Out they come, two zorro-like fellows on bare horses, followed by the Matadors, like canaries they dress, they are the shiny center of attention. The others follow, parade around and greet the crowd. The two leaders take center, one horse is brown, one white. A circle is marked by the helpers in their peacock dress; the sand is still yellow, unbroken. Standing by the barricades, they wait.

The Toro gate is opened. The audience falls silent. Out he steps, confused. The aggravate him and Blam the horns hit the solid wood. They dance before him with their mystic cape, he runs, slips, aims for the people. The horsed man is shiny, the horse is blindfolded, as blind as the bull is clueless. The spit tears the flesh, like gigantic tears the blood runs into the now ruddy sand. The bull is still as clueless as the battered horse. How brave he is, atop his armored horse, wielding a twelve-foot pole. He is cheap, digs into the bull, injuring the shoulder muscle. People boo and hiss at him, yet he continues to tear through the flesh.

Now the pokes take stage, with little more skill they evade the bull and stab their spears into him. The bull pisses out of fear and pain, cries out. Three designer imposters wearing 'ladies' behind me laugh. "Moo," they bloke. Idiots. The blood now covers a quarter of the bull, he wets the ground again, blood is thinned by urine. Finally he figures it out and doesn't go after the cape. The poke aggravates the bull, it cries out yet again. The knife is behind the cape and the bull knows it. It's a survival instinct. The bull grows tired, void of life.

At this point, the sword is exposed. If the matador is good, it's a clean stab through the heart. But he is young and inconfident and hits a bone. Bone again. Now he hits something, the sword gets stuck by the spine. The Bull bleeds more, it'll bleed to death before he lands a fatal hit. Normal bullfights last ten minutes; it's been twenty and this is a small bull, certainly no monster. Again he hits a bone, people boo at him. Finally he hits the heart. They should cut his ear off, it's been thirty minutes.

At best, the term "bullfighting" is a misnomer, as there is usually little competition between the sword of a nimble matador (Spanish for "killer") and a confused, maimed, psychologically tormented, and physically debilitated bull. Supporters justify the act by calling it a tradition. Opponents maintain that no matter what the history, bullfighting is torturous animal mutilation and slaughter.

We really do not know if a bull is able to suffer.

Bullfighting is, let us be honest, very much indefensible. These animals are bred to be mean and to be strong, their entire lives centered on this effort, so that they may die ferociously. A good bullfight, according to Hemingway, is one in which a powerful, brave, aggressive bull is mastered and humiliated by a graceful, effortless, courageous man, who faces his own death carelessly, recklessly, admirably. Bullfighting is a reprehensible art, in that it plays not only with the lives of the bulls, and makes no issue of their suffering, but also with the lives of men, who place their lives in needless danger.

That said, it is an art. Yes, an art, an art in which an animal, which has been driven mad in the preparation, may or may not kill a man before it is exhausted and slain by a blade to the heart, and all of this before an enthusiastic audience, which has come to not mind the blood and death. It is a refined art, one which has developed over much time, which has many fine and specific points to it, and though it may be evil, it has its own very singular aesthetic.

PETA isn't really being fair in its above quote, when it says that this is no fight, that the bull is "debilitated". There is still much risk on the part of the man, especially in instances of a "good" fight; the bull is supposed to be as big and mean and dangerous as possible, because this is what an audience craves. The bull is not standing still, it is trying to kill the man, to kill him by driving its horns into him and then lifting him off the ground with its obscenely muscular neck, that it might yank him around in midair to enlarge the wound. This is not a cuddly beast, but rather a monster, a monster which has never before laid eyes on a man, and which has been bred for strength and courage.

A typical bullfight features six bulls and three matadors, each matador ideally fighting two bulls (but if a matador is gored, it has happened that the senior matador has come on to finish the task, and Hemingway even recounted an instance in which a young bullfighter was made to have to fight all six bulls on account of these gorings, and he became so fatigued, and the psychological torment was so much, that he appeared to age visibly over the course of the event, and barely survived). These six bulls must each weigh between 500 and 800 kg. Each bullfight will last approximately 20 minutes.

