Partners duel in combat at Gryphon Fencing in Murrieta

Gryphon Fencing & Archery Academy coach Richard Garcia instructs a pair of young fencers during a training session at the fencing and archery facility in Murrieta. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Fencers shuffle backward and forward across the field of play, hoping to strike the other opponent.

Gryphon Fencing has two locations, located in both Placentia and Murrieta. Owner Eric Holmgren founded the club and has been practicing the art of fencing for over 20 years.

“I’ve been coaching since 1993,” Holmgren said.

The Murrieta location at 24837 Jefferson Ave., opened almost two years ago, and last spring they opened up the facility to archery as well, something that Holmgren has been coaching at the Placentia facility for over eight years now.

“Both fencing and archery are tied to historical types of martial arts, or historical types of combat,” Holmgren said. “With the advent of gunpowder, the use of shields and armor and all these other things became useless. In fencing they only have a sword, so they both have to attack and defend with the sword, and that’s where we get the word ‘fencing’ in English, it’s from the Latin word ‘defense,’” he said. “That’s what makes it unique among previous styles of combat.”

Both fencing and archery require focus, good form and discipline. There are also benefits to the sport for both children and adults, according to Holmgren.

“For kids, both these different activities are helpful for different reasons: developing their coordination, working on developing their fitness and physicality, and also a really big part of it is the confidence that they gain from doing these types of activities,” Holmgren said. “For adults, going to the gym is boring – this is much more exciting. You get to jump around, poke somebody with a sword, and so you’ve got a different element of fun that’s involved.”

Gryphon Fencing has around 250 students between both locations, teaching students not only archery but the different types of fencing and how they are implemented in combat.

“There is foil, which is based on the style of fencing like you’d see in ‘The Three Musketeers’ movie,” Holmgren said. “The idea is you’re holding this, and you’re trying to poke your opponent with it. It’s got the rubber stopper on the end so you’re not going to kill anybody. It’s nice and light so you won’t get fatigued using it. The target area in foil is just the person’s torso.”

Foil is one of the oldest styles, dating back at least 500 years or so.

“The épée is similar in that you’re trying to poke the other person with it, but the difference is the bell guard is bigger and that’s because the target is different,” Holmgren said. “This is based on a style of dueling from the mid-1800s up, where you’re not trying to kill your opponent like you would have done in a duel before that time. You’re just trying to draw first blood. In modern épée, the whole body is the target.”

The last of the classical forms of fencing is sabre.

“Sabre is based on the old cavalry sabre. With the sabre in the old days of course, the cutting would have been sharp, and you’re trying to cut or slash at your opponent,” Holmgren said. “With modern sabre, it’s not sharp. The target area is everything from the waist up, and in order to score a point, you just hit your opponent with the edge anywhere in the upper target area.”

The fencing studio recently opened up their lessons to lightsaber dueling as well.

“It’s a cross between some traditional types of fencing, different types of Asian martial art styles,” Holmgren said.

The lightsaber class has been running for over a year now, and there are opportunities for students to compete.

Fencing and archery coach Richard Garcia has been fencing for over 10 years now, and prefers sabre fencing.

“I started my career in foil, but I grew frustrated with foil, and then a little bit on in my career, I discovered sabre, and that’s the weapon I’ve fallen in love with because that’s the only weapon that you can cut in,” Garcia said.

Garcia lives in Placentia but commutes to the studio in Murrieta every Saturday to teach.

Miri Woods, 9 years old, began fencing in October.

“I like how you can get points and put on gear and play with other people,” Woods said.

Classes are offered weekly with competitions on a regular basis, starting in September and running through June during the fencing season.

“You can be a very successful fencer or a very successful archer, and it’s based entirely on your mental ability, how quick you are to analyze your opponent and coming up with the right response to their strategy,” Holmgren said. “With archery, it’s the same sort of thing – how well you can keep yourself focused, how well you can go through the steps and not psych yourself out.”

Fencing is good for problem-solvers, he said.

“You can be very good at it if you’re a problem solver, people that like to play video games, chess, read books, stuff like that,” Holmgren said. “We tend to get a lot of those types of people attracted to this sport because it is a really good marriage of mind and body.”

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at