I have heard (and read) many give advice on when to start practicing martial arts. Most of the time, the recommendation will be either now, or earlier than that! But I have not come across anyone throwing light on when to quit martial arts. I think this is an equally important question to consider, and not as easy to answer.
The answer to the question of when to quit martial arts is important because it helps us decide whether now is a good time or not. The thought of quitting would have waylaid almost everyone who has embarked on this path. There would have been times when they doubted their ability to continue or even failed to see a reason why they should. It might be when they’re beaten, injured, struggling, or otherwise just feeling down. Those who outlived these moments of doubt are the ones who went on to be masters.
Does that mean the best time to quit is never?
That would be a simplistic and misleading piece of advice, in my opinion. People are different and at different stages of growth. There is hardly anything that would work for all, always. Martial arts is no exception. There are some who are yet to get to a stage where martial arts can help them. Some are beyond that stage, and some might be on a completely different path. For those in any of these categories, if they do start practicing, it would be a perfectly wise decision to quit when they realize that it is not for them and, maybe, come back when they are ready for it.
But how do we know whether the thought of quitting is based on wisdom or weakness? It is hard to decide through reasoning because it is even harder to figure out whether to trust our reasoning or not. The time when most people want to quit, and strongly feel that their time can be put to better use than sweat it out in the dojo, is when they have to get out of bed in the morning and get to class. These negative thoughts are usually not sparks of wisdom, but purely expressions of laziness.
This is like wanting to quit a relationship when you are angry. Just as anger can cloud your memory of all that is good in your partner, laziness will distort your judgment by binding your focus to the negative aspects of what you’re lazy to do. It will make you forget the fun you’ve had training, the innocent joy in getting a technique right after countless clueless attempts, the inexplicable feeling of satisfaction that is the reward of sincere practice. Any reason that is put forward by your mind in that state is not to be trusted.
Then how do we make the decision? Many a time in martial arts, solutions that elude thought and reasoning spontaneously materialize in practice. The problem that we are considering here is no different. So the thumb rule is, when in doubt, practice.
Your mind might cheat you, but practice will not. If you practice earnestly, that practice will itself be your guide. If after that you still don’t find joy in it and want to quit, perhaps martial arts is really not for you. Instead, if you derive joy and satisfaction out of practice, your doubts and questions will already have been answered.
If you are injured, not in a position to practice, decide to take a break, but not to quit. When you are fit again, practice hard. Give it your all and then decide whether you want to quit for good or not. Don’t let your weakness make that decision for you.