Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Savate in America! - George Ruiz Interview

George Ruiz is an exponent of the French art of Savate, and publisher of Le Blog. I asked him to share a little about Savate with us. If you have questions, please post them in the Comments, and I'll ask George to reply in the same manner.

George H. Ruiz is Vice-President of Business Affairs for International Creative Management, and works with ICM’s agents in negotiating talent, directing, producing and literary deals with major studios, distributors and independent production companies. He was formerly a Senior Attorney for Paramount Pictures where he served as production counsel on over a dozen motion pictures, including Face/Off, Clueless, and several movies in the Star Trek franchise. Mr. Ruiz began his legal career at the Walt Disney Company. He is also an avid martial artist with a background in Tae Kwon Do, Kenpo, boxing, Muay Thai and competes in the kickboxing sport of Savate / Boxe-Francaise where he is ranked as a White Glove. Mr. Ruiz has served as the Treasurer of the United States Savate Federation.

TDA: Mr. Ruiz, welcome to Teodoro Defensive Arts, and thanks for your time.

GR: Thank you Nathan, it’s a pleasure. I’m an avid reader of your blog and I appreciate the opportunity to talk to your readers about Savate and the California Savate Association.

TDA: First of all, you are a “Savateur?” What does that mean?

GR: Simply, one who practices the fighting art of Savate.

TDA: What is Savate?

GR: Savate is the French fighting method that combines western boxing with kicking techniques from eastern martial arts. It is an elegant form of kickboxing that emphasizes speed, ring movement and striking combinations.

TDA: Is it considered a sport or fighting/martial art?

GR: Straight up martial art. Savate’s origins come from 19th century Parisian street fighting techniques and the kicks learned by French sailors from their voyages to Asia. It has been an effective form of self-defense for over 200 years. Some people distinguish the more fighting oriented aspects of this art by calling it Savate and calling the ring sport version “Boxe-Francaise”. Savate, as a comprehensive style, contains grappling, knife and cane fighting techniques. However, we in California focus on and primarily train in the kickboxing elements of Savate.

TDA: Does it have a martial (military use) history?

GR: Yes. It was the official martial art of France throughout most of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century, taught and practiced by the military and all levels of French society. Unfortunately, the majority of soldier-savateurs were killed during the terrible battles of World War 1 that claimed the lives of millions. Many of the surviving practitioners were later killed in WWII. The art almost perished because of war.

TDA: What got you involved in Savate in the first place?

GR: I got into it completely by accident. I had been training in boxing and Muay Thai at a gym called Boxing Works in Hermosa Beach, California. My regular kickboxing trainer happened to be Brad Pitt and Hugo Weaving’s stunt double and was off shooting a movie. So, this cool French guy, Michael Giordani and a lithe young woman named Mary Frances Person, stepped in to take his place. They were Savateurs. They had just returned from fighting for Team USA in the 2000 Assaut (light-contact) World Cup and they were eager to recruit more Savate fighters. Training with them taught me better ring movement, footwork, combinations and double and triple kick combos. Also, unlike much of the kickboxing classes I had attended, Savate training had lots of continuous sparring with little to no breaks. After half an hour of pad drills, we’d do 5 rounds of boxing then do another 5 rounds of kickboxing. I quickly became a much better fighter. After 2 or 3 months of this Michael and Mary Frances thought I looked ready and asked me to fight in a light contact Savate tournament. I declined.

“I’m a lawyer, not a fighter.” I joked, but promised to give it some thought. I went home and asked myself why I was training in the first place. Well, my dad was a Kenpo practitioner, but that wasn’t why. I loved Bruce Lee movies as a kid, but that certainly wasn’t it. Ultimately, I decided that I was training because I wanted to be able to fight and defend myself – not just work out and lose weight. I needed to test myself. So the following week I agreed to participate. A month later I found myself fighting in my first tournament.

I lost.

I was bruised, limping and sore for a week. However, it was the most exciting 8 minutes of my life (three 2 minute rounds, with one minute breaks). I had proven to myself that I could hold my own in the ring. My nervousness and ring inexperience played a part in my loss, but I knew that I needed a lot more training. I signed up for even more Savate lessons, lost 30 pounds and went on to win my next four fights. Much of that came from the inspiration I received from Mary Frances Person, Michael Giordani and former Savate French Champion, Nicolas Saignac. I still train with them today.

TDA: Savate doesn’t seem to get a lot of press in the US. Is that different in Europe, outside of France or Belgium?

GR: Savate is actually quite popular in Australia and Canada. Also, Germany and Italy have strong World Cup teams and quite a few practitioners. Accordingly, Savate in those countries receives more press coverage. In the U.S. it seems that the press follows the fighting sports that generate the most income. Currently that’s mixed martial arts and boxing. Also, it doesn’t help that Savate, while growing rapidly in the U.S., is still relatively unknown. Still, recent success by U.S. Savateurs in the 2002 and 2004 Assaut World Cup and the 2005 Combat (full contact) World Championship has led to a few articles in the mainstream martial arts press. With the California Savate Association’s website and our daily blog (Le Blog), we hope to change bring more attention to our art.

TDA: Savate seems to have a different approach to kicking than some of the Eastern martial arts. Would you please describe the type of force that Savate kicks generate?

GR: Savate kicks have their genesis in Eastern arts. A well delivered Savate fouette delivers the same amount of force as a Tae Kwon Do or Muay Thai round house. It’s just that the force in a Savate kick is delivered in a more concentrated way.

In Savate you are trained to fight in shoes (steel-tipped in the old days) so you are striking with the point, flat or top of the shoe, depending on the kick. Shin strikes are not part of the art so your kicking distance is also different (e.g., you’re not fighting as close as you would in Muay Thai). Thus, a Muay Thai kick that strikes an opponent with the shin does more blunt force damage over a larger surface area than a Savate fouette which strikes with the point of a hard tipped shoe. The same amount of force is generated but is now delivered with more focus into a smaller area and it’s quite devastating. I’ve been hit with both, and it’s true when they say that it’s like comparing being hit in the ribs with a bat and being hit there with a hammer. Both really hurt and can incapacitate, just in different ways.

TDA: Do they seem easier or harder to defend than, say, TKD kicks?

GR: Savate has a well earned reputation for fast, multiple and spinning kicks, but the answer always depends on the skill level of the person delivering the kick. It’s not the martial art so much as it’s the martial artist.

TDA: Is there a grappling component to Savate?

Yes, but I’m not familiar with its specifics. I understand that Salem Assli from the Inosanto Academy trains in Savate grappling.

TDA: Please tell us a little about the California Savate Association.

GR: It was started in the mid 1980’s by American Savate pioneers Daniel Duby and Salem Assli to foster and train people in Savate and Boxe-Francaise. We continue that mission today by holding seminars, tournaments and creating college programs. We spread the word through the internet and by traveling to other states to compete and train others in Savate. The CSA is run by a collective of active Savateurs and instructors, who are passionate about this French martial art. We love it.

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