Savate offers many advantages and options to the martial artist, including control of range, timing, and unusual angles, contributing to its deceptive approach to combat. A key difference from other arts is how the boot or shoe is used in combat to supercharge techniques.
I was a Muay Thai player from the early eighties, which meant I trained barefooted, except when I was down the Western boxing gym. I used my shin to make contact where possible and my instep as a second-choice fallback position for my round kicks. There is a concept in Muay Thai of kicking without fear, to be so conditioned you can unload power in every kick. Not so easy when your instep bounces off shins, knees and elbows. Part of avoiding collisions with unwanted objects is the correct use of deception, something Savate excels at and something I will cover in a later article.
The remarkable growth of MMA means that most of us are training on wrestling mats for safety. Still, one trade-off due to the matted area is mostly barefoot training, which means many students do not consider the advantages of using the shoe.
One tip is to wear footwear when training boot kicks. It seems obvious, but many people don’t and don’t get the best out of their training. There are some nice Savate shoes and boots that work well, which you may like to consider. Over the years, I have trained in trainers, shoes and walking boots to get the correct feel and impact.
Part of any Savate study should be studying how to use the shoe, the toe point, the heel, and the shoe’s rim where the sole meets the upper; these areas can supercharge your kicks. Most kicks can be thrown with the heel as the striking area. The toe of the shoe can be used on kicks to direct the force into a tiny area to increase penetration and increase the kick’s range. The toe can reach around or behind defensive shields to attack vulnerable areas such as the liver, sternum and back of the head.
Wearing dress shoes or walking boots is better for your feet in general but can also offer increased protection, especially if you have steel toe caps. The protection you gain will allow you win collisions you would otherwise have lost, this enables you to kick without fear.
In my class, we broadly split shoe-wearing during training into two areas, hard shoes for impact training, ideally on equipment or suitable protection and soft shoes for drilling and sparring.
Boot kicks can be safely trained, but it requires qualified and experienced coaching as they are dangerous. In the eighties, I got very good at relocating dislocated knees. The targeting of the kicks is considered an in house secret in my style.
Once you have the kicking motions down and know the targets, you need to create the openings to apply your art. That’s a whole book in itself.
It’s been a while since Marcus Trower passed away in 2019, and it’s only really now I feel able to write something to pay tribute to him and his life that will hopefully do him justice.
I first met Marcus in 1986 when he joined my boxing and Muay Thai club in Merstham, near Redhill in Surrey. The curriculum covered boxing, Muay Thai and stick fighting. The club was an off-shoot hybrid from the Thai Boxing club I trained at, and I was the coach by default as no one else wanted to do it.
I was a young teacher, and my teacher had given me the following advice; to spar with every new club member on the first night they came. That way, we all know where we stood and if they got naughty to smack them. During our sparring, Marcus did something probably more of a mistake than everything malicious, and I shin-kicked him in the head a little harder than I should have.
Despite the rocky introduction, post-training, we got to go to the local pub and became firm friends. It became clear during our post-training conversations in the pub or at his house that Marcus was more intelligent than I. I used to tease him by asking him a question, and if he did not know, I would fake disbelief and remind him that he was the most intelligent person I know. That good humour teasing was something that reminded part of our relationship for its duration.
In Muay Thai, the coach will often pick a range for the student to excel at based on their body type and in my case, I was so tall it was clinch range. The Thai clinch is a range where the grappling aspect can be trained full out, and despite being smaller than me, Marcus always caused me problems in grappling, and he seemed to enjoy the grappling element more than the striking part of the art.
During this period, Marcus was in a dusty second-hand bookshop in Fulham, London. He found a book by EJ Harrison on Wrestling. I know this because whenever we met for training around his house, he would tell me about it. I never thought much about why we trained, but Marcus always searched for the answer. He was a natural researcher and started visiting bookshops and museums. This research resulted in an extensive book collection and a pile of A4 notes and notebooks.
Marcus realised something profound we were in danger of losing something very precious, our grappling heritage. In these early days, Marcus would track down former folk style or old school Catch as catch can wrestlers who were often in their seventies. We would visit them; they would often demonstrate in their living rooms whilst being interviewed. During this period, it’s fair to say Marcus’s research focus was on Great Britain. He quickly expanded that research and travelled to Thailand, India, Mongolia and Brazil, basically any country where people wrestled, and it turned out they wrestled in most countries and cultures.
