"French boxing is a serious science that requires a lot of cold blood, calculation, agility and  strength. It is the most beautiful development of  human vigor, a fight without other weapons other than nature's where one can not be taken unawares " Théophile Gautier

Like Boxing, Kick Boxing, Thai boxing or MMA, French Boxing Savate is part of the big family of boxing and more generally combat sports.

The discipline appears in the 19th century by taking up the spirit and vocabulary of fencing. This is why, like fencing, we will designate fighters as shooters (from the French tireurs).

In French Savate Boxing the shooter can only kick with the feet, not with the knees and shins as in other Kick boxing styles and must wear shoes. The practice of French boxing is done with gloves, no shin guards, and boxing shoes (Savate boots) .

In France alone, there are more than 50,000 licensed competitors in the French Federation.

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What is the history behind the Savate?

The first trace of  savatte (writing of the time) dates from 1797.  Vidocq, then aged 22 discovers this sport before his departure for the prison of Brest.

At the beginning of the 19th century, savate is  considered as the sport of the bad boys of the outer Neighborhoods of Paris even though it originates in Marseilles , the famous port town of southen France,where it was known as the jeu marseillais (game from Marseille),  later renamed chausson (slipper, after the type of shoes the sailors wore). Striking someone with a closed fist was a crime.

In 1820, Michel Casseux opened the first Parisian Savate room where he also taught "the cane de combat". In the 1830s, Charles Lecour fused the premises of savate, English boxing and jeu marseillais.

On his return to Paris, he also opened a room where he taught both boxing and savate. So French boxing is born! Over the century, Savate quickly became a self-defense sport and a sporting symbol of the aristocracy. Savate is also recognized as a practical way to let off steam physically and maintain shape in its non contact form.

In 1877, Joseph Charlemont published the "Treaty of French boxing" which codifies and theorizes for the first time the techniques and blows authorized or prohibited. Ten years later, still under the direction of Charlemont and his son Charles, the French boxing academy is created. It will last until the death of Charles in 1944.

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Savat boxing in the early days
Boxing saves at the very beginnings.

The meeting between Charles Charlemont and Jerry Driscoll  was an incredible event which put French boxing in the foreground. This fight won by Charles Charlemont by a blow to the lower stomach was contentious, the blow being valid for some and prohibited for others. This unofficial meeting ended with a trial where the two protagonists were sentenced for assault!

In 1903, the French Federation of Boxing Societies (FFSB) was created, bringing together French and English boxing. After the end of World War I, Savate returns to the main stage at the Paris Olympics (1924), as it is introduced as a demonstration sport. Until the end of the Second World War, French boxing loses in popularity  and  only a few champions like Pierre Baruzy, Berceau, Laford or Prévost keep the tradition alive.

Savate owes its rise in popularity in the 70's and 80's  thanks to the good management of the CNBF (National Committee of French Boxing) which brought this sport back by introducing it into Universities and Schools.  In 1980, there were more than 10,000 graduates and more than 20,000 in 1985, coinciding with the creation of the International Federation.

Today, there are more than 50,000 practitioners in France.

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The Rules of this French Boxing Style

As in all sports and especially combat sports, there are strict codified  rules - Savate is no different!

Age and Weight Categories

In order for the battles to be balanced, savate groups label shooters by weight, category and age.

For age categories (Using the Original French naming System) :

After cadet, we consider the following weights:

  • Fly: less than 48 kg,
  • Roosters: from 48 to 52 kg,
  • Feathers: less than 56 kg,
  • Lightweight: from 56 to 60 kg,
  • Super light: from 60 to 65 kg,
  • Medium: 65 to 70 kg
  • S / M / Medium: from 70 to 75 kg,
  • Means: from 75 to 80 kilograms included (for women the category includes 75 kilos and more),
  • Medium-heavy: from 80 to 85 kg,
  • Heavy: Over 85 kilos.

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The Golden Couple of Savate
The golden couple Tony Yoka and Estelle Mossely!

The grades

The distribution and ranking of grades is up to each French boxing club (usually twice a year).

As in many combat sports like judo, karate or aikido, the grades are represented by colors.

The different grades, as we glimpsed before,  are blue, green, red, white, yellow and technical silver glove or bronze glove. Each of these grades are composed of 3 degrees. The technical silver glove or the bronze glove allow to have access to certain prohibited competitions without obtaining these distinctions. It does vary by country however.

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Some Details on Savate

Modern codified savate provides for three levels of competition:

Assault 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 mouth guards is prohibited.

Now that we know a bit about its classification let's take a look at the Different techniques!

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The Different Savate Techniques

Savate classes are carried out in the boxing ring
Even during a trial class the students will learn this French martial art technique in a ring.


The International Savate Federation recognizes 11 different kicks, which could be classified into three categories: whipped, chased and swayed:

  • The Roundhouse: it is a circular kick distributed on the lower part, median or at the head of the adversary with the top of the foot or the toes. The movement starts from the hip with the pelvis  going towards the opponent,
  • The Piston Action Kick: Specifically frontal and lateral. The frontal chased is a blow given with the sole to the frontal part of the adversary (low, median or head). The shot is raised by raising the knee and relaxing the leg until impact. The side chaser can be given with the sole, the heel or the tip of the foot,
  • The Hooking kick: we find several types of balanced  Hook kick: frontal, lateral, ascending and descending. They all use the principle of the slingshot which is movement that is organized around the axis of the hip with a devastating impact!

Many video tutorials are a useful and practical way towards visually understanding these techniques!

The punches

The savate codifies four categories of punches. There are two categories, those carried by a piston movement and those carried by a swinging movement:

  • The hook which is a circular punch given horizontally and delivered on the lateral parts of the shooter at the median level or at the head.
  • The direct which is a rectilinear punch which is armed by a piston movement. With a direct, we target the frontal parts of the adversary, at the median level as at the head for example.
  • The swing, punch armed by a swinging motion in a lateral plane.
  • The uppercut is a circular punch given from the bottom upwards and which also targets the intermediate and high parts (head) of the opponent.

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Weight lifting and resistance training is a good compliment to Savate
Going to the weight room can be a good complement to any workout - especially savate!

Prohibited actions

Knees are absolutely prohibited. The same is true for kicking vertically, vertical kicks with the heel, shins or kicks delivered to the back of the opponent. It is also forbidden to kick with the help of a hand on the ground.

With regard to prohibited strikes "hammers", elbow and backhands with the forearm are also absolutely prohibited.

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In short:

  • Essentially considered a "bad boy" sport, French savate has since regained its reputation as  the number of members to a boxing gym or savate club is constantly increasing, but maybe it will not always be the case.
  • Like other combat sports, french boxing is codified with different age or weight categories, ranks, but also and above all by the regulations regarding shots. French Boxing Savate  is not a street fight thus some kicks or punches are allowed when others are not.
  • Now that you know all of this go find a club or gym nearby whether you want to train professionally, get in great shape or just beat the stress out of a bad week with the aid of a heavy bag!
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As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.