Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Bullfighting: A dying sport or not?

There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering: all the rest are merely games.

Ernest Hemingway

I belong to this generation who grew up quite idolizing Ernest Hemingway. Times obviously change and you get a new image of people you once idolized. They become human, which is very good. But this quoute above stuck with me for years and I ended up pursuing a quite adventurous life. My first contact with bull fighting came just outside Medellín in Colombia in the year of 1987 where my friend Ed Sismey stayed with a female torero and her room sported a whole wall full of posters from her fights in the ring. She was a tiny little lady who seem stronger than most people I had come across at that date. It was out of season, so it was impossible to watch a fight. Next memory comes from passing Spain on my African ride back in 1988 and the city of La Ronda, which had a spectacular and beautiful bull fighting stadium. Wrong time of the year again. However, I started reading about bullfighting and I was trying to figure out in my own mind whether this could be called a sport or not, but I came across this quote below from Hemingway, which made me really wanting to see a fight to make up my own mind. It was becoming more controversial by the day, even back then and since this days, there´s a huge against it.

But Hemingway wrote this:

Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.

Ernest Hemingway

Spanish matador Antonio Ordonez (R) chatting w. his friend, author Ernest Hemingway, in arena before bullfight. (Photo by Loomis Dean//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Spanish matador Antonio Ordonez (R) chatting w. his friend, author Ernest Hemingway, in arena before bullfight. (Photo by Loomis Dean//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

It would take me another 28 years before I actually had the opportunity to see a bull fight. The venue was one of the best and most famous, Plaza de Toros Monumental De Las Ventas in Madrid. There was a group of us, very good friends, and one of them Antonio, was a big fan of bullfighting. They way he talked about it, well, we felt among the most priviliged people on earth to get a chance to see this fight. We managed to get tickets near the ring, they were very expensive, like a 120 dollars a piece and the stadium took 23 978 spectators. It was a beautuful stadium and it was easy to see that it had a Muslim influence from the Moors. Antonio said this was one of the happiest days in his life, there was an electric athmosphere whilst we made our way in, we hired a soft cushion to sit on for a euro, had  glass or two of wine each and then we entered the stadium. It felt like kind of a gladiator time!

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Three very good friends smoking Montechristos in front of Plaza de Toros Monumental De Las Ventas in Madrid

Antonio told is it was to be a corrida de toros made up of six bulls and 3 matadors. We sat in the section of the rich and powerful and it was an audience made up of mainly elderly men and ladies. Mostly men. but there were young kids there as well. Quite a mixed audience, much more women than I had expected. One of the preset opinions I had in my mind, was that this was an all male thing. I was wrong. The most powerful person in the audience was the female mayor of Madrid, who was for bullfighting and considered part of Spain cultural heritage. Suddenly it all began with the toreros came in (the one who actually will try to kill the bull at the end is called matador) led by ellder gents on horse. It was all very pompous! Especially the three matadors which really behaved like they owned the world, like modern gladiators.

The first bull came in, weighing around 570 kg:s, slowly running in to the middle where the matador tried to make him aware of his existence, but the bull was more curious and ran for the picadores and banderilleros, 6 helpers in all for the matador, but they ran all and hid behind one of the many shelters around the arena. The picadors on horse teased the bull, who came charging and ran staright into the well padded, and blinded, horse, who just stood still whilst the picador tried to kick himself and the horse free from the bull.

“This guy is a novice” , said Antonio, meaning the matador, “I hav a bad feeling about him. You see, bullfighting is all about style and grace and showing how brave you are.”

Eventually this matador managed to get the attention of the bull, who came running for him, not fast, and he started with the moves which made him a matador. he seemed elegant to me, whilst teasing with his pinkish cape, but Antonio just shook his head and disappointed whistles came from the audience. Somebody screamed:

“This is not Sevilla, this is Madrid!”

Loads of laughter. One of the picadors came out in a style like a proud peacock with two barbed sticks and moved close to the bull, finding the right position to thrust these lances in the bull´s neckmuscles.