I did my best to keep in touch with him, and I often caught up with his father, Bernard, as we travelled to work in London on the train. From time to time, Marcus would teach grappling in my MMA class. Marcus would return from his travels and show me his research notes that had become a potential book and his excellent photos; he had natural talent. Marcus’s book, The Last Wrestlers, covers most of this and details his journey. I recommend reading that because that’s his story to tell.
Marcus, the person, was brilliant, articulate, caring and a great encourager. He had many friends and was a great interviewer because he cared. When we met up for our stay-in-touch catch-ups, Marcus used to tease me that I was in the book, but he had now taken me out to encourage me to write my own story. Marcus’ influence on my life and others was so significant and positive he is the first person people ask about when I meet former students. Marcus encouraged me to write, research and do my own thing. I think he won our long-running humour battle.
I realise this tribute is martial artsy, but that’s the context of my meeting with Marcus; he would have edited this tribute while explaining the writing rules again. The truth is I was lucky to have met him, and his contribution to my life outside of martial arts was also enormous. He is very much missed by many, and a little of him lives on in all of us.
“The whole world loses something whenever someone is stopped from doing what it is they were sent here to do”. The Last Wrestlers by Marcus Trower. 1967 to 2019.
This video is a part of a piece to camera practice I had to record quickly before taking a media presentation workshop at work. There’s an important safety message, followed by a little section on using the walking cane and how to use the stick the Irish way. Finally, there is a section on enhancing your skills by training solo with a sledgehammer handle. Feedback on the content from Martial Artist has been very positive. My media training coach gave me a long list of things to improve or useful hints to improve my presentational skills.
What little on how to use a cane and Irish stick I have, I got from my Father in the 1970s and early eighties. His Father came from Kerry in Ireland, not some extensive system, just how to wallop people at range with a stick or grab them and do the same. It’s incredible how fast and hard you can hit with the Irish grip. I don’t personally lay my thumb along the stick, I prefer a full grip, but that’s my personal choice.
It’s great to see that people are interested, once we can, I will film some more with a training partner.
Towards the end of last year, I posted on my FB page how much I was looking forward to resuming my sword training post-COVID-19 pandemic. My previous experience had been Olympic foil fencing for about four years and a smattering of some sabre up until I was sixteen. I have studied Filipino Martial Arts and the Thai art of Krabi Krabong from the mid-eighties, but I was mostly interested in stick fighting. So really, I only have five years of formal sword training, mostly related to sports fencing.
Over the last couple of years, I have developed an interest in sword work, and am lucky enough to have an instructor. Struggling to get past my thirty-plus years of whacking people with sticks and poles, but slowly getting there, getting used to stabbing and slashing correctly. The issue is my fault as my main interest has been full contact stick fighting.
When I posted about my new hobby, I got a few people questioning the value of sword training in the current age, after all as one genus noted you couldn’t walk down the street with a sword in open carry in the UK (nor would you want to).
To understand why I get real value from sword training, we have to look at the sword and its place in history because it is somewhat unique. After all, unlike a knife, the swords sole use is for combat and designed as such. Someone went out of their way to create something that was an efficient killer when wielded correctly.
I would guess that not long after the sword was invented and used, the opposition also acquired them, and people noticed that both combatants would often die or be injured, which probably meant a slight delay in death. Dead is dead, and that is not a win-win. Far too easy to walk in to successfully score, only to be struck down on the way out. Taking shields and armour out of the combat equation, someone smart (a genuine genius) noticed that standing square on with everyone slashing and stabbing resulted in both sides failing. Probably via trial and error in the practice room, systems developed to take into account the use of footwork, angles and control of the other person’s actions to gain an advantage. The skillset and ability to win in a sudden-death match via guile and skill is the process and art that fascinates me.
The other major bonus is that I can take the concepts, such as a hit without being hit and apply it into my dagger, different weapons and empty hand skill sets. Any form of study is always a growth experience, but this art has some fantastic genuine crossovers, and best of all, it’s a lot of fun.
I got the attached photo from the La Verdadera Destreza in History and Practice group on FB. A great group to be part of if you are interested in the sword.
In the mid-eighties, I had a French training partner, and in between Muay Thai classes, we worked out privately in a local French restaurant. We would clear away some tables and mostly worked on our Boxing and Muay Thai fight preparation. Fred was a great training partner, powerful and an excellent boxer and fighter.
