Hunting the Chassé

A discussion of the meaning of a term commonly used within the art of Savate/Boxe Française


The chassé, in various forms, is a commonly found kick in Savate, both in the modern sport as well as older styles, either academic or defensive. A definition of this kick can be found on Wikipedia:

Chassé (side or front piston-action kick), high (figure), medium (median) or low (bas).

It's commonly described as having a thrusting or piston-like action, pushing out from a chambered position created by raising and bending the knee. As used in the modern sport it commonly hits with the heel.

Modern savateurs appear to suggest that the name of this particular style of kick translates as to chase, pursue or hunt; such a name would seem appropriate for a kick that thrusts out in a piston action, and if it does not strike at full extension it will have the effect of pushing or driving away an opponent, particularly one of lighter weight. Renaud did in fact complain about the method of delivering the chassé by raising and bending the leg, saying that it could often push more than it hit (this is acknowledged by some savateurs today). Of course, the modern meaning may may be significantly different from the late 19th century as terms to tend to drift semantically. For example, such terms as quarte and tierce have changed their exact meaning from historical to modern sport fencing. I will argue that “chassé” has a specific meaning in at least some French boxing texts of a century ago that is indeed different from the modern one.

Le Chassé Bas

The first kick to consider is the chassé bas, as discussed in various texts such as those by Renaud and André. The particular texts I've used are listed in the bibliography, and the instructions for performing this kick are similar in each. Below are the instructions from Renaud's 1912 text, page 62:

Théorie du chassé-bas.

Voici comment ce coup doit s'exécuter:

Étant en garde, à gauche par exemple, presqu'entièrement de face et plié sur les jambes:

  1. On passe vivement le pied droit près du pied gauche, à sa droite, la pointe tournée en arrière (fig. 15) et cela, les jambes toujours pliées;
  2. Puis on détend vivement la jambe gauche qui se trouve comme chassée par le pied droit, la point du pied gauche en dedans, de façon à frapper avec le talon; le poids du corps se porte sur la jambe droite qui doit être très fléchie, de façon à ce que la jambe gauche porte le plus loin possible. Le corps se tourne assez fortement vers la droite (fig. 13).

Les deux temps doivent bien entendu se confondre en un seul, de sorte que l'élan de la jambe droite, la torsion du corps et la détente de la jambe gauche se produisent ensemble. Pour revenir en garde, il n'y a qu'à fair le mouvement inverse.

My translation of this section is as follows:

Theory of the chassé-bas ("low driving/pushing kick")

Here is how this attack ought to be executed:

Being on guard, to the left for example, almost entirely face-on and with the knees bent:

  1. One quickly moves the right foot close to the left, to its right, the toe turned to the rear (fig. 15) and with that the knees always bent.
  2. Then one sharply releases the left leg which is as if driven away by the right foot, the toe of the left foot to the inside in order to strike with the heel; the weight of the body is borne by the right leg which should be very bent, in order that the left leg carries as far as possible. The body turns quite strongly to the right (fig. 13).

Of course, the two times ought to be merged into one, so that the speed of the right leg, the twisting of the body and the impulse of the left leg happen at the same time. To return to guard, there is nothing to do but the reverse movement.

The instructions in André's two texts are much the same as this, with the addition of a clarification of which position of guard one should return to:

...c'est-à-dire à porter le pied gauche près du pied droit, et le pied droit en arrière.

Translated as:

...that is to say bring the left foot close to the right, and the right to the rear.

The key phrase in this is jambe gauche, qui est comme chassée par le pied droit..., which translates into English as ...the left leg, which is as if driven away by the right foot... It is clear from this that the lead foot is driven forward by the rear foot coming up rapidly behind it. There is additional evidence for this interpretation in the form of the following advice from M. Renaud.

Surtout ne pas sauter en exécutant le chassé-bas, mais glisser à ras du sol.

Translated as:

Above all do not jump when executing the chassé-bas, but slide at ground level.

If the rear foot comes up alongside or behind the front then that caution makes sense, for a jump is quite easy to do in such circumstances (see also the conclusion), but if one were merely pivoting on the front toe and swinging the rear leg through then there is no need to jump with the rear foot, which could swing cleanly through from it's rear position into the kick. So, we see more evidence for the particular foot motion of the chassé.

Illustrations of this kick from André's 1904 manual are here. It appears that the pursuer (left) has started in a left guard and the defender (right) in a right guard, thus making the situation one of a “false guard” where both are in different guards. The chassé-bas is recommended in this situation where one's opponent has his leg too far away to deliver the other kick known as the coup de pied bas (André 1937 p. 57). Renaud's Fig. 15 appears to show the chassé bas about to be delivered from the right leg in a right guard. These images are liable to misinterpretation if not compared with the text as the position they show, in the middle of the attack, could be interpreted as the rear leg swinging forwards past the lead leg.

Other Forms of Chassé

It is appropriate to examine a text in which a variety of kicks from the same system are described. André's “Manuel de Boxe et de Canne” is a good choice for such a text as it includes the chassé bas plus other kicks both described as “chassé” and otherwise. The selection of high kicks (to the body and face) from André's manual are described as being best suited for salle play in order to develop agility and flexibility, although he admits that they may be useful in the street if one is taller than one's opponent and is a very skilled artist. These kicks can be summarised as:

Coup de pied au corpsKick to the body85Rear
Coup de pied de la jambe de derrière à la figureKick to the face with the rear leg87Rear
Chassé au corpsChassé to the body87Front
Chassé à la figureChassé to the face88Front
Coup de pied au corps de la jambe de devantKick to the body with the lead leg98Front

All of these kicks have in common the raising of the leg “quite high” and its extension towards the opponent to strike with heel or toe, in the manner of the modern sporting chassé. They are divided into a kicks to the face or body with the front or rear leg and chassés to the face or body. The chassés all use the front leg, so how do they differ from the kick from the front leg? The description of the latter makes no mention of any preparatory foot motion prior to the kick, which is in fact employed as a stop hit. In such a case there would be no need to gather forward against an adversary as he would already be advancing in order to deliver his attack. However, the high chassées do involve the same advance of the rear foot followed by an extension of the rear leg as we saw in the case of the chassé bas.

From the same source of the previous pictures, here are illustrations of kicks to the body with the rear leg and kicks to the body with the front leg (as a stop hit).


Based on the information above, it seems clear that “chassé” refers specifically to a particular foot motion, clearly described by both André and Renaud, prior to the discharge of a kick. A simple kick is either delivered in place by lifting the lead leg or by swinging the rear leg forward. Interestingly, there is some corroboration for this found within ballet; the dance technique of the same name can be viewed here:

Note how easy it appears to perform a small jump and straighten the legs whilst performing this technique — exactly what these authors warn against when using this elegant movement for the chastisement of street ruffians.


All the books below have been reprinted in 2007 by Émotion Primitive.

  • Manuel de Boxe et De Canne, Émile André, 1904.
  • L'Art de se Défendre dans la Rue, Émile André, 1937.
  • La Défense dans la Rue, Jean Joseph-Renaud, 1912.

Sat Feb 27 21:34:15 GMT 2010