Category Archives: Bullfighting

The Bullfight

By David Simmonds

I went to Spain right after college graduation, a long time ago. After buying a camper van in Amsterdam for four hundred bucks I headed south for the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. That was to be my introduction to bullfighting, right where Hemingway had been. Perfect. The problem was that my girlfriend and I were camped a couple of miles out of town by a stream, along with an international mix of party-warriors whose stated purpose was to consume all the wine and sangría in the country. Being a friendly American type I was viscously sucked right into their depravity, rendered too hung-over to make it into town early enough every morning for the “running” and following bullfight. As I recall, the South Africans were the primary culprits. Stay clear of those guys whenever you have something to do and beer and wine are involved.

Having blown my chance to attend my first bullfight in the perfect place, I lost interest for a long time. As much as I have been obsessed with learning the culture of Mexico through a lifetime of travel, I had ignored the sport which is so clearly associated with the country.

That all changed one day in San Miguel de Allende. I’m blithely strolling along a quiet street, taking some afternoon photos for an article I’m writing, when I hear the band and I see the signs — and before you can say “olé” I’m being asked if I want to sit on the sunny side or the shady side of the neighborhood bullring. And since it’s only a ten-peso difference I find myself sitting in the shade, totally enthralled by the surroundings. Here I was heading back to my hotel for a siesta, but instead I’m now absolutely mesmerized by the crowd, the costumes, the spectacle, and…the Bull. The bull that will be killed right before my eyes, merely because this is Mexico and this is what he is bred for. I’m not sure that I want to be here, but I also know there is nothing that can make me leave.

Now, thinking back, I wonder what I learned from my introduction to the bullfight. And the most striking and obvious observation is that maybe they named this sport (?) wrong. First of all, I don’t think it’s a fight. Nor is it a sport. It’s a spectacle, a show. It’s the Romans feeding the slaves to the lions, except the animal/man roles are reversed. The bull enters the ring full of life and energy, and in all but a few rare occasions the only way he is leaving that ring is on his side being dragged by a team of horses, quite dead.

Although I’m not ready to call the Matadors athletes (can they hit a curveball or sink a three-pointer?), they do qualify as being brave, not only in encountering the charging bull, but also for wearing those matador pants. That takes a confident courage not even Hemingway would recognize.

If the bull were allowed to confront the matador at full strength, I doubt if too many people would choose a career in the ring. As it is, the bull’s neck and upper spine area are severely penetrated with varas (barbed spears) by the picador prior to any real contact with the matador. The hapless, confused bull is pumping a stream of blood with every step, and it’s just a matter of time before he goes down for the count. In the meantime, the artistry of the bullfight unfolds. And even though you don’t want to like what you see, you do. You forget about the blood and the dying animal, and you concentrate on the guy with the cape, the matador. You understand that even though he has a huge advantage, it still takes some mighty huevos to face down 1,200 raging pounds of disoriented bull with a set of deadly horns. On cue, you find yourself standing and shouting ole. You see fierce pride in the faces of the patrons, and you come to understand more about the country and the people who call you gringo.



Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.


What Happens in Mexico… Should Stay in Mexico?

By: Lisa Coleman

So last Saturday I’m reading the paper. It wasn’t a particularly eventful news day, just the usual politics, war and senseless crime articles tempered with a nod to the struggling real estate market. But then, an article catches my eye: “In Mexico, dwarf bullfighting a spectacle and a staple.” Now I am not making this up, dwarf bullfighting is a VERY popular sport in Mexico. Let me share an excerpt:

“Matador Ignacio Zaragoza raised his wooden sword at a fighting calf that was nearly as tall as he was. It pawed the ground, Zaragoza flicked his cape, and the beast rocketed toward him. “Ole!” shouted the crowd, as Zaragoza spun away, knelt on his short legs, and snapped the cape again. “Ole! Ole!”

It’s a spectacle repeated on weekends across Mexico, as troupes of dwarf bullfighters thrill audiences at fairs, patron-saint festivals and nightclubs. Some of them tour the United States, where they bring a dose of nostalgia to Mexican migrants from Oregon to Florida.

Although some activists worry that they propagate stereotypes, the troupes — known as cuadrillas — provide steady jobs in a country where employment discrimination is rampant and people with disabilities have trouble getting work. ”

Apparently, the Original Bullfighting Dwarfs of Mexico was founded 13 years ago. Now there are 10 to 20 bullfighting troupes employing about 200 little people nationwide, said Rigoberto Madrigal, president of the Little People of Mexico, a support group for people with dwarfism. According to the article, “Competition among groups is intense, so many cuadrillas have added other attractions to their shows. The Bullfighting Dwarfs of Torreon jump through burning hoops on all-terrain vehicles. The Bullfighting Dwarfs of Guadalajara pride themselves on singing and impersonations.”

