Thursday, February 05, 2009

1967 - BLACK BELT magazine - SAVATE

from 1967 March - BLACK BELT magazine







Black Belt magazine 2004 - the same content in 2004


















Black Belt Classic March 1967
The French ‘Manly Art of Self-Defense’
by J. Delcourt
After years of troubles and decline, French savate is making something of a comeback. This famous foot-fighting art, the only one of its kind ever developed outside the Orient, almost passed out of existence after most of its top masters were killed on the front lines during World War I.
The number of practitioners of the pure form of this elegant art has dwindled to only several thousand in recent years. But today’s devotees are a dedicated band, and they are spearheading a new drive to spread the art, which is rated by many as second only to karate in combat effectiveness.
The savate men and women are being aided by the fact that a new upsurge of interest in this native French art is sweeping the country. National pride has been awakened, and programs are now being undertaken to try to save this unique art and make of it an officially recognized national self-defense system in France. The government is doing its part. Plans are under way to make savate instruction available in schools in all parts of the country. Even the country’s Japanese martial arts groups are lending a helping hand. They have welcomed savate followers into their ranks and set up a separate savate department within the French Federation of Judo and Associated Arts, the country’s official organization for all the martial arts.
The Colorful History
If it seems strange to others that savate should find itself at this late date in its development as part of a Japanese martial arts group, it doesn’t seem so to its followers. For this art has had a strange and fascinating history since it got started around the end of the Napoleonic era a century and a half ago.
The development of savate stands in marked contrast, for instance, to what was happening in England at about the same time during the 19th century. To an Englishman—and to anyone in the English-speaking world—the “manly art of self-defense” is automatically considered to be the art of boxing. That’s because of a titled English nobleman, the Marquess of Queensbury, who more than a century ago formulated the famous set of rules that lifted boxing up from a brawling, roughhouse pursuit and made of fisticuffs a system of unarmed self-defense “fit for a gentleman.”
But in France, the emphasis on defense shifted from the hands to the feet. It was around 1820 that the system that later developed into savate got started in Marseilles among the dockhands of that port city. It wasn’t long afterward that the new foot-fighting system showed up in Paris, where it quickly became the favorite combat form of the French underworld—at that time, one of the toughest in the world.
It was from this unlikely beginning that savate was rose to become the self-defense system of French aristocrats, who were its most enthusiastic devotees. In so doing, the earlier, rougher system of savate underwent a number of changes. No longer were clumsy kicks and thrusts tolerated. The system became far more refined. In fact, it took on many customs typically associated with the French.
It was an elegant form of self-defense that the aristocrats made of savate. Aesthetics became as important as the effectiveness of the system itself. And so great emphasis was placed on the beauty and rhythm of the movements. Savate took on all the elegance of ballet and the grace of fencing, while retaining the deadliness of an alley fight.
It was this aristocratic insistence on grace and beauty that gave savate a reputation among the uninformed in other countries—most noticeably in the United States—of being something of a “sissified” pastime. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Japanese karate experts who are familiar with savate, and who have found a number of points of comparison between the kicks of their own art and those of savate, have pronounced the French art as being second only to karate as a fighting system.
Some of the early teachers of savate were colorful characters. One of the first was a man known to us now only as Michael, who was nicknamed “Le Pisseux.” He studied the foot-fighting system of Marseilles called “la savate” and codified the kicks into a new system he called the “art of savate.” He opened a school in La Courtille, where such famous aristocrats as the Duke of Orleans and Milord L’Arsouille came to practice with him.
Another well-known teacher was Louis Vigneron, a man blessed with a huge physical frame and muscles to match. He was called “The Cannon Man” because he used to travel from fair to fair and strap a cannon to his back, which he would fire in demonstrations. He miscalculated one day and succeeded in getting himself killed during a performance.
Savate also was influenced by the Marquess of Queensberry’s new English style of boxing. A savate man, Charles Lecour, first conceived the idea of combining English fisticuffs with French foot-fighting techniques to come up with a formidable new style.
But the real founder of French boxing was J. Charlemont, who brought together all the various styles of savate that were springing up and, like the Marquess of Queensberry, codified them into one formal system. In 1887 he founded the Academy of French Boxing and began to drill a number of future instructors in savate.
