I’m taking the bull by the horns, insists British bullfighter

LAST UPDATED: 25 Sep, 2012 @ 16:06
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I’m taking the bull by the horns, insists British bullfighter

By Alexander Fiske-Harrison

WHEN anyone mentions bullfighting to Anglo-Saxons, most seem to lose rationality, all sense of proportion, all sense of irony even.

I mean, how else do you explain the fat British tourist outside Flaherty’s Irish pub in Sevilla, who told me he liked it when the matador was gored, with a greasy half-eaten beef burger in his hand?

And it’s not just red-faced expats who fail to see the irony.

One Radio 4 journalist told me he had a passing interest in the subject because ‘nothing cheers me up in the morning like reading that a matador has been gored to death’.

Well, let me tell you, I am a matador and this sort of attitude greatly upsets me.

Why is there so much anger at the Spanish ‘fiesta nacional’ when us Anglo-Saxons have long liked a bit of violence – from Shakespeare to Hollywood movies?

We love watching violent films and we don’t mind cattle being killed for our stomachs.

We kill almost four million cows a year in the UK; a number that is almost ten times as large in the US.

And this is despite the growing obesity crisis and medical advice now insisting that red meat is nutritionally negative in value.

And then, of course, is the fact that the 1.5 billion global herd of cattle – which weighs more than the global human population – produces almost a fifth of all climate change gases.

The answer is that very British sense of fair play. The theory goes that a bullfight is not a fair fight. It is unsporting. It is not cricket.

Well, indeed it’s not. Nor does it pretend to be. Allow me to explain.

There are a whole host of misconceptions about bullfighting, and the biggest one of all is the name.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

The bullfight is not a fight at all and the word in English actually derives from our own spectacle, illegal since 1835, of ‘baiting’ bulls with dogs.

What goes on in Spain is called la corrida de toros, ‘the running of the bulls’, and the name comes from what happens in the spectacle: a man makes a bull run past him using the large cape, capote or smaller and more famous red one, the muleta, before killing it.

He is the matador, which means ‘killer’,  and the men within the ring with him are called toreros, which means those who torear, the verb we mistranslate as to fight the bulls, but is actually to wrangle or play – in the sense of angling – with the bulls.

There is no winning or losing for bull or man in a corrida, this is not a sport and points are not awarded. There is simply nothing to be fair about.

Ultimately there is a script – think of it as a play or a ballet – and it must be followed, no matter what. If the matador is injured, another takes his place.

Part of that script also involves the picador mounted on an armoured horse with a lance, and the banderilleros with their barb-pointed sticks.

These individuals often lead to the claim that the matador could not face the bull one-on-one.

The answer is simple: he could. Any matador can face and kill a bull within a matter of minutes of entering the ring.

However, it would not be done bravely, or cleanly, or elegantly or, and this is the most important thing, with emocion.

As with any theatrical spectacle, the audience at a corrida wishes to be moved, not just impressed, and certainly not to have some sort of bloodlust sated.

To understand this, you have to understand what the Spanish aficionado, is looking for.

There are two things the aficionado hopes for in a good corrida: In the bull, he wants to see the personification of wild, ferocious nature: the bull must be powerful and charge readily and continuously.

In the man, he wants to see the embodiment of the civilised virtues: courage, dexterity, stamina and elegance.

People want to see him go through a book of dance-like manoeuvres – derechazos, manoletinas, molinetes, and trincherazos, to name a few – and they want him to do them with grace.

In order to be able to ‘dance’ with the bull like this, it must be reduced from its initial fearsome proportions. This is done using a lance and an armoured horse. This sounds brutal because it is. If this is a theatrical spectacle, it is one with a ritual sacrifice at its heart.

The picador uses a lance and the weight of his horse to tire and damage the bull, highlighting the bull’s ferocity and fortitude, while also bringing its head down and reducing the range of movement of its horns so the matador can get closer.

The bull leaves this encounter diminished, and then chases after the banderilleros with their barbed sticks, all of which annoys him further.

