Savate, ( Middle French: “old shoe”) French sport of fighting by kicking, practiced from the early 19th century. It occurred mainly among the lower orders of Parisian society. When savate died out, its more skillful elements were combined with those of English bare-knuckle pugilism to produce la boxe française. The name savate continued to be used to describe any form of fighting in which the use of the feet was permitted. Two classic blows were a back heel aimed at the stomach and a double mule kick in the face delivered from a handstand position.
The pioneer of la boxe française, or modern savate, was Charles Lecour, who opened a school in Paris in the 19th century. Lecour developed a form in which both punching and kicking were used. The sport became popular for a time, and public exhibitions were staged, but enthusiasm for it waned in the 20th century.
Savate is similar to Muay Thai, which is a full-contact kickboxing style that is practiced in Thailand, and Khmer kickboxing, a related style from neighbouring Cambodia. Savate may owe its origin to those sports, as France historically had a large presence in Southeast Asia (most notably during the existence of French Indochina) and there was a good deal of cultural exchange between the countries in the region.
History of Savate:
Savate takes its name from the French for "old shoe" (heavy footwear, especially the boots used by French military and sailors) (cf. French-English loanwords sabot and sabotage and Spanish cognate zapato). The modern formalized form is mainly an amalgam of French street fighting techniques from the beginning of the 19th century. There are also many types of savate rules. 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 this kicking style was developed in this way to allow the fighter to use a hand to hold onto something 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 the 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 was a northern French development, especially in Paris' slums, and always used heavy shoes and boots derived from its potential military origins. Street fighting savate, unlike chausson, kept the kicks low, almost never targeted above the groin, and they were delivered with vicious, bone-breaking intent. Parisian savate also featured open hand blows, in thrusting or smashing palm strikes (la baffe) or in stunning slaps targeted to facial nerves. Techniques of savate or chausson were at this time also developed in the ports of northwest Italy and northeastern Spain—hence one savate kick named the "Italian hunt" (chasse italiane).
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) 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 witnessed an English boxing match in France between English pugilist Owen Swift and Jack Adams in 1838. Lecour also took part in a friendly sparring match with Swift later in that same year. Lecour felt that he was at a disadvantage, using his hands only to bat his opponent's fists away, rather than to punch. He then trained in boxing for a time before 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, stick fighting, 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. Charles continued his father's work and in 1899 fought an English boxer named Jerry Driscoll. He won the match with a round-kick (fouetté median) in the eighth round although the English said that it was a kick to the groin. According to the well known English referee, Bernard John Angle of the National Sporting Club, in his book My Sporting Memories (London, 1925), "Driscoll did not know what he was taking on" when he agreed "to meet the Frenchman at his own game". Angle also said that, "The contest ended in Jerry being counted out to a blow in the groin from the Frenchman's knee." He further alleged that "the timekeeper saved Charlemont several times". After the fight Driscoll bore no grudges, considering the blow to have been "an accident". The French claimed victory for their man by stoppage, following a round-kick to Driscoll's stomach.
French boxing "tireurs" in 1900
Savate was later codified under a Committee National de Boxe Française under Charles Charlemont's student Count Pierre Baruzy (dit Barozzi). The Count is seen as the father of modern savate and was 11-time Champion of France and its colonies, his first ring combat and title prior to World War I. Savate de Dėfense, Défense Savate or Savate de Rue ("street savate") is the name given to those methods of fighting excluded from savate competition. The International Savate Federation (FIS) is the official worldwide ruling body of savate.
Perhaps the ultimate recognition of the respectability of savate came in 1924 when it was included as a demonstration sport in the Olympic Games in Paris. In 2008, savate was recognised by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) – this recognition allows savate to hold official University World Championships; the first was 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 International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. FIS President Gilles Le Duigou was presented with a memento 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.
Despite its roots, savate is a relatively safe sport to learn.
