Home News Boxing From the Streets to the Ring: The Origins of French Savate

From the Streets to the Ring: The Origins of French Savate

(Photo via sportsdecombat.monipag.com)

Savate, also known as boxe française, French kickboxing or French footfighting is a traditional French martial art which utilizes elements of boxing and calculated kicking. Savate (translated the old shoe or boot) traces its origins as far back as the 17th century as a form of street self defense. French Sailors practiced stretch-kicks as a form of exercise during their long ocean voyages.

(French boxing "tireurs" in 1900, photo via wikipedia commons)
(French boxing “tireurs” in 1900, photo via wikipedia commons)

According to ussavate.org, in the 1800’s, a man named Michel Casseux cultivated Savate into an effective form of self-defense that included hand palm strikes, wrestling, and toe and heal kick techniques for vital striking areas of the body (eyes, throat, groin, etc.). After losing a bout to an English boxer, one of Casseaux’s top students traveled to London to learn English Boxing. Lecour returned to Paris and opened his own school teaching a unique self-defense system that blended the punching combinations of English boxing with the kicking strikes of Savate. This fusion of boxing and Savate was to be known as La Boxe Fraçaise (French kick boxing). Centuries later, Boxe Française Savate has evolved into a competition sport that is widely practiced throughout the world.

Modern Day
(Photo: Stephane La Rocca)
(Photo: Stephane La Rocca)

Modern day Savate training curricilum is measured by gloves or “Gants.”  The glove ranking system in Boxe Française follows: blue, green, red, white, yellow, and silver (violet for children under 16). Also, practitioners have the opportunity to become certified as a coach and instructor. Instructor levels are Initateur, Moniteur, and Professor.

Today Savate is practiced worldwide. The standard attire for Boxe Française competition requires regulation boxing gloves, padded Savate boots and a uniform called an intégrale, which is similar to a track suit. Modern Savate competition is tiered by experience. Participants enter the first level of competition called “assault,” where opponents fight without force. Participants are judged on quality technique, tactics and a number of touches scored. The second level of competition is called “pre combat,” which is similar to amateur boxing. Fighters must wear protective head gear in addition to the rest of the required safety equipment. Fighters can win by knockout or judges’ decision in the pre combat level of competition. The highest level of competition is called “combat,” where savate fighting takes place without the protection of headgear with fights rusually running three to five rounds at 1:30-2:00 minutes in duration. Unlike Muay Thai, which allows the use of knees and shins, Savate only allows foot kicks. Learn more about the martial art at ussavate.org.

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Kurt Tellez
Kurt Tellez is a Southern California-based writer and musician. He first developed a passion for writing and literature in high school that carried through to the completion of a B.A. in English from Cal State Fullerton in 2013. Inspired by Joseph Conrad, Emily Dickinson, Alan Moore and Hunter S. Thompson, he has pursued a career in writing through contributions to online magazine publications, blogging, and social media management. His musical studies began at thirteen, and has since played in garage bands, concert bands and jazz bands everywhere from Honolulu to The Matthew Street Beatles Festival in Liverpool. Kurt has followed MMA since becoming an avid listener of the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Inspired by Eddie Bravo's appearances on the show, he became a member of Tenth Planet Jiu-Jitsu in 2014.