This piece is dedicated to Salem Assli’s legacy, the memories of his closest students, who are continuing his legacy and teaching savate boxe francaise as practiced by Assli. He was one of the most influential students of Guro Dan Inosanto and an internationally recognized martial arts practitioner of more than ten martial arts. He is best known for reviving and popularizing savate boxe francaise and la canne, the martial arts of his homeland, France. Professor Salem passed away in 2021 after several months of a motorcycle accident in the hospital in California.
Assli is very much missed among his students and in the martial arts community in general. WMA spoke with one of his closest students and friends of Salem Assli, Nick Cavallino. Cavallino is a founder of the Allied Martial Arts Academy in Detroit, Michigan, where he teaches Jun Fan/Jeet Kune Do and is a Filipino martial arts instructor certified by Guro Dan Inosanto. He also teaches French Boxing, Muay Thai, western boxing, Wing Chun, and weaponry. Nick communicated his warm recollections about his teacher and his plans to conduct a yearly memorial seminar as a tribute to Salem Assli. Cavallino remembers his very first meeting with Salem “…When I watched him, to say I was impressed would be an understatement. He was so smooth. He looked like a ballet dancer. The way he moved was very graceful in the way he used his feet and hands to box, and I’ve never seen anybody like that before. I sparred with him for a few rounds and he did things that I haven’t seen before, and I said to myself that I have to learn this. And the guy speaks with a French accent which I thought was funny and cool. I couldn’t wait for him to come back because we only had four days, and I couldn’t get enough. I wished he could have stayed longer.”
It is known that Assli had a deep interest in the history of Savate boxe française. Decades of his research resulted in a book with more than 700 pages, which he was planning to publish before the motorcycle accident. It is not known yet whether the book will see the light of day.
Salem vividly described what Savate Boxe Francaise exactly is to Cavallino in simple words through a comparison with Muay Thai. He said that Muay Thai is a very brutal art; they use all kinds of techniques (knees, headbutts, etc.), Savate doesn’t have those rules, and the mentality is very different. If you fight with a Muay Thai practitioner, one of the opponents will eventually fall down. It is a battle of attrition. But a Savate practitioner’s mentality is different “I touch you, you don’t touch me” we move, use footwork, dance, angle, and zone – we don’t want to be touched. Nick Cavallino considers that this type of mentality is why Savate is a realistic martial art; not allowing an enemy to get in contact with you by quickly moving on your feet will enable you to be proactive and offensive.
Salem Assli and Nick Cavallino on the seminar (2015)
It should be noted that Professor Salem practiced traditional Savate Boxe Francaise, which is not very widespread these days. However, Cavallino is one of the martial artists who continue the legacy of Salem and teaches the classic Savate style. “Salem told me during one of our training sessions, ‘You are so fast, and I see you use my style,’ it was an honor for me to hear those words. People don’t do the style anymore, but I do that in honor of Professor Salem because I want to perpetuate that for my students. I want that style to stay.”
One of the most memorable things that Cavallino cherishes after Salem’s passing is their video talk, where Salem expressed how proud he is of Nick and of what he is doing. Luigi Cuellar, Andy Wilson, Steven Cole, Kenny Chen, Paulo J.M Pereira, Nick Cavallino and others students of Prof. Salem Assli are continuing the legacy of Assli and will never forget his sense of humor and positivity.
(Photo: Salem Assli and Nick Cavallino. By Nick Cavallino. (CC BY-SA 4.0))