Originating from France, Savate – literally translated as ‘old shoe’ – is a French hybrid martial art that focuses on the use of kicks and punches to take down the opponent. Unlike other kick-centric martial arts that exist, Savate requires practitioners to wear shoes, making it a particularly salient martial art. 

Savate – How It All Began

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People can trace the discovery of Savate or boxe française back to the early 19th century on the streets of France. Derived from street fighting techniques, many sailors began to use high kicks and open-handed slaps when entertaining with casual brawls. One of the primary reasons for this was to adapt to the rocking ships and provide them a means to maintain their balance by holding onto something with one of their hands. Moreover, at the time, fighting with a closed fist was the same as using a lethal weapon under law. To protect themselves from legal issues, they adapted the aforementioned method of fighting. Overtime, this type of fighting was soon coined ‘chausson’. It means slipper in French – a name derived from the type of shoes the sailors would wear.

Around the year 1825, a man named Michel Casseux established a place for savate. In his observation of the kick-centric fighting styles prominent around France at the time, he hoped for his training gym to be a spot where people could refine their kicks more properly, rather than ignorantly throw them out without thought.

Not too long after setting up the first official establishment for practicing savate, one of Casseux’s students – a man named Charles Lecour – brought forth a suggestion. It completely changed and redefined savate from there on out. Having recently lost a match with an English boxer at the time, Lecour realized that many French fighters stood too far at a disadvantage when up against skilled fist-fighters. Mostly because they mainly used their hands for blocking or slapping.

Therefore, to mitigate these limitations, Lecour moved to England to receive proficient training in boxing. Two years after, he returned to France and incorporated everything he had learned into the French kicking fighting style. He eventually established what we know as Boxe Francaise or Savate.

Savate Competition 


People codify Savate’s ranking system with the color of a fighter’s gloves, rather than the conventional belt. However, even if a fighter ranks up, this does not necessarily mean they must wear different colored gloves. Dependent on the person, they may wear the same colored gloves all throughout. However, the largest distinction made is whether a fighter is wearing a colorless one or not, since gloves with no color indicate a Novice.

There are three parts in the Savate competitions: assault, pre-combat, and combat. The first, assault, is a point in time for fighters to focus on their techniques more than anything else. Pre-combat and combat permit fighters to go all out, if they adhere to the rules and wear the necessary equipment. The main difference between the two is the intensity and the fact that the ladder prohibits protective gears.

Savate Today


Near the end of the 1800s, Savate’s popularity grew as many French people began to gain traction as a sport. It wasn’t until 1924, Olympic officially recognized Savate in the Olympic Games in Paris. Later in 2008, the International University Sports Federation also recognized it. Overtime, more people have become interested in this unique style of fighting that utilizes both kicks and punches. Many practitioners are hailing from various parts of the world – US, Finland, Britain, etc.

One of the biggest distinct elements of Savate compared to any other martial arts is the shoes. Unlike many other foot-centric styles such as Muay Thai or Hapkido, Savateurs must wear these thick boots for two reasons. One purpose is to help protect the feet without any worry to damaging or injuring them during a brawl. The other is to help focus the power of the kick.

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