An interview with Michael Leroux the National Director for the French Savate Federation. Interview conducted in Paris 2002.
Copyright C.Gemeiner 2002
CG – Michael, would you please tell us what your title and duties are within the FIS ?
ML – Certainly. My title is National Technical Director, I am involved with the decisions concerning the training, development, refereeing and contracts – basically everything that is necessary for the Federation to grow, as you can see on my table I have the contracts for proposed conventions, seminar’s, tournaments and the paying of bills, my job requires me to be involved on the ground with people and the administration side of the things.
CG -What does the French Savate Federation represent?
ML -The federation is the best in the world, i have to say this because I am French, and you know how French are Craig, no I am joking. The French Federation represents 600 clubs (approximately 200 of these located in Paris) and more than 30,000 Savate practitioners which is not all those who practise Savate in France, only those who have licenses. So there is more like a total of 60,000 practitioners all up. The French Federation represents 1000 high level competitors who are recognized by the French ministry of sport which means they have assistants from the ministry and various institutions including funds to help in their training. The French Savate Federation consists of 7 people who work here at the office headquarter’s, who are paid by the federation. Each represents 9 advisers who are paid by ministry of France who are in charge of the development which in return report to the main board that consists of 20 members who are in charge of decisions to be taken. In fact the purpose of my job is to present all the decisions that are to be made by this main board.
CG – What the International Savate Federation represent?
ML -The International Federation is a structure that is relatively young. It was formed in 1985 and was part of French Federation. But in 2001 it became a separate identity though both federations still work closely together. The International Federation is currently working closely with the International Olympic committee in hopes of one day Savate being included in the Olympic games. This is not an easy task as Savate must be represented in 60 countries to be recognized by the IOC, but we are working hard at it. The IFBFS is involved with organizing continental and world Savate competitions and we have many countries which are members of the International Federation they include Germany, England, Italy, Switzerland, Spin, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Turkey and the USA. There are also many countries that have not yet the proper infrastructure but have indicated a strong interest in joining the FIS. We look forward to Australia finally coming on board with the International Federation.
CG – 20 years ago the French Federation’s main focus was the sport of Savate ( Boxe Française – Savate) but in the last 10 years I have noticed a change in direction of the Federation to include not only the sport of Savate but also Savate weaponry and the older skills of Savate defense, what brought this change on?
ML – The change was brought about by International representation, the individuals who were competing in our tournaments where coming from different styles of kick boxing. And for those who know little about Savate, well, was just kicking and boxing in a ring with referee and the object being to knock the other person out so in the eyes of these people we were no different to the other forms of kick boxing, but as you know Craig, Savate is not the same as other kickboxing methods, some of the skills may similar but Savate is different. Another point of view I have come to appreciate is when you live in France you only see yourself but when you travel to other countries, you see how other people see you and your country which gives one a different view of what is happening in your country. While traveling I met different people from all around the world who explained to me their point of view, while these people do not always work together they shared the same vision and enthusiasm of my country towards Savate. When I returned home and explained this to my colleagues and adviser’s we realized that we had to take part and get involved with developing our culture and history because without a history we’re no different from any other kickboxing style. Our history or past, while not being very exotic for the French, can be very exotic for other countries and apart from a history of good Savate we also have a history of good food and good wine which is a nice combination, I think.
CG – Could you please explain something of Savate defense ? While it seems to be very new its techniques are actually very old, are they not?
ML – Yes, in the current political and economic context when you walk the streets there is some insecurity not only in France but also all over the world today. Here in Paris many feel insecure, it’s not as bad as some other places in the world mind you, but for these people they are looking for something that they can practice that will make them feel good while giving them more confident. French boxing is a sport and even if you are a world champion, it does not mean someone on the street armed with a stick or knife or something else cannot hurt you. So we are developing Savate defense, which was already developed early in the last century. The Dandies of the early 1900s with their smart clothes and appearance would go into the suburbs looking for entertainment at the taverns. They were often singled out by robbers who would attack and mug them, so the Dandies had to use their walking stick which were fashionable at the time as well as the kicks and punches of Savate to protect their lives. The techniques were developed for this reason, but as time went on the French forgot the skills, however I am happy to say that today we have looked into our past and have found the techniques again.While the art was developed for street defense many people are involved with it because of the good representation we ( the French Federation) have with organization, structure, ethics and spirit- we are not bad boys. The attitude and philosophy is very similar to fencing so we are not only a sport we also practicing with tradition using our past. Today there are many options available for training in Savate, for instance if someone is young he or she can practice and enjoy. Savate-boxing which require fitness, balance and flexibility, when you become a little older and possibly with some problems with movement you can practice la canne and take pleasure with this. When you became 40 you might want to practice Savate defense because maybe you don’t want to be involved with the sport but you want to continue to enjoy training with other people using techniques that are efficient. Other activities include “Savate Form” which is savate techniques performed to music for health. We offer seminars on all these skills, which means the whole family can be involved with Savate.