The good news is, unlike real bullfights, the animals are not harmed. However, the whole idea of this somehow makes me squirm. And it shouldn’t. I guess I can’t get past the spectacle of the thing. But, in their defense, these are adult men who can make their own decisions about career choices. The interesting thing about this phenomenon is that it truly exemplifies a particular and intriguing freedom only found in Mexico. The U.S. is so wrapped up in what is politically correct and what should or should not be deemed as acceptable, that we forget all people have rights. And if dwarfs want to fight bulls… I say OLE! Whether or not the visual is uncomfortable for me or not, I love that Mexico embraces dwarf bullfighting. I love a country that openly allows, and promotes, total freedom for these people. Viva Mexico!

What’s with the Bull?

 By: MP News Staff

Here at Mexico Premiere we like to do a LOT of surfing to find good info to share with our readers. Sometimes we stumble across some pretty amusing stuff. Rather than just quote from this piece, we thought we would just post it in its entirety. Enjoy!  Will Cloning Change Bullfighting in Mexico?

By Allan Wall

The bullfight, known in Spanish as the corrida de toros, the fiesta brava, or tauromaquia, is a famous facet of Mexican culture.

The corrida de toros is a ritualized spectacle, a dramatic struggle between man and beast, style and fury, intelligence and strength.

Ernest Hemingway, an aficionado of the corrida who actually practiced it in Spain, wrote that “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.”

Bullfighting is full of traditions, from the way its participants dress, to the order of the show, to the live music which accompanies it. Bullfighting has its own specialized vocabulary, some of it incomprehensible even to Spanish-speaking outsiders.

A good matador must do more than just kill a bull. Dispatching the bull is only part of it. It’s the way that he does it. The matador must display grace, courage, confidence and control, and must pace himself. If the matador fails to display these characteristics, to go too fast or too slow, the audience will become displeased.

The audience too is part of the spectacle, and can be quite demanding. If the matador does not live up to their expectations, some aficionados shout unflattering (and sometimes clever) epithets. (The term aficionado has entered English, but what it really meant in Spanish was a bullfighting fan.)

I’ve been to a bullfight from time to time, and there’s no other spectacle quite like it.

Bullfighting is also practiced in some other Spanish-speaking countries and in Spain, where it originated. Some famous matadors cross the Atlantic and fight in both Spain and Mexico.

Now, with the announcement of the first known cloning of a fighting bull, the corrida tradition moves into the world of contemporary genetic manipulation.

Zalamero is his name – the bull’s that is. Zalamero is one of those rare creatures who survives the bullring, and is now a 17-year old indultado.

What’s an indultado?

The vast majority of bulls meet their death in the ring, but every once in a while a bull, exceptional for his fighting spirit and bravado, is “pardoned” – granted an indulto, and allowed to live out his natural life.

In 1994, Zalamero fought in the biggest bullring in the world (capacity 52,000), the Plaza México in Mexico City.

An indultado bull is used for breeding, and Zalamero has already sired around 100 calves.

But Mexican rancher Jose Fernandez, Zalamero’s owner, has decided to take this one step further – and clone the bull. “We believe this animal deserves to keep reproducing himself,” said Fernandez.

The cloning is being carried out by ViaGen, a Texas livestock cloning company. Jose Cordoba, ViaGen’s director in Mexico, went to the ranch near Puebla, Mexico, and extracted ear and hoof samples from Zalamero. The actual cloning is being done in laboratories in Canada. If all goes according to plan, the clone calves are to be brought to Mexico in a year and a half.

You might call them NAFTA clones – taken from a Mexican bull and cloned in Canada under the auspices of a U.S. company.

Actually, cattle breeders have been using some form of genetic manipulation for thousands of years, using selective breeding to enhance desirable traits (especially to increase milk and meat production).

The bulls of the fiesta brava belong to a particular breed, descended from the wild cattle of ancient Spain. In Roman times these cattle were captured for use in the Colosseum.

In the same way that Holsteins (the black and white dairy cows) are bred to give much milk, so ganado bravo, the fighting cattle breed, are bred to be aggressive. Interestingly, a bull is said to inherit the aggressiveness from his mother, and nobility from his sire.

The value of effective breeding bulls has long been recognized, and the later introduction of artificial insemination made it possible for such bulls to sire even more offspring. Cloning takes cattle breeding to another level, but it is still in its infancy.

If cloning were to become widespread, how would that affect the bullfighting business? Will new rules have to be drafted so an old tradition can catch up with biotechnology?

