“The Cheetah” sets the pace in ju-jitsu and judo
Mila Ben David, known as “The Cheetah”, became the youngest ever person to be crowned Woman Achiever of the Year at the Johannesburg Women in Sports Awards held on 8 October.
A Grade 4 student at King David Linksfield, the feisty 10-year-old martial artist won the accolade based on her achievements in ju-jitsu and judo.
“Thank you so much for inviting me and for this beautiful award,” Ben David told all the attendees, including Banyana Banyana forward Rhoda Mulaudzi. “I’m so glad to be recognised for my hard work and dedication.”
Ben David went on to thank her family, coaches, and Moonira Ramathula, who founded the Awards in 2018.
Ben David’s Israeli-born father, Amir, told the SA Jewish Report, “The nominees were all women, adults, and then a young girl actually wins. Normally these awards go to sports like rugby and the more popular sports. So, this is a big thing for ju-jitsu and judo. But the unique thing about Mila is that, in South Africa, she’s always fighting in the boy’s division and keeps winning.”
She has 24 gold medals for ju-jitsu and four gold medals for judo. She won the 2018 World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Los Angeles, the African Continental Jiu-Jitsu Championship (boy’s division) three times in a row, and the Israeli Championship. In addition, she came second in the European Championship.
In South Africa, she has been dominating competitions against boys for the past three years.
In a recent interview screened on Disney Junior (DStv channel 309), Ben David explained why she no longer competes against girls. “After my first fight, the first competition, the girls decided that they didn’t want to fight with me,” she said. “So, I moved to the boy’s division, and my coaches said that it was a good challenge.”
Born in Madrid, Spain, Ben David emigrated with her family to South Africa when she was five.
“She speaks Spanish, her first language, and Hebrew,” says her father. “When we came to South Africa, she couldn’t speak a word of English. Now she speaks a very good English.”
Ben David was motivated to get involved in judo when she watched the sport during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “My dad asked me if I wanted to try that kind of sport,” she recalled. “The next day, we went to the gym and I met my coaches. Since then, I haven’t missed one training.”
Her dad encouraged her to take up martial arts that have a grappling instead of striking style. “I think it’s a better style for a girl. She does box and does kickboxing, but she’s not competing in that.”
Judo and ju-jitsu are grappling arts that trace their roots back to feudal Japan. Whereas judo focuses on standing and throwing techniques, ju-jitsu concentrates its efforts on controlling and submitting opponents on the ground. In short, judo is 90% standing and 10% on the ground; ju-jitsu is the opposite.
Ben David practices judo and ju-jitsu every day of the week, and trains at Gracie Barra, a martial arts school in Illovo, Johannesburg. In addition to the “The Cheetah”, they also call her “Mila the Killa”.
Storm Conrad, Ben David’s coach since she started martial arts, said, “She’s not the type of student that comes every day. She wants to fight the bigger, stronger kids. She’s always up for a challenge. She’s the most diligent, hardworking individual I’ve ever come across.”
Said her father, “She’s extremely dedicated. In King David, she brought the medal from the awards to the school and her interview on DStv was played in assembly on Friday. In a recent competition, once again, she was the only girl in the boy’s division and won all the fights by submission, not even by points. It’s quite extraordinary when a girl does that.”
Said a male opponent, “Mila is one of the hardest opponents for me to face – I think I can speak for a lot of the children at [Gracie Barra]. Mila is very focused when she starts ju-jitsu and I don’t think anything can get her unfocused.”
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Ben David took part in Zoom martial arts classes. “But it wasn’t like the real combat sport. I was happy to move back to gym,” she said.
Ben David also trains in rock-climbing and Muay Thai, a combat sport characterised by its use of stand-up, kicking strike actions. Although she enjoys dancing and cooking, she wants to succeed in martial arts.
“My dream is to be a world champion and a black belt,” she said. “I was also thinking of being an astronaut because I love space, or a palaeontologist because I like dinosaurs, so I’m not really sure about it yet.”