Today, savate is practiced all over the world by amateurs: from Australia to the U.S. and from Finland to Britain. Many countries (including the United States) have national federations devoted to promoting savate.
Modern codified savate provides for three levels of competition: assault, pre-combat, and combat. Assault requires the competitors to focus on their technique while still making contact; referees assign penalties for the use of excessive force. Pre-combat allows for full-strength fighting so long as the fighters wear protective gear such as helmets and shinguards. Combat, the most intense level, is the same as pre-combat, but protective gear other than groin protection and mouthguards is prohibited.
The savate salute
Many martial arts provide ranking systems, such as belt colours. Savate uses glove colours to indicate a fighter's level of proficiency (unlike arts such as karate, which assign new belts at each promotion, moving to a higher colour rank in savate does not necessarily entail a change in the colour of one's actual gloves, and a given fighter may continue using the same pair of gloves through multiple promotions). Novices begin at no colour.
The qualifications for competition vary depending on the association or commission. In the French Federation a yellow glove can compete, and in Belgium a green glove can compete. In the United States, the competition levels start at novice (6 months). In Russia there is no requirement for a specific glove colour in order to compete.
The ranking of savate: Boxe Française is divided into three roads that a savateur can choose to take.
Technical road: blue glove, green glove, red glove, white glove, yellow glove, silver glove I, silver glove II and silver glove III (violet glove for those less than 17 years of age)
Competition road: bronze glove, silver glove I, silver glove II, silver glove III, silver glove IV and silver glove V
Teaching ranks: initiateur, aide-moniteur, moniteur and professeur
In some clubs there is no rank of aide-moniteur, while in other associations there is no rank of initiateur. Eight to twelve years of training on average are necessary for a student to reach professeur level; eight years in the Italian Federation, and just two years in other federations. In France the professional professeur must have a French state certificate of specialized teaching (CQP AS, BEES 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree, 1st de CCB BPJEPS, DEJEPS, DESJEPS). These diplomas are university level education in sports with specialisation in savate (supervised by the FFBFSDA). The international federation, however, is still allowed to award professeur instructorship to non-French nationals without requiring such rigid system of education. French nationals have to submit and succeed to the rigid system of education and prove themselves in competition as well as being respected by peers, in order to have a slight chance to become a DTD (directeur technique départemental). Like any sport federations in France, the French and International Federation of Savate are under the control of France Ministry of Sport and Youth. This makes these two federations extremely powerful federations on the world scene. These two federations have followed a set of national traditions.
Nowadays, savate is just a term meaning Savate-Boxe Française. In the 1970s the term "savate" was rarely used in France to refer to the formalised sport: people mostly used the term Savate boxe française, Boxe-Française Savate, B.F, B.F.S., S.B.F. or simply boxe française. The term savate remains in use mostly outside France or when speaking a language other than French.
The global distribution of schools (salles) today is best explained through their stylistic approaches:
La Savate-Boxe Française (1980–present): the technical abilities of both savate's major kicking arsenal and English boxing were merged into a definitive sport of combat.
La Savate Défense (1994–present): was first presented by Professeur Piere Chainge then produced into Self-Defense by Eric Quequet in 2000. After the French Federation dismantled Prof. Change and placed Michel Laroux in charge of the formations. It is based on La Boxe Française Savate, La Savate of the late 19th century, La Lutte Parisienne and the discipline* of La canne de Combat (stick) *includes also Le Bâton Français (staff), Le Couteau (knife), Le Poignard (dagger), La Chaise (chair) and Le Manteau (overcoat).
Re-constructed historical savate: some savate has been re-constructed from old textbooks, such as those written in the late 19th or early 20th century. As such, this form of savate would be considered a historical European martial art. Re-construction of these older systems may or may not be performed by practitioners familiar with the modern sport and is not at present likely to be particularly widespread.
La savate forme (2008): Cardio-kickboxing form of La Boxe Française-Savate.
These are the different stylistic approaches of the French arts of pugilism in the world today.