At this point, all I can safely do is again quote Hemingway, who wrote that an artistically good bullfight requires “good bullfighters and good bulls; artistic bullfighters and poor bulls do not make interesting fights….”

Whatever biotechnology brings to the bullfight, the fiesta brava definitely requires good bulls in the bullring.

The Rules of Bullfighting

This article is from the November 1997 The Mexico File newsletter.

The Bullfight, What You Will See
by David Simmonds

At each event, called a corrida, six bulls are fought by three matadors. Each matador fights two bulls for approximately twenty minutes. The most experienced matador will fight the third and the last bull and the least experienced will fight the first and fourth bull.The matador will have the help of five assistants, usually three banderilleros and two picadores. The assistants are usually not dressed as colorfully as the matador. The spectacle starts with a trumpet blast which commences the paseo, or march, of the bullfighters. The second blast precedes the entrance of the bull.

The first person to approach the bull is the chief assistant, who will test the bull’s mood, speed, power and agility. The matador is watching carefully to see how the bull reacts.

The third trumpet signals the arrival of the picadores, on horseback, who carry long pikes with a steel tip which is prevented from penetrating the bull more than four inches by a metal guard. The purpose of this is to weaken the massive tossing muscle between the shoulder blades of the bull. The bull is reduced to carrying his head low at this point.

The crowd determines whether the bull is brave or a coward by the bull’s reaction to the pike. The brave bull will disregard the pain and charge even harder, while the cowardly bull is reluctant to charge again and is roundly booed by the crowd.

The bullring president determines how many picks the bull will receive, usually two or three. The picks are separated by periods of the bull’s being lured away by the banderilleros.

After the fourth trumpet the banderillos will try to place their banderillas in the bull’s withers (the ridge between the bull’s shoulder blades). This will further weaken the bull so that the matador can work more closely with the bull. Up to four pairs of the banderillas (wooden sticks decorated with colored paper) will be placed in the bull.

The fifth trumpet commences the faena, where the matador makes a series of passes with the muleta, a piece of thick red cloth draped over a short stick. First the matador removes his black winged hat and dedicates the death of the bull to the bullring president or to the crowd. The muleta can be held in either the left hand or draped over the espada, the killing sword, which is always held in the right hand. The pass is called the natural in which the muleta is first held in front of the matador to site the bull and is then swung across and away from the matador’s body, taking the bull with it. The matador will continue to perform a number of different passes varying in skill and showmanship until he has complete control over the charging bull.

The next step is to kill the bull. Standing some ten feet from the bull, the matador keeps the bull fixated on the muleta held low in his left hand and aims the espada between the shoulder blades. If the sword goes all the way in, the bull will drop immediately to his knees, dying. If the bull fails to die the matador may take the descabello, a sword with a short cross piece at the end, and stab it into the bull’s neck severing the spinal cord. The bullfight has come to an end.

The president now awards trophies to the matador, depending on his bravery and skill.

The trophy may be one or two ears, the tail and the hoof. The crowd will wave white handkerchiefs to encourage the president to award the trophies, continuing after the award in an attempt to get the matador to throw his trophies into the crowd. The crowd returns the honor by throwing flowers into the ring.

History of Bullfighting

This article is from the November 1997 The Mexico File newsletter.

Spanish Fiesta Brava, A History of Bullfighting

by Mario Carrión

Mario Carrión is a Spanish bullfighter who was born in Sevilla, Spain, in 1934. He provides here a history of the “sport” and his own unique perspective as a bullfighter himself.

A Brief History of Bullfighting

During the eight centuries of the Spanish War of the Reconquest (711-1492 A.D.), the knights, Moors and Christians, weary of killing one another, would occasionally allow themselves a respite; but in order to avoid boredom, and also to release their pugnacious instincts, they would compete in hunting wild-life existing in the Iberian lands. Deer and other equally docile animals were easy prey, and while a cornered bear or boar would occasionally put up a fight, it was never a challenge for such valiant knights. However, the scenario changed every time they faced the Iberian bull. This beautiful and awe-inspiring beast, with its unique noble bravery would, when provoked, rather die fighting than flee — in essence, transforming the hunt into an avid exchange in which the bravest warriors could bring to light their courage. Perhaps a nobleman with an entrepreneurial spirit thought about capturing several of these horned beasts, taking them to the village, and recreating the thrill of the hunt so that the knights could demonstrate their skill and win the admiration of their subjects. Thus, in a remote corner of Medieval Spain, the beginning of what today is the national Spanish spectacle of bullfighting was created. The first historic bullfight, corrida, took place in Vera, Logro o, in 1133, in honor of the coronation of King Alfonso VIII. From that point on, history is full of instances in which kings organized corridas to commemorate important events and to entertain their guests. After the Spanish War of the Reconquest, the celebration of corridas expanded throughout Spain and became the outlet where the noblemen demonstrated the zeal that allowed them to defeat the Moors. Even the Emperor Charles I in Valladolid in 1527, and later King Philip IV took part in the lancing of bulls in the bullfighting arenas, (such as the Plaza Mayor in Madrid), plazas de toros.During the reign of King Philip II, Pope Pius V, appalled at the unconscionable carnage of the bullfights, forbade the practice of the corridas. The people, however, ignored the papal decree and continued to relish the fiesta brava, forcing Pope Gregory VIII to recant the decree, following the advice of the writer and mystic Fray Luis de León, who said “the bullfights are in the blood of the Spanish people, and they cannot be stopped without facing grave consequences.” With the arrival of the French Bourbon dynasty in Spain, the nobility gave up the thrill of the arena for the pleasures of the royal court. As a result, bullfighting was left to the plebeians who in turn enthusiastically took up its practice, and took it to heart as a symbol of something genuinely Spanish.

