What is Savate?
Savate (pronounced Sa-vat) dates from the early 1800s and is a mixture of French kicking and English boxing, making it a rare European martial art. The features of Savate are its accuracy and elegance in comparison to other kicking arts. We train with style in mind, winning the fight with an understanding of angles, timing and psychology rather than sheer force alone.
Savate is particularly popular in Europe and North Africa, with a growing following in North America. Elements which may be emphasized in its study include self defense (“savate defense”) and weaponry such as “baton” and cane (“la canne”).
Two forms of competitive savate kickboxing have emerged from savate, the harder-hitting “combat” and the technical “assaut”. The sport aspect of savate is sometimes also known as French boxing (boxe francaise). combines many of the Western Martial Arts such a boxing, grappling, weaponry, as well as its unique forms of kicking.
A savate’s history
The growth of Boxing from the mid 18 century along with Wrestling and Streetkicking was a direct result of social and economic changes brought on by the Industrial Age. However the methodologies can be traced back to the earliest Greek Olympics. In France kicking became the antithesis to English boxing. The breeding grounds were about the Western Mediterranean where the warmer climate and looser clothing allowed greater freedom of movement. In Paris and some of the French provinces there was some streetkicking and others that were influenced by local dance customs and games.
In Paris the streetkicking became known as La Savate (pronounced Savath) after the time tested ‘old shoe’ that so often delivered the final crippling blow. It was not until the Napoleonic Wars did French prisoners of war detained on convict hulks and their British captors came in direct contact with Chausson and Boxing.
After the war boxing began to appear with the Chausson, but with anti-British sentiment it took nearly two decades before boxing gained acceptance in France.
Meanwhile Chausson enjoyed a growth period. Chausson was usually used with a knife or an improvisation tool. From about the 1820s the activities started to attract the imagination of the young aristocrats.
The most famous instructor of this period was Michel Cassaux (1794-1869) who was commonly known as Michel Pissaux. Born in the Belleville district of Paris, he systemised the streetkicking methods and named it the ‘Art of Savate’ and taught it alongside Canefencing and Paume. He attracted many personalities including the Duke of Orleans, Count Labattut, Lord Henry Seymore and artist Paul Gavarni.
In 1853 the military collage ‘L’Ecole De Joinville’ was established and part of the training included La Boxe Francaise and stickfencing. This commenced a long association with the military although it is believed that Chausson was practised by the French Foreign Legion some twenty years earlier. The disciplines became cultural arts, and through adventurers, emigration and movements of the military they found their way across Europe, Africa, England, Canada and America.
A product of this period was Alain Jebrayel (1898-1954) who commenced Chausson at an early age under his father. He became a third generation exponent as passed down from his grandfather. Athletically, he was a strong person with excellent muscular control and a ‘killer instinct’. After the war he opened a small salle in Nice named ‘Chausson de la Riviera’. He integrated some commando-unarmed combat that he used as a resistance fighter. Two of his foremost students Philippe Dufour and Marcel Villenaux continued teaching after he died in an accident in 1954.
Roger Lafond (1913- ) was another important Parisian instructor after the Second World War. He is a third generation exponent whose grandfathers linkage can be traced back to the Lecours. Where Baruzy was a traditionalist, Lafond introduced some post war ideas into his syllabus. In 1955 he created “La Panache” that included some Japanese hand to hand combat. At one stage he operated the majority of the schools in Paris. Method Lafond is now the only syllabus in Paris to teach elements of traditional Savate.
“Savate Sport” is now an international kickboxing sport, and with its growth there is an increase in interest in the traditional and self-defence aspects of the art. This has placed pressure on the Federation, who with their concentration on the sport, have lost a lot of knowledge and rationale relating to these methods. They have come to realise that there are only a few veteran instructors around the world able to teach Savate and its associated weaponry, as a holistic discipline.