“This is important” , Antonio whispered: “He has to see the bull in the eyes when he does the thrust!

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The picador got it right and both sticks ended up in the big neck mucle of the bull. Blood streamed out. this of course slowed the bull down and the matador moved up with his cape, cockier than before and I thought:

“What is brave in slowing down the bull to make it easier to kill?”

The bull charged again for the horse, slowly, ends up with his head, trying to life the horse it seemed like, but this was another way to weaken the bull. The audience are not happy. Time for the matador. He moves into the middle, only him, with his cape and a sword ready for the final part, the kill. So he does his move, the bull barely touching his cape and when the bull is really exhausted, the matador moves in front of him, takes a killing position and waits for the bull to spread his legs to open up a hole in the neck muscle. This, of it goes well, will reach the aorta or heart and kill the bull. But this matador he missed and people screamed out their displeasure and the matador, who obviously suffered and Antonio said he won´t fight in Madrid again, brought out a knife and cut of his spinal cord. this happened when the bull fell down slowly after the bad thrust.

Mules came out and dragged the bull away. More or less exactly the same scenes happened another 5 times, but only once did the audience wave white hankerchiefs as a sign of a fantastic fight. Antonio said this happened only every ten years. The name of the matador was Juan Leal and he was French. That was a strong experience, I have to admit. Otherwise?

Well, time has passed since I read Hemingway. I have spent a major part of my grown up life hunting, so death and killing animals isn´t unknown to me,  but I do understand the great hesitation people have when it comes to this so called sport. But I can also understand the other side, since I have travelled the world and seen other for modern people strange cultural habits. But one thing is for sure, I´d like to know much more about WHO are the people involved in this? The matadors for example? I do believe it is a sport or a habit which will soon die. We need to full understand it.  But, before I let my friends share their opinions below here, I just want to note, that I can´t see it being brave slowly crippling one´s “enemy” and then kill. For me, bravery would be one matador, one bull, fight it out. So, yes, this is what i think plus that I see it as very cruel and unnecessary. That I say after having understood and seen only 1% of this, so my answered is based on this and I want to know more and get a full perspective.

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I did a small research on my friends and this wide variaty of answers came back, just to show how completily divided the opinions are. A few of many here, which were overwhelmingly against:

If one were to compare to the shrink wrapped piece of meat from the grocery store, which came from an animal that was pumped full of steroids and such, to a Muira bull, who spends the first five years of his life roaming beautiful fincas, and in the bullring has the chance to live (the matador can refuse to fight such a great bull or goes beyond the alloted time in which to make the kill, albeit, the bull lives. I have witnessed both situations). If the bull is killed the meat goes to the needy. That being said, they are sentient beings, and that must be considered. So if you do eat meat from the grocery store, a few things to think about. Ole!

Years ago I was cajoled into going to a bullfight…it’s easy to get swept along with the excitement of the crowd…something primeval in it I think…man versus beast…but when the bull was floundering around coughing up blood, blood pouring out of his nostrils fighting for his life towards the end I hated it, it made me feel sick to the stomach, I’ll never go again.

Giving pain and/or suffering for ‘entertainment’, or indeed giving unnecessary pain and/or suffering is something to be avoided and, I feel, abhorrent.

It’s not so long since Spain was living under the violence of fascist Franco (my father-in-law met him) so perhaps the Spanish people need time to ‘grow out of’ their addiction to blood & gore…The idea of animal rights is becoming more popular in Spain thankfully

We slowly grind the differences out of society until all is bland . We offer religion and ownership of property to indigenous people’s to replace their traditions and nomadic lifestyles. How is this different? We look from the outside and judge a people a tradition and a value and if it does not meet our standards or approval we condemn and try and force change to what we consider normal. It may not be what some wish to see but if so don’t go. Traditions such as this are doomed to slowly disappear under, gris for the millstone of progress. Celebrate difference while there still are some.

José Tomás is considered by many to be the best bullfighter in the world right now. A reclusive.

*Read more about bullfighting here!

*And here!

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