Savate: The European Martial Art

Savate martial artists in action

Most Orient fighting arts were conceived and trained from a battle or war perspective. For this reason, the word ‘martial’ (military) is linked to the fighting arts. L’art de savate is distinctly different. It is the only art to have been of the streets and alleys of Marseille in France. It was conceived for the people’s survival. It is said that most European cities were dangerous after dark, and only fools ventured out without protection. It gained popularity among the elite, rich, and noble, who practised it as a sport and as an exercise to remain fit and healthy.

Savate is a French word meaning “old shoe or boot” (heavy boots used by the French military or sailors). The other names by which this art is known are boxee francaise, savate boxing or French foot fighting. Today, savate is a popular sport, combining elements of Western boxing and graceful kicking techniques. It is perhaps the only kickboxing art in which the fighters wear shoes. A savate male practitioner is known as a tireur, and a female practitioner is a tireuse.

History of Savate

In Marseille, sailors developed a fighting art involving high-thrust kicks and open-hand slaps. As the ship always rocked, the sailors used their hands for support by holding on to something, and then used their other hand and feet to defend or attack when in a fight on board. When on land, they found that the use of these techniques avoided legal penalties because the use of a closed fist was considered the use of a deadly weapon under the law. This fighting art was called Jeu Marseilles (a game from Marseille) and was later renamed Chaussan (slippers, after the type of shoes the sailors used).

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