Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Elegant Combat' - Savate training with James Southwood

Jimmy Coates: Blackout hasn't been published yet, and it probably won't be for a while, but in the meantime I want to tell you about some of the fight scenes in the book. Here's a little extract of one of them:

Jimmy delivered a jab to the man’s gut with the knuckles of his left hand, then landed his right fist in exactly the same spot with a powerful cross punch. The man’s puffer jacket wasn’t nearly enough to cushion the blows. His eyes widened and he flailed at Jimmy even as he gasped for breath. Finally, Jimmy extended his right thigh and held it steady while the lower part of the limb flicked out. His toes hit the man’s kneecap like a spike in a pinboard.

Jimmy felt a rush of calm aggression urging him to deliver one more blow – a fatal one. No, Jimmy ordered himself, locking his arms and legs. He whipped off his cap and mashed it onto the bald man’s head.

“What was that?” the man gasped, rolling on the floor and clutching his knee. Jimmy was already sprinting away, but he heard the answer flashing through his head: that was a fouette. How did he know that? That swift kick was a move he hadn’t used before, but its devastating effect was obvious. Suddenly, a new world was flooding through his mind: La Savate combat technique. His programming was still adapting, still growing.

At the edge of the square he glanced back and saw more men and women in high-visibility jackets making sure there the brief eruption of violence was definitely over. Jimmy crouched in the darkness of a doorway. La Savate combat technique, he thought to himself, stretching his limbs. I like it.

When I was writing the book I got a lot of help with the fight scenes from my friend James Southwood, who's a champion of Savate combat.

Here he is in action:

...and there's more (including some actual fight footage) over at

Can you picture yourself having a go at that? Well, you should. Because James can teach you, an ordinary human being, how to do it.

James was kind enough to invite me to go and train with him, so yesterday I went to learn some Savate moves. It was incredibly fun. It's an ancient martial art that combines the punches of English boxing technique with French kick-boxing.

Even just watching James demonstrate the moves for teaching purposes was fascinating: the control, precision and power in each of his limbs was something really special to see, close up.

Not only that, but to trying to replicate the moves myself was an experience you'll never get by just watching it or writing about it. It made a huge difference to my understanding of the technique.

Before I even knew what was happening, James had me combining punches, kicks, and even a really cool move that involved kicking once, then spinning all the way round and kicking again with the sole of my other foot.

I've been practising that one round the house all day today. Killed a couple of flies and broke a mug.

Honestly, I never thought I'd get my body to move in that way. I'm still a long way from being an expert, but James was somehow able to completely demystify everything I needed to know to get started.

I'll probably post more about La Savate over the next few months, especially as I'm hoping to get together with James again for another training session. But for now, I just wanted to let you all know that if you have the chance, you should get down to one of James Southwood's Savate classes.

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