Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, October 28, 2023

French Martial Arts

At Ellis Amdur's excellent Kogen Budo blog, there was a guest post on contemporary French martial arts - Savate, cane, fencing, etc. The full post may be read here. Below is an excerpt. Enjoy!

On 26, Rue d’Enghien, in Paris, a plaque indicates that here is practiced: Boxe Française, modern savate, stick, cane, umbrella, fencing and weight training. In my earlier years, I crossed the porch and arrived in a courtyard, then took the well-polished wooden staircase to go up to the second floor. The master was sitting behind his desk,  waiting to introduce my son and me to the place. On the left was a room for massage, and on the right, the training room with its impeccable parquet floor. At the back, to the right, was the room dedicated to weight training, equipped with dumbbells and apparatus made by Jean Lafond himself. In the annex were the changing rooms with a shower and a sauna, also self-made. A curiosity decorated the locker rooms: old black suitcases with the names of the regulars who stored their boxing gear there.

This setting might seem old-fashioned, but I would call it traditional because, here, Boxe Française, was a matter of heritage – of lineage. Jean followed the teaching of his father Roger (and himself of his father Eugene); together, they created and refined their combat sport, the “Roger and Jean Lafond Method.”  He was an accomplished sportsman, holding a diploma in physical education,  He was also a lifeguard and, along with his father,  managed a private beach in Normandy  for many years. Nonetheless, Jean Lafond rejected the term  “martial arts,”and furthermore, the title “master” exasperated him.

The physical training he taught was far from bodybuilding because it was focused on health, flexibility and fitness; the search for an imposing musculature was not the goal. Several students from the physical training establishment of Professor Desbonnet, located nearby, rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, started here when their gym was converted to offices. Their gym had been founded in 1885 by the pioneer of physical training in France. It had the same Parisian atmosphere of the “Belle époque.”

Jean deepened his knowledge by becoming a masseur. For two years, he was the assistant of Doctor De Sambucy, the originator of French osteopathy. This experience influenced his practice and his teaching as he insisted on the respect for the body and its natural possibilities.

Boxe Française according to Jean Lafond

Courses in the Roger and Jean Lafond Method consist of learning many sequences, which vary the levels of contact required to lead the partner into making errors. Priority is given to kicks, usually with the front leg, delivered without retracting it before striking, in order to be as lively and unpredictable as possible. After a demonstration, the famous magician Gérard Majax told Jean: “We do the same thing. We get attention to fool people.” After that, Majax became a regular student.

Another characteristic, neglected in modern practice, is swinging back the arm when kicking for balance and aesthetics. The blows are delivered in bursts, with fast strikes that “sting,” followed with a quick return to guard. Generally, after a session of savate, we would follow up with an English boxing session (hands only).

After repetition of techniques, we move on to responding to free attacks. We then realize that the learned sequences come automatically. It becomes an elegant fight with constant movements and fast techniques to disrupt the partner. Jean’s role model was the American boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, whose elegant style, relaxed and in constant motion, made him a true legend.

It was almost impossible to hit Jean, who could see every blow coming. “Don’t look where you’re going to hit, you’re giving me an indication.” Other remarks such as, “You couldn’t punch through a paper bag with that” were meant to motivate the student to train at higher intensity.

The weapons in the Roger and Jean Lafond Method

The main weapon is a light cherry wood cane. The Lafond method of cane uses the same principles as Boxe Française itself: feinting before striking in order to attract the attention of the partner before delivering an unexpected blow to another part of his body. There is no retracting of the cane before striking either–everything happens around the wrist, switching from the right hand to the left hand.  The hits come at amazing speed. It is not uncommon to come out with one’s chest striped by the impacts. To protect the head in practice, therefore, one puts on a helmet.

The training of the French long stick is done in the same way, keeping it in constant motion by sliding it smoothly between the hands to benefit from all its possibilities.

The defensive handling of the umbrella is also taught with emphasis on hooking with the curved handle. Jean’s father, Roger, taught this method to the British actor Patrick MacNee for the famous TV series ” The Avengers”.

The combat mix for self defense

If Jean, like Roger, insisted on the elegant side of their discipline, they also created “the Panaché de combat ”  t

No comments: