Yesterday I went to my first bullfight. The decision to attend a bull fight was one that I did not take lightly – those who know me, know I have an immense love of animals and detest cruelty in any form (I even have a hard time killing insects!) so the decision to attend a bull fight may come as a surprise. However, I had three motivating reasons that in the end swayed me.
1. The first and most important reason for me to go and experience a bull fight, is that it is such a large and important part of Mexican (and latin) culture. Mexico has the largest bull ring in the world – which surprised me – and a reverent and passionate fan base. As I am now living in Mexico I felt that it was important for me to try to at least understand this sport and not dismiss it entirely.
2. The Second reason – was the company. In fact the majority of the people were all colleagues of C’s and one man in particular used to he a professional Matador! If I was ever going to go to a bull fight, this really was the perfect person to go with – someone who has such an intimate relationship as well as in depth knowledge of the sport.
3. The third and final reason was that I wanted to find out for myself exactly what my opinion was and not be influenced by what other people think. I have always felt that bull fighting was cruel – but how can you have a true opinion about something if you have never seen or experienced it? Is it really the cruel blood sport that the one side makes it out to be, or is it a form of art, grace, elegance and honor that is the belief of the opposing party?
There was only one way to find out…
I had been pushing the thought of the bull fight out of my mind all week – I had made my decision. I was going. I knew if I allowed myself to think about it too much I would not end up going through with it – and this was something that I felt was important for me to do. Finally Sunday rolled around and I found myself getting dressed for the occasion – what do you wear to a bull fight?
We got to the bullring early so that we could have a bite to eat – and the atmosphere was electric Everywhere you looked there were street vendors, countless numbers of food stalls and people just milling about. I found myself being carried away with the whole event and enjoying the lively atmosphere.
However as the clock was slowly ticking to the start of the fight, I became increasingly nervous and uncomfortable! Every time I thought about the bulls being killed my tummy would drop – I am 28 years old and I have never seen anything bigger than a fly killed – how am I going to handle a warm-blooded, half ton bull!? And not just one bull I found out on the day, but SIX!
For those of you who were like me, and have no idea what exactly happens in a bull fight (apart from the obvious death at the end, or successful gauging of a matador) these are the basic rules…or at least how I have understood them:
The Bull Fight
In one bullfight, there are three matadors who each fight two bulls (thus six bulls)The matador has 6 assistants:
– two picadores – which are horsemen armed with a lance, whose job it is to stab the bull in the muscles at the back of the neck in order to weaken the animal.
– three banderilleros (flagmen) who each attempt to stick two colourful banderillas (barbed pointed sticks) in the shoulder of the bull by running as close to the bull as possible.
– and one mazo de espada (sword page) who, if I’m not mistaken hands the sword to the matador when he is ready to kill the bull.
The fight is divided up into separate stages however, to be honest I’m not exactly certain when one stage begins and the other ends – but these are the obvious ones which I saw:
– The bull enters the ring, this is the first time the matador confronts the bull and is able to study and observe the bull’s behaviour. According to ‘C’s colleague these bulls are reared specifically for bull fighting. They are ance bulls who will attack anything (including their own mother) they also apparently have a much higher pain thresh hold then other breeds and generally don’t feel any pain (which i find hard to believe!).
– Then the picadores enter with their lances. The horses that they ride are padded very heavily with a thick mattress type material to protect them from the bull (they are also blindfolded as not to shy away from the bull when the bull attacks). Depending on which horse the bull attacks the picador will then stab the bull. Interestingly, if the crowed feels as though the picador is over enthusiastic in his role, they will begin to whistle, boo and jeer the picador as they don’t want to the bull to lose too much of its strength which could lead to a dull and uneven fight.
– The next stage is when the banderilleros enter the ring and each attempt to stick the banderillas in the bull’s shoulder.
– Finally the matador re-enteres the ring alone with his infamous red cape and sword. With the cape he attracts the bull’s attention who charges repeatedly at the matador. This is to wear the animal down – but it is also when the matador produces a beautiful display of agility and grace for the spectators.
– Then, it is time for the kill! The matador kills the bull by stabbing the beast between the shoulder blades and through the aorta or the heart. If the matador is talented and precise, only one thrust should be sufficient to kill the bull. However due to there being such a small margin of era it could take several attempts (which is not uncommon) and which (surprisingly) really upsets the crowd – they don’t like seeing unnecessary suffering of the bull.
– If that matador has accomplished a particularly grand fight, the spectators stand and wave white handkerchiefs in the air indicating to the judge that the matador should win the prize of the bull’s ear or tail.
So there you have it – a run down of the usual events of a bull fight. So what finally is my opinion? To be as open-minded as possible – I was surprised initially how quickly it took the matador to kill the bull – one minute the bull was alive and fighting for his life, the next minute he was on the ground dead. It’s amazing how quickly you can desensitize your self from reality.
I was also surprised at the sense of excitement and jovial atmosphere there was in the ring – the crowed was completely engaged with the fight. Showing their approval and disappointment throughout each set. Various elderly gentlemen dressed in jeans, boots and cowboy hats shouting out jokes, insults and their appreciation towards the matador and the rest of the crowd joining in (the acoustic is phenomenal in the ring!).
I can appreciate the cultural attachment and the skill, talent and some would argue bravery of the matador.
However despite all of these points – my mind is resolutely made up. To me, bull fighting is an immensely cruel sport. Despite what some people argue, it is not a fair fight, to me there is no honour in the death of the bull – he is just trying desperately to survive.
This all became exceptionally clear to me during the very last fight. The matador had a reasonable fight and it was time to kill the bull – the first blow through the shoulders didn’t kill the bull, neither did the second, third or fourth blow. The bull was terrified and desperately trying to escape the matador. What made it worse was the bellowing of pain, and the jagged gasps of breaths you could hear coming from the bull as well as the pooling blood. The crowd was angry and displeased with the matador and started throwing their seat cushions into the ring – a rain of red foamy seats floated into the ring like the dust settling after an explosion, confusing the bull further and distracting the matador. Finally after what must have been the 8th or 9th attempt to kill the bull the matador succeeded.
Where is the honour and art in that?