When news broke last month that Anthony Bourdain, the celebrated chef, travel show host and storyteller, had died, few were affected as much as the members of the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City.
Bourdain, a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, picked up the sport only a few years ago at the urging of his wife, Ottavia -- a brown belt herself. Bourdain immediately got hooked and began training every day whenever he wasn't traveling. In 2016, Bourdain earned first place in the Blue Belt Masters 5 Middleweight Division at the IBJJF New York Spring International Open Championship.
Gracie, a sixth-degree Brazilian jiu-jisu black belt and mixed martial arts legend, helped coach Bourdain over that time. Speaking on Monday's edition of "Ariel Helwani's MMA Show," he described what it was like hearing last month's news.
"A great soul, unbelievable guy. I was surprised," Gracie said. "We were with him the whole week. He came three or four times that week right before he traveled to Paris. He was training. He seemed just a little down -- he was quiet. He was a quiet guy."
The Renzo Gracie Academy lost one of its most beloved members today. Mr Anthony Bourdain was an enthusiastic student of the art and loved by all for his kind and quiet demeanor that made it a joy and privilege to share the mats with him. He was a gentle soul and traveler who traversed borders and generations bringing the gift of conversation and story telling - gift wrapped in cuisine - but whose real effect was to make listeners from every strata of society, from the greatest to the least, reflect upon themselves in ways that when the talk ended, you knew yourself a little better and felt a little wiser. In a harsh, competitive and divided world he was a spokesman for the power of simple joys to bring people together, initially at the table, but ultimately at the mind. Food was just the medium - not the message - the deeper lesson was always harmony based around the insight that the pleasures of the dinner table are the same for one and all, and thus that division can be broken down by the simple joys of life that can make us see what is the same in all of us instead of what is different. Peace to the departed and strength to those who remain.... @danaherjohn
Gracie said Bourdain's passion for the sport is what made him excel at a faster rate than most students.
"During one vacation, one year, the whole summer in the Hamptons, he would fly by helicopter -- there's a helipad just down the street -- land there, walk to the academy, train and then take the helicopter back home. He did that two or three times a week, during the whole summer.
"He was a great jiu-jitsu guy, loved jiu-jitsu. He studied and trained. It was a shocking surprise. I heard a lot of different versions. It's sad. We're going to miss him a lot."