From Charlemont’s time, French boxing enjoyed extraordinary success. The art grew wildly, and from only a handful of followers, their numbers jumped to more than 100,000 practitioners by the turn of the century. During the first years of the 20th century, French boxing continued to grow in importance, and its fame spread to other countries in Europe and America.
But disaster lay ahead. The First World War was approaching, and the catastrophe of war was also the catastrophe of savate. By the end of the war in 1918, virtually all the leading masters of savate had been annihilated in the trenches and on the blood-soaked battlefields of France and Belgium.
Charlemont still lived and continued to practice the art. But somehow, savate never caught on like it had before. The French art also faced a new competitor, the English system of boxing. English boxing, which is the same as the American style, was destined to have a great period in France between the two world wars. For the next 20 years, it was the new rage, and great boxers like Georges Carpentier, who later challenged Jack Dempsey for the world heavyweight crown, were the heroes of postwar France.
The lure of the boxing ring, with its professional fighters, splashy advertising and big purses, almost spelled the end of savate. In 1941 the great Charlemont died, and his passing went almost unnoticed by the general public. During the long years of World War II, the French had little time to think of savate—or of anything else except survival.
Savate languished during the years after World War II, and then met another great competitor. It was karate, the Japanese boxing and foot-fighting art that swept the world like wildfire. It seemed that with the impact of this new art, savate would run its course and die out.
But now, savate’s fortunes are beginning to turn—not a great deal at first, but enough to give those who struggle to keep it alive new hope. The French public and the government rediscovered the art and are taking steps to preserve it and teach it in public schools. And the other martial arts are lending encouragement.
There are several variations of savate at present. The old aristocratic system has since been popularized—and cannibalized—and quite a few Frenchmen know various techniques. Savate systems have also sprung up in Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. The Italian system is a wide-open one in which anything goes. Many of these styles abroad are looked upon with distaste by practitioners within France.
To pull together the various styles and make them authentic, the French Federation of Judo and Associated Arts set up a savate section in April 1966. The section is also seeking to extend the teachings of the art. At present, there are only about 1,000 savate members affiliated with the group, but they are ambitious and hope to broaden their base.
The Fighting Style
“French boxing is a kind of fencing, but with the feet and fists,” says one savate expert. “It aims to develop the beauty of the style and of the gesture, the aesthetics of the movements, and the pleasure of practicing a manly sport.” And like karate, the avowed aims of the masters of the art are to also develop the physical and spiritual qualities of man.
There are several other similarities to karate. For instance, outdoor training is very popular with savate enthusiasts. They like to run through the woods, especially through bushes and thorns, to practice lifting their legs high.
French boxing is practiced amid an atmosphere of aristocracy and good manners, and with a chivalrous spirit as the aim. With those ideals, the French savate practitioner, like his counterpart in the Japanese martial arts, doesn’t emphasize the physical at the expense of other aspects. The practice of the art is the important thing, not just the pure physical perfection of it.
Savate in recent years has continued to develop. Fist techniques have been introduced more and more of late. The classical posture used to be stiff and static, but now movements are becoming more fluid thanks to the introduction of English boxing techniques.
The stance is interesting and contrasts with that used in both Japanese and English styles of boxing. The upper body remains upright since French boxers never move into a crouch position, feeling that it doesn’t make for efficiency in their style of kicking. They practice with their supporting leg stretched out, while the karate stylist will often bend this leg to get as low as possible.
The French kicking position is a beautiful thing to see. The fundamental principle is to have the supporting leg straight, the chest arched and the head upright. The whole body is then flung at the opponent like a bullet. Another important element is to use one arm as a counterweight and hold the other ready to protect against an opponent’s attack. This is the reason there are those marvelous postures of French boxing, with one arm flung to the rear while the leg kicks forward.
The kicks are classified as high, medium or low. Like karate, there are front kicks, side kicks and even jumping kicks. But usually one foot is placed flat on the ground, and the kick delivered with the other. The kicking foot is shot out like a piston and returned swiftly in preparation for another attack. The body is arched far back to avoid a retaliatory kick from an opponent.
