Boxing vs. Savate –  What Are The Differences?

boxing vs savate

Boxing and Savate are two separate striking martial arts that might look similar at first glance. However, these two also differ in various aspects. What are the key differences between Boxing and Savate?

Boxing is a striking martial art where fighters use only their fist to do damage and win matches. Savate is very similar as it includes the same hand-striking techniques, but also involves leg strikes. It is a French variation of kickboxing, very popular all across Europe.

Keep reading this article to learn more about boxing vs savate. You will learn how these two systems compare in various aspects such as self-defense, MMA, fitness, and many others.

What is Boxing?

Boxing is both, a martial art and a very popular combat sport. It is a simple combat system where athletes use only their hands to inflict damage to the head or upper body above the waist. It has been a part of the Olympic Games since ancient times, and its rules are standardized across the world.

A typical boxing event includes around 10–12 matches. Each match is split into rounds where boxers compete in a continuous action. They are also split into 17 weight categories according to their physical size and are not allowed to use any other techniques apart from punches. The main goal is to hurt the opponent as much as possible with every punch and win a match.

In modern times, a lot of people practice boxing for various benefits. It is a great full-body workout that improves fitness, a practical self-defense system, and a sport that offers many opportunities. It has reached mainstream levels and if you have what it takes to succeed, you can become a millionaire in a few years.

What is Boxing

What is Savate?

Savate is a striking martial art often seen as the French style of kickboxing. Savate first emerged as a hybrid mix of hand and leg strikes, and dirty self-defense tactics. But the modern form focuses only on mixing punches with kicks, which makes it similar to kickboxing.

However, unlike in other kickboxing styles, Savate practitioners wear shoes or traditional “boots”. And, they are allowed only to land kicks with their foot, not the shin or knees.

The modern savate is well regulated and there are three main types or intensity levels:

Assault — is widely regarded as the “softest” variation of savate. Instead of utilizing full power, the emphasis is on light contact. Competitors must focus on overwhelming the opponent with speed, accuracy, and technique rather than landing hard punches and kicks. In fact, they might receive a penalty for using excessive force.

Pre-Combat — is a full-contact variation of the system. Competitors are allowed to strike each other with full power without restrictions. However, they must wear gear that involves a padded helmet, and shin guards for the legs.

Combat — is the most intense variation of savate. It is very similar to pre-combat in terms of full-contact rules. However, competitors do not wear additional gear such as a head guard and shin guards. They exchange strikes wearing full-padded gloves, mouthguards, groin cups, and shoes.

Boxing vs Savate — What Are The Main Differences?

The main difference is the number of techniques. Boxing focuses only on striking with your hands while Savate is more versatile and includes both hand and leg strikes. Here is a detailed look into other differences:


Boxing has been among the most popular sports since ancient times. Its earliest records date as far as 3,000 years ago. In Ancient Egypt, scientists discovered many cave drawings showing what looks like a boxing match. The two people “fighting” in front of spectators with their hands being wrapped and wearing shorts and shoes. But as an official sport, boxing debuted at the 23rd Olympiad in 688 BC.

Savate is a much younger sport as it emerged in the 19th as a form of a street fighting system in northern France and Paris slums. The two key figures who regulated and established Savate as a combat system were Charles Lecour and Michel Casseux. They got rid of all the brutal moves such as headbutts, and eye gouging, and have created a set of rules to make Savate safer and a proper martial art. Later on, savate even got included as a demonstration sport at the 1924 Olympics but has never become a part of the games.

Concept and Objectives

Though considered a martial art, modern boxing is oriented toward competition and prizefighting. The concepts of training and teaching methods are designed to be in line with the official rules of the sport. So you can say boxing teaches you how to win matches, not how to fight. The main goal is to develop good enough skills to win matches, climb the lathers, reach a high level, win titles, money, and fame, and build a legacy.

Savate is both a martial art and a combat sport, but not as popular as boxing. Savate is mostly practiced for self-defense, and the competitive community is quite strong. The main goal is to learn how to mix punches, kicks, and movement in a harmony to improve self-defense skills, or win matches.