The ritual of the killing of these bulls is a strict tradition, and a basic outline of the somewhat complicated, involved process is as follows: From http://www.andalucia.com/bullfight/guide.htm

  • Preliminary Phase: During the preliminary phase the footmen, peones or capeadores work the bull with large magenta and gold capes while carefully appraising its agility, intelligence, dangers, sight and, most importantly, its strength. It's very important for the matador to determine the animal's qualities such as whether it favours one horn or the other (eg hooks to the left) or swings its horns up at the end of each pass. Sometimes a bull is reluctant to fight in which case it will be tactfully withdrawn on the sign of a green handkerchief from the president.

  • First stage. This is when the picadores, mounted on padded and blindfolded horses provoke the bull to attack them. The aim is to plunge their lance into the bull's neck thus weakening its strong neck muscles. This causes it to lower its head without which the matador couldn't perform the coup de grace in the final part of the fight.

  • Second stage. When the bull has been sufficiently weakened by the picadores, the next stage commences, during which barbed darts decorated with colourful ribbons are placed in the bull's neck. The banderillero, carrying a banderilla in each hand, runs towards the charging bull at an angle and places the banderillas in its neck. These are not supposed to weaken the bull but rather correct any tendency to hook, regulate the carriage of the head and slow it down.

  • Final stages. The final stage of a bullfight is called the suerte/tercio del muerte and ends with the death of the bull. It begins with the matador removing his hat, saluting the president and asking for permission to perform and kill the bull. He may dedicate the bull to somebody in the crown. Sometimes the matador will toss his hat over his head, if it lands upside down, it is supposed to be bad luck. The matador creates a series of passes with his red cape (of which there are 40), bringing the animal closer to his body. The two most basic passes include the right handed pass in which the sword is used to expand the cloth and the left handed 'natural'. After each pass the crowd usually shouts Olé!.

  • The kill. When the matador realises the bull is weak and unable to charge much longer he will reach for his killing sword and seek to manoeuvre it directly in front of him with its head down, so that he can administer the death stroke. The matador looks down the sword to sight the target, leans over the horns and attempts to insert it between the cervical vertebra and into the bull's heart.

"Between the cervical vertebra", this part is quite complicated, and it is the centerpiece of the matador's effort. He is standing stock still, and the bull is charging, and he must be fearless--he must be inhumanly fearless. To see this animal charging at one, and to not bolt like a rabbit, this is a compromise of the basic programming of humankind. So our matador is standing perfectly still, and this loud, terrible train of flesh is bearing down on him, and he is holding out this red cape, armed with a sword. If he does this properly, if our matador is exceedingly brave and reckless, he will lead the bull in close enough that its horns may tear into his clothing, perhaps finding his skin. At the last moment the sword makes its plunge into the rocky pit of impenetrable bones in the neck of the bull, and if the matador is off his mark by even a little bit, his blow will recoil against his wrist, and the sword will fly from his hand high into the air, perhaps bent by the effort. Then the matador becomes, infallibly, angry, and impatient, and he chases down this sword and he does this again, this time with a more urgent, risky haste. He may fail again, even a couple of more times in extreme cases, each time the sword leaping up in the tense air of the ring. Because he missed his mark the first time, for this blatant imperfection, he will most certainly be booed.

He must withstand the charge, holding his ground, giving no sign whatsoever of even considering moving an inch for his own safety. He must find this small mark in the bull, and reach above, over the bull in an awkward sort of stabbing gesture, and he must find its heart.

The bull should be killed instantly.


On the Culture Surrounding Bullfights

El Toro Bravo. The Brave Bull. The Spanish Fighting Bull. No animal is mightier, stronger, more dangerous, deadly, or majestic. El toro bravo is NOT an ordinary bull that many would associate with being a bull. It is a behemoth of creatures, and the much of the Spanish people believe whole heartedly that it is King of the beasts, not the lion. In ancient Roman coliseums, the strength and majesty of el toro bravo was tested by pitting it against lions, tigers, elephants, and bears; it won a vast majority of these matches. One of the many images the Catholic Church has for the devil/a demon is a giant bull, black in color, blood red eyes, fiery hooves, and immense horns. Because of the Catholic Church’s influence in Spain, it becomes undoubtable where this image came from. El toro bravo has become a culture within a culture, a fanfare and spectacle within a fierce debate.

