Sunday, 12 August 2012


esterdeay’s video clip on Savate was a prelude to today’s guest post. This post is written by one of my Black Belts, Sensei Noel Hubert. Noel is a well-rounded martial artist, with lots of experience. He enjoys researching different martial arts, not just the techniques involved, but also the history involved.


Savate is said to have been practiced by sailors, thieves, and the general thug street fighters of the time.  The term “La Savate” was a simple slang that meant “old shoe” or “old boot” since this is what they wore on their feet and the object was simply to kick the other guy.  Other techniques used were slaps, wrestling, head-butting, gouging, biting and weapons such as a cane or stick. 

Image from the History of Savate and Chausson Google Images © 2009

Originally Savate was considered to be a method of street fighting only used by the lower classes of society.  It wasn’t until 1825 that Savate gradually started to gain popularity and become systemized, but looming over head was the shadow of its past.  Savate gained the attention of some famous citizens of the time period; people like Alexandre Dumas Jr - son of Alexandre Dumas author of “The Three Musketeers”, and French romantic Poet Theophile Gautier. Gautier  took lessons from Michel Casseux, aka Pisseux who was influential in Savate being systemized.

Around the same time that Michel Casseux opened a “Selle” (Hall), there was another type of  fighting which also used the feet called “Chausson”, a term used by French sailors for their deck shoe or slipper that they wore on a daily basis.  It was used mainly in and around the dockyards of Marseilles and at times was also referred to as “jeu Marseillais (sport Marseilles).  Chausson differed from Savate in that the kicks were much higher. One technique that made Chausson interesting is a type of kick that allowed them to put their hand on the ground and kick straight up to the opponent’s head, a technique somewhat resembling Brazilian Capoeira.  Since the sailors would obviously travel and see different countries they would be exposed to the martial arts that country had to offer, thus a style of European Martial Arts was developed. Later the two art forms would merge and the term Savate was adopted for both.  Nowadays, people refer to the art as boxe française” (French Kickboxing).

The image below depicts some of the cane fighting techniques. It was a custom for men of the time period to use a cane as a fashion statement – and also as a means to defend themselves.

One of the techniques Savate covers is the front chasse – or front checking kick. A very effective side kick variation is demonstrated by the U.S. Army in the 1940’s.

Chasse Lateral to Lower Leg-US Army early 1940's



  • Savate competitions are held under two sets of rules: “assault” and “total combat.” In an assault match, participants may wear protective pads—headgear and shin guards, for example. Thus, the risk of injury is reduced. In a total-combat match, they enjoy a full-contact ring experience similar to what is found in Western boxing. Knockouts are often seen.

  • The fist savate techniques are similar to those of boxing. The main ones are the jab, cross, hook and uppercut. The foot techniques of Savate fall into four categories: low shin, side, roundhouse and reverse. Variations include kicks executed with the lead leg and the rear leg, as well as spinning, jumping and cross-stepping methods. An experienced Savateur can combine those 4 punches and 4 types of kicks to form thousands of combinations.

  • Kicks can target an opponent’s legs, body or head. One of the Savateur’s favorite methods of attack is to deliver a low kick followed by a roundhouse to the body with the tip of the shoe. Kicking with the tip of the shoe can be devastating. Over the years, it has knocked down more than a few experienced kick boxers. An opponent’s back is a legal target for kicking.

  • Punching an opponent in the back is forbidden. That odd restriction stems from the days when Savate did not have any rules. When Charles Lecour adopted the techniques of boxing, he also adopted the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury, which disallowed punches to the back. Because kicking was not covered by the Queensbury rules, the old ways of foot fighting remained in place.

  • Feints are a staple of Savate. As such, kicks are seldom presented in a direct manner. Instead, they fly in from all angles and are almost never what they seem. An example is provided by the following combination: A Savateur will often fake a fast low kick toward his opponent’s leg, but it will quickly morph into a roundhouse to the stomach. Or vice versa.

  • Sweeps are another mainstay of Savate. Practitioners consider them practically an art unto themselves.

  • To practice Savate, you need a partner, a pair of shoes (wrestling footwear is acceptable), a pair of boxing gloves (preferably with extra padding on the palm and wrist) and a uniform that allows freedom of movement. In the early days of Savate, the uniform consisted of a baggy shirt and flannel pants that fit tight at the ankles. During the art’s heyday, the uniforms were colorful, but with its decline after World War II, most practitioners wore austere black tights and a gray shirt.

  • After a conflict in the 1970s that pitted partisans of Savate against adherents of Boxe Francaise, the savate uniform changed radically. The current version consists of a one-piece sleeveless uniform with a rank patch sewn onto the left side of the chest. Different Savate schools select different color schemes and logos for their uniforms. When a new student joins a school, he is required to become affiliated with it and obtain a license. The license records his progress, validates his examinations and makes his rank official.

Savate uniforms Google Images © 2012



  • Savate ranks are marked by the color of the practitioner’s gloves. The gloves must be worn during all tests and official competitions. The ranks are blue glove (technical rank, first degree), green glove (technical rank, second degree), red glove (technical rank, third degree), white glove (technical rank, fourth degree), yellow glove (technical rank, fifth degree), silver glove–first degree (technical rank, sixth degree), silver glove–second degree (technical rank, seventh degree) and silver glove–third degree (technical rank, eighth degree).

  • A student cannot compete until he has reached the red-glove level, and even then he must have authorization from his instructor. A yellow-glove student is supposed to know all the art’s strikes. That is deemed essential to being eligible to reach the upper ranks represented by the silver gloves.
  • Throughout Europe, savate is already viewed as an efficient fighting system, both in the ring and on the street.

  • In the future, that view is bound to spread to the rest of the world.

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