What is the difference between Savate and kickboxing?

The first major difference between savate is that while kickboxing originated from Japan, savate originated from France. But what is the real difference between savate and kickboxing?  

Well, both types of boxing make use of punching and kicking moves with kickboxing being a hybrid of real boxing, karate, and Muay Thai from Thailand.  

In this article, we will look at both types of boxing in real contexts, while looking at their history, rules, and techniques. 

What is savate? 

Just like English boxing, kickboxing, Thai boxing, or MMA, savate, also called French boxing is one of the most famous boxing and martial arts. 

Savate had its beginnings in the 19th century and adopted the spirit and vocabulary of the sport of fencing. Many fencing clubs accepted Savate into their program at the time. At that time, however, you could hardly speak of a real sport – it was more of a way of fighting. 

It is a type of boxing in which the shooters – the so-called “boxers” touch their opponent with their fists and feet at certain points on the body.  

Equipment includes gloves for the fists and boxing shoes (slippers) for the feet. In France, there are more than 50,000 boxers who train regularly at Savate Boxing Club. 

A few peculiarities of Savate 

In French savate boxing and in contrast to many other martial arts, there are two different forms when opponents meet. 

Attack category 

An attack is a form of encounter where the force of the blow is not included. One speaks of light contact between the opponents.  

Here it is essential to place the punches correctly. The boxer is judged only on his technical and tactical ability on the touches, not on the punches.  

In this type of encounter, making a particular force of the blows can also be sanctioned. The “attack” variant is suitable for all age groups and every level of ability. Most attacks take place in rounds of 1 minute and 30 seconds. 

The fight category 

This is where the force of the blows is assessed to determine the winner of a fight. The knockout of the opponent is allowed here and there is only minimal protective gear.  

This variant can only be practiced from the age of 18, provided that a “yellow glove” is worn. Most fights take place over five 2-minute rounds. 

According to these two main classifications, one speaks of light contact (“attack”) and full contact (“fight”) between the opponents. 

The different techniques 

Foot blows 

The International Savate Association describes 11 different forms of kicks, which can be divided into two broad categories: semicircular kicks and kicks. 

  • The semicircular kick: This is a circular kick that is executed on the lower, middle, or head part of the opponent with the surface of the foot or the tip of the foot. The execution of this kick begins by moving your hips and pelvis towards the opponent. A distinction is made between the semicircular kick “backwards” and “forwards.”  
  • The kick: there is a straight and a sidekick. The straight foot strike is a strike in which the sole hits a frontal part of the opponent (below, in the middle, or against the head). The blow is performed by lifting the knee and keeping the leg relaxed until impact. The sidekick can be done with the sole, heel, or tiptoe. 
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Four categories of punches are codified in Savate. These are in turn divided into different categories: 

  • The hook is a circular punch that is executed horizontally and aimed at the center of the body or the head of the opponent from a sideways position of the boxer. 
  • The direct is a punch that is executed in a straight line. With a direct punch, you aim at the frontal body parts of the opponent, the center of the body, or the head. 
  • The swing, a circular punch that is performed by swinging while lying on your side. 
  • The uppercut is a circular punch that is executed from the bottom up and directed towards the center of the body or the head of the opponent. 

Prohibited movements 

Knee strikes that were formerly allowed in Savate are now prohibited. Vertical kicks with the heel, shin kicks, or kicks against the opponent’s back are also prohibited. It is also forbidden to kick and support yourself with one hand on the floor. 

What is kickboxing? 

Kickboxing is a modern Japanese martial art in which the most effective kicks of the Far Eastern martial arts (karate and Muay Thai) are combined with conventional boxing. As a result, the entire body is stressed and extensively trained during training. 

Movement coordination, flexibility, endurance, strength endurance, speed-strength, and technical-tactical skills are trained. 

Kickboxing as a competitive discipline can be traced back to 1974. This year the founders of the WAKO world association, Georg F. Brückner, Mike Anderson, and others, agreed on a new, cross-style combat system with protective equipment.  

