Savate is a French martial art. It is also known as boxe française, French boxing, French Kickboxing or French Footfighting. Savate uses both the hands and feet as weapons and it combines elements of western boxing with kicking techniques. Only foot kicks are allowed in Savate. Savate is one of the only styles of kickboxing in which fighters wear shoes. The word savate is a French synonym for “shoe”. A male practitioner of savate is called a savateur and a female a savateuse.
Savate takes its name from the French word for “old boot” because heavy boots used to be worn during fights. Modern Savate is made up of French street fighting techniques common in Paris and northern France in the beginning of the 19th century. In southern France, sailors developed a fighting style involving high kicks and open-handed slaps. Supposedly kicks were done to allow the kicker to use a free hand for balance on decks of rocking ship. The kicks and slaps were used on land to avoid the legal penalties for using a closed fist. This fighting style was known as chausson.
Two men were key in taking Savate out of the streets and into the modern sport world, Michel Casseux and Charles Lecour. In 1825, Michael Casseux opened the first gym for practicing and promoting a regulated version of chausson and savate. They didn’t disallow head butting, eye gouging, grappling, etc, but the sport still did not shake its reputation as street-fighting. In 1830, Casseux’s pupil, Charles LeCour, was defeated in a friendly sparring match with British pugilist Owen Swift. LeCour felt that he was at a disadvantage, because used only his hands to bat his opponent’s fists away, rather than punching. LeCour continued to train in boxing for another two years and in 1832 he combined boxing with chausson and savate and create the sport of savate or French Boxing.
At some point cane and baton stickfighting were added, and some form of stick-fencing is commonly part of savate training for those you are not training for competition. Joseph Charlemont, a student of LeCour’s helped develop Savate professionally and LeCour’s son Charles Charlemont continued in its development. Joseph Charlemont defeated the Irish-American pugilist John Sullivan in a bar fight in Paris. The Committee National de Boxe Francaise codified Savate under Charles Charlemont’s student Count Pierre Baruzy. The Count is called the father of modern savate. He was an 11-time Champion of France and it’s colonies, before to WWI. 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.
In competitive savate, there are four kinds of kicks, and four kinds of punches allowed.
- Fouetté – (literally “whip”) A roundhouse kick making contact with the instep. (high, medium or low)
- Chassé – A side or front piston-action kick. (high, medium or low)
- Revers – “reverse” or hooking kick making contact with the sole of the shoe. (high, medium, or low)
- Coup de pied bas – (literally, “low kick”) A front or sweep kick to the shin making contact with the inner edge of the shoe, performed with a characteristic backwards lean. (low only)
- Direct bras avant- jab, lead hand
- Direct bras arrière – cross, rear hand
- Crochet – hook, bent arm
- Uppercut – either hand
Savate was included as a demonstration sport in the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924. Today, savate is practiced by amateurs all over the world . Many countries, including the United States, have national federations devoted to promoting savate. Savate was also featured in the first Ultimate Fighting Championships. Dutch savate champion Gerard Gordeau beat a sumo wrestler and an American kickboxer before he lost to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Royce Gracie by submission in the final round.
Modern savate has three levels of competition, assaut, pre-combat and combat. Assaut requires the competitors to focus on their technique while still making contact; referees assign penalties for the use of excessive force. In pre-combat, full-contact is allowed as 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, except for groin protection and mouthguards, are prohibited.
Savate uses glove colors to indicate a fighter’s rank, although some fighters continue using the same pair of gloves through multiple promotions. Novices begin with no color and then progress to blue, green, red, white and yellow. Silver gloves are the highest regular rank in savate. White gloves and lower ranks can be given by the instructor but those wishing for higher rank as fighters must pass an exam. Competition is restricted to yellow glove rank and above. At white glove rank you are considered to be an instructor in training, and you must have ranked to yellow gloves to teach others or to compete in a combat competition. Golden gloves are awarded only to savate pioneers and leading exponents of Savate by national committees.