A look at the European Martial Art of Savate by Peter Lockhart

Europe and Europeans, have a rich Martial heritage that is being revived and rediscovered in this present day and age. Most people immediately think of the Orient when the term Martial Arts is used, but the truth is, Europe has it's own devastating brand of Martial arts that goes back for hundreds and in some cases, even thousands of years.

On television recently, I was very interested to see a line of Police officers, using their batons in unison, with a two handed, French dueling technique for the sword called, a "botte du paysan".

This technique is a counter-offensive move, where the right hand has the sword by the handle and the left hand is pronated and holds the sword closer to the point. This thrust is delivered while stepping in with the left foot and is delivered somewhat like a bayonet thrust.

Each time the police made the "botte du paysan", they shouted "MOVE!" as they advanced in a synchronized line called a "Phalanx", one step at a time, against a crowd of protesters. This would have made Alexander the Great very proud, as it was his father, Philip of Macedon, who perfected the Phalanx and made the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, a possibility.

The "botte du paysan", was invented by a French gentleman called Philibert du La Tousche, a seventeenth century fencing master. As I observed with fascination this very powerful combination of French and Greek martial techniques, I was quite pleased to see just some of the legion of European Martial techniques being used successfully rather than Oriental ones for a change.

Just one of these European Martial Arts is the French Martial art of Savate which evolved from the French school of fencing, while also being heavily influenced by Greek Pankration and English Boxing.

By way of background, there are in fact, two French Martial arts known as Savate but neither are actually called Savate. These arts are, Chausson and la Boxe Francaise. The word Savate is pronounced Savat and means "old shoe".

Soldiers in Napoleon's Army would often be on the receiving end of what was known then as "la savate", which was an unofficial barracks punishment, where a culprit was held by two of his companions, while a third brutally kicked him several times in the buttocks. The word "savate" has since remained in popular usage to this day when referring to any French fighting system that incorporates kicking.

Chausson: This word translated from the French literally means "Fencing shoe" or "sailors shoe" and refers to a light felt or canvas sneaker or slipper worn by sailors or athletes.

Chausson is an incredible Martial Art which has hundreds of years of history and includes throws, kicks, punches and weapons. It was based from fencing and practiced originally by French Naval personnel and sailors are, as we all know, even in this day and age, prone to get into strife now and then, when in port. The rationale behind Chausson was, if you don't have a sword, what do you do then?

Chausson actually came from the French Port of Marseilles. One notorious character called Michel Casseux, used to deliberately pick fights to develop his "theorie de la savate". Casseaux was a feared bully in the slums of Paris and he instructed many noblemen and famous students in his "salle" or gym. Bar fights and street fights are very serious events and, any technique that did not work was soon discarded and likewise, any technique that was successful, was retained by Casseux and taught in his "salle".

In his "Bar brawls" he would no doubt, have seen and, possibly even taken on, Greek sailors who were skilled in Pankration, another European Martial art from Greece. Chausson is closely related to the Greek Martial art and Greek sailors are still to be found all over the world's sea ports, especially those on the Mediterranean and Atlantic.

The Greek sailors skilled in Pankration, were not push overs and definitely not wimps by any stretch of the imagination. Pankration has only three rules in formal competition and no rules in the street. The only formal rules in Pankration are: no biting, no eye gouging and no ripping off the other dude's testicles. Other than that - go for it! Chausson was the original fighting system that evolved from fencing and, la Boxe Francaise then evolved from Chausson and was separated by Joseph Charlemont as a sport in it's own right.

As the French and English live so close together and don't particularly like each other, they are always squabbling. Therefore, there have always been, are now and always will be, fights between Frenchmen and Englishmen. (I don't think it is possible to stop the men of these tribes from resorting to fisticuffs) As a result, and naturally enough, both Chausson and la Boxe Francaise have been heavily influenced by English boxing.

The English to the contrary, regard everything French as inferior, so there was no cross fertilization of techniques, it was strictly a one way street. The English speaking world regards kicking while fighting acceptable as long as it is not the French doing the kicking.

The English speaking world only started to kick with fighting as a result of Asian influences after World War II and the Korean War. The Asian Martial arts really took off with English speaking nations from the 1960's onwards. The French on the other hand, have been kicking for centuries and the Greeks for millennia and both do it very well indeed.

The French kicks are just about the same as Korean kicks in my experience - just as hard, just as fast and just as high - but there is one particular French kick called the "chasse" kick or "hunt" or "drive" kick which is like, but in my opinion, superior to, the "side kick" of the Orient. Personally, I like it and find it easier to execute and more effective in a fight.

The weapon work of Chausson consists of: Grand baton, la Canne, and Petite baton. There are other weapons but let me tell you, these three are just great. These are also sports or Martial Arts in their own right but they are most commonly taught with Chausson.

Grand baton is a three quarter staff the same as the "Jo" of the orient. It was once common for Frenchmen to walk around with just such a baton as a fashion accessory and they had a large and ornate metal knob on one end, ostensibly for decoration.

The wood was very hard and the baton is ideal for street defense. A Grand baton bout is a fearsome sight and it is a devastating weapon. Modern exponents train with broom sticks. The original Grand Batons are still in use and now only seen out in front of marching bands especially Military bands.

La Canne is weapon techniques for the walking stick or, if you prefer, fencing with a cane. Most men of France would carry a cane when they went out, even if they did not need it as a walking aid. It was and still is, perfectly acceptable to carry a cane, which is a very useful thing to have in a fight. A whole sport or Martial art based on fencing evolved using the common walking stick in France.

La Canne is, not surprisingly, very similar to Arnis of the Philippines and, like Arnis, has both one stick and two stick techniques, both can substitute sword (or anything else handy) for stick and both have bare hand techniques.

