French Language Blog

Oui, Oui, French Boxing – aka “La Savate” Posted by on Oct 12, 2011 in Culture, Vocabulary

Ihe martial art of “French Boxing“, which is also known as “savate“, doesn’t date from yesterday, and for that reason it belongs to the category of les Arts Martiaux Historiques Européens (Historical European martial arts), such as the 15th century “Jeu de la hache (“game of the axe”), the English jujitsu-inspired “Bartitsu“, or the much older Greek pancrace (in English “Pankration.”)

A scene from the 1995 movie “Savate”, starring world kickboxing champion and French commando marine (naval commando)-turned-actor, Olivier Gruner. The movie, in which Van Damme‘s shadow lingers not too far behind, is set in Texas during the American Civil War, when the French “Second Empire”, under the disastrous rulership of “Napoléon le petit” (as famously nicknamed by Victor Hugo), committed troops to an ill-fated invasion attempt of Mexico

The word savate in French designates an “old shoe“, or even an “old slipper” in colloquial terms.

Mais qu’en est-il de ses origines (But how about its origins)?

The earliest record goes back to shortly before l’époque napoléonienne (the Napoleonic era), towards the end of the 18th century.

Some specialists trace a northern France origin of la savate, mainly around the capital Paris, as opposed to the southern form of martial art known as le chausson (meaning “the slipper”), which saw the light in the city of Marseilles.

Eventually, both la savate and le chausson techniques would merge into la boxe française.

The 2010 Savate French Championship held in Alès (nearby Coco Chanel’s family hometown!)

The 2008 Savate World Championship 

One of the chief differences between English boxing and its French counterpart is that, in the latter version, the use of les jambes et les pieds (the legs and the feet) is fully authorized.

On the eve of the so-called “Entente cordiale“, craftly engineered by Britain’s Edward VII, and duly executed by a rather subservient and “outclassed” Delcassé, mainly in order to isolate the newly unified Germany and further the British hegemonic agenda, efforts were made on both sides of la Manche (the English channel), between English Francophiles and French Anglophiles to increase all forms of cultural exchange between France and Britain.

In this context of European geopolitical intensity, a special match dubbed “le combat du siècle” (“the fight of the century”) was organized in 1899 that was to determine which of the two types of boxing, the French or the English, est le meilleur (is the best.)

Charles Chaumont, a Frenchman, faced Jerry Driscoll, a boxing champion listed in Her Majesty’s Victorian Navy.

In the first round, Driscoll complained that Charlemont l’avait mordu (had bit him), which caused the match to halt for a few minutes. Then, shortly after it resumed, the fighting stopped again for an unknown reason!
When the referee expressed his intention to have the match canceled, both fighters convinced him that he should au contraire allow it to continue.

Finally, the confrontation came to an end in the eighth round, when Driscoll was awarded un coup de genou (a knee blow) to the stomach by Chaumont—a move considered by the English standard of boxing as illegal, since it was en dessous de la ceinture (below the belt.)

Years later, Bernard John Anglean English referee who witnessed the historical clash in Paris, lambasted his compatriot’s performance, adding that Driscoll didn’t really know what he was getting into when he decided to confront the Frenchman dans son propre jeu (in his own game.)

A rather ironic comment, since France didn’t know either “what it was getting into”, when it joined King Edward VII‘s perfidious game, an episode of the “Great Game” called “l’Entente cordiale“, in which les coups bas (the low blows) of “Dirty Bertie” (the British monarch’s well-deserved nickname) were much dirtier than anything ever seen in la savate !

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