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Brazilian jiu-jitsu a family affair for globe-trotting Anthony Bourdain

Thanks to his wife, Anthony Bourdain has fallen in love with Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Bourdain attends "On The Chopping Block: A Roast of Anthony Bourdain" in New York in this Oct. 11, 2012 file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Charles Sykes/Invision/AP Images, File)
January 02, 2015 - 9:20 AM

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - If it's Saturday, it must be Budapest for Anthony Bourdain.

But the globe-trotting author, chef and TV host will find time from filming of his Emmy-winning CNN show "Parts Unknown" this weekend to connect via computer to Sin City to catch UFC 182.

Thanks to wife Ottavia, the 58-year-old Bourdain has fallen in love with Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At home in New York, he trains daily at the famed Renzo Gracie Academy.

"And increasingly when I'm on the road, I train at wherever the best place is and if there's no best place, I'll take what I can get," he said in a telephone interview this week.

"But increasingly as I make the shooting schedule and put together a list of destinations, in the back of my mind I'm thinking 'Can I train when I'm there?' and if it is a place where they do have an academy, I try to arrange my shooting schedule so if I can wake up very early in the morning and go roll for an hour or two, I will."

Training venues have included Scotland, Los Angeles, Miami and South Korea.

The discipline required by the sport is a far cry from Bourdain's hedonistic days as a chef, documented in his 2000 memoir "Kitchen Confidential."

Thanks to BJJ, the lanky Bourdain reckons he has lost 30 pounds "and I'm easily in the best shape of my life."

"That really wasn't the intention at all. I didn't get into this for my health. But I thinks it's a byproduct of (when) you come in every day, try real hard not get your ass kicked."

Bourdain gave up smoking when daughter Ariane, who also trains in BJJ, was born in 2007. Jiu-jitsu has prompted moderation in other quarters.

The man who relishes eating parts of animals most of us can't even identify says he watches his diet ahead of training.

"Look I've had to make adjustments," he acknowledged. "If I know with absolute certainty, as I do, that just about every day I'm going to be waking up early in the morning, going into the academy and getting my ass kicked by some 22-year-old wrestler, yeah it certainly changed my alcohol intake, I can tell you.

"I'm not drinking anywhere near what I used to and I'm much moderate in my eating habits — because you really pay a price for misbehaviour immediately on the mat. You feel it and you pay a price in physical pain and humiliation."

Jiu-jitsu is a sport where the learning never ends, which appeals to Bourdain.

"It's a lot like being back in the kitchen again, in my first days as a young cook where I was the worst cook in the kitchen and there was so much to learn," said Bourdain, fresh from a workout. "And every day that I did manage to learn some tiny technical detail that made my game better, that was the kind of satisfaction that I haven't had in a while."

He also enjoys the "very unique community" that the sport attracts.

"People in the BJJ community tend to be very nice and very generous."

If possible, Italian-born Ottavia is even more consumed by jiu-jitsu. The 36-year-old trains daily with John Danaher, who helped UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre confound opponents in the Octagon.

Ottavia became interested in martial arts after seeing Gina Carano fight on an Elite XC in Newark in 2008. She took up kickboxing and then jiu-jitsu, earning her purple belt this week.

Ottavia, who competes in grappling competitions, described her addiction to jiu-jitsu in a January 2013 column for's Fightland.

"The most important thing in my life is my family, but BJJ definitely comes second," she wrote. "Pretty clothes, shoes, bags, perfect hair, vacations, partying — all those things I once cared about no longer seem so important. As long as I can keep training, I'm happy."

She trains seven days a week, five hours a day, adding standup classes, Sambo and "anything she thinks will help her game."

Bourdain took up the sport after his wife booked him a one-hour private class for an article she was writing "on the least likely people to ever show an interest in Brazilian jiu-jitsu."

"The fact I made it through alive made me feel good," Bourdain recalled. "And I decided to tenuously try another one and then at some point, shortly after that, I got hooked.

"In a lot of ways, it is like writing a book. Every day you write your way into a corner, you create a problem for yourself and you spend the rest of the day solving it."

He recently earned a fourth stripe as a white belt, one step away from a blue belt.

"I have to be realistic. I'm 58, I will never be winning medals against people a third my age. Jiu-jitsu will not make me younger or smarter — well maybe smarter. I will probably not live long enough to ever get my black belt. But I really deeply enjoy the process of sucking a little less at something every day.

"I like the fact that it's a really steep and endless learning curve. And that it's a hard thing. It's easily the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It's certainly the most challenging physically ever."

Bourdain avoids his wife on a mat these days, saying she's too good for him. But the couple, who met on a blind date set up by friend and fellow chef Eric Ripert, enjoy the UFC together.

"The UFC is a preferred date night for my wife and I whenever we can, whenever I'm not travelling for my show," he said. "If there's a UFC event, chances are we're front row.

"I think it's fair to say we're super-fans."


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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