Brazilian Trans Women Are Fighting Against Violence with Deadly Martial Arts

Brazilian Trans Women Are Fighting Against Violence with Deadly Martial Arts

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In Brazil, it’s estimated that an LGBTQ person is murdered once every 25 hours. Transgender people get especially targeted — an estimated 144 were murdered in 2016 alone. That’s why some transgender Brazilian women in Rio de Janiero have begun taking Israeli martial arts defense classes.

Specifically, they’re taking Krav Maga (Hebrew for “contact-combat”), a military martial art used by the Israeli Defense Forces that combines techniques from wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai and several Japanese martial arts. According to, Krav Maga “emphasizes real world situations and encourages ruthlessness, including turning everyday objects into weapons.”

The group of trans women taking these classes are called “the Piranhas,” a Brazilian slur for women that is also the name of an aggressive carnivorous fish in the Amazon river. The group’s founder is a 31-year-old transsexual resident of Rio named Lara Lincoln Milanez Ricardo.

Ricardo says that trans people used to be more interested in dance classes before recognizing the importance of self-defense. The Rio gym where they practice has become a haven where the women can relax, express themselves and use the restroom without fear of harassment. They’re also challenging notions of gender in a male dominated activity.

“At first, there was a bit of laughing from the children, but the instructors told them off at once. Here, this is a place of respect,” Lara said. “It’s a place where you don’t have prejudice, where we can be full of self-confidence, right in a society that considers us worth less than nothing.”

Interestingly, Brazil actually has a history of gender non-conforming street fighters. João Francisco dos Santos (aka. Madame Sata or Madam Satan) was a 20th century Brazilian drag performer and a capoeirista, someone who fought using capoeira, the Brazilian dance-martial art. Santos legendarily fought off groups of baton-wielding police officers and (supposedly) a group of 24 men; they allegedly stopped fighting after Santos seriously injured seven of them with broken arms and other internal injuries. His story is told in the 2002 film Madame Satã.

Here’s the Madame Satã trailer:

(Featured image by Krakozawr via iStock Photography)

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