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Savate-boxe française
France championship 2013 Elite A
Also known as French footfighting, French boxing, French kickboxing[1]
Focus Striking
Hardness Full contact
Country of origin France[2]
Creator Michel Casseux
Famous practitioners Michel Casseux, Joseph Charlemont, Gerard Gordeau, Ernesto Hoost, Cheick Kongo, Alain Ngalani, Charles Lecour, Christian M'Pumbu, Ludovic Millet, Fred Royers, Pierre Vigny
Parenthood English boxing, French footfighting, street fighting, chausson marseillais
Olympic sport only the 1924 Summer Olympics

Savate (French pronunciation: ​), also known as boxe française, French boxing, French kickboxing or French footfighting, is a traditional French martial art which uses the hands and feet as weapons combining elements of western boxing with graceful kicking techniques.[3][4][5][6]

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, or tireur/tireuse.[7]

Early history

Savate takes its name from the French for "old boot" (heavy footwear that used to be worn during fights; cf. French-English loanwords sabot and sabotage and Spanish cognate zapato). 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 Paris and northern France.

In the south, especially in the port of Marseille, 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 England (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 northwest Italy and northeastern Spain.

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)[8](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.[9] 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. Charles continued his father's work and fought in 1899 an English boxer named Jerry Driscoll. He won the match with a fouetté médian in the eighth round although the English said that it was a kick to the groin. According to the well known English referee, Bernard John Angle of the National Sporting Club, in his book 'My Sporting Memories' London, 1925, "Driscoll did not know what he was taking on" when he agreed "to meet the Frenchman at his own game..." Angle also said that, "The contest ended in Jerry being counted out to a blow in the groin from the Frenchman's knee." He further alleged that "the timekeeper saved Charlemont several times." After the fight Driscoll bore no grudges, considering the blow to have been "an accident." the French, of course, claimed victory to their man by stoppage, following a round-kick (fouette median) to Driscoll's stomach.

XIXth century picture of boxe française
French boxing "tireurs" in 1900

Savate was later codified under a Committee National de Boxe Francaise under Charles Charlemont's student Count Pierre Baruzy (dit Barozzi). 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 I. 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. The FIS (International Savate Federation) is the official World Federation.

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 Paris. In 2008, savate was recognised by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) – this recognition allows savate to hold official University World Championships, the first was held in Nantes, France in 2010. The 25th anniversary of the founding of the International Savate Federation, in March 2010, was celebrated with a visit to Lausanne, to meet with IOC President Jacques Rogge. FIS President Gilles Le Duigou was presented with a memento depicting the Olympic Rings. In April 2010, the International Savate Federation was accepted as a member of SportAccord (previously known as AGFIS) – a big step forward on the road to Olympic recognition.

Modern history

Despite its roots, savate is a relatively safe sport to learn. According to USA Savate,[10] "savate ranks lower in number of injuries than American football, ice hockey, football, gymnastics, basketball, baseball, and inline skating".

Today, savate is practiced all over the world by amateurs: from Australia to the USA and from Finland to Britain. 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.

The savate salute

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

Depending on the association or commission that one belongs to, a savateur can compete. In the French Federation a yellow glove can compete, in Belgium a green glove can compete, in United States, savate the competition levels start at novice (6 months) and in Russia with no gloves.

The ranking of savate: Boxe Française is divided into three roads that a savateur can choose to take.

  • Technical road: blue glove, green glove, red glove, white glove, yellow glove, silver glove I, silver glove II and silver glove III (violet glove for those 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 V
  • Teaching ranks: initiateur, aide-moniteur, moniteur and professeur

In some clubs there is no rank of aide-moniteur, while in other associations there is no rank of initiateur. Eight to twelve years of training on average are necessary for a student to reach professeur level; eight years in the Italian Federation, and just two years in other federations. In France the professional professeur must have a French state certificate of specialized teaching (CQP AS, BEES 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree, 1st de CCB BPJEPS, DEJEPS, DESJEPS). These diplomas are university level education in sports with specialisation in savate (supervised by the FFBFSDA). The international federation, however, is still allowed to award professeur instructorship to non-French nationals without requiring such rigid system of education. French nationals have to submit and succeed to the rigid system of education and prove themselves in competition as well as being respected by peers, in order to have a slight chance to become a DTD (directeur technique départemental). Like any sport federations in France, the French and International Federation of Savate are under the control of France Ministry of Sport and Youth. This make theses two federations extremely powerful federations on the world scene. These two federations have follow a set of national traditions.

Nowadays, savate is just a term meaning Savate-Boxe Française. In the 1970s the term "savate" was rarely used in France to refer to the formalised sport: people mostly used the term Savate boxe française, Boxe-Française Savate, B.F, B.F.S., S.B.F. or simply boxe française. The term savate remains in use mostly outside France or when speaking a language other than French.

