A chapter from the wolds pictorial sports and past time (Charles Taylor publishers)
In this interesting article the Author refers to the term Savate as a Misnomer, which he states, is reminiscent to the days when French hooligans used their pedal coverings as weapons of offence on the slightest provocation.
He further goes on to write that a more correct word to use to designate the French system would be chausson, which means literally a light shoe or slipper.
This seems to be a recurring subject in nearly all English manuals and articles written on Savate during the late 1800’s and one that may have been fuelled by the Victorian attitude that kicking was suited only for a coward or sissy.
How Frenchmen Box
It is recorded, through with what degree of truth it would be difficult to say, that the great master of the English fisticuffs, the late Tom Sayers, once undertook to fight a very skilful exponent of la savate, by which name the French system of boxing is known, using only his hands in the encounter. And the story goes that the Englishman with one “smashing blow” broke the leg of his antagonist at the very outset of the contest. The story may or may not be true, but the fact remains that it would take a very skilful boxer on English lines to get the better of a really clever professor of la savate.
In the first place, let it be clearly understood that the term le savate is entirely a misnomer. Savate in French means to old shoe, but although the feed are the most important weapons in French boxing, the hands also come into play frequently. Besides, the world savate does not apply to the light shoe used in a French boxing contest, but is a reminiscent rather of the days when the French hooligans used their pedal covering as weapon on the offence on the slightest provocation. A more correct world to use to designate the French system of boxing would be Chausson, which means to literally light shoe.
The average Englishman, in his worship of the fists as Nature’s weapons, is inclined to look with contempt upon the use of the feet in the quarrel. That is simply because he knows absolutely nothing of the science of kicking, and is familiar only with the heavy, ponderous, and brutal kick of the street ruffian or the drunken bully. But the trained French Boxer is really an artist with his feet. A clever exponent of la savate could knock a feather off a mans nose with a flip of his foot, without doing the slightest damage to the nasal organ. His foot could play all around you in a series of bewildering and lightning-like evolutions, and finally give you a playful tap on some part of your anatomy where the blow was least expected. Or he could, if necessity arose, kick the leg from under you, bringing you to Mother Earth like a shot from a gun, or land you a blow from his heels on “the point” that would make you feel for the fraction of a second as if a young earthquake had hit you. For the smallest action of a second only, for after that the affairs of the world would cease to worry you, at least, for a time, The man who can use his fists and feet in an equally scientific manner is, indeed, a person to be studiously avoided in a quarrel.
So far as can be defined ascertained, the first professor of las savate was a Frenchman named Michelle, whose kick, it is said, was a thing to be remembered for life. But his methods were forcible and crude, and as far removed from the light, polished methods of the modern savatier as the cumbrous movements of the old fashioned “bruiser” were from the lithesome and graceful gyrations of a Pedlar Palmer. It is to Professor Lecour that France is mainly indebted for the scientific and effective methods that are used by the French boxers of the present day. Professor Lecour decided not only to master every possible trick of striking with the feet, but also learn all that he possible would about the English style of boxing. With this object in view, he paid a visit to this country, and placed himself in the hands of two skilful English pugilists. He boxed and sparred with them alternately, studying every point of the game, and then returned to his native country to combine the best points of the English professors with the methods he practised in France. He was the founder practically of the modern French school of boxing, and the rules adopted by him were followed almost to a detail today, with the addition of a few new blows and counters with other clever boxers have introduced from time to time.
The novitiate in the art of la savate must be prepared for a number of unpleasant surprises at the outset. Even if he b a perfect master of English boxing methods, he must not enter the lists against the French savatier carrying any feelings of pride about him. The two ps\\sports with their points of resemblances have many differences. And the very first difficulty that will present itself to the learner will be the knack of balancing. To be able to preserve one’s balance, and to swing one leg about in the air with proper force and direction is a trick that will not be learned without under going the indignity of a good many falls. The initial secret of la savate is to acquire the knack of balancing upon the foot in the rear. The whole weight of the body must rest upon the foot that for the time being is farthest from your antogonist, and as the feet are constantly changing, it requires great mental elasticity t enable you to do this. Should you fail for an instant to do this, your opponent in the twinkling of an eye will have whipped the advanced leg supporting the body from in under, and like Humpty Dumpty, you will have “a great fall”. Even if you escape this danger, you are placed at the great disadvantage of having to transfer the weight of the body to the rear, before you are in a position to get in your own kick. The first great lesson to master, therefore, is to support the weight of the body on the leg that is kept in the rear. If you are foolish enough to stand with your two feet stolidly planted on the ground, your opponent is likely to render you hors de combat by a terrible kick that will sweep you off your feet. Or by a kick that is know as coup-de-vache, or “cow-kick”, which in a serious combat has been known to break the shin bone.
There are quite a number of kicks in le savate, just as there is a great variety of blows in English boxing, any one of which may knock out an opponent. One of these is known as the coup de pied tournant, which, because of the rapidity which it is delivers, is on of the most dangerous. In striking, the savatier turns half around and with the full swing of his body to land a long, sweeping kick on your head. This blow can be countered in two ways. In the one, the head can be guarded by the warm just as it would do if a blow were aimed with fists. The other, which requites considerable dexterity, is to so suddenly duck, and, as your opponents leg flies over your head, to lash out at this head with your fist. In this way, your blow is likely to upset his balance, because of this impetus which his own kick has given his body. But the kick is generally performed so quickly, and I generally preceded by such clever feinting, that it requires great quickness of eye and nimbleness of a body to guard it.
The most deadly kick of all, however, is one which one writer has not inaptly likened to a cavalry charge, and which is called the cross kick. “This vicious sample of the chausson”, says a French writer in an article contributed to Pearson’s Magazine, “is delivered with a rush, impetus behind strength, and weight behind impetus. Moreover, there are only two ways of frustration this attack: either to dump your two hands on the advancing foot, not to get out of its way. A beginner will find the getting-out-of -its-way parry the safer.”
The most ornamental trick of all, however, is the coup fundamental. To again quote from the article mentioned: “it is to la savate what the tail is to a peacock – chiefly for ornament. It plays round your head like summer lightening, taps your chest and pats your cheek. It is the kick by which suppleness, stability, and quickness, may be maintained. In other words, it is practised to give ease and grace to the muscles. A good example of this kick is to be seen in a trick which seems to be common property among the professors. An assistant stands with a cigarette and holder in his mouth. Crouching like a timer ready for the spring stand the professor measuring his distance. After a few preliminary passes, his god gains speed, and darts here, there, and everywhere with appalling recklessness, apparently just missing the vulnerable parts by the sixteenth of an inch. As soon as the bolting foot has been pulled up and got in hand, however, it settles down to business. The settling down consists of three separate and distinct blows; a which sideways knocks off the ash, a downward blow releases the cigarette, while an upward stroke sends the holder flying across the room. This is but a picture of the chausson in a playful mood.”
In a combat there are all sorts of ways in which a combination of the hands and feet can be employed. Sometimes the professor will very the proceeding by falling lightly upon this hands, supporting the body with his arms, and landing a powerful kick on the throat, or the shin. Sometimes a feint with the hands precedes a kick with the feet, and sometimes, vice versa; and at another time, the professor will, maybe, surprise you by catching the leg you are standing on with the back of his heel, and jerking you off your balance. Every movement is delivered like lightning, and only years of practise make perfect.