(CNN)These days, most mornings, wherever I am, I wake up early and go train in Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Scotland's favorite four-letter word
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"Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" travels to Scotland, Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CNN. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook.
If at home in New York, I'll prepare and pack lunch for my daughter, walk her to school and, shortly after, be on my way to Renzo Gracie Academy where I will spend the better part of the next hours trying to prevent someone half my age from choking me to the point of unconsciousness.
Often, I will look over from under a haze of sweat and exertion to see my wife practicing the dark arts of knee reaping and heel hooking with her instructor or training partners. Sometimes, at risk of being arm-barred, I will wave.
If abroad or on location, I'll take what I can get. I'll train wherever I can, wherever they do jiu jitsu: a strip mall in Maui, a cellar in Budapest, a military base in Okinawa, a cold storage facility in Glasgow.
Standards of behavior, the physical condition and skill levels of my fellow practitioners vary widely from place to place. Face cranking and "can opening," frowned upon in most academies, is apparently just fine (and done with a smile) in Hungary. Competition can be tough, it turns out, on Okinawan military bases -- where you've spent most of your training learning to hunt and constrict exposed necks, and most of your jarhead rolling partners no longer have them. In Hawaii, they tend to have rather large torsos, so finding yourself in side control is particularly unpleasant.
I have had my ass kicked in many lands, but it was particularly tough in Glasgow. This should not, in retrospect, have been a surprise. Glasgow is famously a tough town. Notorious for its hard drinking, hard living, hard ass citizenry -- and its uniquely merciless sense of humor. I fell in love with Glasgow immediately on my first visit. I was barely off the train and within minutes was called a "c**t".
Though pretty much the worst thing you can call anybody in America, here in Glasgow I found it was in a casual expression of affection, useful in nearly every social situation.
"Oi! You're the c**t who wrote that cookery book! Loved that book! Have a pint!"
I have since learned to love the customs, practices and oral traditions of the Glaswegian, even when I can't make out what the hell they're saying. Which is, admittedly, much of the time. It's Europe's "No Bullsh*t Zone." Nobody takes themselves too seriously.
Most of the time when I get my ass handed to me, it's a much younger, fitter or higher-ranked practitioner -- often with high school or college wrestling experience. So, in Glasgow, I figured, looking at the shorter, less physically imposing old dude I'd be rolling with, that I had this. I was a foot taller. He was close to my age. I thought, "once Pops gets a taste of my Shoulder of Justice on his neck, it's gonna be tap, snap or nap."
I could not have been more wrong. It was like running into a fire hydrant. He crushed my rib cage in his guard like a box of year-old Triscuits. His fingers were socket wrenches, his chest an engine block, his arms and legs apparently manufactured from some kind of cable -- the stuff they hang suspension bridges from. Everything he did hurt. I ended up pounded into the mat again and again, grateful when the murderous (yet relentlessly cheerful) garden gnome would finally grab hold of an arm or neck so I could tap out gratefully.
Scottish jiu jitsu is tough. But stalking deer in the Scottish Highlands is the hardest, most physically demanding single activity I've ever done on camera.
It doesn't look like much. A nice walk up some hills, across the moors in traditional Scottish kit, carrying nothing more cumbersome than a walking stick. You don't even have to carry your rifle. The gamekeeper does that for you. The hills and peaks, the mountains of the Highlands are incredibly beautiful -- the footing alternately firm and hard against flinty rock and hard-packed soil, then soft and spongy among the heather and scrub of the moors, then steep, near vertical inclines.
The idea is to walk up, at a reasonable pace, higher and higher, the incline gradual, legs fine, then not so fine, then burning with exertion. After a few miles, by which time you're congratulating yourself on having made it so far, the gamekeeper might spot a suitable animal through his binoculars about a mile away.
"If we sneak around the back that way, behind that mountain, and make our way quietly across that ridge -- pop out over there," he suggests, pointing at a harrowingly steep range of what sure as hell looks like mountains to me. "...We might just surprise him."
This is yet another climb requiring some skill and no small amount of exertion -- and at least another hour -- all in the cause of sneaking up on an animal who, more than likely, will be gone by the time we arrive at our position. We spend a lot of time crawling through wet heather and brush. It's raining in that omnipresent, thin drizzle kind of way -- almost a mist that the French used to call "Le Crachin." Which is to say, by the time I finally manage to successfully shoot an old stag in the brain, I am pretty happy at the prospect of walking downhill for a change.
Downhill, it turns out, is worse. MUCH worse. A couple of miles of relentless incline and my knees, deprived of the kind of shock-absorbent cushioning of my younger years, are in full rebellion. I'm hobbling like Long John Silver, making little grunting sounds with the impact of each step, trying, somehow to take it sideways all the way home.
But the countryside I was dragging my bones across was some of the most savagely beautiful on Earth. I had successfully and neatly, with a minimum of force, shot a stag. There would be venison and Scottish game birds at the lodge for dinner. A roaring fire in every hearth, and a spirited game of snooker no doubt. Much fine whiskey -- not uncommon to the region, it turns out -- would be enjoyed, as well as fine Scottish cheeses.
As the logs burned down to embers and my glass refilled yet again, I would be permitted, for a few, golden moments, to feel like a country gentleman, a deer stalker, squire of the moors ... and definitely not a c**t.