Savate, also known as “Savate-Boxe Française,” is a distinguished French martial art that marries the finesse of English boxing with the artistry of graceful kicking techniques. This elegant combat sport, often referred to as “French kickboxing,” is characterized by its unique use of hands and feet as weapons, with a specific focus on foot kicks. Unlike some other martial arts that permit the use of knees or shins, Savate restricts its strikes to the feet while allowing blows to any part of the body.

Savate in Bartitsu

The term “Savate” itself is derived from the French word for an “old shoe or boot,” a reference to the specially designed boots worn by Savate fighters. In the world of Savate, a male practitioner is known as a “tireur,” while a female practitioner is referred to as a “tireuse.”

Savate’s history dates back to the 19th century when it evolved from various French street fighting techniques. It was a prevalent form of combat in the streets of Paris and northern France. Some theories suggest that during Napoleon Bonaparte’s time, his soldiers publicly exhibited their prowess by employing their feet in combat, and this practice was known as “Savate,” which translates to “old shoe.”

French Docks Savate

The roots of Savate can be traced back even further to the 17th century when sailors in the southern port of Marseille practiced a fighting style characterized by high kicks and open-handed slaps. This method likely developed to maintain balance on the swaying decks of ships and to avoid legal consequences for using closed fists, considered deadly weapons at the time. Known as the “jeu marseillais” or “game from Marseille,” this fighting style eventually became synonymous with Savate.

Savate’s modern form took shape through the efforts of martial artists like Michel Casseux and Charles Lecour, who refined and formalized this martial art. Charles Lecour was particularly influential in merging boxing techniques with Savate, making it both a sport and a self-defense system. His incorporation of English boxing gloves allowed students to train punches without risking hand injuries.

Over time, Savate evolved into a globally recognized sport, and it was even included as a demonstration sport in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Today, it is practiced worldwide with national federations promoting and organizing competitions.

Savate’s unique charm lies in its combination of power and grace, making it a distinct and respected martial art that continues to captivate enthusiasts and practitioners around the world.