A uniform set of rules made it possible for the different combat systems such as Taekwondo, Karate, Kung Fu, etc. to be able to compete with one another in sports. 

This created a new competitive sport that was initially called sport karate. It was later renamed Kickboxing. 

For many, kickboxing is not just a competitive sport, but rather a popular sport that is also practiced by many children and women. 

In addition to the competition, one of the goals of training is belt grades. 

The graduation of the athletes is usually divided into 5 student grades, namely in yellow, orange, green, blue, and brown belts. This is followed by the DAN or master’s degrees, which are indicated by a black belt. 

Kickboxing techniques 

Kickboxing training involves striking techniques with fists (jab, straight, hook, uppercut), kicks (kick high, middle kick, and low kick), knees (usually with limitations), and grips (clinch). Although there are different modalities and organizations, the rules of each one can greatly vary the techniques allowed.  

In general, Japanese Kickboxing (K1) is the most permissive with techniques since it has traditionally been the most influenced by Muay Thai. Even so, knees and grabs are very limited and elbows are almost always illegal. 

Kickboxing modalities 

The different Kickboxing modalities vary in the body of rules that compose them, allowing a series of different techniques. 

Full contact kickboxing 

Also known as “American kickboxing” this is the competitive form of kickboxing that has triumphed in the United States since its introduction in the country in the 1970s.  

It is the furthest from the original Japanese conception of kickboxing and although it enjoyed great popularity during the 70s and 80s, today it is less popular than other modalities. 

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In this modality, blows below the waist are prohibited (which means that low kicks are not allowed). The use of elbows, knees, and grips is not allowed (there is no clinch), and kicks with shin/tibia are rarely allowed.  

These prohibitions made this modality known as “American Kickboxing”, more similar to Karate than Japanese Kickboxing.  

Semi contact kickboxing  

Also known as point kickboxing, this is a competition modality even more similar to Karate. It takes place on a tatami mat and the objective is simply to win with fast and very technical blows.   

The equipment is similar to that used in Full Contact Kickboxing but with Kickboxing belts. The techniques allowed are also similar to Full Contact Kickboxing, although here each impact is assigned a score: 

Punches, kicks (always above the waist), and standing sweeps are rewarded with 1 point. Then we find the head kicks or jump kicks to the body that are rewarded with 2 points. Finally, jump kicks to the head have 3 points. 

Again the use of the elbows, knees, and blows with the shin is prohibited. Clinch, grabs, and takedowns are also eliminated except for foot sweeps. Rotating punches with the fist are also not allowed. 

Comparison Table: Kickboxing vs. Savate  

 Savate  Kickboxing 
Short description It’s a martial art in which fists and kicks are used  It’s a combat and Martial art sport in which kicks and punches are used  
Origin  France Japan 
Developed from French street fighting Karate, Muay Thai, and boxing  
Emphasis Focus is on kicks than punching Focus is on both kicks and punches 
Main techniques  Includes kicks, punches in different styles  Includes:  Sidekick Front kick Hook kick Ax kick Spin Kick Round kick 


In Savate, or French boxing and kickboxing, some rules codify the different age and weight classes, grading, and, above all, the rules governing the blows. Certain kicks or fists are allowed while others are prohibited. 

A little more technical but also significantly more demanding than the well-known savate boxing, kickboxing is considered to be more movement-free and encourages physical contact between opponents.

In contrast to many other sports, kickboxing does not offer the athlete any one-sided stress but rather stresses the entire body much more. 

Movement coordination, flexibility, stretching, endurance, strengthening of the muscles, speed as well as general performance, and the positive development of personality are trained. 


Hi - I'm Jonathan, and I've been passionate about fighting ever since I was a little kid. I did some Karate, Judo, and Kickboxing, and always wanted to try Aikido. I started this site to indulge my passion for Martial arts, answering all the geeky questions I had. Now I want to share all the information I've learned with you guys.

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