The first time Zanetta Poretti tried her hand at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the Pāpāmoa 17-year-old was hooked.

Aged 12 at the time, she was introduced to the sport by a family friend as a way of learning self-defence skills.

"It was so different from anything I had ever done. It was such an empowering thing to learn how to use your body to defend yourself, to use your body as a weapon," Poretti said.

"It was so addictive, as soon as I started learning how to use my body like that. It was amazing."

Advertisement

Five years later, Poretti will leave for the US in March to spend six months training and competing in two of the world's most high-profile competitions — the IBJJF Pan Ams and IBJJF World Championships.

Poretti has tried her hand at other sports, but nothing has clicked like jiu jitsu. She started competing three years ago.

"That's when I started taking it a bit more seriously, for the competition aspect."

She says jiu jitsu sits between wrestling and judo.

"We don't punch, we don't kick or anything like that.

"Instead of being like wrestling where you just do takedowns, you do takedowns, but [then the fight] carries on. It's also a lot more self defence-driven — it's about control of your body."

She has suffered some injuries — the worst a dislocated collar bone while training.

"I've had a lot of ligament damage in my arms, knees and ankles and a few elbow dislocations, but no broken bones."

Advertisement

Poretti trains at Ocean Blue Gym with strength and conditioning coach Kevin Bonds and also trains with Felipe Santos at Mount Maunganui Jiu Jitsu.

"She trains there multiple times a week, she trains with adults and also goes to Lukas Hainge," says mum Kym.

Santos and Hainge are black belts, with Hainge also having competed at the world level.

"Having these different places of training and training multiple times a day is the level that's necessary to achieve world championships level," says Kym.

Poretti has also been taken under the wing of Brazilian Alessandra Moss, who will go to the US with her and help her settle in initially.

"Lukas and Ali have put an amazing amount of time into her — not just training her physically for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but also putting into her as a young woman.

"They talk to her and they've become part of the family," says Kym.

"I appreciate Lukas being around. He's been a like a father to her."

"A big part of jiu jitsu is that they really stress that you are joining a family," says Poretti.

So far Poretti has only competed in New Zealand and Australia, last year winning a gold medal at blue belt level at the Australian nationals. Despite her age, she competes in the open division of her weight class and to win that medal was competing against boys.

While she puts a huge amount of time into her sport, she is already giving back.

"Ultimately she wants to run her own gym and try to train the new generation of girls to defend themselves and achieve what she has done," says Kym.

"She's already teaching them and puts quite a lot of time into teaching kids' and women's classes."

"That's pretty important to me, to pass on that knowledge," says Poretti.

The family is fundraising to help ease the financial burden of her being in the US for six months and she has a Givealittle page for donations.

Poretti will be based in San Diego, where she will train at the Jiu Jitsu Academy of multiple world champion Clark Gracie.

"She'll train intensely for about six hours a day in the lead-up to this level of competition — that's the intensity needed," says Kym.

The Pan Am championships are in March at Irvine, California and are the biggest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament in North America. The world championships are in Long Beach, California in June.