The History of Savate
It is believed that Savate takes its name from the French for “old boot” and is considered by many as the official martial art of France, with some scholars believing its origins can be traced back to the legendary Greek fighting art of Pankration. However, more recent accounts suggest that it grew from a variety of street-fighting systems used in the tough back streets of the port town of Marseilles during the late 17th century. Here, sailors developed a fighting style which used high kicks and open-handed slaps, giving rise to speculation that its unique kicking style was developed to let the fighter use a hand to hold onto something for balance on a rocking ship’s deck. At this time, the closed fist was considered a lethal weapon and its use in a fight would incur legal penalties, therefore on land, it is believed sailors adopted the use of kicks and slaps to avoid these.
Modern Savate can be attributed to Charles Lecour who founded Boxe Francaise, the alternative name for Savate, in 1838. Prior to this, there were two popular fighting arts in France: La Savate and Le Chausson. While both systems taught self defence techniques, the system of ‘La Savate’ was a street fighting art which relied on the use of all parts of the body for striking, while ‘Le Chausson’ was considered a milder system and the predecessor of the sport of Boxe Francaise.
Charles Lecour was involved in a friendly sparring match with English boxer Owen Swift, and his loss to the outstanding ability of Swift was the inspiration to combine Le Chausson with English boxing, resulting in considerable changes to the technical aspect of Savate. The result was the development of the ring sport L’Art de la Boxe Francaise.
Savate as a Martial Art
Savate has been described as fencing with the hands and feet and when performed well, Savate is a graceful, beautiful art to watch. However, despite this it is a powerful art which is also an effective method of self-defence, as modern Savate involves empty-hand techniques delivered while standing or jumping. All strikes used in Savate have evolved from a combination of scientific study and ring experience.
Practitioners of Savate are known as savateurs (male) or savateuse (female) and while training, wear a specialised shoe which is specially designed for kicking. It is said in France that “practicing Savate without shoes is like playing tennis without a racquet”. While in Savate the feet are fast and powerful, the distances are much greater. This allows the practitioner to use offensive and defensive moves without fear of injury and students can quickly develop self-control and confidence.
The savateur must develop strategies which permit attack with combinations by adopting the use of feints and real strikes. They must learn to respect distance and space between them and their opponent while anticipating and adapting to changes in these. This involves employing the use of well timed, sophisticated footwork to create space.
Savate and Mike Krause
The beautiful art of Savate was introduced to Scotland by Mike in 1995. Mike was first introduced to Savate by Salem Assli in California, ultimately achieving the rank of White Glove in this system. While the popularity of Savate has grown since, Mike was a founding father of Savate in Scotland and hosted many visits and workshops of Salem who has expressed his gratitude:
“To Mike Thanks for promoting Savate here in Scotland, my best to you.”
Salem Assli, President of Californian Association of Boxe Francaise, Savate and related Disciplines