The bullfight is not a part of mainstream Spanish culture. The bullfight is nothing but a pathetic translation of what a corrida is. A corrida is not a bullfight. It is a traditional, ritualistic dance of death with man and beast. They are not fighting, it is not a sport, it is not win or lose; it is life or death, it is a live-action art form, it is not to be taken in any other context. The corrida is only the main event in the culture that surrounds el toro bravo. The rest of the culture, despite being better defined as a subculture, is still a culture. Religion, food, media, language, activities, lifestyles, and even politics all play an important part in the culture of el toro bravo. Beginning with the ancient history of the corrida, to the rituals and superstitions or the matadors, climbing all the way through to International politics; el toro bravo may not be celebrated globally, but it has a global impact. Not bad for a semi-secluded tradition dating back to prehistory.

Religion, food, language, media

Indeed, there are cave paintings in Spain that depict men lancing bulls and bison. The rituals of the corrida are Pagan in origin. El toro bravos ‘slain’ for sacrifices to the gods. The Roman Empire more than likely adopted their coloseums and gladiator matches from ancient Spanish corridas (although vice versa is not without probability as well). When the Roman Empire became Catholic, so did Spain, and thus ended the Pagan practices within the country. But the Pagan influence was not driven out completely; much of the Patron Saints of cities that have bullrings, or plaza de toros have pagan origins. The church has simply assimilated the pagan traditions and made it their own. Most fiestas occur around or on Catholic holidays (once Pagan celebrations), and usually these fiestas are crowned with one or several corridas. So the religious connection becomes obvious. The Catholic Church is traditional, ritualistic, and resistant to change; the matadors are traditional, ritualistic, and resistant to change. Catholic priests attend corridas, bless the bulls, matadors, swords, everything. And the matadors pray to the Patron Saints and to God for a good fight. In the permanent plazas del toros, there are churches located inside the arenas themselves.

The proletariat of northern Spain identifies itself with the corrida in many ways; food, language, and the media. American sports and television shows have created a vast wealth of catch phrases that most people understand, but not everyone knows the true origin of. In much that same process has the corrida shaped and molded the catch phrases of Spanish pop culture. Dozens of movies have been produced about corridas and el toro bravo, many translated into English. The most famous movie is called Blood and Sand and because many corridas are televised, broadcasted over radio, and almost all are reviewed in newspapers, any term used to describe el toro bravos, corridas, or the performances of famous matadors will probably be picked up by the populace. The coverage of corridas by popular media compares easily to any professional sport in America, but because the corrida and el toro bravo are considered traditional, the coverage also includes literature to an extent that is unimaginable in America. The national library of Spain has some 4,500 different pieces of literature about the rich tradition involved with corridas and el toro bravo. One of those traditions is the fiesta. The fiesta is, many times, a celebration of el toro bravo. The celebration of an “angry pot roast” (The Spanish Senorita…) can only end one logical way. Pot roast. After el toro bravo falls dead in the plaza de toros, its body is dragged into a butcher’s shop and butchered. If el toro bravo is especially prized for its size, or performed especially well in the corrida, then its meat will also be especially prized, and much of it is bought up by premium restaurants. The testicles of a great el toro bravo are considered a delicacy and a very potent aphrodisiac. The bulk of the meat is given to local vendors for use during the fiesta, and consumed by the general populace in some manner.

