The Real Difference in Level Between BJJ Black Belt Masters & Adult Divisions

The Real Difference in Level Between BJJ Black Belt Masters & Adult Divisions


Masters vs Adult Divisions – Black Belt

Guest post by David ‘Malandro’ Onuma, a 4th degree BJJ Black belt under Mestre Ricardo De La Riva and the head of CFS BJJ.
He is a current & 6x IBJJF European champion. David Onuma is also a certified instructor in martial arts such as Jeet Kune Do, Kick Boxing, Maphilindo Silat and Combat Submission Wrestling (under Erik Paulson).


This certainly isn’t the first time that this topic has been mentioned but its the first time that I have ever ‘talked’ about it publicly and in writing.

There was a time (many years ago) when perhaps the general opinion was that if you fought in the Adult class, it was a lot ‘harder’ than if you fought in the masters division. I think perhaps in the earlier days this was true particularly bearing in mind that there were not a lot of Masters competitors at the Black belt level. In addition and significantly one cannot ignore the fact that the adults fight for 10 minutes instead of 5 for the masters.

However, I can certainly say from my own personal experiences as well as what I have observed that the ‘shark pool’ at Master level is much deeper and to be honest scarier. Whatever you have done before at the lower belts in Masters division cannot I’m my view adequately prepare you for the Masters Black belt level. Will there be exceptions? Sure..but on the whole…it won’t! Why do I say this?

In the Masters division you can quite literally fight the legends of our game at any major competition. Practitioners who are in the same age bracket as you but …oh by the way, have been Black belts maybe longer than you have actually been training.

In my competitive career as a Black belt, I have generally been pretty successful but whenever I have faced the higher ranked black belts, the major difference is their experience, obviously their skill and mat time.
When I fought Metre Nelson Monteiro 6th Degree Black belt in the World masters semi finals in 2013, his calmness, patience and knowledge helped him to thwart my game, take me down and pass my half guard. I felt as if I had a super heavyweight on my chest but in reality he was probably a bit lighter than me. When i saw him in the bull pen, i was already dizzy trying to count the stripes on his belt.
He then went on to destroy his next opponent who is now currently a 2 x gi and no gi world masters champion.

I have fought 5th Degrees (Admilson Brites) 4th degrees and 3rd degrees, and as I say, whilst i have done fairly well, the experience of these teachers of teachers really comes into play.


David Onuma


Whilst experience can go against you, it is a 2 way street. As a 6 year Black belt, I come across very good fighters who perhaps do not have the same depth of experience as me maybe on or off the competition mats.
For sure at Masters level, if you make one mistake, that might be your last as far as the fight is concerned and so even though the fight may only be 5 minutes it teaches you to avoid making silly mistakes and to take advantage of those that do.

Saulo Ribeiro is one of the best examples of one of those scary beasts together with all those others like Rodrigo Medeiros who is a 5th degree Carlson Gracie Black belt who is fighting in my division at the pan ams later this month. It would have been an honour to share the competitive mat with him but I will not be there.

There are of course so many variables that can come into play at any time on the competition mats, not to mention luck, belief and faith but I will always trust in my training and guidance given to me by my head coach Master Ricardo de la Riva and all those others who help me to improve.

I hope this helps to give a little insight into fighting masters divisions at Black belt.




David ‘Malandro’ Onuma is a 2nd Degree Black belt under Mestre Ricardo De La Riva and the head of CFS BJJ .
Current & 6x IBJJF European champion:

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