Get Involved: FENCING

Fencing developed from an ancient form of combat, was referred to by writers from Homer to Shakespeare and is one of just four sports to have featured at every modern Olympics.

Analysis

Karim Bashir, BBC Sport

"Who doesn't want to watch two people fighting with swords? I can't think of anything better to watch on TV. This Olympics will be the first time we'll have coverage of fencing where we can make sure we explain the basics and use super slo-mo to show what's going on. Richard Kruse is probably Britain's most experienced fencer; he's been to two previous Olympics and is the highest-ranked Briton in the sport. Elsewhere, the Italians are very strong at the moment. Valentina Vezzali in women's foil is one to watch out for as she could create Olympic history in London."

At the first modern Olympic Games of 1896, the fencing programme consisted of men's foil and sabre events, with the epee making its debut at Paris 1900. Women's fencing first featured in the same city in 1924.

After the Games of that year, the Italian and Hungarian men's teams settled a scoring controversy with a real-life duel!

There will be none of that at London 2012 as computer scoring systems should mean there are no such controversies. Ten events will be contested: men's individual and team epee, individual and team sabre, and individual foil; women's individual and team foil, individual and team sabre, and individual epee.

Britain's fencers face a tough task at London's ExCeL Arena, with the nation's sole Olympic gold coming over half a century ago and no medals of any colour won since 1964.

Why is it good for you?

Fencing is great for all round fitness, muscle toning, building core strength, coordination and balance. Due to the need to make lightening fast decisions, it is also excellent for concentration and focus.

The cut and thrust, the parry, the attack and counter-attack performed by its participants requires stamina, agility and the ability to think at a lightning-fast pace.

As competitors lunge at each other with swords, it helps improve the flexibility in your thighs, hips, glutes, upper back, lower back and shoulders. Fencing's unique mix of physical and intellectual stimulation can burn approximately 408 calories per hour.

People of all ages can compete in the sport. At the Olympics, Sophie Lamon of Switzerland won silver in the women's epee team at the 2000 Games when aged 15, and Austrian Karl Munich competed at the 1912 Games at the age of 64.

Get involved

Fencing is available to people of all ages and is a fast, dynamic and explosive sport. There are more than 300 clubs in the United Kingdom  you can contact to arrange training and matches.

Can you compete?

Michael Johnson

Get your performance under pressure analysed in just 20 minutes by four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson

Clubs are organised within sports centres, youth clubs, schools, colleges and universities. Many offer evening classes for those looking for more flexible times.

Most clubs charge a membership fee which normally includes the cost of tuition and hire of equipment. After a few weeks, new fencers may wish to purchase their own personal equipment.

British Fencing's GO/FENCE scheme  replaces the traditional metal sword with plastic and foam versions to allow an introduction to be cheaper, quicker and safer.

GO/FENCE uses a different target area and only a plastic mask is required instead of the usual array of special protective clothing when metal swords are involved. Fencing with metal swords should never be tried unless supervised by a qualified trainer and the correct clothing is worn.

Further information can be found on the England Fencing,  Northern Ireland Fencing,  Scottish Fencing  and Welsh Fencing  websites.

More on the British Fencing website 

Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?

'Join In Local Sport'  aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.

More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.

As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.

Find an event  near you.

The competition format at London 2012

  • From 28 July to Sunday 5 August, 212 athletes (102 men, 102 women, plus the Team GB places) will compete at the ExCeL Arena.
  • All 10 fencing competitions use a knockout format, with seedings decided by the International Fencing (FIE) rankings.
  • Each country is allowed a maximum of eight men and eight women across all the events.
  • The individual competition, men's and women's foil, men's sabre and women's epee start with a round of 64. Some athletes will receive byes into the round of 32.
  • The men's epee and women's sabre begin with a round of 32, with a maximum of two athletes receiving byes into the round of 16.
  • Each team event will feature eight teams, unless a side is entered by Great Britain.
  • Players and teams will progress through the draw until the finals, which will decide the winners of the gold medals.

More on the London 2012 website 

The rules at London 2012

Three types of weapon are used in Olympic fencing - the foil (lightest of the three swords, with points scored from hits with the tip of the blade on the torso), epée (heaviest of the three swords, and the entire body is a valid point-scoring target area from blows with the point of the blade) and sabre (unlike the other two swords, the edge and tip can be used to score points on any part of the body above the waist, excluding hands).

Great Olympic moment

Mariel Zagunis

The USA had not won a gold medal in the fencing for 100 years before Mariel Zagunis's win in the women's sabre at the Athens Olympics of 2004. She had only made it to the Games after Nigeria declined to send their qualifying fencer.

Each match takes place on a piste which is 14 metres long and between 1.5m and 2m wide.

Point scoring varies from weapon to weapon. In bouts using the foil and the epee, hits are scored when the tip of the weapon touches an opponent.

In sabre, hits are more commonly scored with the edge of the weapon. Epee allows both fencers to score at the same time, while fencers can only score a hit at a time in the foil and sabre.

Individual fencing bouts last for three rounds of three minutes each, or until one fencer has scored 15 hits against their opponent. In the team events, teams of three fencers compete against their opponents over a series of nine bouts, with the aim of accumulating a maximum of 45 hits.

Rule breaks, such as using the unarmed hand to cover the target, barging into your opponent or foot faults (when a fencer steps off the side or the end of the piste), are punished with points being taken away from an athlete or given to an opponent.

More on the Team GB website 

Ones to watch

The men's individual and team foil provide slender hopes of a medal for Team GB.

Former world number four Richard Kruse is returning to form after a wretched 2011, while the foil team won the Olympic test event in the absence of the Italians and were European bronze medallists in 2010.

Italians are dominant in the foil: Valentina Vezzali is bidding for an unprecedented fourth successive individual gold, while male counterpart Andrea Cassara is world and European champion.

American Mariel Zagunis is the double Olympic champion in sabre, and teenager Sun Yujie of China has already become the top-ranked female epee fencer.

History

Fencing, or at least sword fighting, can be traced back to numerous ancient works which suggest the origins of the sport to be well over 4,000 years old.

Did you know?

Ivan Osiier of Denmark competed in 29 Olympic fencing competitions across seven Olympic Games

The first rules of fencing appeared in 1474 in Spain but it wasn't until the 17th century that the foil was used - being a lighter weapon, it made exercise more pleasant. The mask became part of the fencer's equipment in 1780.

The Italians, the Hungarians and the French were the first nations to create their own great fencing schools and today all three are among the great world fencing nations.

Fencing began the move from being a form of military training to a sport in either the 14th or 15th century, with both Italy and Germany laying claim to its origins.

It was included in the Olympics for the first time at the 1896 Games in Athens, and has remained on the programme since then. The women's fencing competition entered the Games in 1924 in Paris.

More on the IOC website