By Jim Kenrick
A short story printed in English Boxing 1936.
There was a time when Frenchmen had no stomach whatever for boxing.
Their favourite sport, some thirty years ago, was La Savate. In this sport both hands, but more particularly feet, play their part. The rules were just as elaborate and scientific as were our own rules of boxing.
La Savate was introduced to sporting France by a well-known athlete of that country, one Charles Lecour. Up to that time the “Savate”, just kicking with no trimming, was the only way Frenchmen settled their differences, that is outside of pistols for two and coffee for one.
The kick of these La Savate professors was undoubtedly their standby. They depended upon getting in a good solid kick more than landing with their fists. The particular blow that they specialised in was a vicious kick to the stomach. They would swing the body around, bringing the foot into the pit of their opponent’s stomach with astonishing speed.
The guard for this blow was a parry with the open hand. The defender could, if quick enough, grasp the kick by the ankle and throw him to the floor.
There were arguments, of course, as to which style was the better, the French or the English, but for a long time no matches were made, although several were mooted. Bat at last, the two styles were matched…..
A friend of mine, an old member of the Pelican Club, used to tell me years ago of a French friend of his who came on a visit to this country when my friend was young – seventy years ago, it must be.
The young Frenchman was an officer in the French Army and a pretty good exponent of Le Boxe Savate. It appears that this young fellow was having a night out in the West End when several of the “boys”, thinking they had found a mug, proceeded to do him down.
It was wonderful how, because a man was a foreigner, the average London rough used to think he must be a mug. The boys certainly had a surprise. They started the shemozzle, and Monsieur finish it. Before the “boys” realised what was happening, they got it. In the face, in the stomach, in the shin. So fast and furious did the Frenchman lash out, the “boys” must have thought they were fighting a crowd all kicking at one.
My friend, who witnessed the strange battle, said he never say a crowd getting such a tanning from one man in his life before. In less tan five minutes the “boys.” With the exception of two who lay on the ground groaning, had fled, leaving the Frenchman guv’nor of the situation.
Said my friend, “I never saw a man swing his legs around so fast and furiously before”.
The last match I can remember between an Englishman and a Frenchman in the mixed style was one I witnessed over thirty years ago at the old Britannia Theatre, Hoxton.
The Contestants were Tom (Pedlar) Palmer and Louis Anastasie, a brilliant exponent of the French style.
The match was after the usual fashion of these bouts. The Englishman was to use his hands only, while the Frenchman was to allowed to use feet as well.
They started well, with Pedlar landing a left to Louis’s nose, the latter retaliating with a light left kick to palmers chin. Pedlar stepped back, but Louis got in another kick before his rival had got out of distance. Palmer rushed in, landing with both hands to the Frenchman’s Face. Pedlar ducked two swinging punches, but stopped a lovely kick with his nose. This riled Pedlar and he rushed in viciously, saying something under his breath. They exchanged punches, with the Canning Town boy driving the Frenchman all over the ring. Palmer didn’t give his rival a chance to get set for a kick. The Englishman led at the bell.
Louis got in a smashing kick to Pedlar’s stomach, and Palmer got mad. He went in determined to smash Louis to pulp. The Frenchman skipped and dodged around, foiling Tom’s efforts to corner him. He landed with a swift kick to Tom’s shin, but Pedlar nailed him on the chin. Louis careered around the ring, while Palmer waited for the circus to stop. When Anastasie got tired Pedlar rushed him to the ropes and walloped him with both hands.
Louis looked very tired when he retired to his corner. Pedlar landed several straight lefts to the others face. Louis hopped around, with Palmer looking for an opening. Suddenly Louis sent in a vicious kick which landed right in Pedlar’s darby. The kick evidently hurt the Englishman. He swore loudly, rushed in, and kicked the Frenchman in the pit of the stomach. Louis doubled up and Pedlar was promptly disqualified.