Martina Zola: Learning competition from my father, Gianfranco, and applying it to Jiu-Jitsu

Martina Zola, daughter of football great, particularly revered at Chelsea, Gianfranco Zola, is making her mark on the world of Jiu-Jitsu. She recently won bronze at the Jiu-Jitsu World Championships, and shared her journey with Corriere della Sera.

“My first time was a disaster. It was the worst moment, but it was also the moment I became convinced that this was the sport I wanted to pursue,” Zola recalled. As she wrestled with a young man, drenched in sweat, she watched the beads of sweat roll off his forehead. One fell into her eye, causing a sudden chill and irritation. She said to herself if she could endure such conditions, she could push forward and one day win.

Growing up watching her father’s sacrifices and triumphs in football naturally sparked Zola’s competitive spirit and cultivated a serious passion for sport.

“I used to do artistic gymnastics but in my mind I was always looking for something more challenging,” reveals Zola. The lack of martial arts gyms in Sardinia meant she could not engage with the sport she was drawn to until her family moved to London when her father joined Chelsea. After studying cinematography and dabbling in documentary production, she eventually found her place in the gym, training for up to six hours a day.

“My father encouraged me, he sensed that his little girl was serious and willing to make sacrifices. I see myself in him, and probably he sees himself in me,” Zola said about her father’s influence. It requires a lot of physical and technical strength in Jiu-Jitsu. Despite many injuries, Zola, spurred by her father’s example of resilience, humility and success, has never given up.

She also admitted that Jiu-Jitsu is dominated by men, which can be off-putting for some women. “It’s not so much a matter of physical and mental endurance, but of discomfort,” she states. Many women, she believes, are put off by the close contact with men and hygiene-related issues inherent to the sport. While everyone at the beginning loses, with time they may gain confidence and self-awareness.

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