Boxing with the Feet

By  Herbert M. Lome


A famous society athlete describes and illustrates

“La Savate”, the French method of boxing

 Mr. A. J. Drexel Biddle has again favored us in a manner which our readers will doubtless appreciated. This enthusiastic advocate of athletics has closely studied the French form of boxing – ” La Savate”, and he is so much interested in the friends to this publication that he has posed for the various photographs that we are reproducing herewith. Boxing is one of the most valuable of all exercises. It not only builds a powerful physique but gives one self-confidence at all times when it is most needed, and makes one cool and collected in emergencies. The French might possibly content that boxing with the feet is simply a sort of complement to the American or British forms of boxing – Bernarr Macfadden.


Sport, like war, exemplifies the temperaments of the nations who engage in it.  The gymnasiums and duelling clubs of the Germans; the showy riding feats of the upper classes of the Italians; the bull-fighting of the Spanish; the boxing club and the football fields of the British and the United Sates; the skiing of the Norwegians and Swedes, and that eminently French institution ” La savate” will, on analysis, be found to rest on a foundation of the characteristic traits of the inhabitants of each of the countries named. Stated in brief, it may be said in this connection that the athletic recreations of the Anglo-Saxon races are  those that call for endurance and bull-dog pluck; while those of the Latin peoples are marked by agility, showiest, and in some cases- a tricky quality that does not meet with the entire approval of we in America or our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic.

La savate, the art of attack and defence with the feet, is one of  the sports that somehow or other, is not in accord with our ideas of fair play, or true manliness. It may be that we are so accustomed to use our fists for fun, or self-protection, that we cannot understand why men should employ their feet for the same purposes. The average citizen of this country has a distinct contempt for the man who will kick an adversary except under stress of most pressing need. And his views of the matter do not suffer much change when the kick is delivered in the name of sport instead of  necessity. Yet in France,  la savate enjoys a vogue that hasn’t been greatly hindered by the recent popularizing within its borders of boxing a  l’Anglaise, or the use of  the gloves in the manner to which we are accustomed.

Mr. A. J. Drexel Biddle, the well known society athlete and amateur boxer of Philadelphia, has studied la Savate in the land in which it flourishes. His most recent encounters with it were last summer, when he was in Paris. But let Mr. Biddle tell his own story of the sport if it may be dignified by that title.  The recital as here set down, took place in the boxing room at the rear of the palatial home of the narrator in  Walnut Street, Philadelphia.

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Picture (1). – Backward body kick with the right foot, guarded with the right hand. Counter with the left hand. Mr. Biddle on the right.


” Within the past year or so, as you probably know,” said Mr. Biddle, ” there has been a tremendous interest taken in boxing by the French, especially in Paris. So that  at the present, you find boxing clubs all over Paris and other of the big communities. 

But in spite of all this, the Frenchman has not lost his love for la Savate. He delights in seeing the feet used  with pretty nearly as much facility as the fists. He rejoices in the unexpected things that sport brings about in the way of gestures and happenings.  And I must confess that if you once can overcome your prejudice against the man who attacks another with a kick, La savate is laugh-provoking, not to say interesting- to the spectator.

” French boxing contests are now conducted under the rules ‘La boxe Auglaise’  or La boxe Française’ –the former calling for the use of the fists only, and the latter allowing of la savatebeing resorted to whenever the combatants feel called  upon to do so. The two systems divide honors in the public estimation, but as I have intimated, la boxe Anglaise is showing an increasing popularity.

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Picture (2).- Left lead of leg to the stomach; guard with both hands accompanied by the left leg to inside of opponenet’s right knee. This is one of the spectatacular situations in la savate.


” La savate, like unto our boxing, has a regular system of attacks,  defences, feints and so forth. It calls for some physical qualities that are not needed by the fist fighter. Thus, the la savate expert must be a high kicker; he must have  a perfect power of poise whether he be on one  or two feet, and he should be as clever with his lower extremities as a dancing master. Also, he must have learned the art of being a four-handed fighter, for as I have said, the feet and the fists are often brought into action in a sort of simultaneous fashion.

