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Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Deeply woven into the Spanish psyche is bullfighting. It is tempting to judge another culture from the prism of one's own values. I try not to, but I must confess that even the paintings of bulls goring horses inside the bullfighting ring was disturbing.

Bulls Are Highly Intelligent
When the guide explained that bulls are never used for fighting twice in their lives because they learn from their experience and in the 2nd fight, the bull will certainly win the fight against the matador... I almost cried. The bull is a sentient life form who can think on its feet.

Nonetheless, I shall try not judge a culture I do not understand.

Rarely, a bull survives a fight. If so, it lives out the rest of its life in comfortable retirement. It never fights again. It can only be used for breeding.

This bull survived his fight in 2008. It lived out its years in an idyllic pasture till it was 9 years old (63 years in human age). When it died, it was stuffed and hung in the Museo Torino. Very rarely, a bull demonstrates such keen intelligence and cunning that it wins the respect of the spectators and the judge. If that happens, the judge of the contest will hang an orange handkerchief from his balcony and the matador will spare the bull.

The bull fighting ring.

The matador's costume. It is tailor made to fit his body perfectly. This one is embroidered in gold thread and costs 10,000 Euros.

A dead bull is dragged from the ring using mules.

The chapel where the matadors pray.

A dying bull with a sword through its back into its heart.

The Genesis of Bullfighting
Bullfighting started in the time of the knights, as a method to train warhorses. Knights used the bull's natural belligerence and territorial instincts to train their horses to stay calm under pressure. In those days, the warhorses were priceless and foot soldiers were employed to distract the bull if it posed danger to the horses. The foot soldier whose job it was to deliver the death blow to the bull became known as "the matador" (a word that translates as "slayer").

Over time, some matadors began to demonstrate great skill and uncommon courage in the ring. Spectators began to idolise them. These matadors usually hailed from humble backgrounds. Many worked in abattoirs and developed an intimate knowledge of the bull's anatomy. As such, they were able to deliver death in a single stab through the heart. These matadors became celebrities.

As time passed, knights became irrelevant to warfare. Bullfighting now centred on the exploits of the matador. The sport/contest became more stylised and more structured. The horse and the rider became sidekicks instead of the main men.

Structure of a Bullfight
Today's bullfights have 3 parts. In Part 1, the bull is tested for its reflexes. The fighters will test the bull to see how it behaves. Is it right handed or left handed? What attack style does it prefer? In this part of the bullfight, mounted fighters called "picadors" try to spear the bull's neck with short lances. If the picadors do their job well, the neck muscles are weakened and the bull will hold its horns lower for the rest of the fight. This makes him less dangerous

In Part 2 of the bullfight, 3 banderillas enter the ring on foot and attempt each to plant 2 barbed sticks into the bull's shoulder muscles. This will cause great loss of blood, further weakening the bull. The matador uses the muleta or small red cape, to provoke the bull to charge. This further weakens the bull. 

Only when the bull is sufficiently weakened does the matador attempt to deal the final sword thrust that goes through the back right to the heart. This is Part 3.

Juan Belmonte
In the history of bullfighting, there is no name more illustrious than Juan Belmonte. He lived at the turn of the 20th century and till today, his personal style of bullfighting where he stands immobile as the bull charges within centimetres of him, is revered as the ideal style to emulate. The picture below depicts him with actual body contact with the bull. Before Juan Belmonte, matadors stayed far away from the bull's horns.

Juan Belmonte

Post Script
I went and watched a documentary on bullfighting and have decided that bullfighting is a cruel sport that revives the values of the Middle Ages. In those days, people were drawn and quartered. I tried very hard not to judge this sport but I cannot help it... after watching this video HERE.

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