At first glance, boxing might seem like a simple system as it only focuses on striking with your fists. But it becomes a small science once you add other aspects such as blocks, footwork, angles, head movement, and other elements fighters use to defend and attack. The following four are key punching techniques each boxer must master to perfection:

  • Uppercut
  • Hook
  • Jab (lead hand)
  • Cross (rear hand)

Savate is a more versatile system. It includes the same punching techniques as boxing but also adds advanced kicking techniques. The following are the most popular savate techniques:

  • Front kick
  • Low kick to the shin or thigh
  • Hooking kick or “reverse” kick
  • High/medium/low Roundhouse kicks
  • Punches (uppercut, jab, hook, cross)


Boxing rules are standardized and do not vary too much between different organizations:

  • Match duration: from 4 to 12 rounds for professional matches. Each round is 3 minutes long and there is a 1-minute break between.
  • Fighting area: boxers compete in a raised platform shaped like a square called a “ring”. The platform is 6.10m in diameter and has four posts at each corner connected with four ropes.
  • Legal strikes: punches to the head and upper body area above the waist
  • Ways to win: knockout, stoppage, decision, and disqualification
  • Gear: boxing gloves, mouthguard, groin cup, shorts, and shoes.

Savate rules:

  • Match duration: matches have 3 rounds and each round is two minutes long and there is a one-minute break in between.
  • Fighting area: savate fighters compete in a squared ring similar in size to the one in boxing.
  • Legal strikes: punches to the head and body, kicks to the upper and lower body. However, kicks are only allowed with the foot/boot
  • Formats: there are three main formats: assault, pre-combat, and combat
    Gear: Specialized savate shoes/boots, boxing gloves, groin cup, mouth guard, and a uniform that includes a shirt and trousers.

Boxing Or Savate For Self-Defense?

Savate is a more versatile combat system, and more practical for self-defense. It involves a broader range of techniques you may use in different scenarios. However, the only fair answer is that both systems will prepare you for all the mental and physical aspects of real combat.

Boxing Or Savate For Self-Defense

Savate is rooted in self-defense. Despite being a popular sport in modern times, it is still very practical for real fighting. It helps you develop strong fighting instincts, automatic reactions, and skills to deal with the attacker on the streets. It trains you to use precise and fast kicks and punches to do damage and get out of trouble. The traditional form also includes pure self-defense tactics and even the basics of grappling. But you might have a hard time finding a school that adopts these teaching methods in modern times.

Boxing, on the other side, is equally effective despite the shortage of techniques. It will teach you the best punching techniques, and how to mix these with footwork and head movement to make yourself a smaller target and create openings. Training involves a lot of sparring which will condition your mind and body for real combat. And let’s not forget that most street fights begin with people swinging punches, which gives you a big advantage.

Overall, you won’t make a mistake choosing any of the two if your goal is to learn self-defense.

Boxing vs Savate — Who Would Win In A Fight?

Fighters trained in savate have the upper hand as they have more techniques at their disposal. While boxers rely on their hands, Savate adds kicks on top of it. This gives them a big advantage over boxers in any type of freestyle combat scenario. Boxing should not be underestimated too, and there are scenarios in which they can easily win.

In this specific matchup, boxers would be very dangerous at close range. This is where they can quickly close the gap and land devastating blows. They are superior when it comes to speed, power, and upper body movement, and these elements are crucial at close distances such as in the bar or in the hall. And they usually need only one shot to land clean to knock you out cold or hurt badly.

Savate fighters are familiar with all the boxing techniques. They have a good understanding of how to defend themselves against boxing attacks. In this matchup, their main advantage is versatile kicks which they can use to control the distance and do huge damage. Boxers are not trained to deal with kicks and their bodies are not conditioned to absorb such a force. Just a single well-placed leg kick can drop a boxer down to the ground, not to mention the ones to the head.

Overall, if the match is in the open space, Savate fighters have the upper hand. If the fight is in a closed space, let’s give boxing a small advantage. Bear in mind that this is just a basic explanation as street fighting includes many variables and scenarios and it is almost impossible to come up with a precise answer.

Boxing or Savate: Which One is Better for Fitness?

