Mel Gibson has a brand new lady friend and she's TOUGH AS NAILS ... with a brown belt in karate ... and a serious penchant for danger ... TMZ has learned.
The new woman in Mel's life is Ashley Cusato ... an actress and stuntwoman who's actually been featured as a stunt double for big stars like Emily Deschanel and Denise Richards.
Sources close to the actor tell us ... the two have been dating for about a month -- and things are going so well, Mel has already introduced her to several members of his family.
In fact, sources close to la familia Gibson tell us ... they LOVE her and are convinced she's gonna be around for a long, long time.
Now for some fun facts -- Ashley's training for her black belt in Yoshukai karate ... she's a former NCAA Division I swimmer ... she won "Best Body" in high school.