Brawling With Brooklyn’s All-Ladies Arm-Wrestling League

Photo: Yana Paskova

The all-women arm-wrestling collective in Brooklyn hardly has time for luncheons. That’s because the group of DIY-happy, sport-obsessed ladies love to brawl, for up to seven hours at a time. Sure, arm wrestling may be novel in terms of athletics, less “typically male” than “typically school-aged” in demographic. But since 2011, the 5Borough Ladies Arm Wrestling League — part of a international chapter of arm wrestlers that extends from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Sao Paulo, Brazil — has given women a space to flex their biceps. Competitions pit eight women against each other in rounds of full-contact, strength-testing matches. In the past, arms have been broken.

“It’s about allowing women to exercise strength in a way that’s usually frowned upon,” says Alie Cirgenski, the organizer of the most recent all-day competition at Bushwick’s Third Ward. It’s not an organization based on violence, she adds, but a social and theatrical space where members form a sense of a camaraderie while (very physically) working out the challenges of being a woman.

In person, it’s part competition, part burlesque show — with a dash of lucha libre absurdity. Even more important than brute strength, the biggest attractions are the high-camp alter egos of the 5Blaw wrestlers, along with their handmade costumes and names like “Rosie the Reamer” or “Killah Bee.” Each woman gathers her own excited entourages to gin-up bets from attendees, and all winnings go to charities. Recently, the Cut sent photographer Yana Paskova to shoot a tournament, so click through to see what it takes to win (persistence, a mean grip, and a nasty stink eye, it turns out.)

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Brawling With the Ladies’ Arm-Wrestling League