Fighting in Europe
James Southwood has been fighting for years. He competes in Savate, a French kick-punch sport which incorporates kicking and boxing.
The sport is French in origin and terrific to watch with bouts typically starting with probing kick exchanges, and is relatively small scale in the UK with a handful of UK clubs. It's bigger in France.
James has been contributing to the sport in many ways for many years, coaching at the club in London he founded, and competing internationally. He’s made the European final before on two occasions and taken two Bronze medals. At the bi-ennial World Championships has taken a bronze medal before achieving the seemingly impossible of a World title in 2014, which he descibed then as "ten years in the making". Two years later he took Silver in a title defence.
He’s recently been competing in the European Championships in Loverval, Belgium. He won two fights to reach the semi final where he faced the Frenchman Loic Gouget in the semi final.
“In the first round I beat a Slovenian fighter I met last year, and a Swiss fighter I met in 2015” he says. “I managed to repeat both victories, although my fight with Edouard from Switzerland was harder fought and closer than our last encounter. That said, I am told I won every round on every judge's scorecard.”
A different approach
The wins came while James was developing an aspect of his sport he is known for, the psychological aspect.
"This year I permitted myself the confidence to fight free from tension, relaxed, more like play, a game. This had a triple purpose. One was to take the early matches lighter, expend less energy and – let's hope – receive fewer knocks or injuries. Secondly against opponents of Loïc's calibre, this relaxation would enable me to see more, exert more control, fight freely with my best weapons. Lastly I was growing tired of these tournaments being major life events, year after year. It feels appropriate now to relax, enjoy it more, but still remain competitive."
Last year James won to even the score to one win each; the two fighters are considered very evenly matched.
“It was a close fight, a split decision, like last year” says James, who has been vegetarian his whole life and vegan since his late teens, twenty years ago. “The decision was close; two of the three judges couldn’t split them.” James had to settle for bronze.
Time for retirement?
At 38 James has a long career of competition, and some have been wondering if retirement is on the cards. While he has also considered hanging up his gloves, the World Championships in 2018 is tempting.
“The World Championships next year are where I plan to even out things again. The series between me and Loic is now 2-1 in his favour.”
Expected to be in September in the French capital, James knows that Loic will present still opposition but his own determination is obvious.
“I have banished the idea of imminent retirement” he tells us. “I am 38 and can compete at this level for at least another 10 years. With the Paris Summer Olympics 2024, we have an outside chance of including Savate. I will be 45 by that time and I have been persuaded recently by a student that this is no matter.”
While examples of vegans performing outside expectations linked to their age has been featured on our site numerous times, the prospect of Savate being included in the Olympics is considered small and it was last featured in 1924, then as a demonstration sport.
A rounded approach to his sport
In his 2016 World title win, meditation and visualisation played a large part in his preparation for the final. He’s continued to use meditation in his training, and considers the mental approach to be key.
“This year I made it my goal to chill-out and enjoy the fight, rather than stressing towards a win. We do our sport because we like it, right? I figured this would allow me to perform better – and likely it did – but the same tranquility might have cost me the motivation to push in the final stages.
“I usually endeavour to improve my fitness across the whole season, not just the weeks leading up to an event. Next year, I pledge to do this with my psychological training as well – incorporating affirmations, meditation, and contemplation into my regular workouts.”
This is just part of a determined and measured approach with means that you can ever write this fighter off.