The Time I Got To Train With Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain was a man I looked up to. I’ve read his books, watched his shows… hell, I even got to roll on the Jiu-Jitsu mats with him for two days. And boy, did it feel good to make your hero tap.

I’m not one for celebrity worship, but Anthony Bourdain was my ideal of a man. He was talented yet constantly searching for self-improvement. He was known for talking and his writing yet he listened as evident in how his thoughts on social issues have evolved over time. He grappled with men and internal matters. He was a man of great passions and compassion. For the longest time I told friends my dream job was to be his Personal Assistant.

Anthony Bourdain in class at Gracie Barra Pearland

We as Jiu-Jitsu practitioners believe that Jiu-Jitsu is a form of therapy. Some even proudly proclaim “Jiu-Jitsu saved my life!” I am no exception. Like everyone else, my life has had its ups and downs, high points and low points, peaks and valleys and crevasses. Until I thought it would stay in the plains sometime between January to May of 2016. Anxiety and insomnia were getting the better of me for months. I saw a therapist, I started taking medication, I took up meditation… still I felt helpless and hopeless. What compounded my predicament was that Jiu-Jitsu was my only exercise and hobby but I could not go to class that often because I felt so weak due to sleep deprivation and drinking alcohol every single night. I was in a very dark place, the darkest I have been in by far. I was vacillating between taking my life or joining the Air Force. Or at the very least, getting a motorcycle.

Finally succumbing to taking various sleep aids because my issues were taking a toll on my work and certainly my health, I was able to recover just enough to make my way back to the mats. I quickly realized the difference it was making. On the mat, I do not think about my problems. Well, unless my opponent was about to sweep or submit me, but that is a different problem in and of itself. And besides, I can always tap and start over. I can only wish I could do that in real life. I started going more frequently. The butterflies stopped migrating to my stomach on my way to the Jiu-Jitsu academy. I was getting healthier. Emotionally, mentally, and physically. I became one of those people who confidently and proudly proclaim that Jiu-Jitsu saved their life.

Enough about me. I started writing about Anthony Bourdain because he passed away two years ago today and I got to train with him exactly four years ago. Every year on June 8th I cannot help but remember those two days I got to spend time with him, our shared darkness, as well as Jiu-Jitsu and mental health. I still weep whenever I read what other people have said when they heard the news. He credited Jiu-Jitsu for helping him become healthier. However, there are some demons Jiu-Jitsu cannot slay.

May he rest in peace.

If you or anyone you know needs help, please, please do not hesitate to reach out. In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, Samaritans Helpline can be reached at 116 123. All other countries, please click here.

Anthony Bourdain showing me a variation of a straight ankle lock

Jeff Liwag

Jeff Liwag is an educator of 20 years with specializations in Special Education and Instructional Technology. "Submission fighting" lessons in 1999 was his first exposure to grappling martial arts, eventually taking up Jiu-Jitsu classes in 2004 and 2005, only to start training regularly at Gracie Barra Texas in 2011, where he still trains to this day, earning every belt rank up to his current brown belt from Vinicius "Draculino" Magalhaes.

Jeff Liwag has 32 posts and counting. See all posts by Jeff Liwag