It was said, there was no
prettier, exciting and more stimulating sight than to see an attractive
Can-Can dancer enthusiastically kicking her legs into the air, nor
to see a gentleman flatten a street mugger with a precision kick to
the head. These are images during the Belle Époque period of
the late 19th century, at the time of the Parisian café scene,
dance and music halls and of the Moulin Rouge.
The Moulin Rouge opened in Paris in 1889 and as a cabaret and dance
hall it captured high society with its fashionable, extravagant interior,
bohemian and liberal attitudes and the high paced risqué dancing
of the can-can. In the garden there was an outdoor stage and a large
wooden elephant with tame monkeys. It was the most flamboyant of the
cabaret halls in Paris. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who frequented the
Moulin Rouge brought its famous dancers vividly to public attention
with the popular new art of poster advertising.
Café's, dance and music halls were an important social scene
and one of the qualities that gave Paris its own unique character.
The gaiety of the time and the leg kicking dances also saw a different
type of leg kicking some four streets from the Moulin Rouge. It was
the famous Charlemont Academy of Savate that was founded some two
years earlier. Savate was nothing new to the Parisians; however the
name Charlemont and his academy presented an efficient system of personal
combat suitable for high society.
The Academy became an institution and was the most elite and advanced
club of its kind in Europe. It included a reception, a large training
room, three change rooms, separate showers and toilets, a weight room
with hitting bags, barre and a hydrotherapy room. The Charlemont Academy
became the patron of the art with all the other academies supporting
and participating in events which benefited their mutual interests.
The Montmartre district was teaming with the working classes, bohemian
artists, philosophers, prostitutes and the poor. Wealthy gentlemen
venturing into the district for its nightlife were prone to mugging.
The Parisian Savate gave them the ability to defend themselves without
using exhausting rough and tumble methods whilst in their gentlemanly
attire. The working classes, bohemians and the apache hooligans used
the street Savate whereas the science and training was restricted
to the upper classes. There were even a few young lady savateur's
and others who were known not to go out with gentlemen who were unfamiliar
with the Savate.
The Savate as practiced by the upper classes was the unarmed substitute
for Fencing that was fast becoming obsolete. It was suitable for settling
disagreements amongst gentlemen and with the efficiency and ruthlessness
that can dispatch a mugger in an ally fight. It accentuated a presence
that suited a gentleman. The same attitude that tailored suits assists
in distinguishing a gentleman's position in business and at social
gatherings. In many respects an honourable method of sophistication
and elegance that was acceptable by high society.
Its posture and methods blended with how a gentleman would carry himself
and those gestures and actions would distinguish one above the street
brawlers. The way the body was carried, the head held and the way
the arms were used with a certain grace to pivot and place the body
mechanics into an armed position. A style that to be appreciated demands
intelligence and artistic perception.
Kicking was the basis of the art and it was supported by boxing, hand
hitting, grappling and the use of the city walking canne and the country
walking baton. The canne has always been a prominent and useful weapon
with the upper classes since legislation banned the carrying of the
sword. Cannes and umbrellas with wooden, metal or jewelled heads wielded
a knockdown blow with the point capable of delivering a vicious wound.
Some had small swords fitted down the shafts. Overcoats and jackets
were used similar to a cape when used for fending against an armed
Those who could afford the lessons were thus armed in their top hats,
tails and walking canne. It gave them a certain confidence when seeking
entertainment about the risqué dance and music halls.
early 1900's there was a large number of unemployed hooligans/gangsters
who roamed and controlled sections of France. They were known as the
"Apache" pronounced "apash" because of their violent
activities and total disregard to the law. They became known world
wide. In 1907 twelve armed and mobilised police brigades were established
to rid society of the problem. They became known after their founder
as the Tiger Brigades. Many of the Savate schools adjusted their syllabus
to cater for the street problem and several self-defence books became
Époque was the avant-garde period of expressionism, realism
and modernism and this was reflected in the artistic and efficient
style of Savate. This became Savate's classical period and there are
only a handful of masters today who have this knowledge.
Savate Classic is a style that demands concentrated training and encourages
precision and passion. For without precision there is only chaos and
without passion there is no soul. Artistic expression is of equal
importance to performance however the evolutionary contemporary styles
of Savate are generally more efficient.