La corrida de toros, or Bullfighting, is a controversial sport, even to the Spaniards. There are many diehard fans of the corrida in Spain. You may remember some of the horrific scenes from the Running of the Bulls festival on TV. On the other hand, some cities in Spain ban bullfighting.
Bullfighting is not a sport for the faint-hearted. Each move comes with potential danger and bloodshed, both for the matador and the bull. So what exactly happens behind the walls of the Plaza de Toros, the bullfighting ring?
Each corrida consists of six rounds, made up of three distinct stages. The round starts with a display of the size, age and origin of the bull. At the sound of the horn, the bull is released into the ring. Without any constraints, it runs wild. The matador enters the ring to make his bow. He and his team of assistants then perform a series of passes at the bull using a magenta/gold cape. During this stage the matador observes the aggressiveness and quirks of the bull.
In the next stage of the bull fight the picadors and banderilleros weaken the bull. First, the picador enters the ring on horseback with a lance in hand. As the bull charges, the picador pierces the muscle behind the bull's neck. This is the first time in the fight that the bull is hurt. After the picador pierces the bull a second time, he makes way for the banderilleros. Their job is to weaken the bull further by piercing the bull's back with darts. As the bull starts to bleed out the matador reenters the ring with a red cape and a sword.
The final stage of the game begins. Again the matador makes a series of passes at the bull to further wear it out. While doing so, he shows off his skills by making passes close to his body. When the time comes, he maneuvers the bull into a position that he can drive the sword between its shoulders through to its heart. If his aim is accurate, the bull will fall in a short time, ending its suffering. However, accuracy can be hard to come by sometimes. The judge rates the performance after the bull falls, awarding the matador one bull ear for a good job, two ears for an excellent job, and a tail in rare occasions. The bull is then dragged out by three nicely decorated horses. This concludes one corrida; and the whole scene repeats five more times!
Watching this scene from the sidelines, I reckoned that the bull knew that it was out-played. During one of these final moments, right before the matador drove the sword into its heart, I saw a bull nodding to the matador. Was it just feeling defeated, or was it trying to convey a message - please spare me a quick death?
I left the ring with a heavy heart. Why did I decide to come here? Yet, it is an unforgettable experience. There is an old Chinese proverb, "enter a village, follow its traditions". I should not judge Spaniards for their bull fights, especially without seeing one for myself. Now I have. While this sport may look cruel, or even barbaric, to many foreign visitors (myself included), it is nevertheless a Spanish tradition that has been practiced through the centuries. To many loyal locals bull fighting is not just a sport or a game. It is a part of their culture and a celebration of tradition.
I personally do not agree with the practice. To me, bull fighting is a form of entertainment that exploits other's weakness and celebrates suffering. I believe the sentiment is shared by many Spaniards as well. But who am I to judge? Are we much better off in our own society? Don't we still hunt for fun? Don't we continue to admire the technological advances of our weapons that will one day bring us "peace"? Respect goes a long way. It provides us with the foundation for the freedom to disagree.