The spectacle of bullfighting pits a man against a charging bull. The bullfighter, called a matador, faces the bull in a large dirt-filled arena that is usually surrounded by spectators. Aided by a group of apprentices, called the cuadrilla, the matador goads the bull into charging at him.
A bullfight usually features three matadors, each of whom fights two bulls. The bulls are of a distinctly savage breed especially trained to attack humans. A bullfight is relentless. If a matador is injured, another replaces him, and the bull is killed at the end of each match.
To followers of bullfighting, the contest between man and beast demonstrates human skill and courage as does no other sport. However, many people believe bullfighting is barbaric and inhumane. The matadors are not alone. They are accompanied by three banderilleros and two picadores. The matador wears a brightly colored costume known as the suit of lights. His assistants wear less flashy costumes.
The movement from act to act in the bull-fight is divided by a trumpet blast. The first trumpet signals the paseo, or march of the bull-fighters. The second trumpet proclaims the entrance of the bull. The matador first watches his chief assistant perform some passes with the yellow and magenta cape, in order to determine the bull’s qualities and mood, before taking over himself. During this period the matador is testing the bull’s speed, power and tendencies to hook one way or the other. Information learned now is crucial for a successful fight
The third trumpet signals the entrance of the picadores, mounted on horseback, who carry long pikes with a steel tip that is prevented from going more than four inches into the bull’s flesh by a metal guard. The bull carries its head and horns high, so the aim of the picador is to weaken the massive tossing muscle (the Morillo) between the shoulder blades. When the bull charges, the picador leans out and thrusts the pike into the bull’s shoulders.
The brave bull disregards the pain and charges harder into the pike. The cowardly bull backs away and is reluctant to charge again and maybe booed by the crowd. The trial of the picks is over at the bull-ring president’s discretion, but usually, after 2 or 3 picks, which are separated by a rescue, in which the bull is lured away from the horse by the banderilleros.
Following the fourth trumpet, the banderilleros attempt to place their banderillas in the bull’s withers, again trying to weaken the bull so that the matador is able to work more closely with it. The banderillas are wooden sticks decorated with colored paper and with a steel harpoon on the end. The banderilleros usually run in quarter circles leaning over the bull’s horns to place the banderillas.
On the fifth trumpet blast, the matador removes his black winged hat and dedicates the death of the bull to the president of the crowd before beginning his faena. The faena is the most beautiful and skillful part of the fight. This is where the matador must prove his courage and artistry.
Finally, the matador comes in for the kill. Brightly dressed, he uses a sword draped with a cloth, called a muleta. After a number of intricate passes with the muleta, during which the matador must work extremely close to the bull, the matador sights the bull along with his sword, runs forward, and plunges it in, aiming for the half-dollar-size spot between the shoulders. If the sword enters correctly between the shoulder blades, it severs the aorta or great artery, and the animal dies almost instantly.
A crowd-pleasing matador may be awarded one or both of the bull’s ears or its ears and tail. An exceptionally fierce bull may be honored by having its body paraded around the arena. The one thing that sets the Spanish apart from most Europeans living beyond the Pyrenees Mountains is their national spectacle of bullfighting.
Every city and most towns of any size boast a bullring, where the crowds cheer their favorite but jeer the inept matador, or bullfighter, as he faces his large-horned adversary. Many Northern Europeans are critical of bullfighting and condemn it as a cruel blood sport. Most Spaniards, however, do not see it this way. To them, bullfighting is an exciting test of bravery, skill, and grace.
Although bullfighting has been described as inhumane and has been little practiced outside the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, its defenders say that it is too much ingrained in the culture of the participating countries to ban. Therefore, it appears that bullfighting will be around for years to come, even though it may be limited to a few small countries.