The Savate

The Savate | What is Savate | Savate History | Savate and French Weaponry | Savate Knife Fencing | Martial Art Sport of France | Origins of Savate | The Street Shoes | Ranking and Rules | Defence in Savate | Savate Disciplines | The French Connection | Savate In Popular Culture | Thinking Man’s Kickboxing | Batons of Western Mediterranean | The Chair Combat

Savate (pronounced savat), also known as boxe française, French boxing, French Kickboxing or French Footfighting, is a French martial art which uses both the hands and feet as weapons and combines elements of western boxing with graceful kicking techniques.

Only foot kicks are allowed, unlike some systems, such as Muay Thai and Silat, which allow the use of the knees or shins. Savate is perhaps the only style of kickboxing in which the fighters habitually wear shoes (savate being a French synonym for “old shoe”). A practitioner of savate is called a savateur (male) or savateuse (female).

From street fighting origins, to aristocratic self-defence, to secret sub cultures and to counter terrorist unarmed combat, Savate has developed a multi-discipline and improvisation approach to personal combat.

It has evolved into a hitting and grappling system, which the feet play a major strategic role. Integrated with its unique weaponry it offers a time tested and educational collection of disciplines for recreation and personal combat.

From mayhem to artistic efficiency this unique, ancient yet modern system is the expression of the 21-century.

According to Michel Delahaye, in his book La Boxe Fran̤aise, Ergo Press, April 1989, the French style of fighting with the hands and feet, known as Boxe Francaise (French Boxing), was assimilated by Charles Lecour (1808 Р94), the son of a French baker.

In 1832. Prior to that time, a method of fighting existed in old Paris where the combatants kicked one another with their everyday shoes on.

The common name for a street shoe at that time was “savate” (pronounced sa-vat), which simply meant ‘old shoe’. The name savate, therefore, became associated with this particular method of street-fighting.

Those early street brawls did not stop at kicking however, as gouging, wrestling and headbutting are also said to have taken place.

The first person to make an attempt to systematise savate was Michel Casseux (aka) Pisseux (1794 – 1869), who opened the first ‘official’ Salle (training establishment) in 1825. Unfortunately, savate was still recognised by many as a style of street-fighting, and therefore, initially only attracted those of dubious means and character.

Savate takes its name from the French for “old boot” (heavy footwear that used to be worn during fights). The modern formalized form is mainly an amalgam of French street fighting techniques from the beginning of the 19th century. Savate was then a type of street fighting common in Paris and northern France. In the south, especially in the port of Marseille, sailors developed a fighting style involving high kicks and open-handed slaps.

It is conjectured that the kicks were done so as to allow the kicker to use a free hand for balance on a rocking ship’s deck, and that the kicks and slaps were used on land to avoid the legal penalties for using a closed fist, which was considered a deadly weapon under the law. It was known as jeu marseillais (“game from Marseille”), and was later renamed chausson (“slipper”, after the type of shoes the sailors wore). In contrast, at this time in England (the home of boxing and the Queensberry rules), kicking was seen as unsportsmanlike. Traditional savate or chausson was at this time also developed in the ports of North-West Italy and North-Eastern Spain.

The two key historical figures in the history of the shift from street-fighting to the modern sport of savate are Michel Casseux (also known as le Pisseux) (1794–1869), a French pharmacist, and Charles Lecour (1808–1894). Casseux opened the first establishment in 1825 for practicing and promoting a regulated version of chausson and savate (disallowing head butting, eye gouging, grappling, etc).

However the sport had not shaken its reputation as a street-fighting technique. Casseux’s pupil Charles LeCour was exposed to the English art of boxing when he was defeated in a friendly sparring match by British pugilist Owen Swift around 1830 and felt that he was at a disadvantage, only using his hands to bat his opponent’s fists away, rather than to punch. He trained in boxing for two years before, in 1832, combining boxing with chausson and savate to create the sport of savate (or boxe française’, as we know it today).

At some point la canne and le baton stickfighting were added, and some form of stick-fencing, such as la canne, is commonly part of savate training. Those who train purely for competition may omit this. Savate was developed professionally by LeCour’s student Joseph Charlemont and then his son Charles Charlemont.

Savate was later codified under a Committee National de Boxe Francaise under Charles Charlemont’s student Count Pierre Baruzy (dit Barrozzi). The Count is seen as the father of modern savate and was 11-times Champion of France and its colonies, his first ring combat and title prior to World War One. A student of the Count, Baron James Shortt of Castleshort, established boxe francaise savate in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Defense de la Rue is the name given to those methods of fighting excluded from savate competition.