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We did a simple little cleaning project today at the dojo. The bamboo around the garden had gotten mildewy with the recent rains. It had become worn and mottled, attacked by the elements. It took only a little time and elbow grease to reveal the warm natural color and solid structure that was still there under the grime. It's beautiful again.
I took before and after photos with my iPhone. Afterward a few of us went out for lunch. We were talking about how we got started in Aikido, and how we'd changed because of it. Our Befores and Afters.
It wasn't until I thought about the photos I'd taken that the parallels came to mind. The bamboo started out shiny and fresh, as we all do. The seasons took their toll. Ugliness and disease were winning out. It had started to look like maybe we should give up, and pitch it in the dumpster. But Sensei knew what was underneath all the crud. So we worked together, put in a little effort, and brought it back.
That knowing what's under the crud that's built up, that working together, that little effort and elbow grease... That's what we do, with Sensei's guidance, in Aikido. We bring each other back.