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Savate ( ), also known as boxe française, French boxing, French Kickboxing or French Footfighting, is a Frenchmarker martial art which uses the hands and feet as weapons combining 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 a French word for "old shoe". Savate is perhaps the only style of kickboxing in which the fighters habitually wear shoes. A male practitioner of Savate is called a Savateur while a female is called a Savateuse.

Early History

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. There are also many types of savate rules. Savate was then a type of street fighting common in Parismarker and northern Francemarker. In the south, especially in the port of Marseillemarker, 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 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 Englandmarker (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. Street fighting among Montmartre neighbourhood punks remained kick-based till today.

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 witnessed an English Boxing match in France between English pugilist Owen Swift and Jack Adams in 1838. He also took part in a friendly sparring match with Swift later in that same year. Lecour felt that he was at a disadvantage, only using his hands 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.

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-time Champion of France and its colonies, his first ring combat and title prior to World War One. Savate de Defense, Defense Savate, Savate de Rue ("de rue" means: "of the street") is the name given to those methods of fighting excluded from savate competition.

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 Parismarker. In 2008, Savate was recognised by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) - this recognition allows Savate to hold official University World Championships, the first will be held in Nantes, France in 2010.

Modern history

Despite its roots, savate is a relatively safe sport to learn. According to USA Savate [4713], "savate ranks lower in number of injuries when compared to American football, hockey, football, gymnastics, basketball, baseball and inline skating".

Today, savate is practiced all over the world by amateurs: from Australia to the USAmarker and from Finlandmarker to Britainmarker. 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.

Many martial arts provide ranking systems, such as belt colors. Savate uses glove colors to indicate a fighter's level of proficiency (unlike arts such as karate, which assign new belts at each promotion, moving to a higher color rank in savate does not necessarily entail a change in the color of one's actual gloves, and a given fighter may continue using the same pair of gloves through multiple promotions). Novices begin at no color.

Depending on the Federation or Guild that one belongs too. The Ranking of a student will be respected entirely by recognized or legitimate Professeurs of the Savate, Boxe Française, Danse De Rue Savate or Savate: Boxe Française.

Only Federations or Guilds recognize the ranking systems which may differ in the examinations and curriculums that each one follows. With a common glove rank which is Silver Glove and it is solely given by three Professeurs which is a common rule among true exponents of the art. Certain federations no longer follow the same glove rankings due to the expansion of the sport mentality and in many European federations the student goes from Blue to Red to Silver in competition.

Again depending of the Federation, Association or Commission that one belongs too, a savateur can compete. In the French Federation a Yellow Glove can compete, in Belgium a Green Glove can Compete, in USA SAVATE the Competition levels start at novice (6 months) and in Russia No Gloves.

The ranking of Savate: Boxe Française is divided into three roads that a savateur can choose to take.The Technical road is Blue Glove, Green Glove, Red Glove, White Glove, Yellow Glove, Silver Glove I, Silver Glove II and Silver Glove III (Violet Glove for 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 VTeaching Ranks: Initiateur, Aide-Moniteur, Moniteur and Professeur

In some Federations there is no rank of Aide-Moniteur, while in other Associations there is no rank of Initiateur. 8 to 12 years on average are necessary for a student to reach Professeur level, whereas now in the French Federation about 6 years are enough, 8 years in the Italian Federation, and but 2 years in some federations. The International Federation of Savate does not govern the ranking as many are led to believe. Instead they govern the Competition Levels of the International arena.

Nowadays, Savate is just a term meaning Boxe-Française Savate. In the 1970s the term "Savate" was rarely used in France to refer to the formalised sport: people mostly used the term Boxe-Française Savate, B.F, B.F.S. or simply Boxe-Française. The term savate remains in use mostly outside France or when speaking a language other than French. In Paris slang, "savate" or even more so the verbal form "savater" still primarily refer to kicks in a street-fighting context.

The global distribution of schools (salles) today is best explained through their stylistic approaches:

  • La Boxe Française-Savate (1980–present): the technical abilities of both Savate's major kicking arsenal and English Boxing were merged into a definitive sport of combat.

