Savate: Unveiling the Art of French Foot Fighting

The Origins and Evolution of Savate: Tracing the History of French Kickboxing

Savate, also known as French foot fighting or French kickboxing, is a martial art that combines elements of western boxing with graceful kicking techniques. Its origins are as captivating as the art itself, and to understand Savate, one must delve into the street corners and back alleys of early 19th-century France.

The tale of Savate begins in the seaports of northern France, particularly in the city of Marseille, where sailors developed a fighting style known as chausson. Chausson was a form of self-defense that included kicks, open-handed slaps, and other techniques suitable for close combat aboard ships. Sailors imported this knowledge from their travels, integrating foot techniques they had observed in other countries, such as the Battaglia kicking games of Italy.

Meanwhile, in the streets of Paris, a form of street fighting known as la savate was gaining popularity. La savate, which literally means "old boot," was a term used to describe the heavy boots (savates) worn by the French lower classes. Urban ruffians, known as the Apaches, used their boots as weapons in street brawls, developing a crude form of kick fighting that was effective in the close quarters of Parisian slums.

However, Savate as a codified martial art began to take shape when figures like Michel Casseux, also known as Pisseux, a fencing master, observed that the kicking techniques used in street fights had potential as a formalized combat sport. He opened the first known savate school around 1820, incorporating structured training and rules to create a new, refined version of the previously chaotic street fighting.

As its popularity grew, Savate moved from the streets to the salons of Parisian nobility. It was further refined and popularized by Charles Lecour, a student of Casseux, who is often credited with integrating English boxing punches into Savate after his defeat by an English pugilist. Recognizing the effectiveness of adding hand techniques, Lecour transformed Savate into a sophisticated fighting system that used both hands and feet for offense and defense.

By the late 19th century, Savate had become a fashionable sport among French nobility and bourgeoisie, with high-society figures attending Savate matches as a testament to their cultural sophistication.

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Techniques and Training: Mastering the Elegant Combative Dance of Savate

Savate, also known as French boxing, is a refined martial art that integrates the fluidity of dance with the precision of combat. The techniques and training involved in mastering this elegant form of self-defense are rigorous and demand dedication and finesse.

**Techniques in Savate**

Savate's unique movement repertoire sets it apart from other martial arts. The fundamental techniques in Savate can be broadly classified into kicks (coups de pied) and hand strikes (coups de poing).

*Kicks* – The kicks in Savate are its most notable feature. Fighters, or tireurs, learn to combine the agility and balance of a dancer with the power of a martial artist. Popular kicks include the fouetté (snap kick), chassé (side or front piston-action kick), revers (hooking or swinging kick), and coup de pied bas (low kick). These kicks target various levels: bas (low), moyen (medium), and haut (high), and must be executed with precision and grace.

*Hand Strikes* – While perhaps less flamboyant than its kicks, Savate's hand strikes are equally important. They include the direct (jab), the crochet (hook), and the uppercut, each delivered with impeccable timing and aim.

**Training in Savate**

*Physical Conditioning* – Due to the dynamic nature of the sport, savateurs must maintain superior levels of cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility. Training often includes running, jumping rope, and calisthenics to enhance stamina and agility. Stretching is also critical to prevent injuries and to facilitate the high kicks characteristic of the art.

*Drills and Sparring* – Savateurs practice prearranged drills to improve their technique, balance, and coordination. These drills are carefully designed to simulate combat scenarios, allowing fighters to refine their footwork and striking capabilities. Sparring is a crucial component of training, as it provides real-time feedback on a practitioner's tactical and technical skills.

*Learning the Art of Deplacement* – Deplacement is the term used to describe the strategies of movement in Savate. It involves advance, retreat, and lateral steps that are akin to a dancer's choreography. Mastering deplacement can mean the difference between landing a strike or evading an opponent's attack, and it's regarded as one of the most challenging aspects of Savate.

*Mental Preparation* – The mental aspect of Savate is not to be underestimated.