamen was found laid down in his tomb with a stick in his hand. In ancient Greece and Rome, the Gods often held one in their hands, symbolizing their power and wisdom.

The Scipio was the ivory staff which Greek consuls possessed. The sceptre was proudly held by the Roman emperors. In the Bible, the staff of Jacob was called qanéh in Hebrew that became canna in Latin. Finally in French it was baptised as ‘canne’.

II- Brief History: During the middle Ages, the popularity of the staff and the stick increased at all levels, that is to say within different levels of social classes.

Medieval society included peasants, clergy, royalty, and soldiers, each of these castes used the stick or staff as symbols or weapons (tools). Soldiers referred to the staff as a ‘baston’, many variations of the weapon were created.

The staff, was primarily a poor mans tool used by shepherds and pilgrims, as a walking support for their long and tiring hikes, but also for self-defence purposes against thugs or bandits wandering on the roads of France and Europe.

At the beginning of the Renaissance period, the stick started to have a resurgence in popularity and in the popular minds of the masses. In the past it was an object associated with people of lower class within society, such as robbers or rogues. The aristocrats had a habit of using it for the punishment against their subordinates: it was called “la bastonnade.”

King of France Louis XIV reintroduced la canne as a noble extension of the arm by walking with it wherever he would go. From this very moment no aristocrat would leave his home without having ‘la canne.’ It is also at that time that the duels using the rapier (duelling sword) was abolished. By the end of the 18th century wearing a sword became strictly forbidden. People however would still walk with their cane. The canne would replace the sword thus a self-defence system was born. The style was actually very similar of the French style of fencing. More and more la canne became an object of art and fashion. Balzac (top-notched author of the time and among the classic author in the French literature today) wrote:

The cane was such a popular object that it became very versatile in its functions: canne-‚p‚e (sword-cane), canne-parapluie (umbrella-cane), etc.

“One can guess the wit of a gentleman through the way he wears la canne.”

Just like Savate Boxe Fran‡aise and Chausson, la canne was taught by the maÅ’tres d’armes (Master at Arms). Their role (and business) was to promote and teach all the aspects of the self-defence (usually taught to wealthy men): fencing, stick fighting (la canne de combat), staff fighting (le baton) including empty-hand styles: savate, chausson marseillais & lutte parisienne. They were all seen as complimentary to each other, one wouldn’t learn any of them without the others.

Interesting to note is that ‘La canne de combat’ was a mandatory discipline for the ground troops of the French army until 1914.

Wearing the cane became out of fashion in the 1930’s, la canne de combat as a defence tool and its teaching became obsolete and then forgotten. It is only in the mid 70’s that Maurice Sarry went back to the roots of the French fighting system to develop “la Canne de Combat” as a competition sport along with the techniques of the staff that remained a true self-defence weapon.

III- La Canne de Combat: A Sport.

La Canne de Combat is sport where the canniste (stick-fighter) holds a stick made of chestnut wood of about 95 cm of length. The cannistes are equipped with quilted outfits and fencing-type helmets to protect them from the impact of the cane. One can only score while touching his opponent with the tip of la canne (last third of the cane), his arm must be completely extended. One can only strike with the lead arm and lead of the leg (same side). The strike has to be properly chambered as a kick must be in Savate. The chambering demand is due to historical and cultural reasons: in the unfriendly streets of Paris (or any big city in France) one could easily be mugged and surrounded by a gang of thugs, an ample and big swinging movement of the arm would lead the cane to make a “circle of protection” around the defender.

Les coups d’estoc (Spiking or thrusting strikes) have long been abolished in the sport but were intensively used for self-defence purposes like one would do with a sword while fencing.

Tireurs, saluez!

En garde.

IV- Le Baton

Le Baton remains much more pragmatic and efficient in its handling, because of its height, weight and its potential inertia while swinging and spinning. It is considered a very destructive weapon. As a result it is left out of any competition event. The basic techniques are similar to those of la canne with a two-hand grip. Contrarily la canne, one can change the position of the grip on le baton for a wider range of techniques.