Savate vs. Taekwondo: Who Would Win?

October 26, 2022

Outside of boxing, most striking martial arts have both kicking and punching, with varying emphasis on one or the other. Savate and Taekwondo are both known for their kicking, but the approach they have to it is very different.

Korean Taekwondo emphasizes kicking almost exclusively and includes many kicking techniques for the body and head. French Savate combines western boxing with kicking techniques, most notably characterized by using shoes as a weapon.

This short explanation is unlikely to satisfy the curiosity of martial artists who want to know more about how Savate and Taekwondo fare against each other. So, we will entertain this fictional duel in all its details.

What Is Savate

Just like most other traditional martial arts, Savate began as a self-defense method entirely centered around the cultural specifics of its birthplace, in this case, France.

The earlier forms of Savate were conceived in the back alleys of late 18th-century Paris as a fighting system used mainly by thugs, outlaws, and heavy laborers for street fighting.

Savate is a predominantly kicking martial art centered around using heavy shoes or boots with military origins as a weapon. From where it also takes its name: Savate means an old shoe (specifically, a typical shoe worn by French sailors and military servicemen of the period).

The hard heels and often hobnailed edges of these shoes make them a formidable weapon with deadly potential on the street. During that period, a kicking martial art called Chausson (named after the soft shoes worn by sailors while on board their ships) was developing in southern port cities.

The first man to establish a regulated version of Savate and Chausson and open a school in 1825 was seasoned street fighter Michel Casseux. But it was Charles Lecour who created a modern version of the martial art and began popularizing it as a sport.

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After Lecour was introduced to British boxing, he added boxing gloves and many punching techniques to the French art.

After Savate was codified as a ring sport in the late 1800s, it quickly gained popularity and peaked in the years leading up to World War II. It even reached the level of a demonstration event at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

Today, the French kickboxing system is well-known worldwide. With frequently held competitions and a well-developed scene in a few countries, though nowhere near the reach other martial arts like Taekwondo have.

Savate is a fast-paced kickboxing form characterized by unique kicking sequences and attacks not found in other martial arts. And, of course, a key characteristic is the shoes used in training and competition. However, they are relatively safe and soft today, unlike their deadly predecessors.

What Is Taekwondo

Taekwondo is the traditional martial art of Korea, and the name translates roughly as “the foot and fist way.” Taekwondo is a kicking martial art that emphasizes them almost exclusively. It is easily distinguished by lightning-fast kicks and various flashy and spinning techniques.

The Korean martial art ancestors, “Subak” and “Taekkyon,” can be traced back to ancient times. Throughout history, martial arts have been essential to Korean culture and development. The modern version of the sport was created after World War II when the nine original martial arts schools in Korea, called kwans, came together to create a uniform system for the whole country.

Their work was made official in 1959 with the creation of the Korea Taekwondo Association. However, unity in Taekwondo did not last long, and internal disagreements between the kwans led to the creation of the ITF in 1973.

The two major organizations still exist today. The original, now called World Taekwondo, governs the vastly more popular version of the sport, an Olympic sport. The ITF practices another form of Taekwondo which is closer to the traditional forms of the 20th century.

Differences Between Savate and Taekwondo

Taekwondo vs Savate

Rules

The most popular version of Taekwondo is the WT (previously known as the WTF) version, which has been a part of the Olympics since the 2000 games in Sydney. The ruleset awards spinning techniques higher than regular ones and even higher head kicks.

Kicking below the waist is also not allowed. Matches are contested on an open mat area in 3 x 2-minute rounds. You can win the match either by a knockout or by points accumulated over the 3 rounds.

Savate has two main competition rulesets. The first is called “assault” and is a light-contact version that does not allow the use of full force. The full-contact version is called “total combat,” and knockouts are welcomed and sought after.

Punches and kicks at all levels are permitted, as are jumping and spinning kicks. The most important rule of Savate is that all kicks must land solely with the foot. Kicks with the shins are not allowed. Matches are fought in a boxing ring with short 2-minute rounds that stimulate fast-paced action.

Techniques

Taekwondo and Savate are predominantly kicking martial arts, but the French sport has much more developed punching. It uses the same punches and punching techniques as western boxing, which makes it more versatile.

In its most popular Olympic WTF version, Taekwondo has omitted punching to the face completely and focuses entirely on fast and precise kicks. Since flashy kicks score more points, there are many spinning and jumping kicks and sequences in Taekwondo, which is its key characteristic.

The ITF version of the sport allows punching to the head and does not stop the action after each sequence. Still, the focus also heavily leans on kicking, and competitions are not full contact.

Savate’s punching techniques come entirely from western boxing. This includes the familiar jab, cross, uppercuts, and hooks. The specifics of the French martial art are in the kicking game.

While on the surface, the kicks are also very similar to kickboxing, in Savate, they must be delivered only with the foot. What makes them distinct is how they are used. Savateurs have a very elaborate kicking game which includes many feints, unique sequences, combos, and targeted kicks to the opponent’s supporting leg.

