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Savate: From Street Fighting to Modern Sport  
Savate which literally translates as “old shoe” started out as a form of street fighting in France. Now, it is a worldwide known martial art which resulted from the fusion of kicking techniques and western boxing. It focuses on the use of both the hands and feet as weapons. Unlike other forms of kickboxing, savate practitioners called as savateurs and savateuse usually wear shoes while fighting.

As mentioned, savate began as a type of street fighting. Sailors in Marseille had a fighting technique that involves open-handed hits and high kicks. Attacking with kicks was logical so the fighters could find their balance on a rocking ship with their free hands while open-handed slaps were used so as to avoid legal penalties since closed fist was regarded as a deadly weapon back then. This technique was named as jeu marseillais and was changed to chausson (soft shoe) later on. The transition from being a form of street fighting to an actual sport wouldn’t have happened without Michel Casseux and his best student Charles Lecour. Casseux worked on defining the techniques in street fighting and promoting them into a new version of chausson and savate for his rich students. Lecour, after losing in a sparring match to a British boxer, thought of studying the art of boxing and combining it with chausson. This resulted to the Boxe Francaise Savate, the form of savate we know today.

The first official school for the sport was opened in 1887 by Joseph Charlemont after he had developed a complete system of physical education for savate. A noted student of his was the famous author of The Three Musketeers Alexander Dumas. French savate continued to boost when Charlemont’s son, Charles defeated Jerry Driscoll with a hard kick to the stomach. It was a match labeled as “fight of the century” to resolve which is better, English boxing or French savate. The following year which was the beginning of the 20th century, the First World Championship of Boxe Francaise was held. Savate became part of the Olympic Games held at Paris as a demonstration sport in 1924. During World War II, many savate practitioners as well as teachers died. If not for the efforts of Count Pierre Baruzy, a grand savate champion, the sport would have ceased.

Though savate originated from a form of street fighting, it has lower frequency of injuries when compared to other sports such as gymnastics, hockey, football, basketball and American football.

Today, many countries have national federations intended to promote the savate. It also has been featured in Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament in which Gerard Gordeau, a Dutch savate champion defeated one sumo wrestler and one kickboxer. The International University Sports Federation (FISU) recognized savate in 2008 which opens way to Savate University World Championships, the first of which will be held in 2010 in Nantes, France.

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