CG – Micheal, can you explain the 3 levels of Sport savate competition ?
ML – Certainly, “assuat”(pronounced asso) is based on touching with your kicks and punches without any power. A competitor is disqualified if they use excessive contact; assaut competition is based on a point scoring system only . While assault uses light contact in the delivery of all of the skills it is very fast form of competition, which is contested over 4-2 minute rounds, and you may have several bouts on the same day so you need good physical fitness, good techniques and good strategies.
“Combat”(pronounced comba) is based on knocking the opponent out or wining by scoring more points than your opponent. It is based on full contact.
Between the assault and combat there is another level of competition called” pre combat.” This consists of wearing a head guard and shin protectors along with the standard boxing gloves and Savate boots ( chaussures) worn in the other two level of competition. This level of competition is based on full contact and the scoring is along the same lines as combat competition.
CG – I believe that the assault form of competition is becoming more popular and there is even a world cup held every two years.
ML- Yes, that is right in fact 145 people attended the first world cup in 2000 with 23 countries being represented ,we were very surprised to see so many practitioners from around the world. In the combat world competition only 12 countries were represented. I think that the reason more people are competing in assaut is that they will not get hurt, there is enough violence in the streets so they don’t want to find it in the ring, which is a sport ,only a few practitioners want to participate in combat level competition. We all practice assault whenever we train in the gym working with the other savaters and going through techniques, drills and light sparring. Today there is a male and female national French team for assault.
CG – How often is the world cup held for assault ?
ML – The world cup is held every 2 years, we have actually changed the name officially to world championship. The 1st world championship in assuat was held in 2000, the 2nd in the Belgium 2002.
CG – Are children permitted to compete in competition?
ML – Because we must protect the children they can only compete in assut. From the age of 8 to 12 they compete in regional tournaments, and from the age 13 to 17 they can compete in the French championship. For kids we have a technical progression syllabus that uses the Kangaroo mascot. What we are building today is for the future of children tomorrow it will be our youngsters who will look after Savate so we are preparing the future for them.
CG – Currently Savate -boxing is an amateur sport, do you think it will ever become professional like International kickboxing , Thai boxing and English boxing?
ML – Savate is an amateur sport we don’t do this for money, we do this for pleasure; this is one of main difference between Savate and other codes of kickboxing. When you fight as a professional many times it doesn’t matter about your health and it doesn’t matter what you become, for those of us involved with Savate we believe it’s more important for education, security and safety that we take care of our athletes if we want them to become good citizens. Maybe one day Savate may turn professional but this would be depend on the politics and what the people want. In Italy preparations are under way for competitions in professional savate which will consists of 7-2 minute round, perhaps in the future if it is proposed we might see assaut for amateurs and combat being fought professionally but this is currently not the philosophy shared by the President of our federation.
CG – I have heard that for the next world assaut championship to be held in Belgium(2002) all competitions will be held on mats and not in rings. Is it true?
ML- Yes this is true. A few months ago a decision was made that assaut would not be competed in the ring but on mats, now the French don’t like to fight on mats because our reality is that we always fought in the ring, but having said this we must remember that in the past we did not fight in the ring but on the street, so the decision was made by the International Federation to use mats.
CG – Why did the International Federation decide to hold assaut competitions on mats?
ML- It was a proposal made by the (then) President of the IFBFS who is a member of the IOC. He proposed this because we are working to have Savate represented at the Olympic games and for logistic reasons using mats rather than rings would be much easier. This would also reduce comparisons with English boxing that today is not receiving positive feedback from the Olympic games and perhaps more comparison would be made with Taekwondo.
CG – There are certain Savate groups around the world that have their own approach or curriculum which is slightly different to the French Federation. Where do they stand in regards to being recognized by the Federation?
ML – Each country around the world that organizes its own structure and style using Savate can do what it wants in its own country. It’s a bit like Coke a Cola. When you drink Coke a Cola in the USA, it seems to taste different in France or Australia so the organization of practice must fit within the culture of the each country. You can train the way you want in your country. You can have 3 levels of grading or 23 levels, in France it’s different in England it’s different also, but when we all come together for meeting(competition) we have the same rules which are based on a unique and educational system that is provided by the International Federation.
CG – The structure of both federations is very comprehensive including Savate-boxing, Savate defense, Savate form, the weaponry aspects of Savate and the involvement of juniors, it’s all very impressive. Michael do you have any last comments before we end this interview?
ML – Yes, a message for Australian people, I believe that the landscape of Savate in the world will be totally different the day that Savate in Australia is officially represented in International competition and the more great sporting nations who come on board, the greater the development of Savate. We have Russia, we have USA and another great country like Australia would really be welcome- we are be waiting for you.
Are you ready Australia?