The carpenter I hired to help me restore an old farmhouse had just finished a rough first day on the job. A flat tire made him lose an hour of work, his electric saw quit, and now his ancient pickup truck refused to start. While I drove him home, he sat in stony silence.
On arriving, he invited me in to meet his family. As we walked toward the front door, he paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands. When opening the door he underwent an amazing transformation. His tanned face was wreathed in smiles and he hugged his two small children and gave his wife a kiss.
Afterward he walked me to the car. We passed the tree and my curiosity got the better of me. I asked him about what I had seen him do earlier.
"Oh, that's my trouble tree," he replied." I know I can't help having troubles on the job, but one thing's for sure, troubles don't belong in the house with my wife and the children. So I just hang them on the tree every night when I come home. Then in the morning I pick them up again."
He paused. "Funny thing is," he smiled, "when I come out in the morning to pick 'em up, there ain't nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before."
The idea of the trouble tree is similar to the dojo. Sensei often said, "Cut off your head and leave it outside the door." One of the first truths in Buddhism is that "Life is suffering." The dojo is supposed to be a place of refuge where one gets the opportunity to leave the problems of the world at the door so that we can get the space to work on becoming better. Better what? Better martial artists? No. Better people.
The lessons learned in the dojo aren't about felling opponents. Rather the lessons in the dojo are about how to defeat the self. Sensei always said, "The lessons of training are to be used to better one's life."
Often, people tell me about how hard it is to come to the dojo because of some problem they are having and how training is interfering with them dealing with this issue. What they don't realize is that like the problems in the story, they seem a bit smaller when they come to pick them up after class.
Got a problem? Training can help. It is not a magic pill but, rather a respite from the daily grind where one can come shed the woes of the world and work on getting better. That is why like the Trouble Tree we must leave our egos and our problems at the door.