Those who are against bullfighting like to focus on these parts of the corrida: the bull is ‘stabbed with spears‘, ‘bleeds half to death’ etc.

The first part of this claim is true, the second part false. From a veterinary perspective, a bull has over 60 pints of blood and can lose 15 of them without adverse affects. The spectacle may be bloody, but it isn’t even close to 15 pints of blood.

Which explains why, of the 533 famous professional toreros who have been killed by bulls since 1700 – and an unknown but certainly greater number of amateur toreros as well – so many were killed at the end of the fight, after the lance and banderillas.

Nowadays, courtesy of modern surgical techniques, deaths are much rarer. However, the gruesome injuries are not, hence my own teacher, Juan Jose Padilla is now working as a matador with just one eye. The risks are very, very real.

It is this ‘reality’ that aficionados claim as the fight’s greatest asset. Everything happens out in the open, in sight.

There have long been those who say that this claim isn’t true. The League Against Cruel Sports and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) list all sorts of nefarious practices, most of which are simply untrue.

For example, rubbing Vaseline into the bull’s eyes before the corrida would be suicide – its ability to distinguish the cape from the man and chase only the cloth is all that keeps him uninjured.

Then there are the accusations of horn shaving: the idea being that removing an inch from the tip of the horn, and then sharpening it again, somehow makes the bull less accurate and the torero safer.

This definitely used to go on, although it has always been illegal, but now the law is strictly enforced. What is more, how much difference it makes is hard to fathom.

Bulls charge at you, so the horn will get you, and whether it does an inch sooner or an inch later makes no difference I can think of.

This, the great Manolete found out in 1947 when a bull with shaved horns killed him, sending Spain into mourning for a national hero fallen.

Which brings me to the last bit of propaganda I read all too often: that bullfighting is in terminal decline. It is simply not true and in 2007 there were 2,644 official bullfights in Spain – more than ever before.

This number has since fallen off, but in a way which mirrors, not exceeds, the decrease in expendable income in the country. For comparison, West End theatre in London has suffered a similar drop in attendance figures.

Similarly, there is an often quoted Gallup poll on this that says 72% of Spaniards have ‘no interest in’ – note no interest, not ‘are against’. This poll is from 2006. What is not mentioned is that that poll-figure decreased to 68% in 2008, which is the same figure as 2002, which is also the same as in 1992. Decline? What decline?

The most recent poll of all was conducted by Metroscopia for El Pais. It said that after the ban on bullfighting was voted for by the regional parliament of Catalonia in 2010 – which was purely cosmetic as only 1% of Spain’s corridas were held there –  57% of people across Spain said they are against the ban, even though 60% said they didn’t ‘like’ bullfighting. Meanwhile, 37% said they were active aficionados.

So, it looks like bullfighting is here to stay whether we like it or not. So get off your high horses and look at the hypocrisy of opposing it… and perhaps get out there to watch.

‘The bulls feel no pain’

Fighting bulls are raised free range to over three times the age of a meat cow, and then killed within 25 minutes in a ring while in full fighting mode, giving it all the adrenaline and attendant hormones the body produces to suppress pain and maintain fury. The most important of these are the internally generated opioids or endorphins. They are the reason, for example, that soldiers often report being shot in combat as a painless experience, at least at the time of injury.

Fiske-Harrison’s book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight is available on Amazon.

80 COMMENTS

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  1. Who at The Olive Press has let this BRITISH person actually write this ‘article’ about this sickening current (for not much longer hopefully) sport? and then talk at length defending his right to kill. DISGUSTING!!

  2. The public school prat would be delighted to take on a fit, well trained swordsman – like the immature boys who join the army and think it’s all going to be exciting and glorious and then lose control of their bowels when they see comrades blown to pieces and turn and run.

    My uncle Eric would have loved to have this pompous prat under his command – he’d have broken him in days.

    Fred – as much as the coward annoys me at least he does’nt pretend to know everything about everything unlike the troll.

