Parisian Athletes

“Parisian Athletes” was printed in the Washington Evening star newspaper ., May 16, 1903. The articles briefly covers the street application of Savate -French boxing, a review of the Charlemont -Driscoll fight of 1899 and the debate of which  boxing style is superior- French or English.

All pictures accompanying the article have been included by Craig Gemeiner (2013)

Tricks They Have Are Mighty Convenient.


The Anglo-Saxon System as against the French.

Grafting the Kick on the Former is the Most Important Feature

Paris, May 3. 1903

A young Parisian friend of mine was set on by two toughs with knives in a deserted street one night last week. Before either could get within knife range of him the young Parisian had laid them out with a kick to the groin apiece.

“I could not have done it with American boxing,” he says. “In street attacks it is the quick, instinctive movement that counts, and the leg is longer than the arm!”

“Does it come natural to you to let out one of those long reaching kicks?” I asked.

“Half the training of French boxing is to keep your man off with a nervous threatening foot. If he comes in he gets it on the solar plexus, or the shinbone, or the neck. But it is only by courtesy that he does not get it in the groin, as Charlemont gave it to Driscoll!”

This young Parisian a gilded youth, takes almost daily practice at the celebrated Bayle Academy of Boxing, in the Avenue Wagram. There with him I met Kid Lavigne , the pugilist , taking the pleasure as an American in Paris.

“What do you think of the manly art of kicking in the stomach?” I ask Kid Lavigne.

“It all depends on what you want it for” he answered. “I would not counsel anyone to try it as a manly exercise on a bright afternoon along 6th avenue; but to defend yourself in a deserted street it is something fierce!”

“Wouldn’t the other man kick too?”

‘It’s trained kicking,” answered Kid Lavigne, who has been sufficiently around the French capital to get well posted. “They learn to use their right leg like an arm.’

“And keep their balance?”

“Yes, and keep their balance.”

Besides ourselves there were two Englishmen present, and the talk turned naturally to the celebrated match between Prof. Charlemont and Jerry Driscoll, English bruiser. Up to the time of this historic battle, which took place in October, 1899, English sports had always scoffed at the “savate,” not only as a manly exercise, but also as a system of defense.


Charles Charlemont

“I could not give you a better idea of English opinion previous to 1899 than by citing the boxing bout at the Pelican Club when matched a French professor, whose name I forget, against Donaghue,” said one Englishmen. “Donaghue had never seen ‘savate’ but the gold tempted him. So they told him to look out for the kicks and turned him loose on the French professor, who wore canvas shoes.”


“Well, a kick in the stomach sent Donaghue flying before he realized what he was up against.”

“That would have settled him had the other worn heavy shoes!” observed my young Parisian sport.

Got There at Last.

“The next time the Frenchman feinted with the gloves, and though the Irishman retreated seemingly out of distance, the Frenchman, swinging round one leg, caught him unawares with another stinging kick. The Irishman went down again. His seconds told him to get close; but Donaghue was still at sea with the method of the visitor, and went to the floor a third time. But at last in the forth round and final round, Donaghue- continually warned to ‘get close and stay there’ – punched the professor so around the ring that the latter asked permission to put on his heavy shoes.”

“That settled it!” concluded the Englishman. “A general murmur went up from the Pelicans. They gave the fight to Donaghue. That was all right. But for the life of me, I cannot understand how that match proved the inferiority of French boxing as a system of self-defense. Yet you will constantly hear the Pelican Club match referred to as proof; and the majority of Englishman continue to have false ideas of the ‘savate’.”

The celebrated Charlemont- Driscoll fight to a finish in October,1899, had one serious effect on French boxing. It abolished as a “great” blow the theretofore dreaded “coup de pied bas” or “low kick” on the shin bone of your adversary.


The “coup de pied bas”

“I was told that Charlemont could break my leg in fifteen seconds, but that I could have bit of a fight and then lie down in the first round,” said Driscoll afterward. This sort of talk showed the French confidence, for the men who gave it to Driscoll were leading Paris sports. The fight came off in a private ridding academy; tickets were $20 each; half the gilded youth of Paris was present; the young Baron Henri de Rothschild, who acted as doctor, had a full line of bone-setting material in readiness.

Wang! Charlemont’s heavy foot came crashing down on Driscoll’s tibia, in the celebrated “low kick.” The Frenchman wore heavy street shoes. Wang and biff! Three times he came down on Driscoll’s tibia – yet there was nothing broken.

“He must have legs of iron!” exclaimed Prof. Victor Casteres.

Its Kick is Great.

