Young Jewish stars shine in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

World champion Mila

By Ilan Herrmann

Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is a sport on the rise. Internationally and here in South Africa BJJ is taking hold among many, especially youth, including those within our Jewish community. 

Stellenbosch was the host venue for the recent Africa Continental Pro, a Jiu Jitsu tournament which is part of the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Qualifying Series. Participants of all ages from across Africa competed, including two Jewish boys from Johannesburg, each of whom reached the finals in their respective category.

Nine-year-old Dov Drishner who studies at Torah Academy school in Johannesburg entered in the 30-34kg category. He fought through to the finals where he narrowly lost on points and claimed the Silver medal. 

In the three tournaments Dov has competed in he has won Bronze, Gold and now Silver. Due to his observance of Shabbos, Dov has missed out on many other tournaments but this is hopefully changing. “There has been an effort by the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu association to accommodate Jewish kids, of which there are many, by having tournaments held on public holidays and occasionally on Sundays,” says James Saks former General Secretary for ‘Sport Jiu-Jitsu South African Federation’ (SJJIF). Saks who himself is Jewish, was Jiu Jitsu World Champion runner-up in both 2016 and 2017. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was originally derived from Judo and shares many similarities to it. It does not allow striking. It uses throws, joint locks and chokes and focuses on grappling on the floor. Though a contact sport, the rules as well as guided supervision offers the combatants protection. “In BJJ a strong focus is on fighting off your back from a vulnerable position. The sport teaches fighters that are smaller to be able to defend themselves against much bigger opponents,” explains Saks.

Jack Stillerman, a nine year old studying at King David Linksfield in Johannesburg, competed in his 3rd tournament when he squared up in Stellenbosch at the African Continental Pro. Like Dov, Jack had won a Gold and Bronze in his previous tournaments and, after reaching the finals, he came out second best against a highly skilled and experienced opponent, taking home a Silver. 

Jack fights in the under 42kg division and has a natural affinity for contact sport. “I also do Judo and boxing, but Jiu Jitsu is a favourite for me.” Jack fought through to the finals where he lost out to an experienced fighter. Jack explains his intrigue with the sport. “I like that you don’t know what will happen in a fight. That builds up my eagerness, anticipation and excitement.”

One of the brightest and most promising stars of tomorrow coming out of the SA Jewish community in BJJ is Mila ben David. A Grade 2 student at King David Linksfield, Mila represented SA in the Pan American Kids IBJJF Jiu Jitsu Championship last year which was held in Long Beach, California. After winning through the early rounds, Mila defeated the 2017 Brazilian champion in the quarter finals, the American champion in the semi finals and went on to win Gold in the finals against the Japanese champion. She was crowned World Champion and brought the Gold medal and trophy back home to South Africa.

Dov Drishner says he will remember his Cape Town sports excursion not only for the tournament and medal he brought home, but for the wonderful shabbos that preceded Sundays event where he, his father and zeide were warmly welcomed at the Ohr Sameyach shul in Sea Point. A determined Dov said, “PG I’ll be back and next time will go for Gold.”

Ilan Herrmann is the publisher of Soul Sport magazine, the worlds only Jewish sports magazine. He is the son of legendary soccer player Jorge Santoro Herrmann.

Click here to visit the Soul Sport website

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