Bulls… good. Fighting… good. Bullfighting… epic!

Now before everyone starts jumping up in rage in the name of animal rights just let me tell you a little about bullfighting first. Contrary to popular belief bullfighting is more than just some “barbaric sport”, it is an art; and although the bull does die in the end this is not why people go to see the bullfights.

Bullfighting, as far as Spain goes, started off as a sport for the noble and upper class where the masses came to watch a nobleman take on a bull in an arena. In Spain the bullfights are called  Corrida de Toros which translates to “the running of the bulls”. Not to be confused with the world famous bull runs in Pamplona that Ernest Hemingway wrote about.

plaza de toreos
Plaza de Toros Las Ventas (credit: Esteban Martinez)

The bullfights are considered to be an art of the highest spectacle. They have a unique culture surrounding them that has so much passion the public plays a key role in the process. It is the people who get to decide how good or bad a matador (bull fighter/killer) did. The way they do this is that if the matador is doing a splendid job they all stand up and wave a white handkerchief back and forth, almost like a flag. The president then decides how many of the bulls ears are cut off and given to the matador; sort of as a “trophy” based on how many spectators there are standing and waving their handkerchiefs.

The giving of the ears is a traditional aspect that shows how great a matador is, for example a matador might be considered great if they received two ears at every bullfight they went to. This is similar to how in the United States players are rewarded with championship rings or MVP titles. Another way the crowd participates is that if they see a bull being treated unfairly or unethically, such as when a matador takes too long to kill the bull, they start to clap in certain rhythm that lets the president and the matador know that they do not like him.

Matadors, bullfighter, and pikeman entering the ring (credit: Esteban Martinez)

The second biggest aspect of the bullfights are the matador, the 3 bullfighters, the 2 pikeman and the sword page. Each one of these people form a squad and follow the matador throughout his career. They can all be easily distinguished by what they wear. The pikeman wear a sort of thin armor on one side of their body as they ride a horse that also wears protection so that the bull is not able to penetrate the horse.

It is the Pikeman’s task to keep the bull in the ring and to make sure no one is severely hurt. There is always two pikeman, one for action and one for reserve. Besides the pikeman there are 3 bullfighters for every matador. As you can see from the picture they all wear a similar looking super stylish outfit with fluorescent colors. The only slight differences in wardrobe are the color and fabric used as matadors use more gold and silver than bullfighters. Besides that the type of hat a matador wears is slightly different.

The bullfighters are tasked with fighting the bull with a large piece of fabric as if to taunt the bull. They are also tasked in stabbing the bull in the shoulders with decorated pikes. The reason they do this is so that the bull can no longer raise its large head so that the Matador can go in for the kill. Though this might sound horrific it actually isn’t. It is so shocking how close the bullfighters come to being impaled. They risk their lives for such an amazing spectacle that is just draw dropping. Lastly the matador is tasked with the killing of the bull, hence the name Matador meaning “Bull Killer”. The matador is actually what we have all seen portrayed in cartoons with a large red flag.

Fun fact bulls are actually color blind, they don’t distinguish between colors so all they see are these large shapes.

As for the killing of the bull… it is not a pretty sight, but it is not savage either. Seeing anything die is a sad thing. Right before the bull is about to be killed by the matador the crowd goes dead silent and stands up and claps for the bull as it is taken out of the ring. While some might say that this is a barbaric killing with blood everywhere it really isn’t as bad as they say it is. The matador is so skilled, or at lest he/she should be, that the bull dies with only ONE strike! The matador stands about a meter away from the bull and strikes him with his/her sword and within less than a minute the bull is deceased. You see the art of bullfighting isn’t the killing, this is what I was mentioning earlier, the art is the way the matador and bullfighters are able to maneuver themselves in a way that they essentially dodge a bull.

If you ever go to a bullfight, which I highly recommend, you will have mini anxiety attacks as you see a 6 foot half ton beast with 1 foot long horns charge a man and the man does not jump out of the way – he just stands there. It’s that simple, he just stands there and moves the rest of his body in such a way that you just sit there lost and perplexed! Though I say simple, font think that just any man can jump in a ring with a bull, this takes more than luck or skill, this takes talent! Even the most experienced of bullfighters still has the possibility of injury, or even death.

matador taunting bull
Matador taunting the bull to make it charge (credit: Esteban Martinez)

Now for the main part of the bullfights – the bull. The bulls are selected to be the best, the greatest, the biggest, the toughest, the most BRAVE! They way they know if the bull if bravo, or brave, is that when the bull is just a calf a man on a horse will charge the bull and knock him down with a pike. If the bull runs away it is weak and not worthy, but if the bull stands up and charges at the horse he is brave. For the next 5 years the bull is fed the premium of foods and is allowed to mate with as many cows as it wants.

On the other hand if the bull is not brave it is raised to the perfection of your local McDonalds… So which is better? A life of luxury and 20 minutes of pain, or a life of pain? In the end the bull is going to die and be eaten, so either way it has the same ending.

last picture
Bullfighting ring with approximately 14,000 spectators (credit: Esteban Martinez)

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