Most martial artists know that savate is the official fighting art of France, but they'd likely be hard-pressed to provide any further details. Savate expert Salem Assli is here to help fill you in on the rest!

Most martial artists know that savate is the official fighting art of France, but beyond that, they would probably be hard-pressed to recite any details about the style. That's unfortunate because it possesses a long and distinguished history that makes it a valuable addition to the world of martial arts.

The following is an easy-to-digest list of facts and is designed to enlighten all martial artists about the history, rules and techniques of this dynamic form of fighting. If it inspires a few to sign up for lessons, so much the better.


A Brief History of Savate

  • The roots of savate are unclear, but some scholars believe they can be traced all the way back to the legendary Greek fighting art of pankration.
  • More recent records indicate that it sprouted from various street-fighting systems used in France during the late 17th century.
  • Boxe francaise, an alternative name for savate, was founded in 1838 by Charles Lecour.
  • Before that, two fighting arts were popular in France: la savate and le chausson. The former was a system of street fighting that used all parts of the body for striking, while the latter was regarded as a milder system and the ancestor of the sport of boxe francaise. Both taught self-defense techniques.
  • After losing a friendly sparring match with English boxer Owen Swift, Charles Lecour was inspired to combine le chausson with English boxing.
  • Charles Lecour's loss led to tremendous technical changes in savate that spanned decades. It was finally codified as a ring sport in Joseph Charlemont's L'Art de la Boxe Fra Francaise.
  • Although the teachings of Joseph Charlemont have remained definitive, they are still open to modification. All changes must be approved by the executive committee of the French and International Federation of Boxe Francaise Savate and Related Disciplines.

Savate as a Martial Art

  • Despite its grace and beauty, savate is an effective method of self-defense.
  • It has been described as fencing with the hands and feet.
  • Kicking, punching, grappling, wrestling and weapons training were once parts of savate. Today, the system includes only empty-hand techniques delivered while standing or jumping. The other skills are taught separately under different names.
  • The official moniker for modern practitioners of the art is savateur or tireur (French for “shooter").
  • During training, savateurs wear shoes that are specially designed for kicking. In fact, shoes are regarded as the primary weapons of a fighter and can be deadly on the street. In France, it is said that practicing savate without shoes is like playing tennis without a racquet.
  • All savate strikes are the result of scientific study and more than a century and a half of ring experience.
  • In Western boxing, punches are thrown so quickly and from such short distances that beginners rarely have enough time to deflect the blows correctly. That often results in the game of parry, escape, counter and attack being reserved only for advanced students. In savate, even though the feet are fast and powerful, the distances are much greater. That enables the average practitioner to successfully employ offensive and defensive moves without fear of injury. The student can more easily develop self-control and confidence.
  • The savateur strives to attack with combinations and frequently invents strategies that involve feints and real strikes. He is forced to anticipate and adapt to changes in distance and speed while demonstrating his awareness of timing and space — all while using the sophisticated footwork for which the art is renowned.

Savate Competition and Techniques

  • Savate competitions are held under two sets of rules: “assault" and “total combat." In an assault match, participants may wear protective pads — headgear and shin guards, for example. Thus, the risk of injury is reduced. In a total-combat match, they enjoy a full-contact ring experience similar to what is found in Western boxing. Knockouts are often seen.
  • The fist savate techniques are similar to those of boxing. The main ones are the jab, cross, hook and uppercut. The foot techniques of savate fall into four categories: low shin, side, roundhouse and reverse. Variations include kicks executed with the lead leg and the rear leg, as well as spinning, jumping and cross-stepping methods. An experienced savateur can combine those four punches and four types of kicks to form thousands of combinations.
  • Kicks can target an opponent's legs, body or head. One of the savateur's favorite methods of attack is to deliver a low kick followed by a roundhouse to the body with the tip of the shoe. Kicking with the tip of the shoe can be devastating. Over the years, it has knocked down more than a few experienced kickboxers. An opponent's back is a legal target for kicking.
  • Punching an opponent in the back is forbidden. That odd restriction stems from the olden days when savate did not have any rules. When Charles Lecour adopted the techniques of boxing, he also adopted the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury, which disallowed punches to the back. Because kicking was not covered by the Queensbury rules, the old ways of foot fighting remained in place.
  • Feints are a staple of savate. As such, kicks are seldom presented in a direct manner. Instead, they fly in from all angles and are almost never what they seem. An example is provided by the following combination: A savateur will often fake a fast low kick toward his opponent's leg, but it will quickly morph into a roundhouse to the stomach. Or vice versa.

Related Martial Arts Books and
DVDs — Purchase Here!

Winning Kicking Techniques — Volume 1

The First Mixed Martial Art: Pankration From Myths to Modern Times

Bruce Lee's Fighting Method — Volume 4: Advanced Techniques

  • Sweeps are another mainstay of savate. Practitioners consider them practically an art unto themselves.
  • To practice savate, you need a partner, a pair of shoes (wrestling footwear is acceptable), a pair of boxing gloves (preferably with extra padding on the palm and wrist) and a uniform that allows freedom of movement. In the early days of savate, the uniform consisted of a baggy shirt and flannel pants that fit tight at the ankles. During the art's heyday, the uniforms were colorful, but with its decline after World War II, most practitioners wore austere black tights and a gray shirt.
  • After a conflict in the 1970s that pitted partisans of savate against adherents of boxe francaise, the savate uniform changed radically. The current version consists of a one-piece sleeveless uniform with a rank patch sewn onto the left side of the chest. Different savate schools select different color schemes and logos for their uniforms. When a new student joins a school, he is required to become affiliated with it and obtain a license. The license records his progress, validates his examinations and makes his rank official.

Savate's Ranking System

  • Savate ranks are marked by the color of the practitioner's gloves. The gloves must be worn during all tests and official competitions. The ranks are blue glove (technical rank, first degree), green glove (technical rank, second degree), red glove (technical rank, third degree), white glove (technical rank, fourth degree), yellow glove (technical rank, fifth degree), silver glove–first degree (technical rank, sixth degree), silver glove–second degree (technical rank, seventh degree) and silver glove–third degree (technical rank, eighth degree).
  • A student cannot compete until he has reached the red-glove level, and even then he must have authorization from his instructor. A yellow-glove student is supposed to know all the art's strikes. That is deemed essential to being eligible to reach the upper ranks represented by the silver gloves.
  • Throughout Europe, savate is already viewed as an efficient fighting system, both in the ring and on the street.
  • In the future, that view is bound to spread to the rest of the world.

About the Author: Salem Assli is a professor of boxe francaise-savate and a second-degree silver glove who serves as president of the California Association of Boxe Francaise-Savate.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

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This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

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You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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