The matador

The allure of the corrida reaches everyone. Much like American children dream to be sports athletes and pop singers, do Spanish children dream of being matadors (boys make up an overwhelming majority of those who dream to be matadors; a reflection of the disproportionate amount of women matadors; two, as of 1999). In the past, young boys would endanger themselves by climbing the fences of el toro bravo’s grazing area and ‘dancing’ with young bulls, only one to three years of age. In many cases this led to death, but in maybe just as many cases, if not more, it lead to the young boys becoming apprentice matadors, called novillero. And because bulls remember human encounters (for good or for bad), the young boys’ teasing usually makes the young bulls fiercer in the corridas. In this day and age, most of the matadors come from a poor country background, a true rags-to-riches story. Formal ‘bullfighting colleges’ have been opened; the most famous in Madrid, but these are under attack by some for teaching young matadors methods instead of art. This concern is reflected in the stands of the plaza de toros by some. There are always those that heckle the matador for being too safe, or making a cheap jab at el toro bravo. Not because they protest corridas or the slaying of el toro bravo, but because they enjoy the artistic dance created by man and beast, and see anything else as unacceptable. Another group of people that go to corridas and heckle the matador are those that participate in the Running of the Bulls. These people are the first and foremost people to endanger themselves in the presence of the bulls. A typical encierros, or running of the bulls, has five to six male bulls of various ages (usually only one or two el toro bravo, being five years of age), and then around nine ‘fighting cows.’ Because they place themselves in the most danger, those that participate in encierros feel a sort of kinship with el toro bravo, and do not easily tolerate the abuses by the matador. Women also feel the allure of the corridas, but a disproportionate number. Only recently have women been allowed to attend corridas, that considered it can be called a miracle that women matadors were christened only twenty years after women were first allowed to attend. Truly the job of a matador appeals to everyone. Matadors are some of the highest paid performers on Earth, much less in an semi-impoverished nation like Spain, and get to date wealthy women, live in large houses, and marry beautiful actresses and singers. Because of the wealth and status, matadors have become the targets of paparazzi. They are pursued by the Spanish tabloids as fiercely as British tabloids pursue the British Royal family. But it is not all fun and games for the matadors, he can easily die in the plaza de toros.If a matador is beloved enough by the people, as the good ones always are, his death is mourned nationally. If the death is caused by gorging, it makes his death only more bitter for the Spanish peoples.


Because of the massive support for the corrida and el toro bravo that a great deal of the population of Spain has, politics would eventually be unable to ignore the issue; for good or ill use. During the Inquisition and many following years, the Spanish royalists and the Catholic Church tried to outlaw and ban the corrida as a savage and paganistic practice. The throne executed matadors, and the Church excommunicated attendees, some of whom were priests. But the tradition lived on. Eventually politicians saw the corrida as a potential and powerful political tool for use in gaining the support of the people. During the military regime of Francisco Franco during the 1960’s, the number of corridas held increased dramatically. In part because Franco believed the corrida was part of a Catholic Spainish tradition, but also in part to increase tourism in Spain. Because of the sharp increase in the sheer number of el toro bravo needed for the increased number of corridas and because of a shift from bull to man in the interest of the public, breeders began to selectively breed a weaker el toro bravo. The original genetic strain pf el toreo bravo comes from an ancient species of bull, long since extinct. El toro bravo is only naturally (domestically?) found in Spain; but because of inbreeding and purposeful weakening of the bulls, the majesty once held by el toro bravo is not what it once was. The bulls are larger, yes, but not in a good way. The bulls are overweight with weakened front legs. This combination has the potential to cripple any toro bravo in the plaza de toros because it cannot turn fast enough nor can it sometimes support its own weight on its front legs, causing the beast to collapse.
Another ‘illegal’ trick is horn shaving. Horn shaving is done to el toro bravos to distort their sense of distance; the bulls believe that they are an inch or two closer than they really are. In extreme cases that are easily argued as abuse, the nerve endings in the horns are exposed, not only distorting el toro bravo’s sense of distance, but making it afraid to ram and gorge matadors and walls because of the pain that just the open air causes to the exposed nerves. These two maltreatments are done by breeders for one simple reason: to protect the matador. Many times the matador is a son, or even a son in-law of the breeder, and shaving the horns of a bull to protect the matador seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and it is, in that argument. But it undoubtably puts el toro bravo at a disadvantage; so much of a disadvantage that the national government took steps to inspect the horns of the bulls post-mortem. El toro bravo with shaven horns would result in penalties and punishment for the breeder. This law was never put into effect, however, because the breeders and matadors went on strike, just prior to the opening season of corridas, and the economic pressures created by the strike forced the government to buckle down and accept the will of the breeder/matador union. That is the power of el toro bravo, but isn’t even the full extent of the beast’s influence. Even though not all of Spain has a tradition of corridas, regional governments loathe unpopularity so much that they ignore the requests of animal rights activists in favor of the tradition of el toro bravo. That is, they fear unpopular reactions from banning or barring corridas and other related activities, even though the area they govern has no tradition of such activities. Animal rights activists have only gotten one Spanish province to ban all related activities; the Canary Islands. Corridas and the subsequent treatment of el toro bravo also delayed Spain’s entry into the European Economic Community. But Spain was allowed to join, after a great deal of fierce debate, with out having to alter any of its existing laws regarding el toro bravo.

