The time Graciemag interviewed Anthony Bourdain about BJJ, traveling and food

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Bourdain after winning a blue-belt final at the New York Open. Christian Buitron

Anthony Bourdain sadly left us at the age of 61, earlier this month. Known for his antics in the kitchen and for being an avid BJJ practitioner, the world-famous chef will be missed. Graciemag had the pleasure to chat with the proud blue-belt for its 228th issue. Here is that interview.

GRACIEMAG: How was the start of your relationship with BJJ?

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: My wife Ottavia was training Muay Thai and MMA with more of a focus on standup. Then she moved to Renzo Gracie’s academy to study grappling. At the time, when I heard of grappling, that sounded like the last thing I’d like to do in my life — until Ottavia recruited me for a challenge, a bit for TV. It would be a private lesson with Igor Gracie for a comedy segment in a TV show. She was to recruit the least athletic people she knew to try jiu-jitsu out. Since I had never stepped inside a gym in my life, I smoked and was obese, she thought — I don’t know why — that I was the right person. I was pleasantly surprised to survive the training session. And even more surprised that I enjoyed jiu-jitsu!

What was hardest in the beginning?

The worst part was surviving warm-up in the first classes. I wanted to train with anyone, like anyone. So improving my stamina and resistance was quite a challenge. In six months, however, I managed to develop my cardio, with patience. Another complicated thing was having to take on the 22-year-olds, guys at an excellent level of college wrestling, throwing their weight on my chest in side control. It was rough. I went a good year getting smashed daily by younger, thinner, more technical guys.

How did BJJ alter your lifestyle?

I lost 35 pounds with jiu-jitsu. While I was fighting those young people, I was losing 35 pounds. These days I no longer take medicine to lower my bad cholesterol, and I’m in the best shape of my entire life. I train every day, no matter what town I’m in. Jiu-jitsu has become a centerpiece of my routine. I pick locations for my show preferably close to a good jiu-jitsu school. Obviously, I had to change my rhythm of drinking and eating, especially away from the cameras.

What did the blue belt, earned in 2015, mean? And where do you want to get?

Earning my blue belt was the hardest task I’ve ever performed in my life, by far. I demanded from myself a big, consistent effort like I never had. But that was just a beginning. I was extremely happy to be promoted blue-belt, and especially by Igor’s hands — who, on top of not giving belts away easily, is a son of the great legend Rolls Gracie. That gives me an even greater responsibility; I feel the need to be a good blue-belt.

Are you dreaming of the black belt already?

No, my goal is not the black belt. My goal is to keep learning, to keep training, and to suck less each day.


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