Fencing guide - London 2012 Olympic Games

Your complete guide to fencing ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

Photograph: Fencing via Shutterstock

Converted: A noble art, at once violent and graceful, which dates back to the twelfth century and is the closest you’ll get to a legal gladiatorial duel in the Stratford area.

Confused: A swordfight where no one gets slayed or even particularly hurt – pointless.

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Fencing - The essential guide

Street cred: A saber will always be an impressive accessory, although you would get stared at, and possibly arrested, if you carried one on the street. Unless it was plastic and you were seven.

Who’s good? Modern fencing has its origins in the Italian Renaissance and eighteenth-century France and those two nations are still leading the way, with 11 medals between them in Beijing 2008.

The basics: There are three types of weapon: epée, foil and sabre. They all have distinct rules but, in general, you get a point for cleanly hitting your opponent with the tip or edge of the sword.

Athlete to watch: Glamorous Italian Valentina Vezzali is married to a footballer and has five Olympic gold medals in the foil.

Not to be confused with: Two beekeepers having a disagreement that got out of hand.

As featured in: Countless swashbucklers, from Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’ to Alexandre Dumas’ ‘Three Musketeers’.

Almost useless fact: Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson is an expert fencer and was once ranked as high as seventh in the Great Britain men's foil rankings.

Do say: ‘Vezzali’s style draws comparison with the great Italian masters of the 1500s – not that I saw them fence, of course. Ha ha.’

Don't say: ‘I’m starting to think these guys are never going to fix my fence.’