The Secret Handshake

When I was 5 I was in a secret club. The club only had 2 members, my best friend and me. But it was a club and it was a secret. Because it was a secret club we had a secret handshake. You had to know that secret handshake to gain entrance into the secret…

When I was 5 I was in a secret club. The club only had 2 members, my best friend and me. But it was a club and it was a secret. Because it was a secret club we had a secret handshake.

You had to know that secret handshake to gain entrance into the secret inner sanctum (the nook between my bed and the back wall). That was where we did our secret club’s secret business, which mostly consisted of well, nothing —– but it was a secret and so it was cool.

The secret handshake. Every group has one. It’s the thing that gets you the knowing nod, puts you into a different category, and admits you into the circle of ‘those who know.’ When I was 5 it was an actual handshake, as I grew the handshake changed, but it’s still the thing that gets you in.

Among 20 somethings the secret handshake is the stamp nightclubs put on the back of your hand. In your 30s and 40s, the secret handshake is about buying a house, going through childbirth, having some disgusting story involving your toddler and bodily functions.

In my hometown of New York, the secret handshake is getting invited to a non-fundraising dinner party with some up-and-coming artist/writer/director/politico. In my husband’s hometown of New Orleans, the secret handshake is having a story involving at least 2 of the following 3 phrases: “3 AM,” “drunk” and “naked in the back of a refrigerator truck.”

At Osagame there are actually 2 secret handshakes. One is having an Art Bourgeau story. If you are involved with the club long enough, sooner or later Art, a 5th-degree Black Belt, and our Sensei Emeritus, will pull you aside and tell you a story. He’ll speak in his gentlemanly, patrician manner. And, in a dulcet southern accent, he’ll relate the most explicit, carnal stories in a casual, lyric manner. Get a drink in him and he’s like William Faulkner in a porn shop. Erudite and vulgar, all at the same time.

The second secret handshake is about real injuries, and coming back from them. Real injuries don’t always require surgery. In fact, most of the time they don’t. But real injuries keep you off the mat for a good length of time. And they hurt. A lot.

I’ve had injuries where I was off the mat for a week or so, and I’ve had injuries where I could go to class but I couldn’t spar, but until this happened I had never had a real injury in this sport.

A few years ago I had surgery to repair my torn ACL and Meniscus. While the surgeon was in there he found a surprising amount of arthritis — which he says is not uncommon in runners and former runners (like me).

I spent a week and a half after surgery at home on the couch, splitting my time between 2 machines for my knee, one which bathed my knee in cold and one which bent and extended my leg for me.

I was shocked by how painful and laborious the process is. I had had surgery before and never even come close to using all the painkillers they give you. Usually, I go through about half of what they give me. I went through all of my painkillers when I had that surgery and asked for a refill.

Up until my knee surgery, I was always been up and around in a day or two after surgery. I had 12 hours of labor followed by an emergency C-section. 2 days later I was taking care of my newborn. A week after my knee surgery just being vertical for 20 minutes sent me hobbling back to the couch.

It’s given me tremendous respect for people who go through reconstructive joint surgery. It is a huge deal. When the doctors told me I would be out for a good 9 months I honestly thought that was for people who don’t exercise, or for senior citizens. But I was out for close to a year.

But that’s only the first part of the secret handshake. The second part is getting back on the horse.

I was scared. Terrified actually. But I wanted to do it, even though I was scared. I missed training, I missed using my body in all those strange and strenuous ways. It took about two months to really get back. I eased my way back in and drilled but didn’t train for a long time. But eventually, I did train, and then I trained some more. Eventually, I really did get fully back to the mat.

Once I did, I had the secret handshake. Once I did, I knew that I could get back, and I would get back.

I’m dealing with another injury now, a torn rotator cuff (which I didn’t even get on the mat). It’s painful, and it limits what I can do. I train a little bit now, safe flow sets. But I know that I’ll end up back on the mat, training just like I did before. It won’t run me off. I’ll heal and get back to training.

I know I can do that because I already have.

I know because I already have the secret handshake.