In March 1967, Black Belt gave the martial arts world its first in-depth exposure to savate. Read the first part of the article here, then pick up a copy of the April/May 2013 issue to learn how the French fighting art influenced Bruce Lee's jeet kune do.

This article appeared in the March 1967 issue of Black Belt. For a more modern look at savate, along with its connection to Bruce Lee's jeet kune do, pick up a copy of the April/May 2013 issue. After years of troubles and decline, French savate is making something of a comeback. This famous foot-fighting art, the only one of its kind ever developed outside the Orient, almost passed out of existence after most of its top masters were killed on the front lines during World War I. The number of practitioners of the pure form of this elegant art has dwindled to only several thousand in recent years. But today’s devotees are a dedicated band, and they are spearheading a new drive to spread the art, which is rated by many as second only to karate in combat effectiveness. The savate men and women are being aided by the fact that a new upsurge of interest in this native French art is sweeping the country. National pride has been awakened, and programs are now being undertaken to try to save this unique art and make of it an officially recognized national self-defense system in France. The government is doing its part. Plans are under way to make savate instruction available in schools in all parts of the country. Even the country’s Japanese martial arts groups are lending a helping hand. They have welcomed savate followers into their ranks and set up a separate savate department within the French Federation of Judo and Associated Arts, the country’s official organization for all the martial arts. Fascinating History If it seems strange to others that savate should find itself at this late date in its development as part of a Japanese martial arts group, it doesn’t seem so to its followers. For this art has had a strange and fascinating history since it got started around the end of the Napoleonic era a century and a half ago. The development of savate stands in marked contrast, for instance, to what was happening in England at about the same time during the 19th century. To an Englishman — and to anyone in the English-speaking world — the “manly art of self-defense” is automatically considered to be the art of boxing. That’s because of a titled English nobleman, the Marquess of Queensbury, who more than a century ago formulated the famous set of rules that lifted boxing up from a brawling, roughhouse pursuit and made of fisticuffs a system of unarmed self-defense “fit for a gentleman.”

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But in France, the emphasis on defense shifted from the hands to the feet. It was around 1820 that the system that later developed into savate got started in Marseilles among the dockhands of that port city. It wasn’t long afterward that the new foot-fighting system showed up in Paris, where it quickly became the favorite combat form of the French underworld — at that time, one of the toughest in the world. Unlikely Beginning It was from this unlikely beginning that savate rose to become the self-defense system of French aristocrats, who were its most enthusiastic devotees. In so doing, the earlier, rougher system of savate underwent a number of changes. No longer were clumsy kicks and thrusts tolerated. The system became far more refined. In fact, it took on many customs typically associated with the French. It was an elegant form of self-defense that the aristocrats made of savate. Aesthetics became as important as the effectiveness of the system itself. And so great emphasis was placed on the beauty and rhythm of the movements. Savate took on all the elegance of ballet and the grace of fencing, while retaining the deadliness of an alley fight. It was this aristocratic insistence on grace and beauty that gave savate a reputation among the uninformed in other countries — most noticeably in the United States — of being something of a “sissified” pastime. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Japanese karate experts who are familiar with savate, and who have found a number of points of comparison between the kicks of their own art and those of savate, have pronounced the French art as being second only to karate as a fighting system. Early Teachers Some of the early teachers of savate were colorful characters. One of the first was a man known to us now only as Michael, who was nicknamed “Le Pisseux.” He studied the foot-fighting system of Marseilles called “la savate” and codified the kicks into a new system he called the “art of savate.” He opened a school in La Courtille, where such famous aristocrats as the Duke of Orleans and Milord L’Arsouille came to practice with him. Another well-known teacher was Louis Vigneron, a man blessed with a huge physical frame and muscles to match. He was called “The Cannon Man” because he used to travel from fair to fair and strap a cannon to his back, which he would fire in demonstrations. He miscalculated one day and succeeded in getting himself killed during a performance. Savate also was influenced by the Marquess of Queensberry’s new English style of boxing. A savate man, Charles Lecour, first conceived the idea of combining English fisticuffs with French foot-fighting techniques to come up with a formidable new style. But the real founder of French boxing was J. Charlemont, who brought together all the various styles of savate that were springing up and, like the Marquess of Queensberry, codified them into one formal system. In 1887 he founded the Academy of French Boxing and began to drill a number of future instructors in savate. Wild Growth From J. Charlemont’s time, French boxing enjoyed extraordinary success. The art grew wildly, and from only a handful of followers, their numbers jumped to more than 100,000 practitioners by the turn of the century. During the first years of the 20th century, French boxing continued to grow in importance, and its fame spread to other countries in Europe and America. But disaster lay ahead. The First World War was approaching, and the catastrophe of war was also the catastrophe of savate. By the end of the war in 1918, virtually all the leading masters of savate had been annihilated in the trenches and on the blood-soaked battlefields of France and Belgium. J. Charlemont still lived and continued to practice the art. But somehow, savate never caught on like it had before. The French art also faced a new competitor, the English system of boxing. English boxing, which is the same as the American style, was destined to have a great period in France between the two world wars. For the next 20 years, it was the new rage, and great boxers like Georges Carpentier, who later challenged Jack Dempsey for the world heavyweight crown, were the heroes of postwar France. The lure of the boxing ring, with its professional fighters, splashy advertising and big purses, almost spelled the end of savate. In 1941 the great J. Charlemont died, and his passing went almost unnoticed by the general public. During the long years of World War II, the French had little time to think of savate — or of anything else except survival. After the War Savate languished during the years after World War II and then met another great competitor. It was karate, the Japanese boxing and foot-fighting art that swept the world like wildfire. It seemed that with the impact of this new art, savate would run its course and die out. But now, savate’s fortunes are beginning to turn — not a great deal at first but enough to give those who struggle to keep it alive new hope. The French public and the government rediscovered the art and are taking steps to preserve it and teach it in public schools. And the other martial arts are lending encouragement. There are several variations of savate at present. The old aristocratic system has since been popularized — and cannibalized — and quite a few Frenchmen know various techniques. Savate systems also have sprung up in Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. The Italian system is a wide-open one in which anything goes. Many of these styles abroad are looked on with distaste by practitioners within France. To pull together the various styles and make them authentic, the French Federation of Judo and Associated Arts set up a savate section in April 1966. The section is also seeking to extend the teachings of the art. At present, there are only about 1,000 savate members affiliated with the group, but they are ambitious and hope to broaden their base. (To be continued.)
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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.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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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: or go to

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

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.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

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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