A brief account of this fight will give the best possible idea of what French boxing is about – because its most effective kick was barred. True, Charlemont has always been blamed, in their hearts, by Englishmen, because in the last round his adversary was laid out by a disputed blow in the forbidden spot. They seem to forget that had it been a fight for self-defense, the blow could have been frankly delivered in the first round – as the “low kick” was, in fifteen seconds.

Round 1. Driscoll, an experienced bruiser, once the “pride of the British navy,” took three bad shin kicks and got back only once, on the Frenchman’s heart. Both wore eight ounce gloves. After receiving the blow on the heart, the Frenchman, clinching, got him by the neck in a peculiar wrestler’s grip.

“Break his neck!” cried the French. The men parted. This was an injustice to French boxing as a system of defense.

Round 2. When the Frenchman launched his kick Driscoll stepped back from it and then rushed in and planted some fierce blows with the eight –ounce gloves. This round ended in a general row among the spectators, the Frenchman having clinched and thrown Driscoll heavily. It was agreed that this sort of thing be barred- another practical injustice to the French system.

Round 3. The referee, who had resigned his functions in the row, agreed to referee some more. Charlemont kicked Driscoll a bad one in the stomach and against just below the left knee, but got some heavy punching in return. Driscoll was almost unable to walk as time was called.

Looking back at the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, it is hard to rightly judge the backwardness of Driscoll. No one alleged “hippodrome” at the time; and the great punishment Charlemont received was great. His face was greatly swelled and bloody all over. At moments be was certainly groggy; and the English spectators could not understand why Driscoll did not step up and knock him out. Driscoll himself said afterward at the swell Turkish bath, the ‘Hammam,” that the howling threats of the mass of French spectators kept him back when he might have landed a decisive blow.

It is quite possible, on the other hand, that the kicks had crippled Driscoll much more than appeared. At any rate, in the seventh round he got a terrible toe-pointed kick in the chest and made him worthless in the last round.


Toe -pointed kick into the chest.

A Toe-Pointer.

Round 8 (and last)- This time Charlemont rushed up to Driscoll as if to show (for almost the first time) what he could do with his hands –and immediately no one is agreed what happened. It may have been an accident; but it was none the less decisive. With a howl Driscoll dropped his guard and doubling up:

“Ow, gentlemen!” he moaned, “will you allow that, gentleman? He kicked me in the groin!”

The judges accepted Charlemont’s statement that it was his knee that did the damage- accidentally. The doctors disagreed on the seriousness of the hurt. Driscoll had asked ten minutes to recover from the foul; and at the expiration of the time the fight was given to the Frenchman!

The next day Charlemont received a cable from Kid McCoy to do another fight another fight pf the same kind for $50 000 a side. No one blamed him when he refused it on the ground that he was not a fighter, but a professor of boxing. My young Parisian, fresh from his victory over the two toughs makes this the key of the whole Charlemont- Driscoll mystery, even to the failure of the “low kick.”

“ Charlemont was only a clever boxing master, who had never fought a battle,” he says. “He was so nervous that he did not do himself justice; and when it came to giving full force to his kicks, habit and instinct were against him. How could it be otherwise? During the ten years he had been giving lessons, his daily practice had been to kick gently!”

Uses Both Systems.

The two Englishman present admitted that there was a great deal in this argument. Themselves, pupils of Bayle, they cited his last years encounter with Dave Meyer.

Here was a case of French –against-Anglo-Saxon-boxing that ended very differently. Bayle, who is called “The French Jeffreys,” is one of the most powerfully-built men you could imagine. Until recently he was in the rubber-tire business with the reputation of a gifted amateur. As such he for a long time practiced Anglo-Saxon boxing as superior to the French system. Fighting as a middle weight , he met and defeated and defeated Jack Lewis of Philadelphia, in 1895. It was, therefore, only by degrees that he become convinced that a “marriage” of the two systems would present the most effective art of self-defense.



This grafting of French kicking on our own style of fighting is what confirmed Bayle’s success and put him at the head of his present swell establishment in the Avenue Wagram. There, in August, 1902, before an audience of highly sporting fashion- not excluding ladies of society- he so swelled up Dave Meyer’s left knee with the powerful kick they call the “chasse croise” that our representative sat down for good in the middle of the second round. And, note, Bayle wore only canvas gymnasium shoes.

Prof. Bayle was not present at this conversation. Kid Lavigne, however, who is nowadays a great deal with him, declared that he would put Bayle up against most any middleweight.

“Here,” said Lavigne, “is a Frenchamn who knows how to use his hands as well as is feet. I give it to you straight , he would keep them busy watching both!”

“Yes. He is always wondering about the kick that may be coming; yet all this habit is to watch his adversary’s eye.”

Sterling Heilig.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: