History of Savate

As to the further development of Savate: On 5 June 1838, French Savateur Charles Lecour (1808-94) witnessed a contest of English Boxing (Boxe Anglais), which took place near Paris, France, between English lightweight bareknuckle pugilist, Owen ‘Little Wonder’ Swift (1814-79) and another English Boxer named Jack Adams. The contest had been arranged by Lord Seymour and members of the Jockey Club. The bout lasted just two rounds, with Swift being the decisive winner.

Swift also fought and beat Adams again, near Villiers, France, on 5 September in that same year. On that occasion, however, the contest lasted a much longer one-and-a-quarter hours (34 rounds). After having witnessed English Boxing and seen Swift defeat Adams first hand, Lecour later took part in a friendly match against Swift1. He was said to be so impressed that he then took lessons in English Boxing. Some time after that, he combined English Boxing (boxe Anglais), with what he felt was the best of French kicking, which Théophile Gautier named ‘La Boxe Francaise’ (French boxing) in 1838.

When Lecour integrated English boxing, with French kicking, he also incorporated the English boxing rules of the time – as far as the use of the hands were concerned. Later, Englishman John G. Chambers (1843-83) published his own revised rules for English Boxing, in 1867 – known as the ‘Queensberry Rules’ after being sanctioned by Chambers’ friend John Sholto Douglas (1844-1900), 8th Marquess of Queensberry. These rules required boxers to wear gloves (also known as mufflers) in contests, and so French Savateurs simply followed suit. The adoption and incorporation of English boxing rules within La Boxe Francaise are the reason why, even nowadays, in sparring or in competition, Savate practitioners are allowed to kick their opponent in the back, but may not punch him (or her) there, and why the hands are no longer allowed to be deliberately placed on the floor.

Jerry Driscoll by Fred T. Palmer, Ramsgate
Jerry Driscoll by Fred T. Palmer, Ramsgate




Several contests have been arranged, over the years (always by the French!), to supposedly determine the superiority of La Boxe Francaise-Savate over English Boxing. One such contest took place on 28 October, 1899, when Charles Charlemont (son of Joseph) took on Jerry Driscoll, who was an ex-champion boxer of the English Navy, and member of the National Sporting Club (NSC). The fight started and ended in controversy, with the Frenchman eventually being awarded the ‘victory’ with a low round kick (fouetté) to the ‘abdominal area’. A doctor later assessed that Driscoll had been kicked below the belt, however!