Boxe Française Historique: a Reconstruction of Classical Savate Sparring

The recent HEMAC historical martial arts conference in Dijon, France included this fascinating reconstruction of 19th century Boxe Française – Savate sparring by members of the Fédération Française des Arts Martiaux Historiques Européens.

The aim of this sparring match was to faithfully reproduce the techniques presented in the treatises of Charlemont, Leboucher and other savate masters who taught the French art of unarmed combat from the beginning of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th.

For comparison, see this 1896 film of savate practitioners in action:

Note that this type of stylised, light-contact sparring reflects the desire of some professional instructors during the late 19th century to separate French kickboxing from its rowdy, back-alley origins. Instructors such as the Charlemonts wished to promote French kickboxing as a relatively genteel combat game and as a method of physical culture, suitable for middle-class patrons of commercial salles de savate. Inevitably, that rather academic and courteous style drew criticism from other quarters, especially from self defence-oriented instructors and from would-be professional athletes, who advocated for a hard-hitting version of the sport influenced by the no-nonsense ethos of English and American boxing.

Light-contact, academic sparring persists as the “savate assaut” option in modern Boxe Française – Savate, contrasted with the full-contact “savate combat”.

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