Equipment

Olympic-style taekwondo competitors wear a lot of protective gear in competition. It includes:

  • Head guard.
  • Chest (trunk) protector.
  • Groin guard.
  • Forearm guards.
  • Hand protectors.
  • Shin guards.
  • Mouth guard.

Practitioners of Korean martial art train and compete in a traditional uniform called a dobok which consist of trousers, a jacket, and a colored belt, all very similar to a karate gi.

The key piece of equipment in Savate is the shoes. Most often, Savateurs use modern boxing or wrestling shoes. But the full kit for competition includes:

  • Shoes.
  • Boxing gloves.
  • Groin guard.
  • Mouth guard.
  • Headgear in some rulesets.

The official Savate uniform includes long tight pants and sleeveless tops.

Savate vs. Taekwondo For MMA

Savate vs Taekwondo For MMA

The more a martial art is specialized and restricted, the less suited it is for MMA and self-defense, where there are very few restricted techniques. On that basis, Savate is better than Taekwondo for MMA.

Sports TKD has an extremely narrow focus on kicking above the waist. While athletes there are extremely good with their kicks, they have yet to gain experience with punching, wrestling, and grappling.

With that said, the Korean martial art has produced some great MMA champions like Anthony Pettis, Yair Rodriguez, and Benson Henderson, among many others. But each has modified the taekwondo base significantly to answer all the threats in MMA.

The agility, flexibility, and kicking in Taekwondo are excellent for a base upon which to build for MMA. But on its own, Taekwondo is too limited.

On the other hand, Savate also has significant holes as it lacks any form of wrestling or grappling. Still, its striking is more versatile than that of TKD.

Savate is generally identical to modern kickboxing but with a specific way of throwing kicks and sequencing them in combos. Kickboxing and Muay Thai are among the most popular striking styles of choice for MMA fighters. Savate is no less suitable than them in that regard. 

Savate vs. Taekwondo For Self-Defense

Savate again takes the win in effectiveness in self-defense. Savate and Taekwondo have been created as self-defense systems, so you would think they would be perfect for the job. And if we look at the traditional version of TKD, that would undoubtedly be true.

But the sports version has been so watered down and limited that it no longer resembles a real fight. The action resets after each successful strike, which is one of the reasons why Taekwondo is not a viable street sport, and then add to that the absence of punches to the face.

Taekwondo specializes in fast and flashy kicks, which are extremely dangerous but also not safe to throw at all, and you very rarely have the chance to execute most of them on the street.

The picture is entirely different if you find a TKD academy focusing on traditional elements and self-defense rather than modern competition. But these academies are sadly few and far between.

Savate is much more practical with its boxing, punching, and kicking with shoes. Boxing and low kicks have proven highly effective on the street, and Savate does well with both. Full-contact sparring and competition are mandatory aspects of every martial art that claims real-life efficiency.

But as we know, many street fights end up on the ground or in the clinch, and these are areas where pure Savateurs have no expertise whatsoever.

To have well-backed confidence in self-defense, they must cross-train in a good grappling style, ideally wrestling or BJJ.

Savate vs. Taekwondo: Who Wins a Fight?

Savate vs Taekwondo For Self-Defense

A battle between Savate and Taekwondo must be striking to best represent their skills and strengths. This may come off as an anti-taekwondo article, but the fact is that the Korean martial art has an abysmal track record in mixed-style bouts.

Again, outstanding fighters have evolved their TKD skills and used them significantly against other styles. But most Taekwondo fighters usually lose badly against Muay Thai fighters or kickboxers, as has been proven many times in the heyday of K1 and kickboxing in the 1990s and 2000s.

Savate has fared much better in the ring, and many instances of it winning against other styles, namely Muay Thai. Francois Pennacchio, a French legend, has done more than anyone else to glorify Savate, with victories over Ramon Dekkers and other well-known fighters.

There are no notable fights between Savate and Taekwondo (on film, at least). Still, the result will mostly lean heavily towards the western style based on better punching and the highest volume of attacks.

But TKD still has a chance, as many of its kicking attacks are extremely powerful and dangerous if you can land them.

Savate vs. Taekwondo: Which Should You Choose?

We have praised Savate as the winner in most style vs. style categories. Still, there is one critical factor we still need to mention. Taekwondo is very well-developed as a sport and has a broad reach all across the globe.

Established training regimens, structure, and constant competitions reach the pinnacle of sports, the Olympics. These things make it a career option and a martial art to that you can dedicate your life.

Furthermore, it is one of the best martial arts for children. It is perfect for a first martial art before transitioning into something more practical but also more dangerous.

Savate is an excellent martial art, but it’s much more niche. Outside of France and a few other European countries, there are virtually no schools, organizations, or competitions. Even in these places, there are many more opportunities for development in TKD.

The choice between the two is personal. Savate is more realistic, practical, and better for self-defense and MMA. On the other hand, Taekwondo offers more opportunities and benefits of Asian martial arts structure and philosophy. If you have the option to choose, both will benefit your martial arts journey and life in general.

About the author 

Plamen Kostov

Plamen has been training for the last 14 years in karate and kickboxing, before settling in for MMA for the last 5 years. He has a few amateur kickboxing fights and currently trains with and helps a stable of professional and amateur MMA fighters.


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