French kickboxing is an incredible sport to watch and play. Unlike English boxing, the gentlemen across the pond had quite a different approach to what was essentially a self-defense mechanism. In the United Kingdom, the kicks that are so crucial to French kickboxing were considered to be poor sportsmanship and so they were never included in the sport.
This sport was initially inspired by kung fu masters who could be seen on the ports of Marseille. The French sailors stood in awe as they watched the masters battle it out with grace and dignity, not like the sloppy punches that formed the base of Western European defense at the time. In fact, it was the sailors who were said to have completely developed this mechanism of combat specifically so that it could be performed on a rocky ship. The idea was that the high kicks and open-handed slaps could be executed during a choppy bought at sea.
Speaking of the open-handed slaps of the 1800s, they were a nifty way of getting around the fact that closed-fist punches were considered illegal at the time, for fear of lethality. As a result, a person would be severely punished for utilizing one’s fists in hand to hand combat. By the time the sport was starting to catch hold and build technique, it developed a new name: savate. This world, meaning “slipper” in French, is a tribute to the type of shoes that the sailors wore at the time.
The sailors in question were quite influential to French culture at the time, and so the techniques quickly spread to the streets of Marseille and Paris. However, instead of being an organized sport, it ended up as a form of self-defense because of how nasty the economically disadvantaged parts of the cities were.
From being a sport of disorganized chaos, savate has now come to be very strict in the quality of attacks that are allowed. There are only four kicks allowed in the sport: a roadhouse kick that makes contact with the toe, a piston action kick, a frontal or lateral kick that makes contact with the sole of the shoe, and a low kick with the inner edge of the shoe. Similarly, the four punches allowed are a jab, a cross, a hook, and an uppercut.
Gloves have quite an essential meaning in French kickboxing, or savate. Just like belt ranking in martial arts, you can tell a boxer’s rank by the color of his gloves. The thing is, this change isn’t exactly required, and so an athlete may well keep his gloves as he moves up the ranks of French kickboxing. At the same time, novice boxers (who have only been practicing for less than six months) start out with colorless gloves.
Deceit is a crucial part of the art of French kickboxing. For example, a savateur, as a male boxer would be called, could be aiming for a low kick but then quickly swing his leg around into a high kick, effectively going after his opponent’s belly.
Savate has come a long way since the days of sailors grappling on ships. It was included as a demonstration sport in the Paris Olympics of 1924 and by 2008, it was finally recognized by the International University Sports Federation. This meant that the sport could finally hold University World Championships, the first of which was held in Nantes in 2010. Later that year, the International Savate Federation was accepted as a member of SportAccord, which means that it is well on its way to partaking in the Olympics.