In 2010 Shawn Tamaribuchi embarked on an international quest to visit and train with some of the best female fighters in the world sharing, in her words, “bruises, blood, and friendship.” The former pro mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter travelled from San Francisco to Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo with three Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gis, two pairs of Muay Thai gloves, mouth pieces, rash guards, shin pads, head gear, and a very heavy Hasselblad 500c camera with a stash of 120mm film. Tamaribuchi was committed to fight and photograph.
The Faixa Pretas portrait series from her ongoing Female Fighter Project represents the female Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts with whom she met on her travels. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a martial art of Japanese techniques expanded and adapted in Brazil in the early 1900s, continues to grow as an international sport with both male and female fighters. It emphasizes that a physically smaller, weaker person can defend themselves against a larger opponent through technique and ground fighting. Fighters such as Megumi Fujii holds god-like status in the MMA world with an amazing record regardless of gender. And yes, she’s small – with with a firm stance and a playful smile. In these portraits there are bodies – younger, older, smaller, and bigger than you might expect.
In an interview with Tamaribuchi MMA fighter Lana Stefanac said, “Often times, the perception of a female fighter is one of an angry woman, likely a victim turning into a victimizer. This could not be farther from the truth, although, many women that describe themselves as ‘fighters’ are almost always survivors.” These portraits convey strength, resolve, and joy framed by the ropes of boxing rings, athletic mats, and cages. As Tamaribuchi met colleagues, heroes, idols, mentors, and up-and-coming Female Fighter Project stars, her inner fan was only squelched by getting the wind knocked out of her in practice. She also faced tough decisions: “shoot or train?” The intimacy and respect that emanate from these images are proof that she did both.