Boxing is a more popular option among people looking to get into martial art training for fitness benefits. First, it is more accessible as it is spread worldwide, and second, it is easier to learn and more adaptable than Savate which, on the other side, is more traditional.

Boxing is a cardio intense workout that burns up to 800 calories per class and will help you lose weight in a very short time span. It also includes a mix of aerobic and anaerobic workouts that will improve strength in every muscle group in your body, and help build strong endurance. But above all, boxing has adapted to the modern-day lifestyle.

Most boxing gyms include an amateur group where you can learn at your pace and for your personal goals. There is even a “cardio boxing” variation that focuses only on utilizing a boxing concept for the purpose of burning calories and improving fitness.

Savate, on the other side, shares the same fitness benefits and adds even more. But the problem is, it is not as accessible, and most schools stick with the traditional teaching methods. There are no cardio or other variations that focus solely on the fitness benefits.

Boxing vs Savate — Which One is Harder To Learn?

On paper, Savate is harder to learn as it includes more techniques. However, both of these martial arts focus on simple and direct techniques. Thus, all people, regardless of their talent and fitness level are capable of reaching a decent level of skill.

More techniques — Savate

Savate is a versatile striking system that involves punching and kicking techniques while boxing focuses only on hand strikes. There are also traditional savate schools where students also learn advanced self-defense tactics which increases the number of techniques.

Takes more time to learn — Savate

On average, it takes around 3 years for a person to reach an advanced level of Savate training. Learning how to kick and punch is simple, but developing coordination and balance to mix these two together takes a bit of time. Boxing takes almost half as less, around 1–1.5 years.

More dangerous — both

Both boxing and Savate are dangerous full-contact sports. Contestants regularly hit each other in the head and other body areas utilizing full force in training and matches. Savate is notably dangerous because of the powerful kicks to the head. But the cumulative damage caused by repeated punches to the head makes boxing even more dangerous in the long run.

Accessibility — boxing

Boxing is among the most popular sports well spread around the world. Each town has at least one gym, and you can’t say the same for Savate which is only popular in Europe. You might have a hard time finding a savate school to train in and be forced to travel to another town to attend the classes.

Boxing vs Savate — Which One is Better For MMA?

Both of these martial art work well in cage fighting with boxing playing a much bigger role. Savate is more versatile and fits better within the MMA rules on paper. However, most MMA strikers actually come from conceptually similar martial arts such as kickboxing and Muay Thai.

Although simple, boxing is considered one of the most important martial arts for MMA. Knowing how to throw advanced boxing combos by using quick footwork and movement to create openings to deliver hard blows is crucial for MMA. In fact, many experts believe that the combination of boxing and wrestling is the ideal combo of skills for MMA. And there have been many great boxers reaching the pinnacle of the UFC to confirm this such as:

  • Jon Jones
  • Daniel Cormier
  • Stipe Miocic

To some degree, savate is suppressed by other, similar martial arts such as Muay Thai. For example, savate focuses on mixing kicking with your foot and punches. Thai boxing involves all kinds of kicks, punches, fighting with elbows and knees, and inside the clinch. And this is why there haven’t been many savate fighters in MMA.

Related: Differences Between Boxing Gloves And Muay Thai Gloves

However, some elements of savate are very good. For example, most other styles focus on sheer power, the rigidity of the movements, and doing the most damage with each strike. But savate is more about fluidity, speed, and precision, and adapting its techniques to other aspects of MMA can really boost your game overall.

Boxing vs. Savate — Which One Is Better For You?

Both of these martial arts share a lot in common, notably when it comes to hand-striking techniques and the concept of competition. Which one is better for you really comes down to your personal preference and what you want to achieve with your martial art training.

One thing is for sure — you won’t make a mistake choosing any of the two. Both boxing and Savate teach practical fighting skills that all work in real life, and may help you in a self-defense situation. Further, both share similar benefits when it comes to fitness, and represent a good base if you want to switch over to MMA later.

In the best case scenario, you should attend a trial class in both schools to experience both arts in person and find out which one suits you better.

Related: How To Build The Perfect Home Boxing Gym?

Spread the love

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *