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

  • 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.