“Whatever may be its defects from our point of view, the sport demands quick decision either for attack or defence. This is the more so, when it is remembered that la savateis full of the unexpected. To the novice, it is bewildering; to the expert, it is often puzzling. Of course when one gets to know the tricks of the sport, he is not often caught off his guard. But to get the hang of these tricks calls for a lot of practice and a multitude of kicks received and endured.

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Picture(3).- This is the “knockout” blow of savate. It is delivered of the inside or outside of the knee in the manner shown in the picture. Properly planted, the contest comes to an immediate end by dropping of the victim to the floor.


“One of the conventional dodges that the la savateexpert is apt to play on the novice, is to suddenly quit fist-boxing and apparently run away. This is usually done when the other man has been worked up to fighting pitch. The first  impulse of the latter is, naturally enough, to follow his retreating antagonist. This is precisely what is desired by he who flees. There is a sudden halt on his part, his leg shoots out in a backward kick and the unlucky pursuer feels as if he had run into the business end of a Kentucky mule in hornet time.

“If you are on to the wily one and if-when you see him turn tail, you  stop still which is the proper things to do under the circumstances- he will turn and come at you with a galloping pace. This is for the purpose of getting into his kicking stride, so to speak. When he is within striking distance, he will let fly at you with right or left foot- as his interest in your welfare may happen to dictate, aiming at point that seems to be the most vulnerable. This ‘gallop’ is most disconcerting to the unaccustomed one, let me tell you, but after a time, you get to know what it presages and guard or get away as your discretion prompts.

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Picture (4).- A lead for the kidneys with backward “stamp”. Opponenet counters on the inside of the right knee.


” Contrary to general belief, the la Savate  man doesn’t kick. He stamps.  That is to say, he hits with the heel and not with the toes. Even when the blow is delivered upward, it is of the ‘stamp’ order. There is good reason for this. In the first place, the sport calls for a certain kind of shoes, with soft leather as far as the uppers are concerned and having soles of raw-hide. Now a blow delivered with toes that are encased in such shoes would, in all probability, inflict as much punishment on the giver as the receiver. If when in the dark, you have enter stubbed your toes against an article of furniture or a door you will realize  what I mean. If the rules of  la Savate allowed of heavy shoes being worn, it would be different. Perhaps for the sake of the mortality rate, it is well that soft foot-wear prevails.


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Picture (5).- Another phase of the deadly kidney blow. Mr. Biddle leads backard with the right leg and the other man tries to counter on the neck with his glove.


” Also, much more force can be put into a ‘stamp’ than in the foot blow direct. A very little consideration will show you why. The ‘stamp’  has the whole weight of the body behind it. The  toe-kick has the impetus of the swing of the leg only.  The intention of  la Savate is to disable a man, mainly by certain kicks on the legs. Also, some of the body kicks are effective in the same direction. It is manifest that these kicks would be of little service were they of the toe type.

” The ‘knockout’ kick is that which is delivered on the outside or inside of the leg joint below the knee, generally when the victim’s leg is stretched forward. If this kick is deftly given, the victim at once retires, or rather is assisted to retire from the scene of the contest. For it not only seems to demoralize his nervous system, but it lames him so thoroughly that he is physically incapable of continuing  the combat, and going to his dressing room without the aid of attendants. Practically all the la Savate  knockouts- if they may be called such- that I have witnessed, have been brought about by this blow or kick. I have, it is true, seen some of  such contests that have been brought to a sudden termination by a well-directed kidney or chin kick, but such occurrences were of a rare sort.

” Like the other kicks, that directed at the leg just below the knee has its series of guards, and it is astonishing to see with what dexterity two veterans at the game will protect their lower limbs from the repeated attacks that are made upon them.

