Savate-boxe française
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, Pierre Baruzy, Gerard Gordeau, Gioachino Rossini, Lord Byron, Charles Lecour, Bruce Lee, Alexandre Dumas, Richard Sylla, Gilles Le Duigou, Amri Madani, Fred Royers, Pierre Vigny
Parenthood Boxing, Ancient footfighting
Olympic sport only the 1924 Summer Olympics[3]

Savate (French pronunciation: [saˈvat]), also known as boxe française, savate boxing, French boxing or French footfighting, is a French combat sport that uses the hands and feet as weapons combining elements of English boxing with graceful kicking techniques.[4][5][6][7][8]

Only foot kicks are allowed, unlike some systems such as Muay Thai, which allow the use of the knees or shins. Savate is a French word for "old shoe or boot". Savate fighters wear specially designed boots. A male practitioner of savate is called a tireur while a female is called a tireuse.[4]

Early history

Savate takes its name from the French for "old shoe" (heavy footwear, especially the boots used by French military and sailors) (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. Savate was then a type of street fighting common in Paris and northern France.[9][10][11]

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 the 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 was a northern French development, especially in Paris' slums, and always used heavy shoes and boots derived from its potential military origins. Street fighting savate, unlike chausson, kept the kicks low, almost never targeted above the groin, and they were delivered with vicious, bone-breaking intent. Parisian savate also featured open hand blows, in thrusting or smashing palm strikes (la baffe) or in stunning slaps targeted to facial nerves. Techniques of savate or chausson were at this time also developed in the ports of northwest Italy and northeastern Spain—hence one savate kick named the "Italian hunt" (chasse italiane).

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)[12] (1794–1869) 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.[13] Lecour also took part in a friendly sparring match with Swift later in that same year. Lecour felt that he was at a disadvantage, using his hands only 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 in 1899 fought an English boxer named Jerry Driscoll. He won the match with a round-kick (fouetté median) 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 claimed victory for their man by stoppage, following a round-kick to Driscoll's stomach.

Savate was later codified under a Committee National de Boxe Française 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 Dėfense, Défense Savate or Savate de Rue ("street savate") is the name given to those methods of fighting excluded from savate competition. The International Savate Federation (FIS) is the official worldwide ruling body of savate.

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 International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. FISav 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 practice

Despite its roots, savate is a relatively safe sport to learn.[14]

Today, savate is practiced all over the world by amateurs: from Australia to the U.S. 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: assaut, pre-combat and combat. Assaut 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.

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.

The qualifications for competition vary depending on the association or commission. In the French Federation a yellow glove can compete, and in Belgium a green glove can compete. In the United States, the competition levels start at novice (6 months). In Russia there is no requirement for a specific glove colour in order to compete.

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, moniteur and professeur

In some clubs there is also a 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 makes these two federations extremely powerful federations on the world scene. These two federations have followed 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 Leroux 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 an intégrale or a vest and savate trousers. 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.


In competitive or competition savate, which includes Assaut, 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[15][16]


  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 du Rue (Street Savate) includes knee and elbow strikes along with locks, sweeps, throws, headbutts, and takedowns.[17][18][19][20]


The International Savate Federation holds World Championships in three disciplines: Savate Assaut, Savate Combat and Canne de combat. World Savate Combat Championships are being held for Seniors (over 21 years) and Juniors (18 to 21 years).

World Combat Savate Championships (+21 year)

Edition Year Host City Country Events
42007France France
52009Novi Sad Serbia
62011Milan Italy
72013Clermont Ferrand France
82015La Roche-sur-Yon France
92017Varaždin Croatia

World Canne de Combat Savate Championships (+18 year)

Edition Year Host City Country Events
12003Reunion Island France
European2006Strasbourg France
22008Frankenberg/Eder Germany
European2010Cambridge United Kingdom
32012Saint-Herblain France
42014Budapest Hungary
52016Varazdin Croatia
62018Plovdiv Bulgaria

World Assaut Savate Championships (+18 year)

Edition Year Host City Country Events
12002France France
22004France France
32006Villebon France
42008Paris France15
52010Paris France
62012Plovdiv Bulgaria
72014Rome Italy
82016Varazdin Croatia
92018Plovdiv Bulgaria

World Junior Savate Combat Championships (18 to 21)

Edition Year Host City Country Events
2007France France
2009Novi Sad Serbia
2011Milan Italy
2013Clermont Ferrand France
2015La Roche Sur Yon France
2017Varaždin Croatia

World Youth Savate Assaut Championships (15 to 17)

Edition Year Host City Country Events
12011Villette-d'Anthon France
22013Kladovo Serbia
32015Plovdiv Bulgaria
42017Varaždin Croatia17

Cultural references

In the 1964 beach party film Bikini Beach, a French female bodyguard claims to be an expert in Savate and uses kicks to defend herself.

In Marvel comics, movies, and cartoons, the criminal mercenary Batroc the Leaper is a master of Savate.

In DC Comics, the character Nightwing is described as having a personal fighting style that combines Savate with the Filipino martial art Arnis.

Ash Crimson from The King of Fighters fights in a basic Savate style that uses his own green flames. Ash himself is portrayed by SNK as a character with an unknown origin, because his lineage as descendant of Saiki (Those from the Past's leader), but it says too that he was raised by the Blanctorche clan, a French family.

In the Tekken series, Brazilian character Katarina Alves uses savate as her fighting syle.

In the Japanese manga series Medaka Box Zenkichi Hitoyoshi is a master of Savate, and emphasizes its Open Handed Style Techniques with his "Altered God Mode: Model Zenkichi" which makes his hands as sharp as blades.

In the issue Flight 714 of The Adventures of Tintin, Professor Calculus states that he used to be proficient in Savate in his younger years. However, when attempting a kick, he ends up falling terribly, prompting stunned reactions from the onlookers. Dazed, Calculus remarks that he is out of practice.

See also


  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 Nobel Art."; Self-Defense by Kicking Exemplified by French Artists in London". New York Times. 10 November 1898. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
  3. "Historical Dictionary of the Olympic Movement". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  4. 1 2 Hontz, Jenny (18 December 2006). "FITNESS BOUND; Holiday pounds? Give 'em a swift kick". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  5. Martin, Adam (30 October 1988). "Getting Your Kicks With French Boxing Lomita Fighting, Fitness Academy Teaches the Sweet Science of Savate". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  6. "Savate: The French Manly Art of Self-Defense (Part 2)". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  7. "Savate: The French Manly Art of Self-Defense". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  8. "The Way of the Warrior". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  9. "Martial Arts of the World: R-Z". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  10. "Black Belt September 1997". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  11. "Black Belt November 2004". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  12. Thomas A. Green, Martial Arts of the World, ABC-CLIO, 2001, p.519
  13. Savate – Canne – Baton au fil des siècle: la vérifiable histoire de la boxe française and Swift's own biography in The Handbook To Boxing by Renton Nicholson, London 1840.
  14. "USSavate". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  15. "Black Belt March 1967". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  16. "Black Belt April 2004". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  17. "Black Belt September 1994". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  18. "Black Belt March 1988". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  19. "Black Belt June 1987". Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  20. "Black Belt February 1982". Retrieved 10 January 2015.

Further reading

  • 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.
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