By Craig Gemeiner ©2003
The art of “Lutte Parisienne”, or “Parisian wrestling” played a major role in the progressive development of Savate- French boxing during the 1800s.
In France the Greco-Roman style of wrestling was practiced as early as the 1ST century AD, and by the 19th Century it had become so popular that it was simply referred to as “French Wrestling”.
French wrestling attracted all classes of society, from the ordinary commoners to members of royalty itself, and the popularity it commanded was considerable. Indeed, one of the most famous men of all France during the Renaissance period was a wrestler and swordsman called Pietro Monte. More significantly, it is said that in 1520, King Francise I of France challenged King Henry VII of England to a personal wrestling match. The outcome of this bout is inconclusive at best, as each of the two countries claim their own king was victorious on the day, beliefs that were perhaps born of national pride rather than historical fact.
From the mid 1800s, mixed martial arts matches between Lutters (wrestlers) and Savatuers were common, and as a result, a number of fundamental techniques were exchanged between the fighters of both these French martial arts.
Famous Lutters of the period often cross trained in Savate, including high profile combatants like Bernard, Rambaud (“The Resistance”) and Marseille. Bernard who fought under the name “Farther Bernard”, was reportedly an outstanding Savatuer and Lutter from Southern France, but was also a competitor who would intentionally foul an opponent at every opportunity. In 1850, Bernard met his match, when he was knocked out by a kick to the chest my Rembaud. Rambaud went on to defeat another excellent wrestler of the era called Aprin (“The terrible Savoyard”), and later contested three bouts with the famous Vigneron. In addition, Rambaud dislocated the shoulder of an English boxer named Dickson in a mixed martial arts bout using Lutte techniques.
Louis Vigneron was a famous, colourful and renowned fighter of the period. He was a superb Lutter, street fighter, weight lifter and Savatuer- having studied French boxing under Professor Guerineua, and competed in, and won, many mixed martial arts competitions. He fought English boxers , Lutters and Savateurs alike, and his more notable victories included knocking out boxing champion Dickson with a kick to the head, and dropping the highly respectable (and flamboyant) wrestler Aprin several times before using a Lutte technique to throw him out of the ring. Vigneron was also known as “the cannon man”- a nickname he acquired after his habit of hosting a 300kg cannon on his shoulders while approaching the ring. Never content to merely use the weapon for show however, he would then proceed to fire it as part of the demonstration. It may have been a crowd-pleaser, but unfortunately for Vigneron, his unusual feats of strength would cost him dearly. During a performance in 1871, he miscalculated his pre-mach antics, and the cannon he was carrying discharged prematurely. Vigneron died from the injuries he sustained from the mishap.
Louise Vigneron’s protégé Joseph Charlemont, was responsible for many of Savate’s lasting developments. He refined and codified the various skills pertaining to Savate, Bare –knuckle boxing and Lutte, and in his endeavours he wrote a manual entitled – “La Box Franciase Traite theorique et pratique” printed 1878 , which included a large grouping of Parisian Lutte techniques specific to Savate.
Where the Greco Roman system only permitted grips, holds and throws from the waist up, Charlemont integrated single and double leg pick ups, leg captures, and take-downs from the waist down. Many of these techniques would also be used to combat the super punching angles of the English pugilist.
The use of Lutte dominated the infighting range of the typical 19th century Savate fighter, resulting in his repertoire of kicking and boxing skills being delivered at the long and medium range fighting measure. At the same time, the typical French boxer could initiate strikes from out of distance by way of en merchant attacks, croises, shifts, lunges and drop steps- always focusing on pinpoint accuracy so as to avoid his limbs being grabbed. Unlike modern English and French boxing which prohibits the use of take downs at close quarters , a 19th century contemporary fighter could expect to be picked up and slammed into the ground if he attempted to engage in infighting with a traditional French boxer skilled in Lutte Parisian. The Lutte syllabus found in Savate included holding or capturing techniques which were used to secure and lock the adversaries head (prise de tete), arm (prise de bras) or leg (prise de jambe) prior to throwing him to the ground.
La Lutte techniques were also utilized in the self-defense system of Savate which came to called ‘Defense dans la Rue” (DDLR). Drawing techniques from the older traditional fighting methods such as Savate, English boxing, Lutte and at a later stage Japanese Jiu-jitsu, DDLR was not surprisingly also influenced by the dirty tricks of the French Apache street fighters. The architects of DDLR Julien Leclerc and Emile Andre recommended in particular that all students should study the Lutte methods of French instructor Francoise le Bordelais.
La Lutte techniques that were feasible in DDLR were often utilized in conjunction with hitting, eye gouging, biting and fish –hooking. Strikes and ripping skills were often used to soften up the opponent before, during and after grappling maneuvers. Rules were not an issue in the practical fighting system of Defense dans la Rue. A trick favored by DDLR instructors was to lull the enemy into a false sense of security with ideal talk, while holding both hands in their front pockets. From this position the attacker would suddenly lash out with a backhand slap up into the face. This was followed immediately with a head but into the groin or stomach region and a double leg take-down dumping the victim onto his back. Many of the take-downs were designed to throw the enemy against a wall, or body-slam them heavily into the ground.
Rather than try to grapple the enemy on the ground instructors of DDLR advocated offensive strikes and gouging to minimize “time on target” and maximize victory – which often meant survival. From a self-defense stand point, this approach is strategically sound, as spending excessive “time on target” especially in the street, can result in the grounded victim being on the receiving end of a potential stomping or weapon attack from either single or multiple assailants.
While DDLR instructors did recommend students should learn ground fighting for control and restraint options, disengagement did seem to be taken more seriously in their writings, Dubois advices the following methods:
“Make your hands into hooks and place them into his checks, flat against them, then hook all four fingers behind his ears , the thumbs remaining free; push the pressure point over the eyes , which one then holds, and push into each eye, the thumb is naturally placed in front of each organ. Push with vigor, because each eye is very resilient and the push with the nails of the fingers into the corner of the eyes, near to the nose, and bring the thumb back against the temple. Be assured that you will not pull out the eyes, but the pressure is diabolical, the man is instantly blinded by the pressure provoked by the double press and howling, will let go his prey.”
By the 1960s the last of the Parisian wrestling techniques had been removed from Savate so as to promote a clean international combat sport. Today only a small group of Savate instructors continue to include Lutte techniques in their syllabus, preserving the traditional and efficient skills of Parisian fighting.
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About the author :
Craig Gemeiner has been involved in the martial arts since 1975 and began teaching in 1983. Gemeiner is a silver glove in Savate –French boxing and a leading instructor in Defense dans la Rue and La canne Vigny. Since 2010 he has been a practitioner of Catch-As- Catch-Can Wrestling under the aspects of UWF Snake Pit Japan.