” The kidney-kick is another effective form of attack. If it is vigorously and accurately delivered, it will put a man out of business in short order. As its name implies, it is a  ‘stamp’ that has for its mark the region of the organs named.  Usually, it is used as a counter attack to the backward kick. And here let me say that countering is as an important part of la Savate  as it is of boxing. There is this difference, however, that in the French sport the counter is made with fists or feet, just as the situation demands. The same remark stands good of guarding. In a great many instances the gloves take and divert the threatened blow from the foot.”

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Picture(6).-Mr Biddle leads with his left leg backward for the  “wind” but is blocked by the right hand of his opponent, who simultaneously delivers the knee kick on the outside of the other man’s leg.


Mr. Biddle was asked if a clever boxer of the American sort could get the best of  a French la Savate  expert. “Undoubtedly,” he replied without a moment’s hesitation, “provided that the American took the precaution to infight. The la Savate  man is lost unless he can get so far away from his adversary that he can swing for the kicks. These were the tactics that I adopted  after an experience or two with Parisian feet, and they worked like a charm. Close infighting and rapid work at that, and  the gentleman on the other side of the house soon discovers that he has cold feet or their la Savate equivalent. I speak more particularly of the French professional boxer.”  “Why?”  ” Well,” answered Mr. Biddle with some hesitation, ” to tell the truth, I have but little respect for the Parisian professional. He doesn’t fight clean in the first place, and he quickly shows that white feather in the second. There is a streak of yellow in his make-up that crops out at unexpected intervals. I am not now speaking of one or two specimens, but of the class as a whole. And I know where of I speak, for I came in contact with a great many of these men. In these respects they compare unfavorably with our professionals at home, who, whatever may be their faults, cannot be accused of want of courage.  Taken as a whole, our pugilists have that traditional bull-dog pluck that prompts them to hang on no matter what the condition.

” Let me give you one illustration of the trait of the French professional to which I have alluded. I went to one of the boxing clubs that now abound in Paris, and tried to get a friendly bout with the instructor, whose name I do not care to divulge. He dodged and hedged but finally put the gloves on with me.  Now, just why or for what reason he ‘funked’ I do not know; this too, in spite of the fact that I posed as more or less of novice for the purpose of trying him out. But he cut the bout short on some pretense or the other, promising to meet me the next day. When I went to keep the appointment, the place was closed!  This was about the middle of last August. Under usual conditions,  the club should have closed at the end of the month. I imagine that he had learned that I knew something about the game, and didn’t care to meet me in consequence.

” But the French gentlemen amateurs are totally different. They are fine, clean-cut sportsmen in the best sense of the term. As to pluck and endurance, they can hold their own with men in the same social class as themselves, the  world over. While the majority of them are versed in the art of  la Savate , all of them have a good understanding of la boxe Anglaise. Indeed I think that I am safe in saying that most of them prefer to box in the style used by Anglo-Saxon. I have had the privilege of meeting a good many of these gentlemen, and I can vouch for the fact that in most instances, they are as clever with the gloves  as they are desirable socially.

” The boxing clubs of Paris are hardly to be  duplicated in any other part of the civilized world. They are democratic institutions, all classes patronizing them. There are about ten of such clubs. I used to attend three or four of them, that kept by Paul  Maingait being my favorite. It was here that I trained, and there too, I met and boxed the champion middle-weight of Paris. Bayle’s too, I attended at times, and occasionally I dropped into Caestres’. At all these clubs one was pretty well certain of meeting many of the gentlemen amateurs to which I have alluded.

” I do not think that much good would follow an attempt to popularize la Savate in America. The instinct of our race is to use our fists when the occasion requires. A man who has knowledge of boxing is amply armed against attack or aggression. 

“But for all that, if we look upon la Savate as a form of exercise only and divest it of the suggestion of cowardice that attaches to kicking as a form of attack, we must admit that it is not without qualities that recommend it to our attention.”



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