Confessions of a Crooked Tree

I have been working for a few years on the concept of a book of metaphors I use to teach martial arts. This is one that I haven't shared yet. It is powerful and I hope it inspires you to stay on the path.

I was out jogging in my neighborhood with Master Sheryl one morning and on one of our many short walk breaks I paused to look at a tree on the edge of a golf course at the top of a hill. It was noticeably bent and misshapen by years of wind coming over the top of the hill. However, that particular day there was no wind at all (made running more difficult) and without a wind present the tree shape seemed a little strange. I thought about how the wind had shaped the tree, but that even without the wind the tree maintained that shape. A real breakthrough unfolded for me in the moments that followed.

Lesson #1
The tree had no choice but to be shaped by years of wind. A different type of tree might have resisted that wind and stayed straighter but this particular tree was destined to be shaped like this. Maybe a deeper root system would have helped. But this particular tree and this particular set of circumstance would produce this exact tree every time. IT WAS NOT THE TREE'S "FAULT". I thought about my tormented alcoholic half-brother, whose root system was very shallow and weak from his own lack of a father the first 6 years of his life. I thought of the saying "There but the grace of god go I". Maybe the Joe Schaefer "Tree" would not have been "bent" by those forces, but my brother's type of "Tree" was and always would be "bent" in those situations.

Lesson #2
We are bent by forces of life into misshapen forms. These forms often look wildly inappropriate when the wind stops blowing. The tree that is wind swept might want to stand straight in the windless terrain, but that is an impossible task for it's rigid already-bent branches. As a person that has always been passionate about transformation and reinvention, I keow this tree metaphor might yield some powerful ideas about how to change one's nature. With mature branches you might "train" them to change shape a little with wires and guides, but the tree would never actually look completely straight. The only way to return the tree to a shape that showed no evidence of the years of wind, was RADICAL PRUNING. A tree would have to have all main branches removed almost back to the trunk. This would spark new growth, new branches, and in general the tree would return to it's youth. However, this kind of pruning could be dangerous and hurt the tree beyond repair.

Martial arts is a system of pruning. We remove the weak branches, prune away our misshapen parts and re-train our new selves in a manner of our own design. Sometimes there are painful moments and hard lessons that make some people run from the experience. However, these are the most valuable opportunities of your life. It is a step by step pruning and not a radical all-at-once pruning. This is a safer way to make change. When people are presented with very intense "pruning" experiences there is a very good chance they might just run out the door to escape the emotional pain involved. Our Austin Tai Chi and Kung Fu curriculum uses a milestone driven process that takes the students through years of consistent change and growth. The student is presented with multiple opportunities to make leaps of growth with physical challenges, sparring, testing and tournaments. Our students end up starting new careers, new relationships, getting healthier, becoming happier and in every case becoming stronger and "straighter" trees.


Joe Schaefer,
June 6th, 2017



  1. Very instructive Sheryl.This is a very good analogy.I have written several of these that I plan for publication ,with a little luck,and money.You have brought the life of that tree into perspective.With all things in life,there are these signs the suggest how they came to be ,away from the usual.You have not only an eye to see,but the thought and feeling to analyze the "why".I loved this!
  2. Very TRUE and well said....written!
  3. There is a fair bit of Taoist thought embedded in this piece. Bueno trabajo

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