The IBJJF’s Masters Worlds is, as previously observed, one of the most well-attended events in jiu-jitsu, not only for hobbyist athletes, but also for a number of elite competitors – who just happened to pass their thirtieth birthdays. This tournament is also where you’ll often stumble across impressive performances from older legends of the sport, still looking for a good scrap among similarly-minded athletes in their age bracket.
So, who were some of the slightly-older-but-still-deadly superstars spotted in the masters’ divisions this year? Among the usual suspects was three-time no-gi black belt world champion and Checkmat star Pati Fontes, who earned a silver medal in the women’s light-feather division of Master 1. The legendary Wellington “Megaton” Dias reprised last year’s gold medal victory in the lightweight division of Master 6, and took silver in the open weight, losing only to GF Team’s super heavyweight Adrien Roberto Domingues.
Over in the men’s light-feather division of Master 1, João Miyao – who walked away from Master Worlds in 2021 with a silver medal after closing out with twin brother Paulo – finally got his turn in the sun, claiming the gold medal he’d previously missed out on.
Meanwhile, Emily Kwok, owner of Princeton BJJ and multiple-time black belt world champion, took gold in the middleweight division of Master 3. “When I reflect back to the years I competed in the adult divisions, I question how I endured the stress of it all,” Kwok tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “Was I really naive, or did I have a deep hunger to win? In the days leading up to this competition, I kept asking myself why I’d made the decision to do this to myself. I’d originally thought I’d just coach this year because I was so busy traveling in August. But I always feel guilty, and that competitive itch becomes inflamed when I don’t fight, so I signed up.”
Kwok, a mother of three, first made the leap into the masters division in 2018 – where she’s remained undefeated ever since. “As much of a stretch and a strain it is to compete when juggling multiple children and responsibilities, I think it’s those very things that have made me a better athlete than I ever was in the past,” she reflects. “When I was in the adult divisions, I gave it my all. I believe it was the over focus on winning and proving myself to my team that created this heavy internal pressure that would cripple me from performing well. I was too subjectively immersed in what I was feeling and doing to know how to get out of my own way. […] I think the time I took to have children and develop myself in other ways helped me heal a rather damaged psychology and gain more clarity and perspective on what matters to me in my life.”
“Masters Worlds is a tournament of gratitude,” Kwok adds. “People from all over the world come to celebrate the fact that they are practicing this awesome sport and testing themselves on the mats. I’m so happy to come to support my students and friends and demonstrate what I’ve learned over the years. Fighting for me at this stage is about performance without friction, knowing my best self and getting out of my own way. It’s taken me 22 years to figure it out – but I’ll take that!”
Kwok’s students also put on impressive performances at the event, with 61-year-old black belt Cynthia Fink earning another gold medal as a lightweight contender in Master 6, and purple belt Collin Wiemer taking silver in the super-heavy division of Master 1. “Masters Worlds is an event I prep and look forward to each year,” Fink tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “I’ve been coming since 2014, and I look forward to seeing friends from all over come together here. Ladies that you might only see once a year. Win or lose, there is always something to learn and work on.”
“I’m incredibly proud of our students who get out there to compete,” says Kwok. “They all inspire me! When I see them out there, it makes me want to get after it too. I’ve always been drawn to fighting because of what a performance hack it has been for me. Putting everything on the line forces you to acknowledge what does and doesn’t work. It’s been such an efficient way to pull my game together. I am thrilled to see my students doing the same. As a teacher if I can help support their growth, help them figure out their own life hacks, then I’m doing my job.”
With this year’s Masters Worlds taking place in tandem with its younger sibling, IBJJF’s adult-level Jiu-Jitsu Con, we also saw standout performances at both tournaments from some particularly game over-30 competitors, who in addition to their Masters matches, duked it out among their younger counterparts at JJCon. In particular, as Beatrice Jin of The Grappler’s Watch points out, super-heavyweight purple belt Lyndsie Hauck smashed her way through five opponents to claim a hard-won gold medal at weight, and a silver in absolute at Masters 2 – and also finished her two JJCon opponents by submission. Meanwhile, Abmar Barbosa black belt Maria Malyjasiak may have been forced to settle for silver in Master 1 after a defeat at the hands of fellow heavyweight, Alliance black belt Melissa Cueto – but Malyjasiak was quick to turn the tables in a rematch at JJCon, where she submitted Cueto via americana.
In her recent analysis of female athlete performances at this year’s JJCon, Jin observes, “While there are plenty of young stars, the two over-30 competitors mentioned above, Hauck and Malyjasiak, had at least double the efforts and double the reward, cutting through their divisions decisively. Both had robust and sturdy games that held up consistently at a very high level.”
Masters Worlds medalists at JJCon, moreover, showed off both slick submission chops and an aggressive willingness to engage in takedown battles, which promises good things for the entertainment value of sport jiu-jitsu – yes, even in the gi, under IBJJF rules, and yes, even among older athletes. After all, making a statement on the mats – and putting on a good show – has never been the sole province of the young.