    However I think your description ‘confirms my suspicions that you are an unethical attention-seeking egomaniac’ and
    chronic, long winded over posting on blogs is absolutely spot on.

    I just can’t imagine it ever having useful employment – in fact we never were told what it’s ‘work’ was but it had to principally include lots and lots of verbal poo.

  3. … When a bull.. and hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later, rips your intestines badly and beyond repair so much so your, brain, as limited as it is with IQ, will realise that life is slipping away, and that because of your cruel, vindictive actions, hopefully, you will feel the pain that you so willingly inflict. I wait with anticipation of the news of your demise. 15 million supporters of something so barbaric, does not make it right. Every living creature that goes about its normal natural business deserves to live on this planet. You have no right to do what you do

  4. M Hawkins – “Every living creature that goes about its normal natural business deserves to live on this planet.”

    I don’t think you understand livestock. They don’t actually have “normal natural business.” All of the animals we breed for sport or food have been bread for generations to be specifically domestic, livestock animals. They are no longer “natural” or “wild” animals. It isn’t as if they are caught or trapped.

    The “natural business” of domestic beef cattle consists of being raised until it is just old enough to be profitable for slaughter; it walks around in a field, may be confined to a small area and then it is killed. That’s its whole life. The domestic beef cow wouldn’t even exist if human beings had not been breeding them for centuries. It’s like saying the “natural behavior of the French Poodle.” These animals are human creations that we’ve been modifying since the advent of animal domestication, some 10,000 years ago. If you released them into the wild they would just die.

    So there no “normal natural business” like you would indicate if you were referring to a wild animal like a baboon or whale. Their entire lives – and existence – are human-guided.

  5. Like I say people.. please donate. The sooner the day comes the better for all living creatures! Catalans have banned it… even Argentina has banned it..along with countless other countries…. It really is, thankfully, only a matter of time before Spain proper follows suit.

    This is well deserved… “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owm4HiufDiI” (Not suitable for minors!)

    This one.. well.. it’s just class… “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK7LW_mW5h4”

    …. and you wish for me to die horribly too? Do you mean by being teased tormented and speared to death? Surely not

  6. The website entitled visit.guide-spain.com shows various places of interest throughout Spain, such as bullfighting events, the running of the bulls, churches, monasteries and cathedrals. They have requested comments on these places for their Facebook page, so comments condemning bullfighting, the running of the bulls and fiestas involving animal cruelty could be made. Also comments calling on the church to condemn these atrocities could be made on the church, cathedral and monastery pages.

  7. see you fell into the trap ‘I hope you die horribly too M Hawkins.’
    …pathetic

    I bet the Spanish bullfighting supporters (not the majority by the way!) have really taken you in their arms! A British person who really loves bullfighting!

    I agree with other posts… SUCKER!!!!

  8. I wouldn’t put my name on any shady petitions. It’s pretty clear the Spanish people are going to eventually ban bullfighting. British individuals just make themselves look close-minded and ethnocentric by thinking that other cultures – other countries – should conform to their moral standards. When the Spanish ban it, fine. It will be a result of a change in Spanish culture internally – not due to ethnocentric external pressure.

    How long have the British been crusading around the world attempting to foist their morality upon other cultures, by the way?

    Privacy International ranked the United Kingdom #1 as far as privacy violations and lack of personal privacy. Compare to France or Spain, where recording non consenting individuals in public (even by police) is often illegal. Perhaps some Spanish and French crusaders need to go up north and teach the British about human rights.

  9. “British individuals just make themselves look close-minded and ethnocentric by thinking that other cultures – other countries – should conform to their moral standards” ??

    They aren’t just ‘British moral standards’ – It’s most of the decent folk around the world standards…. It wasn’t that long ago we chased poor little foxes around the countryside on horseback and with packs of dogs rip them apart. We’ve banned that by popular demand and common sense. It was outdated and cruel, as is, Bull fighting.