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

  • La Savate-Boxe Française (1980–present): the technical abilities of both savate's major kicking arsenal and English boxing were merged into a definitive sport of combat.
  • La Savate Défense (1994–present): was first presented by Professeur Piere Chainge then produced into Self-Defense by Eric Quequet in 2000. After the French Federation dismantled Prof. Change and placed Michel Laroux in charge of the formations. It is 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.
  • 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 official competitions, competitors wear a coverall suit called intégrale or a tanktop and a savate trouser. They wear boxing gloves (with or without padded palms) and savate boots. Savate is the only kicking and punching (only) style to use footwear, although some other Combat sports, such as Shoot Fighting and some forms of MMA sometimes also wear grappling type shoes/boots. Savate boots can be used to hit with the sole, the top of the foot, the toe, or the heel. Sometimes a helmet can be worn, e.g. in junior competitions and in the early rounds of Combat (full contact) bouts.

Adidas savate shoes
Savate shoes


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:


  1. fouetté (literally "whip", roundhouse kick making contact with the toe—hard rubber-toed shoes are worn in practice and bouts), high (figure), medium (médian) or low (bas)
  2. chassé (side ("chassé lateral") or front ("chassé frontal") piston-action kick, high (figure), medium (médian) or low (bas)
  3. revers, frontal or lateral ("reverse" or hooking kick) making contact with the sole of the shoe, high (figure), medium (médian), 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 Paris and Marseille. 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 .

French 2013 championship Elite A
Fouetté bas

In popular culture

  • In Ben 10: Alien Force, Ben mentioned and performed a savate move when he and Gwen were practicing on the punching bag.
  • Savate was also the martial arts style of the French antagonists and police officers in the 2001 Jet Li film Kiss of the Dragon.
  • In the X-Men series the mutant Gambit incorporates savate into his basic fighting style and is shown to be extremely proficient in it.
  • Savate was featured on the TV show Human Weapon, in Episode 4. The hosts, Bill Duff and Jason Chambers, travelled to France and met Gilles Le Duigou, to learn basic techniques of savate. After practising the techniques they had learned, they then used the moves against the instructor.[11]
  • Savate was featured on the TV show Fight Quest, in Episode 6 of Season 1. The hosts, Jimmy Smith and Doug Anderson, travelled to France and discovered this fighting style under the supervision of Christian Robert, Frank May, Frederic Baret, Laurent Bois and Patrick Gellat.[12]
  • In the 1995 film Savate, Olivier Gruner plays a savate expert French officer, who wanders into Texas to get revenge of his friend.
  • In the manga and anime One Piece, one of the main protagonists, "Black Leg Sanji," uses kicking techniques very similar to savate.
  • In the manga Medaka Box, one of the main protagonists "Hitoyoshi Zenkichi" uses savate as his general fighting style after being taught by his mother.
  • In the film The Matrix, savate is mentioned as one of the fighting styles programmed into Neo.
  • In Meredith Duran's novel Wicked Becomes You, the hero practices a form of savate.
  • Dick Grayson, the original Robin, was a master of savate and other forms of martial arts.
  • Savate makes a brief appearance in the Portuguese film Tabu in which the son of the owner of a house in which Mario's Band play has learnt 'boxe française'. There is one scene in which he is seen practising it in the grounds of the house.

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 Amorous (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. ^ "FRENCH BOXERS IN ENGLAND.; Attempt to Popularise Self-Defense by a New Style of Kicking.". New York Times. 31 October 1898. Retrieved 10 August 2010. 
  2. ^ "THE "NOBLE ART."; Self-Defense by Kicking Exemplified by French Artists in London.". New York Times. 10 November 1898. Retrieved 10 August 2010. 
  3. ^ Hontz, Jenny (18 December 2006). "FITNESS BOUND; Holiday pounds? Give 'em a swift kick".  
  4. ^ Martin, Adam (30 October 1988). "Getting Your Kicks With French Boxing Lomita Fighting, Fitness Academy Teaches the Sweet Science of Savate".  
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Hontz, Jenny (18 December 2006). "FITNESS BOUND; Holiday pounds? Give 'em a swift kick".  
  8. ^ *Thomas A. Green, Martial Arts of the World, ABC-CLIO, 2001, p.519
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ US savate FAQ
  11. ^ "New History Channel Series Explores Hand-to-Hand Combat Around the Globe!". Black Belt. Retrieved 9 May 2010. 
  12. ^

External links

  • Official website of the Fédération Internationale de Savate
  • Official website of the Fédération Internationale de Savate (French)
  • Official website of the Fédération Française de Savate boxe Française et DA
  • Official website of the Federation Russia de Savate Boxe Française
  • Techniques of Savate
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