Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Quitting for the Right Reasons, Quitting for the Wrong Reasons

Quitting for the Right Reasons, Quitting for the Wrong Reasons

“You cannot fail unless you quit.” – Abraham Lincoln.

“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” – Vince Lombardi.

“Quitters don’t win and winners don’t quit.” – Elliott Gouldi

“Nothing I ever want to accomplish will ever become a reality if I always quit.” – Michelle A. Homme

If you do a quick web search for “quotes about quitting,” you’ll come up with page after page of things just like what’s up there. 

There is a deep seeded sentiment in sports culture especially that says that you must continue to keep going no matter what if you want to succeed. It’s what the Rocky movies are all about. It’s what we see constantly in motivational stories at big tournaments – how top athletes stayed the course even when they wanted to give up. 

True, there is a whole lot of good that comes from pushing past obstacles. However, there are also times that we need to step back and take a different direction. There are right and wrong times to quit. 

A healthy perspective

Fencing is a passionate sport to be involved in. For those of us who have discovered that love of the sport, it can be hard to imagine walking away from it. However, there are lots of reasons that people don’t keep fencing, and pushing them isn’t the way to keep them involved. 

We want fencers to stick with it for the right reasons, and those all start and end with taking joy in the sport. Everything flows from there! 

I recently had a conversation with a teenage fencer in our club about quitting. She walked into our office and told me that she wanted to give up the sport. In the many years that we’ve been doing this, this kind of conversation has come up plenty of times. From our point of view, it’s important that we stay impartial. Pushing someone to stick with the sport when it’s not working has never turned out to be the best thing for them or for us. We might keep them coming to classes and competing for a little while, but it never lasts. 

That doesn’t mean that every teenager who walks into our office is told to hang up their fencing mask. Instead, we engage in an honest conversation about the good and the bad reasons to quit fencing. 

The mindset has to be one of a healthy perspective that gives each person the genuine chance to reach their potential. This doesn’t just apply to fencing, but to every area of life. 

Quitting because life gets in the way – a right reason

There are times when quitting is the best course of action. Even if you are passionate about the sport and don’t want to give it up. 

Things can be beyond or almost beyond our control, and those can push fencers out of the sport. For instance, having to move out of state or to a different geographical location can make it almost impossible to continue the sport as you have. If you move somewhere that doesn’t have a USA Fencing affiliated club, or perhaps not even a club at all, then your options are limited. 

There are also the financial realities of both fencing and competing. Without the financial means to do the sport, there’s not much of a choice. With economic changes, the pressure of affording fencing can be such a burden that it’s not feasible to continue. That’s a compelling reason to take a break.

Life events can push you out of fencing as well. Everyone comes across tough times when they have to refocus on family and things outside of fencing. Whether it’s an illness, an accident, a natural disaster, or even the birth of a new baby in the family or an elderly relative who needs increased support, there are so many reasons that life demands pull fencers away from the sport. 

School demands can do this, too. We see fencers have to make the tough choice between academic needs and their love of the sport. Sometimes they have to take break to focus on school or other activities that are necessary for their other goals. Even though they love the sport, they have to step away because it’s impossible to do everything. 

For the most part, these can just mean taking time off. Quitting in this sense doesn’t have to mean forever – it can be just for a little while. In this case, it’s absolutely right to take that time off. 

That breather from fencing can be a support, though we often see that it’s even better to slow down and not quit completely. Coming in for a class a week, rather than a full competitive tour de force, still fosters the joy and fuels the spirit without stretching a fencer too thin.

Quitting because of waning interest – a right reason

This has to be a real point of clarity – it’s never a good idea to push someone into a sport that they don’t want to do. 

  • If you have totally lost your love of fencing, and it’s now uninteresting to you, it’s ok to quit. 
  • If you used to be passionate about fencing, but now it feels like a burden, it’s ok to quit.
  • If you have to force yourself to go to the club, dragging your feet through the muck of every possible excuse under the sun, it’s ok to quit. 

This is legitimate for everything in life. If you hate doing something, even after you’ve tried and tried to rekindle the love that you once had for it, there is nothing at all wrong with walking away from it. Even if you were once a national competitor who couldn’t get enough of the piste, you can still change your mind. 

Life is too short and too precious to be spent doing things that make you unhappy. Our tastes change! That’s a good thing – it means we are human and we are growing. 

Parents should really keep this in mind with their children. Kids try things on, see if they fit, then realize they don’t after a while and need to put on a new thing. They might love something to the bottom of their soul at first, only to completely get over it a few months later.

Forcing anyone to continue fencing, whether it’s yourself or your child, isn’t good for anyone. They won’t contribute to fencing class the way they did before, and that will make their classmates and their coaches frustrated. No one wants to have a grumpy fencer in class who would rather be doing something else. 

Relationships change. People get divorced, people get remarried. Interests change. People go back to school to change careers or move to a new town because the old one doesn’t feel like home anymore. It doesn’t matter the reason, it just matters that people have the freedom to choose. 

Quitting because you’re not winning – a wrong reason

That teenager from earlier who came into the office had a totally different reason that she wanted to quit. She listed her frustrations with her life balance. She said that she was losing interest in fencing and she didn’t enjoy competing. Both of these were ok reasons to step back from the sport. Then she said this:

“It’s time for me to quit fencing because I’m not any good at it. I don’t have the results that I should have.”