During one of our training sessions, a family friend of Fred’s, who I had briefly been introduced to, watched nearby. Now and then, between sips of coffee, he would give Fred advice in French. After a while, I hoped he would shut up and go away to France, where I assumed he came from. Every time he said something, Fred would adjust, and I would receive a new counter punch in the face. We moved on to Thai rules clinch work, and now the stranger was up and coaching hands-on. He was crushing my double collar tie and throwing me around. Total drag, really as that was meant to be my area of expertise.
We finished up training, and whilst the family friend was off getting his fifth cup of filter coffee and cigarette for the hour, I asked Fred who the unwanted coach was. Fred said something like he’s high up in French Judo, which would explain his grappling prowess, and he has trained in French Boxing, sometimes called Savate. My only view of Savate at that point was seeing magazines with guys in strange gear playing what looked like kickboxing.
To cut a very long story short, it came down to the stranger discussing my Muay Thai kicks with Fred as an interpreter. He liked our kicks but wanted us to consider the shoe as a weapon. He also felt that I should play an outside game more to use my long reach. His advice was peppered with strange-looking kicks and movements in the air that looked like flicks. Finally, he said I will show you, and he kicked me in the lead leg with a kick that used the heel and shut down my thigh for a few days.
I became an instant believer; he had kicked me with training shoes on, and it felt like being hit with a hammer. Over the next two weeks or so, we got to work out with our new coach, probably at least twenty hours of actual training time and about the same socialising. I was mainly interested in the street kicking and picking up some good boxing.
Here’s what I picked up during that limited time:
Muay Thai kicks are like being hit with a sharp baseball bat; the force cuts through the target (generalising a lot, but that’s a way of looking at it). Savate kicks are like being hit with a hammer; the force goes in deep and rattles around a bit. The targeting of the kicks splits muscle from bone and should leave small dents.
Constant movement in and out of position sets up the opponent for the kicks, and some sweet boxing deals with opponents who get close. Lots of evasive straight punches also keep the distance.
Boots or strong shoes are great accessories, and you need to train in them or at least some of the time. Training shoes are ok but not the same.
Boot kicks hurt, and they cripple.
After the two short weeks, I never got to train with the coach again, and it being the pre-internet era (letter writing instead of emails), I lost touch with Fred a few years later when he went travelling.
I placed my little knowledge of art into what I refer to as my boot-kicking module, and over the years, I have shown it as a subsection of my Combatives art. It’s a good match for Combatives guys as it is so brutal and it blends well.
I tried to seek further training in Savate, travelling to France several times and enjoyed the cross-training. However, the Savate I was shown had a slightly different flavour. My first coach lived in the Basque region and had picked up his Savate flavour there, hence his slang name for his art: Basque Boot.
My martial arts journey started with formal boxing classes in 1977, the local vicar Michael Insley taught two classes a week, one was fencing, and the other was boxing. From the early eighties, I also trained in Combatives as I was joining the army. While in the military, I continued to study boxing, fighting at an amateur level and obtaining a coaching certificate, I also continued to study Combatives.
In 1983 I began to study Muay Thai. We had a loose group who used to train together in the gym. The group was a mixture of boxers, Muay Thai and judo guys and it was an early form of MMA. When I left the military in 1985, I continued to study Muay Thai. I worked freelance then, so I was training all the time and doing five or six classes per week. During this period, I also had the opportunity to begin my study of Pukulan Sera.
In 1987 I started training with Bob Breen. At that time, he was teaching a mixture of Kali and kickboxing, and I was also lucky enough to train under Gary Derrick, in Muay Thai, who taught at the Academy.
I got a group of people together locally to compete, and by default, I became the lead coach as I have coached in the military. We would train and fight in western boxing and Muay Thai. During this period, I renewed my interest in close range pistol shooting, Combatives and Savate.
The group became a formal class of around twenty people, just by word of mouth alone. Marcus Trower, the author of the book The Last Wrestlers, was a founder member of the group and training partner.
In 1989 I started to hear about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a guy called Rickson Gracie and by chance got to take a couple of private lessons in that from a Brown Belt under Carlos Gracie. I started to develop an interest in Vale Tudo fights, grappling and martial arts challenge matches. I was training privately and in regular classes until 2005.
In 1993 I started to train privately with Sifu Dave Carnell in the arts of Jeet Kune Do, Kali and Pentjak Silat. Sifu Dave was a fantastic instructor, but in 1997 I had to change my carrier path and take a new job. The change of career meant I was unable to get up to Stoke on Trent to train regularly. During this period, I also got to train with Sifu Marc Mcfann and his UFA guys here in the UK.
