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Savate, also known as boxe française, French boxing, French Kickboxing or French Footfighting, is a French martial art which uses both the hands and feet as weapons and combines elements of western boxing with graceful kicking techniques.
Only foot kicks are allowed, unlike some systems, such as Muay Thai and Silat, which allow the use of the knees or shins. Savate is perhaps the only style of kickboxing in which the fighters habitually wear shoes (savate being a French word for "old shoe"). A practitioner of savate is called a savateur (male) or savateuse (female).
Savate takes its name from the French for "old boot" (heavy footwear that used to be worn during fights). The modern formalized form is mainly an amalgam of French street fighting techniques from the beginning of the 19th century. Savate was then a type of street fighting common in Paris and northern France. In the south, especially in the port of Marseille, sailors developed a fighting style involving high kicks and open-handed slaps. It is conjectured that the kicks were done so as to allow the kicker to use a free hand for balance on a rocking ship's deck, and that the kicks and slaps were used on land to avoid the legal penalties for using a closed fist, which was considered a deadly weapon under the law. It was known as jeu marseillais ("game from Marseille"), and was later renamed chausson ("slipper", after the type of shoes the sailors wore).
The two key historical figures in the history of the shift from street-fighting to the modern sport of savate are Michel Casseux (also known as le Pisseux) (1794–1869), a French pharmacist, and Charles Lecour (1808–1894). Casseux opened the first establishment in 1825 for practicing and promoting a regulated version of chausson and savate (disallowing head butting, eye gouging, grappling, etc). However the sport had not shaken its reputation as a street-fighting technique.
Casseux's pupil Charles LeCour was exposed to the English art of boxing when he was defeated in a friendly sparring match by British pugilist Owen Swift around 1830 and felt that he was at a disadvantage, only using his hands to bat his opponent's fists away, rather than to punch. He trained in boxing for two years before, in 1832, combining boxing with chausson and savate to create the sport of savate (or boxe française', as we know it today). At some point la canne and le baton stickfighting were added, and some form of stick-fencing, such as la canne, is commonly part of savate training. Those who train purely for competition may omit this. Savate was developed professionally by LeCour's student Joseph Charlemont and then his son Charles Charlemont.
Savate was later codified under a Committee National de Boxe Francaise under Charles Charlemont's student Count Pierre Baruzy (dit Barrozzi). The Count is seen as the father of modern savate and was 11-times Champion of France and its colonies, his first ring combat and title prior to World War One. Savate de Defense, Defense Savate, Savate de Rue ("de rue" means: "of the street") is the name given to those methods of fighting excluded from savate competition.
Perhaps the ultimate recognition of the respectability of savate came in 1924 when it was included as a demonstration sport in the Olympic Games in Paris. In 2008, Savate was recognised by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) - this recognition allows Savate to hold official University World Championships, the first will be held in Nantes, France in 2010.
Despite its roots, savate is a relatively safe sport to learnand injuries rank lower in number when compared to American football, hockey, football, gymnastics, basketball, baseball and inline skating".
Today, savate is practiced all over the world by amateurs: from Australia to the USA and from Finland to Britain. Many countries (including the United States) have national federations devoted to promoting savate. Savate was also featured in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament, where Dutch savate champion Gerard Gordeau beat a sumo wrestler and an American kickboxer. In fiction, savate is even practiced by one of Captain America's nemeses, Batroc the Leaper.