Was Savate’s Drop Kick from Pro Wrestling?

Of course that begs the question: Does savate possess the drop kick?

Unless you’re a youngster, you’re probably familiar with the numerous books Bruce Tegner published primarily in the 1960s, one of which was a text on savate. Therein, Tegner demonstrated first a jumping drop kick from the standing position and then a leaping sidekick from a moving start. Click on the thumbnail below for a close-up:

Drop kick

So is this a savate technique? If not, from where may it have derived? First, I am skeptical that the drop kick is a technique common in savate. I could easily be mistaken, but I don’t recall seeing the drop kick in either modern boxe francaise or in any classical savate manuals.

So where did it come from? Well, the obvious jumping ability and the high knee chambering does remind the reader of savate. A further reading of the history section of Tegner’s book reveals that he did go to Quebec at the age of fourteen for a year to learn savate from Jean-Claude Gautier. Tegner was born in 1929, so this was during WWII. Tragically, Gautier later died in that war as did so many other French savateurs. In fact, savate instruction was so severely depleted at that time that the art was nearly lost.

While Tegner may have very well learned the drop kick from Gautier, it may instead have been an anachronism. Tegner did not publish his savate book until seventeen years after his early training with Gautier. In the preceding thirty years, wrestling had introduced the drop kick as part of its aerial theatrics. Then once WWII began wrestlers were tasked with much of the hand-to-hand combat training and later published their methods, often including lip service to savate methods (think D’Eliscu, Cosneck, etc.).

“Jumping Joe” Savoldi had begun using the drop kick in the squared circle as early as 1933 and took credit for its invention. Likewise, wrestler Abe Coleman claims he invented the drop kick after seeing kangaroos on a visit to Australia in 1930. Either way, the method was firmly established well before Tegner went to Canada to learn savate.

In 1934, the press made a to-do over an anonymous wrestler complaining about Savoldi’s use of the drop kick. (Washington Post, Jan. 30, 1934). This was likely Jim Londos complaining before his January 31, 1934 rematch with Savoldi. Savoldi won the rematch after previously double-crossing Londos earlier in 1933, although in the meantime Savoldi had lost the title to Jim Browning.

But back to the relevant point: in 1934, the press referred to the drop kick as the “American savate,” giving initial credence to the idea that the drop kick may have been a technique introduced to wrestling from savate, but I think that also is a red herring. My take is that the term savate was just being used as a generic term for a foot technique in the article because of savate’s strong association with kicking techniques. I don’t believe the term was used to indicate an actual connection to savate.

Therefore, I conclude that Tegner’s use of the drop kick was idiosyncratic and not a widespread technique commonly used in savate. I suspect that instead the drop kick was incorporated at some point from the influence of wrestling. I’d love to be proven wrong, though, so if any of you savateurs can set me straight, don’t hesitate to speak up!

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