Tactful Kills: A trip to the Bullfighting ring

The first bullfight was tough to watch. I’m usually good with blood… the more violent the horror movie the better, in my opinion. I expected my reaction to the climax of each bullfight last night would be indifferent. I went into the arena understanding the skill, pride and tradition that comes with bullfighting. I understood the reverence… brutality and cruelty seemed like a non-issue. I was there to report objectively, to analyze the bullfighter through the eyes of regular spectators. I had no idea that the first kill would leave me nauseous and teary-eyed.

A man sitting behind me dressed in his “Sunday best” noticed my scribble-filled reporter’s notebook and tapped my shoulder. “Todo bien? Todo bien?” was what I could understand from his question. He wanted to know if I was exposing the bullfight… if I was shining a negative light on such an old tradition which I, as an American tourist, simply could not totally comprehend or relate to. Through the eyes of the unfamiliar American, he, like the rest of the spectators, had paid for seats to see trained killers tease and defeat their prey. Through the eyes of the Spaniard, however, el toro is secondary in importance… the fight is all about the matador. They aren’t thinking about the bull. Of course there were times when a woman behind me would say “que malo, que malo” as blood spurt and splattered from the bull’s mouth, but the majority of the crowd’s reactions were words of praise for the tactful fighter.

The matador arched his back, fist thrust upward and head held high. The crowd roared in response. The pride and adrenaline that comes with bullfighting must be addictive. Each step was calculated, the pace metered and reactive. Dylan turned to me and said “like a cartoon villain”… a perfect description. A professional villain, how curious.

The first fight was devastatingly horrific. The next 5 killings were easier to stomach. The process is ceremonial, a man on a blindfolded horse emerges and spears the bull first, digging forcefully into the flesh as the blood trails down the bull’s side in response. Other matadors run around the arena thrusting colorful yarn-covered, speared batons into the bull’s back, the tassled ends bouncing as the bull angrily prances around in the sand. When the main matador enters the ring, he makes the arena his stage. It is an art, a performance, he wants to give the crowd their money’s worth. I was intrigued, captivated. I couldn’t believe that something so brutal could be so highly praised. I couldn’t understand why spectators cheered and gave a standing ovation as three horses carried the dead, blood-covered bull out of the arena at the end of the fight. It took me awhile to understand the tact and skill involved in the process, but when I did, it clicked. I was clapping in reaction to certain “good” stabs, I was clapping after the matador made a skillful wave of his persuasive flag, teasing his prey. It was like a horse race, wrestling match, and a scene from Fight Club rolled into one.

This morning I interviewed a retired matador who now teaches 90 students in Salamanca’s bullfighting school. He started training when he was 14 years old, his family lived on a farm that raised bulls for the fights. He was charismatic, charming… the perfect candidate for this sport. He will be a candidate for the profile I want to write. I am so excited to pick the brains behind the brutality, to understand the tact and how bullfighters train to kill.

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Filed under Bullfighting, Salamanca

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