It was no less than Bruce Lee who recognized the effectiveness of Savate as a fighting art. An illustration of a Savate technique (coup de savate) is included in his book Tao of Jeet Kune Do. While known to many as the art of French foot fighting, there is more to Savate than flashy kicks. In an interview with FIGHT Times, Professeur Paul-Raymond Buitron 3rd, one of the foremost authorities on Savate clears the many misconceptions on this unique and devastating martial art.
FIGHT Times: Please tell us something about your self; your personal background and how did you start in the martial arts?
Paul-Raymond Buitron 3rd: My life philosophy is Savate. It has grown inside of me since the age of six so I have practiced it for 39 years. I was introduced to a variation of it by my Uncle Isidro Chapa, which he referred to it as Zipota (Basque for Savate).
After I had been seriously beaten up as a lad, my way of seeing the world is through Savate, which taught me to respect others, to know that we are all equal regardless of social condition, nationality or religion. Savate gave me the flexibility to overcome everyday difficulties; it taught me how to win and how to lose—mainly how to lose, because everyone is already prepared to win.
It enabled me to have a profession with which I completely identify, and I am free to act, think, and develop my work in the way that I think best. I have other vocations; I am an executive chef as well as worked in the field of executive protection when I was in my twenties. Yet, Savate is what gives me clarity so I wouldn’t even want to do anything else. I raise and educate my kids with my vocation of a Professeur of Savate.
Also through Savate, I have the chance to help many people and also be helped. I have made many friends in Savate and within the martial arts communities. What I have learned I try to teach my students with admiration, thus teaching respect.
FT: What is the style of Savate that you are practicing and teaching?
PRB: I created Danse De Rue Savate in 1994. After years of training in traditional French arts including Savate, Boxe Francaise, Canne de Combat, Baton, Lutte Parissienne, Panache and Zipota (Basque Family art), I took the bold step of formulating the system after a strict direction of four of my professeurs (Isidro Chapa, Roger Lafond, Jean-Paul Viviani and Robert Paturel). The full name of the style is Danse De Rue Savate.
FT: How is Savate different from other martial arts? Also, Savate is always associated with Le Canne, the French art of cane fighting. Can you explain the connection between the two?
PRB: Most martial artists use the name Savate to describe all the fighting styles of France. Yet it is normally taught as the mother of all pugilistic French fighting styles deriving after 1803 in Paris, France which was a hotbed of traditional French martial arts, home to dozens of styles.
The highly respected Boxe Francaise la Canne de arme or Combat as well as Lutte Parissienne styles are but three of the most famous developing in the 1800s. Danse De Rue Savate means the dance of the street referring to an international phrase “let’s dance” meaning do you want to fight. Strikes are blocks as well as blocks are strikes are taught in a systematically compacted way that teaches explosive and powerful destructive ways of dismantling the opponents structure, whether offensive or defensive. This tight structure gives an opponent little warning about oncoming attacks and makes it easier for the students to protect themselves. Many refer to ranges: close, long, punching, kicking or grappling. In Danse De Rue Savate we just have a range, meaning that one can transition between distances as needed. This way of thinking links combinations without stopping thus enhances speed, power and stability. The usage of footwork and body alignment is critical to a zipotero a practitioner of Danse De Rue Savate, because the power, momentum, penetration, simultaneous evasion and counter are much safer. My reasoning behind the art is based on the many self-defense and conflict situations I witnessed while growing up, that left in me a deep impression.
FT: What is the progression of training in Savate? Does it have an official ranking system?
PRB: There is a deeply rooted philosophy within the ranking structure, which is divided into three lines a person travels on: eleve (student), disciple (apprentice) and donneur (giver). I will explain the differences: eleve or student is the technical ranking which starts with blue glove, green glove, red glove (black belt), white glove, yellow glove, silver glove1, silver glove 2 and silver glove 3. Disciple or apprentice is the apprentice rank meaning a coach helping in a school, initiateur having his own club, aide moniteur able to give rank to blue glove. A donneur or giver is the teacher rank, a moniteur is able to give rank up to yellow must be a silver 1, a professeur is able to give rank up to silver 1 (but requires three professeurs) must be a silver 2. A maitre is able to give any rank; must be a silver 3. While in France, I was alarmed by the severe decline of the traditions and older techniques as well as the respect to the older professeurs. Fearing that the soul of the art could die, I began to not only teach them openly but also document the last servicing professeurs that knew of the older traditions.
FT: How did Savate evolve through the years as a self-defense art and sport?
Savate Boxe Francaise (1980-Present). The technical abilities of both Savate’s major kicking arsenal and Boxe Francaise’s kicks were merged into a definitive sport of combat. This style is very much present in Europe. Contemporary Savate (1990-present) accentuates the basic techniques of Boxe Francaise Savate and the athletic aspects of the sport. That emerged from the seminars given by the French Federation of Savate. Without having ever walked into a salle or stable of savateur’s. Care to the traditions of Savate play little role with in this structure. The Danse De Rue Savate (1994- present) is the codification of the elements of Zipota, Boxe Francaise, Canne De Combat, Baton, Lutte Parissienne, Panache and Saca Tripa. Developed by myself, my goals are to maintain the fundamentals of traditional Savate as well as to create an understanding to the respect and preserve the traditions. Renaissance Savate (1997- present) are the arts that have emerged due to the codification of Danse De Rue Savate. In the past ten years several have tired to emulate the feeling of Danse De Rue Savate within two of its disciplines. Example Canne and Lutte or Boxe Francaise and Lutte. To produce the following arts: Boxe De Rue, Canne De Rue, Lutte de Rue and Savate-Defense. Re-enacted Savate (2000-present) is the predominant teaching methods from old books. Written by instructors who have passed away decades ago or centuries ago without leaving any heirs or students to continue teaching. Thus the essence of the philosophy of that school has been lost. Chauss’ Fight (2007) is the new sport of Savate to compete with the ever losing of boxers or savateurs of the French Federation of Savate. It will consist of kicks with the tibia to draw boxers from the others pugilistic federations of full-contact, kickboxing and Thai boxing to transfer over to the French Federation of Savate. The new uniform will be pantalons/pants similar to kickboxing no top and shoes. Many do not understand that the majority of the world champions of full-contact, kickboxing and Thai boxing were either European or French champions of Savate.
FT: Do you practice other martial arts besides Savate?
PRB: Yes. I started in kenpo and became a second generation Ed Parker blackbelt under the late Sifu Keith See and I have acquired the rank of eighth degree, I have also followed very closely capoeira and I am a contra mestre in Capoeira Angola under Mestre Motorista. I have always searched for knowledge in the realm of pugilism and I have befriended many escrimadores from the Philipines that live in Stockton and I have now been introduced to the fighting ways of the Philipines in which I have found many common traits between savate and escrima.
FT: How can Savate training benefit martial artists from other fighting systems?
PRB: Savate has the ability to develop a freethinker in the sense of a pugilist that respects all strikes and is able to recognize danger and thus will enhance any and all martial artists of various styles.