Bullfighting was transformed and democratized. The squire, on foot, became the master of the arena, today’s matador, and the knight, on horseback, the picador of the present time, undertook the secondary role of helping to show the prowess of the squire who was once his servant. The people, aware of the changing social hierarchy rendered an act of symbolic social justice by allowing Francisco Romero, a man of humble origins, to become the first professional bullfighter of historical significance in 1726. The people transformed Romero from a simple man into a legend whose skills are still praised in popular songs today. In Cossio’s five volume encyclopedia, Los Toros, the most complete history of bullfighting, we find many notable characters who followed in Romero’s footsteps; among them were Rafael Molina, Belmonte and Manolete, three outstanding matadors, who elevated the toreo to great heights. Each introduced changes that converted what once was a primitive and cruel encounter, the Medieval hunt, into the skillful art form which is practiced today in the bullfighting arenas of Spain, France, Portugal, and in the Latin American republics of Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

Is Bullfighting a Sport?

Let’s look at the nature of this cultural expression so innately Spanish. What is bullfighting? Is it barbarism, a sport rooted in the hunt, or an artistic expression similar to the dance? There have been many different opinions, often colored by the cultural background of the person expressing his or her thoughts. However, most Spanish people agree that it should not be considered a sport. Indeed, the translation of the Spanish term torear into the English word bullfighting, shows the prejudicial view of this event in the Anglo world. A person would have to be insane to fight a 1,200 pound beast. The objective of the bullfight is, in fact, the opposite: to avoid a brutal confrontation by using the human attributes of intelligence, grace, and elegance. In a sport, the important thing is to win; the sport fan is satisfied with the accumulation of points, hits, and records. In bullfighting, there is no scorekeeping. Satisfaction is implicit in the expected triumph of human cunning over brute force; a bullfight fan screams olé not because the matador has won, but because of the manner, the form, the grace, the wit, the dexterity of the torero performing a veronica, a natural, or any other pass with the capote or muleta, as the piece of cloth that he holds in his hand is called. The trophies awarded to the bullfighter are often nothing more than the people’s momentary show of emotion; it is not unusual for a matador who may have only performed one artful move in the entire event to be the true winner of the day. For just as in painting, singing, or dancing, the quality that made that move special cannot be quantified or described. The appreciation of its worth is intuitive.

Nevertheless, based on my reading on the subject, my practical experience as a matador, and my intuition, I define bullfighting as a type of dramatic ballet dance with death. As he would in dancing, the bullfighter must control his movements — maintaining the rhythm, not of music, but of danger. On stage, a faux-pas means an interruption of artistic flow. In the bullfighting arena, a mistake could mean the death of the star of this drama.

Between the bullfighter and the bull there should always be a relationship based on distance. This plastic art form is based on the fact that the matador’s dexterity makes him the creator and master of this relationship, instead of allowing the bull a chance to take command. In theory, this artistic event is simple — the difficulty lies in carrying out the task. The bull, by his very nature, attacks everything that moves. The man, unrelenting, standing tall, exhibiting elegance and poise, should move the cape in such a way that the bull will pursue it without ever catching it, and at the same time, in order to enhance the feeling of danger, he should direct the trajectory of the attacking animal as close to his body as he dares. Not so close, however, that in order to avoid being injured or killed, he should have to briskly step aside, because by doing so he will disturb the fluidity of the movement. Referring to this skill, a Spanish critic of this art form once said: “Anyone can bullfight if he knows the technique, anyone who has courage; the difficulty lies in being able to bullfight like Belmonte or Manolete as if the bulls were made of glass and one were afraid to break them.”