January 29, 2018 Martial Arts Studies

Tales of a Tireur


A tireur is a male practitioner of savate, a martial art relatively unknown in the UK but popular in France, Belgium and much of central Europe. Savate, which is also known as French kickboxing or boxe française, is very much a minority sport in contemporary Britain and Northern Ireland, and its enthusiasts have received little research attention from social scientists. This article is a collaborative case study of one tireur: James Southwood. It draws on ethnographic research on the classes taught by Southwood, a British teacher who is an international medallist. The interrelationships between this teacher’s pedagogy, his enthusiasm for savate, and his biography are explored, drawing on his life history and the events in his classes. The small world of savate in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in which teachers find it hard to make a living, and the success of this teacher as an international competitor, are contrasted herein. The article also introduces Bourdieu’s concept of habitus in a way parallel to the work of Wacquant on boxing.


DOI 10.18573/mas.51


Southwood, J.V. and Delamont, S. ‘Tales of Tireur: Being a Savate Teacher in Contemporary Britain’, Martial Arts Studies 5, 72-83.


James Vincent Southwood graduated in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge in 2001. He has focused since then on being a Savate teacher, practitioner, advocate, and competitor. He won a gold medal at the 2014 World Championships and has silver medals from European and World Championships in 2007, 2015 and 2016. He was awarded Silver Glove grade in 2017. James is active in the organisation that runs GB Savate, serving as President from 2010-2014 and National Director of Technique from 2014-present. He has appeared in a TV series, and in newspaper articles promoting savate. Contact details are available at LondonSavate.co.uk.
Sara Delamont is Emerita Reader in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University. Her main research interest since 2003 has been doing ethnographies of capoeira, and since 2009, savate assaut. Her most recent, written with Neil Stephens and Claudio Campos is Embodying Brazil: An Ethnography of Diasporic Capoeira [Routledge, 2017].

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