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I remember as a child riding my bike down our sunny street in and out of the shade of the oldest trees on the block. I was having fun. I went a little farther than I had been before, pushing my newly expanded boundaries beyond the smoothly paved street of our subdivision. I was stretching my world; I peddled around the corner toward the older farm houses. Feeling that I had gone far enough I turned into a drive way to head back. With a suddenness that exceeded my understanding I was laying face down on a gravel driveway, blood dripping from my knees, wrists, and palms.
The neighbor who lived in the old farm house heard my cries, with compassion and care took me and my bike home.
My mother sat me down and looked at my abrasions. She told me that we were going to have to get all of the gravel out of them, and then we were going to have to clean the wounds. My mother loved me deeply, and as carefully as possible removed the gravel and washed my wounds with soap and warm water. The cleaning of those wounds hurt far worse than receiving them. The wounding had happened in an instant, but the cleaning took a long time. The already intense pain was now punctuated by the even worse pain of the gravel being removed, and then agony of the gentle scrubbing to remove the dirt. I remember asking my mother if we couldn't just leave the dirt and the gravel. She explained to her child that the skin would not heal, and that I would likely get an infection if we didn't get the dirt out. As bad as an infection sounded I was willing to risk it instead of the pain of scrubbing those wounds. My mother being a good mother pressed on and cleaned my wounds. I healed well, there was no infection or lasting scars.
For years I thought that the biggest lesson of that event was to be always on the lookout for gravel while bicycling. Later I thought that the lesson from the event was about friction changes when operating machinery and it helped me learn to drive in the ice and snow. While these are good lessons, I think the greater may be that you have to clean your wounds.
I had to leave the dojo that I started Aikido in. The Dojo Cho was psychologically abusive. While there I got taken in, I let my guard down and I was psychologically wounded. Like that gravel driveway I didn't see it happening until I was laid out on the ground, confused, afraid, and hurting.
I really wanted to quit practicing Aikido. I just wanted to walk away from the whole thing, save the dues I pay each month, and just go back to being someone that didn't train. It seems like it would be so much easier to just put all of this behind me and move on to something new. Maybe I could take up bowling? I was pretty sure the wounds would heal in time, surely I wouldn't get an infection, would I?
I couldn't quit training though, for some reason initially unfathomable to my conscious mind, I had to find another Dojo and I had to keep training. It was hard, each time I trained I could feel the same shame humiliation and pain that I had felt when I had been abused. After a couple of years I realized why I couldn't quit, I had to clean out my wounds.
Just like that day when my mother picked each piece of gravel out of my skin and painfully scrubbed the dirt from out of my bleeding wounds. Training at a new dojo hurt worse in a way than being abused at the old dojo. Each time I would train I would touch on those wounds, trying as gentle as I could to clean the dirt out of them. Through my training I found I was able to pick out of myself the painful shame I felt at having been stupid enough to be taken in. To gently scrub out the embarrassment I harbored for not being aware enough to see the abuse when it was all around me from the beginning.
Once I had cleaned out my wounds I could feel them starting to heal. I can feel now that there was a real worry of infection starting. I realize now that souls like our bodies can become infected. Once I had cleaned my wounds healing started. I found myself trusting my training partners again, allowing myself to once again become part of a community.
My wounds have changed my Aikido just as the gravel drive changed the way I road my bike. Just as then there were a lot of lessons to be learned, but perhaps, again the greatest lesson learned is that you have to clean your wounds.