Ottavia Bourdain: ‘The advice I have for women new to jiu-jitsu is, take it seriously if you want to be taken seriously’

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Photo by: Jeff Chu

Ottavia Bourdain is a serious student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a purple belt training with some of the top instructors in the world at Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City.

Ottavia is also known as the wife of famous chef, author, and world traveler, Anthony Bourdain, and is responsible for getting him training in jiu-jitsu.

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Photo by: Jeff Chu

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you tell the Jiu-jitsu Times readers how you got started in jiu-jitsu? Who have been your main instructors and what have you learned from each of them?
What got you addicted to Bjj?

Ottavia Bourdain: I was studying Muay Thai and a couple of the instructors at the gym were also jiu-jitsu practitioners. They introduced me to the art, but they suggested that if I was serious about learning, I should enroll at Renzo Gracie Academy.

When I started, I focused primarily on gi training with my main instructor, Igor Gracie. Under him, I earned both my blue and purple belt.

I learned a lot about positional training and the basics of competition strategy.

About a year and a half ago I transitioned to no-gi submission grappling under the tutelage of John Danaher. He opened my eyes on how deep the study of this art really can be. He taught me how to view BJJ not in terms of isolated techniques, but generalized principles.

He taught me how to attack the whole body, introducing lower body submissions, of which I’ve become particularly fond.

I mostly enjoy the problem solving aspect of jiu-jitsu: researching new movements and ideas and being able to test them immediately.

What at first might have been an addiction is now a commitment, it’s hard work and sacrifice in the pursuit of excellence.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Is your focus on learning jiu-jitsu with the kimono or training no-gi for MMA? Is it your plan to have an MMA fight in the future? What is a typical training week like for you? Being involved in food and travel is it tough to stay on your training diet?

Ottavia Bourdain: I mostly focus on no-gi submission grappling, not because it might be more relevant to MMA (I have no plans whatsoever to have an MMA fight in the future) but because I think that if I want to truly be excellent at something, that’s where I have to focus all my resources. There’s plenty of depth in nogi grappling for a lifetime of study. Unfortunately I discovered jiu-jitsu in my 30’s. As much as I love training with the gi (and I occasionally still do), I don’t think at this point in my life there’s enough time to really be able to master both at the level I aspire to. Also, I get to wear cat spats!

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I take two classes: one at 7:30am and one at 12pm. I also do a group private with John Danaher and the whole Danaher Death Squad at 11am.

Every Tuesday and Thursday I take a class at 12pm, a group private at 1pm and strength and conditioning at 4:30pm.

Saturday is strength and conditioning at 9am, a 2-hour group private at 12pm, and competition training in the afternoon.

On Sunday, it’s a group private at 1pm and competition training right after. It’s a lot of hours on the mats, it’s exhausting and definitely not always fun, but as John Danaher always tells us, “You are not doing this to be happy; you are doing this to be great”.

Eventually, the goal is to have my own academy and teach jiu-jitsu to others.

My training diet is mostly meat and cheese with the occasional donut, so it’s definitely not hard to maintain!

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Photo by: Jeff Chu

Jiu-jitsu Times: What are the obstacles that are unique to female bjj students? What obstacles must one overcome to get good at jiu-jitsu? What was the best training / jiu-jitsu advice that you have gotten? Do you have any advice for new female students to jiu-jitsu?

Ottavia Bourdain: There are some real practical considerations being a woman in BJJ: in a sport that is still male-dominated, most of our training partners are men, so typically we are undersized and we lack the same strength and explosiveness of men.

We have to be precise with our set-ups and technique and far more aware of using inside position and our power to weigh ratio advantage.

I find that the heel hook, specially the inverted one, really is a great equalizer.
I’ve had men peeling off my arms from a fully locked in RNC, or literally curling my body up in a fully extended juji gatame, but a precisely applied inverted heel hook is something everyone, no matter their size or strength, is going to respect.

The best advice that John Danaher gave me is to continually have intentionality in jiu-jitsu; in the immediate term, intentionality of movement, every grip, every set up must have a clear purpose. In the longer term to always have focused goals for your skill.

The advice I have for women new to jiu-jitsu is, take it seriously if you want to be taken seriously.

Photo by: Jeff Chu
Photo by: Jeff Chu

Jiu-jitsu Times: What is the place of jiu-jitsu in your life? The ability to quickly problem solve in a stressful situation definitely helps in many aspects of my life.

Ottavia Bourdain: Jiu-Jitsu is life my man (read in Portuguese accent)! Seriously, my life does revolve around jiu-jitsu, and my entire family practices it so we are always on the mats together.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Your husband Tony Bourdain said before that he wasn’t interested in doing BJJ because “It didn’t help him with his job.” And now, he is a blue belt and medal winner at the New York Open! Tell us how you convinced him to put on the kimono and train?

Ottavia Bourdain: I wanted to write a blog about my friends and family to try jiu-jitsu.
I bribed him with Vicodin. The rest is history.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can Tony pass your guard? Tell the truth! 😉

Ottavia Bourdain: No way! But I used to let him play a lot and now I have to be careful because he’s becoming super sneaky!

Welcome to the Mat: Jiu-Jitsu With Ottavia Bourdain

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Twitter: @OttaviaBourdain

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