In 1997, I met Doug Tucker, who used to come to train at an informal sick fighting group I hosted with Richard Hay, my training partner. Doug and I hit it off straight away, and he would coach us all in his Arnis system.
In 1998 I went to LA to train with the Dog Brothers and fight at the September gathering with Eric Knaus AKA Top Dog. While in LA, I got to train with Eric Paulson in Shooto and the Machado Brothers in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Again, by chance, I got to take a one-off workshop in Vale Tudo.
In 2000 I had changed my class to a Vale Tudo class by blending our stand up, clinch and ground grappling. I kept the informal full contact stick fighting class going for another two years. Vale Tudo changed its name to cage fighting and then became MMA. In 2005 I closed my public class.
I have produced great boxing, Muay Thai, full contact stick and MMA fighters and coaches over my years of teaching. Our group has had some excellent results in competition, real self-defence situations, and probably more importantly we have help people turn their lives around.
I now teach mostly on a closed-door basis to my KORA group or private lessons and continue my martial arts research. The arts we study under the KORA banner are Bare Knuckle Boxing, MMA, Grappling, Sword and dagger, Stick and Savate with a Basque flavour. I teach Pukulan Sera separately from the other arts.
Ranks achieved or held
Assistant boxing coach.
Muay Thai coach.
Vale Tudo/MMA coach.
I am certified to teach Jeet Kune Do, Kali and Pentjak Silat.
I am Head Instructor and founder of Killick Off Road Arts.
I receive quite a few private messages regarding my research group’s nature, and I want to take some time to clarify a few details.
When I retired from public teaching in 2005, after over twenty years of serving my community, I closed my school called the Primal Focus Gym, which covered my MMA or Shoot Boxing classes.
My MMA journey began when I was teaching Muay Thai and met some students in the early nineties who wanted to upgrade their stand up for Vale Tudo matches. Slowly I modified my Muay Thai to take on board what my Brazilian friends were showing me; BJJ and some catch wrestling. The areas we trained were stand up, clinch and ground for sport. Interestingly, I managed to get out of MMA in 2005 just as it was going mainstream.
I began to research some of the arts I had put-on hold previously in retirement, and broadly these were, bare-knuckle boxing, Combatives, Savate with a Basque fighting arts flavour and Pukulan Sera. I had studied bare-knuckle boxing, Combatives since 1977, and Savate and Pukulan Sera since 1986.
I had kept in touch with a few former students, and we used to meet up informally to train whatever art I was investigating. During this period, I feel we covered off my Combatives module and the Savate boot kicking module and this research period naturally came to an end.
In around 2010, I started to look again at Pukulan Sera, of which I have lucky enough to study two separate and distinct branches. The first Sera branch was fascinating and intriguing, with some great people involved.
The second branch of Sera I have been lucky enough to study, is a small, non-commercial private community, and for me, it’s everything I ever wanted, and I love it. My current instruction is helping me make sense of my former education. I soon realised that I would need some people to train with after I visited my teacher and so I formed a small private non-commercial study group for interested people, which is how my current group came into being.
We are lucky enough to have a great mixture of experience and teachers in other arts combined with a few beginners. The instruction is in Sera as currently taught to me. In effect, we are exploring a brilliant curriculum together.
The research groups primally interest is Pukulan Sera and the study of my KORA system. KORA covers my Vale Tudo (MMA) experience, Grappling, Sword & Dagger, full Contact Stick Fighting and Savate with a Basque flavour.
On a back burner, i.e. not currently taught in my class is my Shoot Boxing for MMA sport module which includes stand up, clinch and ground and my Combatives module.
Over the last few years, I have realised that the group would come to an end if anything happened to me. This year, I have put a structure in place to allow group members to progress to teaching the arts one day and introduce all members of my group to my teacher.
We are a small, private closed-door group, and the first primary rule is we are not allowed to share any of our Sera outside of the group. Every new member gets the same twenty-minute introduction and history talk from me, and part of that is them agreeing to keep everything in house with regards Sera.
We support other instructors in the martial arts world, and if we get any new membership inquiries and are full with regards to members numbers, we pass on people to those we trust in the martial arts world.
So that’s a little history and an update on the group. It differs from other groups as its primary mission was to investigate a closed-door curriculum rather than produce lots of satellite groups. It’s not commercial as we don’t have anything to sell, and it keeps a relatively a low-profile so no videos or workshops in the Sera side of things etc.
From time to time, I get asked many questions on training and will post a few more replies here in the future.