Here’s where the conversation had to pause for a moment. There are many, many good reasons to step back from a sport. Losing is not one of them. All the way back up at the beginning of this piece are those quotes about quitting. In my opinion, this instance is an example of where those quotes apply beautifully. 

The hurt of losing can be so painful that it blinds someone to all of the other reasons to stay with the sport. This is understandable, but it’s not a legitimate reason to quit. Usually, fencers need some perspective to bring them back into the fold. 

In this situation, this is how the conversation went. It’s not unlike other similar conversations that I’ve had with fencers before. 

“Do you love fencing?” I asked.

“Yes, I do love fencing,” she said.

“Do you like coming to the club?” I said.

“Yes, I do,” she said.

“Do you like your teammates?” I asked.

“I love them. I like the environment. I love the coach. I like the classes and everything. But I don’t get results. Other than that, I don’t want to give it up. So the question is whether it’s the right sport for me,” she said. 

“That’s an interesting question,” I replied.  “What is the right sport? A sport where you get results, or a sport where you really, really have fun, feel supported, and experience a deep love and high level of enjoyment. That’s the real question.” 

Here’s the big deal for fencers in this situation. Results are temporary, not forever. Passion and love for the sport are the driving force. It’s like I told this young woman – you might start getting results, you don’t know. Nobody knows. Talent and passion are not always totally coordinated, but we do know that without passion, talent can only go so far. 

When quitting is deprivation

Nobody says that results are guaranteed. Beyond that, it’s incredibly difficult to get them. 

If you love something, if you really enjoy doing it and you also really enjoy the teammates and coaches that you do it with, that’s a rare thing to find too. It’s not something that you will find everywhere, and that is incredibly valuable. In the end, it boils down to where you place the value in the situation. 

People start in fencing for many different reasons. It might be because they want to get as close to Star Wars lightsaber fights as possible, and it might be because they think that fencing will get them a leg up in getting into an Ivy League university. These are not reasons to stick with the sport in the long run, because they cannot sustain the passion. That fire has to come from inside. 

If you come into fencing and find that you do have that passion for it, the intractable love of being on the strip with the sword in your hand, then you should not turn away from that. At this point, quitting would be admitting that you don’t deserve the happiness that you get from doing it. It would be depriving yourself of the chance to do something that makes you truly happy, and that is a harmful habit to fall into. 

Happy people do the thing that make them happy. You are one of those people! This is the reason that you should walk away from fencing if you lose your fire for it, and it’s also the reason that you should keep on fencing if you love it. 

Everything is made up and the points don’t matter

There is this long-term perspective that I believe applicable to most fencers. Results and points don’t really matter. What matters is the joy of fencing. Your biggest satisfaction might come not from your most significant tournament victory but from an insignificant match where you scored the best in your life touch.

Yes, fencing is expensive. Yes, it’s time consuming. But at the end of the day, it’s a hobby that makes you shine, makes you feel good about yourself, and lets you forge relationships with good people who make your life richer. 

Fencing is something you do for yourself. Don’t fence to get into college, or for the podium finish. Don’t fence because parents say you should or because you feel pressured to do this elite sport. Fence because you love it, and never quit as long as you do. 


Getting Out-fenced Doesn’t Mean You’re a Bad Fencer


Sometimes the Best Way to Support Your Fencer is to Step Back


  1. R

    “Star Wars” Jedi Grand Master Yoda said “The greatest teacher, failure is.” At the end of pools, a losing fencer told his father he wanted to go home though he was promoted into DEs. His father did, thus depriving his son a teaching moment I was flabbergasted, believing that moment was the first step to quitting fencing.

    • Ben

      That’s really disappointing! To go all the way there and then to give away the victory without even trying? At that stage, he wasn’t even a losing fencer! He was promoted to DEs – he was just as live in the tournament as the first seed.
      Talk about “beating yourself”, oof.

  2. Alan Buchwald

    This article certainly resonated with me as a Veteran fencer. As a lover of fencing, my greatest fear is that injury or illness will force me to quit as I age. I have already had a number of the latter episodes to make me feel I’ve reached the end, but somehow, fate and persistence has me still on the strip competing. In fact, quitting is not an option for me, better to be stabbed in the heart while whirling my blade! One of my heroes in fencing is Don Appling, who fenced all 3 weapons and died within two weeks of his last bout, at age 92, so there’s hope. My guiding rule is “never give up”.

    • R

      “Don Appling, who fenced all 3 weapons and died within two weeks of his last bout, at age 92”
      I read of a 95 year old Welsh sabereur who died at the end of his last event. Second best way to go. 😉

  3. Myriam Gluck

    These articles are absolutely wonderful! I forward them to all the fencers in our club. They are inspiring in so many different ways. Thank you for writing them!

  4. m

    Currently caring for a terminally ill parent which necessitated my stepping away (Right Reason). Still, keeping up with the fencing community is sometimes the only thing keeping me putting one foot in front of the other…

    • Igor Chirashnya

      I am so sorry to hear this! But I am glad that you have the strength to keep up with the community during these difficult times to help you emotionally.

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