Arnis evolved from Spanish, Portuguese and Italian swordsmen who, for nearly four centuries, went to the Philippines. These men were mercenaries and highly skilled with the deadly European dueling combination of Rapier and dagger. There is today in the Philippines, one particular school of Arnis called "Etaliano", specifically named after the martially skilled Italian mercenaries.

A person these days can get into all sorts of bother, walking around with, or even possessing, a "traditional" oriental weapon such as Nunchucks et cetera. A walking stick however, is a different matter as it is completely legal, to possess and carry one at all times and, I assure you, it is formidable in the right hands. The right hands being, someone skilled in La Canne or Arnis.

Petite baton is a French weapon that was originally the belaying pins of a sailing ship. These belaying pins were used to tie off the various ropes of the sails while at sea. These pins sat neatly in a hole in a piece of wood and, could be easily pulled out, concealed and used by French sailors, for close quarter fighting onboard ship, or in any confined space such as below decks or in a crowded bar. These days, rather than belaying pins, a pair of steel pipes filled with lead are used. Again, as these are not recognized as a traditional oriental "Martial Arts" weapon, they can be kept in a private home or in a car with impunity. They are after all, nothing more than a short piece of heavy pipe, filled with lead with a martingale or wrist band. The Petite Baton is easily made and easily replaced. The official length of the pipe is, the length of your forearm from elbow to wrist plus three inches for you to grip.

The technique of the Petite baton is to get close while in a confined space and to break the hands, wrists and or arms of the opponent, thereby rendering him armless and harmless. He can't hurt you if he can't use his hands. Used in the confined space of a private home such as a hallway, or even in a car by a skilled exponent, the Petite baton is devastating.

La Boxe Francaise: This art is Kickboxing in a ring, rather than strictly for street self defense as is Chausson. La Boxe Francaise or French boxing is, highly evolved and very effective. In 1969, a French exponent of French Boxing, one Christian Guillaume went to Japan and knocked the spots off the best Karatemen Japan could offer. In the mid eighties, six of the best fighters Japan could produce went to fight in Paris.

All six were defeated and, four were knocked out by la Boxe Francaise exponents. In recent times, heavyweight champion kickboxer, Pete "Sugarfoot" Cunningham was defeated by Richard Sylla, a French boxing champion.

The kicks and punches are the same as Karate or Oriental Kickboxing, with only some minor differences, (no front snap kick) but the training systems are different, radically different to anything in the Orient or anywhere else to my knowledge.

The French boxing training systems place a lot of emphasis on avoiding being hit by kicks and punches with a lot of training in "parades" or blocking, "esquives" or bobbing and weaving and "displacements" or side stepping footwork to avoid the opponents strikes. They reason that any fool can punch and kick, but a skilled exponent does not get punched or kicked. To the French, not being hit is the high art of la Boxe Francaise.

The major training difference with French Boxing however, is the combinations of techniques called "enchainments" which are very complex. These are done in pairs of Savateurs who go through predetermined sequences of attacks, blocks and counter attacks, according to the various grades or "gaunts".

These "enchainments" are best described as being like Kata, but are executed in pairs rather than by one person alone as is the case with Kata. Unlike Kata, which is a series of formalized kicks blocks and punches, the enchainments have moves which are the actual punches, kicks, parades, esquives and displacements that would be used in fighting.

The enchainments are practiced over and over with a partner until they are internalized, or, absorbed into the sub-conscience of the exponent and, he knows and can then perform them automatically without conscience thought.

To pass a grading, exponents must be able to perform the enchainments and then demonstrate prowess with the appropriate techniques in the enchainments with bouts of sparring.

Savateurs are graded like Karate exponents and when they reach the "Gaunt Jaune" or Yellow glove, the student is only then, able to compete in full contact competition matches to gain the "Gaunt de Bronze" and then proceed on to the "Gaunt d'Argent" or Silver glove.

It is these enchainments that give the Savate exponent the edge over other types of fighting systems in my opinion. French boxing is now, because of its effectiveness, undergoing a massive resurgence of popularity after almost becoming extinct between World Wars one and two.

Tragically, thousands of Savateurs died in the trenches of World War I. The French are extremely brave lads in my experience and went to their inevitable deaths with great courage. (My background is Celtic, not English and traditionally, both the Scots and Irish have always gotten along well with our French cousins).

I would love to hold a tournament and bring over some French boys to fight the best Australia could offer - I may yet do just that so don't tempt me - I am willing to bet the French boys will wipe the floor with anyone here brave enough to take them on. I have personally seen them in action and please believe me, French boxing is a thing of the future.

I have heard that a team of Frenchmen are coming to Australia and will be giving exhibitions of la Boxe Francaise next year. If that is the case, that will be very interesting and will come as a big shock to many Martial artists in Australia I am sure.

I believe many of the unique training systems from the French boxing will influence and be adopted by, serious Martial artists in just the same way as English boxing methods have been adopted. There is nothing that cant be learned as long as you are open to it.

All around the world right now, European Martial arts are being rediscovered and rightly so in my opinion, as the Oriental people, are not the only ones with a rich Martial tradition, skills and prowess. Some forgotten European fighting skills long abandoned with the cessation of dueling are now being re-born and relearned by people who are interested in the amazingly rich Martial arts and martial heritage of Europe.

Fencing, especially dueling techniques is currently undergoing a resurgence of popularity and so are all the French combative arts. This is happening for one reason - they work and work very well. Don't be surprised to hear that French boxers or Savateurs are carving a place for themselves in Kickboxing history. Look out Oriental Martial arts, the Europeans are coming with a vengeance.