  • Danse De Rue Savate (1994-present): The codification of the elements of Zipota, Boxe Française, Canne De Combat, Baton, Lutte Parisienne, Panache and Saca Tripa. Developed by Professeur Paul Raymond Buitron III, the goals are to maintain the fundamentals of traditional languages of Boxe Française, Savate, Canne de Combat, Baton, Lutte Parisienne, Zipota, Savate: Boxe Française, Chausson and Panache as well as to further understanding and respect for the preservation of valid traditions without assumptions.

  • La Savate Défense (1994–present): was first presented by Professeur Piere Chainge then produced into Self-Defense by Quequet Eric in 2000. After the French Federation dismantled Prof. Change and placed Michel Laroux in charge of the formations. It's 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.

  • Chauss'Fight (2007): this new sport of savate aims to turn the tide against the continual loss of members (savateurs) of the French Federation of Savate. It consists in kicks with the tibia to draw boxers from other Pugilistic Federations of Full-Contact, Kickboxing and Thai Boxing over to the French Federation of Savate. The new uniform includes pantalons/pants similar to those of kick boxing, but excludes clothing above belt and shoes. Few people know that the majority of world champions of full-contact kickboxing and thai boxing were either European or French champions of savate.

  • 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.


In competitive or competition savate which includes Assault, Pre-Combat, and Combat types, there are only four kinds of kicks allowed along with four kinds of punches allowed: [4714].

  1. fouetté (literally "whip", roundhouse kick making contact with the instep), high (figure), medium (median) or low (bas)
  2. chassé (side or front piston-action kick), high (figure), medium (median) or low (bas)
  3. revers (frontal or lateral "reverse" or hooking kick making contact with the sole of the shoe), high (figure), medium (median), or low (bas)
  4. coup de pied bas ("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
  1. direct bras avant (jab, lead hand)
  2. direct bras arrière (cross, rear hand)
  3. crochet (hook, bent arm with either hand)
  4. uppercut (either hand)

Savate did not begin as a sport, but as a form of self-defence and fought on the streets of Parismarker and Marseillemarker. This type of Savate was known as Savate de Rue. In addition to kicks and punches, training in Savate de Rue (Savate Defense) includes knee and elbow strikes along with locks, sweeps, throws, headbutts, and takedowns.

There are six basic kinds of kicks, and four kinds of punches for Savate de Rue:

  1. fouetté (literally "whip", roundhouse kick making contact with the toe), high (figure), medium (median) or low (bas)
  2. chassé (side or front piston-action kick), high (figure), medium (median) or low (bas)
  3. chassé italien (aimed at the opponent's inner thigh, with the toe pointed at the opponent's groin. Contrast the chassé bas lateral, which targets the front of the thigh.)
  4. revers (frontal or lateral "reverse" or hooking kick making contact with the sole of the shoe), high (figure), medium (median), or low (bas)
  5. coup de pied bas ("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, designed to break the shin bone.
  6. coup de pied bas de frappe (coup de pied bas which is used to strike the opponent's lead leg)[4715].
  1. direct bras avant (jab, lead hand)
  2. direct bras arrière (cross, rear hand)
  3. crochet (hook, bent arm with either hand)
  4. uppercut (either hand)[4716].

In popular culture

See also

  • La canne (or Canne de combat) and Bâton français, two related martial arts which use a walking stick and a quarterstaff, respectively.
  • Description de la Savate à partir de ses formes techniques de base par Amoros (Manuel d'éducation Physique Tome 1, page 414).
  • Défense et illustration de la boxe française. Savate, canne, chausson, Bernard Plasait, 1972, Paris, Sedirep
  • L'art de la savate, Michel Casseux.
  • Théorique et pratique de la boxe française, Joseph Charlemont, 1878.
  • La Boxe Française, historique et biographique, souvenirs, notes, impressions, anecdotes, Joseph Charlemont, 1899.


  1. *Thomas A. Green, Martial Arts of the World, ABC-CLIO, 2001, p.519
  2. Savate - Canne - Baton au fil des siecles La Verifiable Histoire de la Boxe Francaise and Swift's own Bibliography 'The Handbook To Boxing' written by Renton Nicholson, London 1840

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