“Everything depends upon the legs, the stance and how you shift your weight,” says Bernard Plasait, a top teacher and two-time featherweight savate champion of France. He’s the son of a well-to-do manufacturer and is a versatile athlete, being skilled in skiing and the art of cane fighting, which is usually taught along with savate. He’s also a flying enthusiast and pilots his own plane.
“Power, speed and impact are most important, Plasait says. “French boxing can be fought from either side, with the guard on the right or left. We also employ all sorts of combinations and counterblows, feints and stop kicks.”
One of Plasait’s favorite techniques is the side kick. He explains it below: “First, the kick is thrown from the side. The balance is established by the speed, with the forward arm protecting you, the chest outward, the head erect, the leg tensed straight and the body on the same plane. To maintain balance, the body must be in a circle around the vertical plane, with the kicking leg still with the heel on the ground. In delivering the kick, the leg shoots out and returns immediately. The power is due to the speed with which the kick is delivered and is augmented by the balance of the whole body.”
French boxers go through vigorous workout sessions, in which they exercise a great deal. Training to strengthen the abdominal muscles, so necessary for executing the arched-back positions, is important. But power training with weights is never engaged in. A typical session at the gym begins with warm-up exercises, followed by individual workouts and training (like kihon in karate). Then they engage in shadowboxing on four sides, emphasizing quick position changes, rhythm and about-faces. Many of those last exercises look similar to those of karate. This series of exercises is called forme in French, which means the same as kata in Japanese.
There are several styles of fighting engaged in. L’assault is a courteous bout judged according to “touches” scored. In tireurs, as in the style of fencing, the boxers try to deliver subtle punches and kicks without any violence. But in Ie combat, blows are struck with power, and the bout is for real.
Tournaments are widely held in French boxing. There are four great competitions each year: the French Championship, the Paris Match Cup, the University Championships and the Teachers Cup. Bouts take place in a ring similar to that used for English boxing. They last two, three or four rounds, with each round two or three minutes in length. The officials are a ring judge and two side judges.
Any combination of kicks can be used in competition, but only two punches in a row can be thrown at any one time in an attack. After two successive punches have been thrown, the boxer must switch to a kicking technique or step back and start his attack over. The following are prohibited: wrestling; holding the opponent’s head; delivering blows with the elbow, knee or head; delivering blows with an open hand or the wrist; and hitting an opponent on the ground.
Final decisions are of three types: victory by hors de combat (knockout), victory by points and a draw. French boxers fight in eight weight categories—from flyweight to heavyweight, just as in English boxing. Eight-ounce gloves are worn.
French boxers wear close-fitting uniforms. The top is like a T-shirt, but the leggings are similar to the leotards used by ballet dancers, only of heavier material. A soft leather boot with a buffalo sole completes the outfit. Usually, the color of the shirt and trousers are the same as the club’s colors.
As with the Oriental martial arts, savate has a grading system. It’s similar to that of judo and karate, with the boxers classified into beginning and advanced ranks. But in savate, the ranks are graded according to gloves: blue, green, red, white and yellow for the lower ranks; and blue, green, red, silver and gold for the higher ranks. The ranks are displayed on the gloves by a stripe around the bottom. The lower ranks have a narrow stripe; the higher ranks are shown with a broader stripe. Ranks are given out after grading tests before a commission of judges.
As in judo and karate, a number of women have also taken up the sport. With its emphasis on grace and beauty as well as self-defense, it’s easy to see why savate would appeal to women. However, female savate members are never allowed to compete.
With the emphasis on grace and manners, and its appeal to a wealthier class of people, it would seem that savate will never enjoy the popularity of the more democratized system of Japanese karate. In today’s environment, with its mass entertainment and mass audiences, this old emphasis on the aesthetic tastes and good manners of the aristocrat seem touchingly out of date. Yet savate members insist it’s possible to retain its values and still seek a wider audience. And they are setting out to prove it.

4 comments:

Johann said...

Merci pour cet article sur la savate, Johann.

Thank you for this article on Savate, Johann

Johann said...

Merci pour cet article sur la savate, Johann.

Thank you for this article on Savate, Johann

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Paratrooper Lirelou said...

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