El Toro Bravo. The Spanish fighting bull. A force that will not be ignored, both physically and metaphorically. The sole fact that there is an entire culture within a culture that surrounds this beast is impressive enough, but when one considers that the traditions involved with the culture have survived (by moderate adaptation to the era) since long before the 1st century bc. then the reaction is ‘unimaginable.’ Spain would not be the country it is now with out the corrida. Latin America would not be the same with out the corrida. Southern France would not be the same without the corrida. Southern California would not be the same without the corrida. The world would not be the same without el toro bravo. There is so much more of the culture surrounding this majestic beast that is going to go unsaid because of lack of good resources available to me (mostly because I don’t speak Spanish). So much. The evolution of the matadors’ origins from wealthy noble to poor miser. The slang created by the corrida. Female matadors and the changing face of the aficionados, those who whole-heartedly support corridas. Southern Spain’s views on el toro bravo. The national pride and use as national animal of el toro bravo. So much unsaid simply because I can’t read the Spanish resources based on majestic el toro bravo. So much importance lost because I cannot fully grasp the culture surrounding el toro bravo. So much.

Things I can mention here but couldn’t work into the original essay:

  1. After the corrida, the matador is awarded el toro bravo’s ear. If he performs especially well, the president of the corrida may award him the second ear or even the tail to keep as trophies.
  2. The minimum weight a bull can be to be considered as an el toro bravo is 1,000 pounds, or about 500 kilos.


Clegue, Lucien; Hirshberg, Charles. (1996) The Spanish Senorita Who Scorned Fear, Death, and the Taunts of Macho Loudmouths to Bull her Way to the Top. Life, 19, 49.

Jordan, Barry; Morgan-Tamosunas, Rikki. (2000). Contemporary Spanish Cultural Studies. London: Arnold.

McCormick, John. (1992). In Defense of Poesie and Bullfighting. American Scholar, 61, 109-116.

McCormick, John. (1997). The Bullfight Gentrified. Society, 34, 48-51.

Rodgers, Eamonn. (Ed). (1999). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Spanish Culture. London: Routledge.

Stanton, Edward. (1999). Handbook of Spanish Popular Culture. London: Greenwood Press.

Stanton, Edward. (2002). Culture and Customs of Spain. London: Greenwood Press.

I suppose it makes me an evil person, in this day and age of compassion, but I enjoy watching a good bullfight.

Before I went to my first match, I was wary of how the spectacle would affect me. After all, being raised a middle class American suburbanite, I was taught that animals are our friends. It’s a bad thing to wear fur. It’s bad to club those little seals. But I always wondered. I never skinned a mink. I never clubbed a seal. But I indulge in the meat to eat on every corner, so where is the boundary of this hypocrisy?

The trip started on a sunny day with the four of us piling into the car for the four hour ride to Valencia to catch the best bull fight of the year in Venezuela. Or to be honest, we were going to see the Corrida del Toros, since the sport is identifiably of Spanish origin. Passing Polars (a local brew) around the car made the trip quite a bit shorter than it was. The approach to the stadium was the same as that to any major league ballpark in the States. Once inside, we sat on the shady side of the half-filled bowl with the rest of the spectators, because even us evil people don’t like sunburns. Then the Action began.

There were to be three matadors that day. With each having two attempts. Six bulls were to die in front of my eyes. Yet I didn’t feel repulsion or guilty at my lack thereof. I just wanted to see for myself. The six matches became a blur of blood, colors, gracefulness, death, excitement, and disappointment. I was hooked, much as the picador hooks the bull’s neck to start the flow of blood, which will tire the bull in anticipation of the matador. Over the course of that hot, four beer afternoon I went from bewildered, to fascinated, to critiquing the matadors technique. I wanted his sword to strike a clean death and was disappointed when his mis-strokes prolonged the match and agonized the bull. I didn’t mind the bulls death, but I wanted it to be an honorable one.

That day I found I had more in common with the matador and the spectators than with the bull. Perhaps this is the way the old Romans felt. In the end, I decided it’s not so bad being a evil person.

Bull"fight` (?), Bull"fight`ing, n.

A barbarous sport, of great antiquity, in which men torment, and fight with, a bull or bulls in an arena, for public amusement, -- still popular in Spain.

-- Bull"fight`er (), n.

© Webster 1913.

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