In case you didn’t already know: Anthony Bourdain, a 59 year old chef and TV personality, stepped on the mat at the IBJJF New York Open over the weekend and won a gold medal. Why should we care about a blue belt in the old man division? Why shouldn’t Bourdain be drowned out in the noise of the world we inhabit?
The fact that Bourdain trains at his age is remarkable. There aren’t many people who start BJJ in their 50s, and those who do more often than not do not compete. It takes a lot of guts to compete even for someone whose face is not known worldwide, and for most celebrities the idea of competing is unthinkable.
From what I’ve heard about Bourdain, he trains wherever he goes, stepping on the mat with the “general population” of jiu jitsu. Most other celebrities do not do this, mainly out of concern for their own safety. Imagine if Ashton Kutcher was in the process of filming a movie and some spazzy white belt broke his nose, how would that go over? We do a contact sport in which bumps, bruises and injuries are often inevitable, most of us are not on the mat baking cookies…
The fact that Bourdain has the balls to step on the mat with the general population in and of itself is newsworthy, but then he takes it a step further: he goes and competes on a large stage, against people who don’t necessarily care whether or not they hurt him, and wins…
We should all care about the fact that Anthony Bourdain does what he does because it helps bring attention to our sport, and with that attention comes potential growth, added prestige and a certain something special that other sports don’t have. Seriously, in what other contact sport can someone start in their 50s and actively compete? How about COMBAT sports?
Anthony Bourdain, if you are reading this: thank you. Thank you for putting it on the line. Thank you for letting us know beyond a shadow of doubt that that belt that you wear was earned, not bought. The fact is that there are many dubious promotions out there of celebrities who don’t put anything on the line; it’s refreshing to see one who does. Also, if you are reading this I’d love to interview you about your experiences as they pertain to jiu jitsu; feel free to reach out…
Renzo Gracie said this about Bourdain’s participation in the IBJJF New York Open:
“Anthony Bourdain at the age of 59 took what belongs to him… Are you chasing your dreams and doing the same?? “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty.”