  10. Allow me to give my thoughs on this article:
    The writer has half a point when he says that people who condemn bullfighting and eat beef are being hypocrites. As the wellfare of most of the cattle killed for their meat is still not up to scratch, chances are the animal whose meat you eat has suffered during its life (not enough space, daylight, boredom, stress, etc.). Unless you have bought biological meat. Nevertheless, meatcattle have not been tortured and are killed humanely. It is debatable which animal has suffered more, the bull that is actively tortured for 30 minutes or a cow that has suffered from bad circumstances for years. That’s why you should eat less meat and only biologically produced meat.
    The reference to violence in Hollywood films is irrelevant, as we all know it is fiction. The writer talkes about what Spanish aficionados like to see in a good bullfight. All the ‘civilised virtues’ the spectators want to see can be achieved without torturing and killing the bull. In fact, it would even be a bigger feat to display the virtues (courage, dexterity, stamina and elegance) opponing a bull that has not been handicapped. It would take much more stamina, courage and dexterity from the matador! The writer says the corrida asks for a theatrical ritual sacrifice, and so contradicts his earlier statement about what the public wants to see. He gives no further explanation or justification about why the bull has to be tortured and killed.
    Furthermore, he admits the bull has to be speared “In order to be able to ‘dance’ with the bull …, it must be reduced from its initial fearsome proportion”. E.G.: Otherwise the matador would have no chance, not so courageous then is he? So it remains an unfair fight, but the matador turns around the advantage with the help of the picadors.
    He then dares to state that the bull has had a great life and then has to fight for 25 minutes during which he feels no pain (sorry but that’s how I read it) because of adrenaline and most importantly endorphins. I am not an expert on stresshormones in animals but last time I checked, adrenaline does not last for a very long time, and endorphins are released AFTER an animal has been in a fight-or-flight situation that HAS ENDED. Obviously the fight situation the bull is in never stops until the bull dies, so endorphine is never generated. Furthermore with regard to the comments Alexander writes that the bull does not run away, well he quite obviously can’t flee the ring can he?
    Summarising what I think about the writers arguments: a load of BULLSHIT!

  11. @ Irene

    Fairness has nothing to do with the corrida – nothing. Neither are the words fight or sport ever used in Spanish. Saying it would be more “fair” done differently is like saying you dislike Hamlet because the odds are stacked against him. As for the fictional nature of Hollywood: yes, but the entire output of the BBC Natural History unit is not.

    As for the pain of the bull, as I said, I did not write that “quote” – however, as you say, “last time you checked” endorphins are released after fight-or-flight. When did you last check? Because fighting bulls are INVARIABLY swimming in them every time they are autopsied, which is often.

    Finally, my article was of finite length, so I can not go into depth, about why real death is necessary, or how any bullfighter could easily kill a bull uninjured as it leaves the gate but there’d be no show – it is disingenuous to claim that everything could be covered in anything short of a book, which is what I wrote.

    However, beyond that, do you not think it the very height of arrogance to approach a centuries old tradition and say in a few scrawled lines, ‘ not only is this wrong, but I could make it so much better,” having, it would seem, to have ever seen it or read about it beyond this one 1,200-word article.

    Bullshit, indeed…

    @ M Hawkins

    Ignorance getting the better of you again? There are more foxhunts now than per-ban. “http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/countryside/8872182/Why-fox-hunting-is-more-popular-than-ever.html”

  12. I agree Reality. Spanish have to ban this so called sport not Brits trying to. However the person writing this tripe is a British person who should never have got into this sickening way of life. He’s on a cold hearted mission. F*** tradition. What about gladiators… continue that ‘sport’ shall we. This writer should be banned from this website! egotistical ****** (I’ll leave this starred to call him what you will).

  13. Ignorance getting the better of you again? There are more foxhunts now than per-ban. “http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/countryside/8872182/Why-fox-hunting-is-more-popular-than-ever.html”

    Don’t believe everything you read… They try to say Fox Hunting is still going on, but we all know it’s just the toff’s way of making out they wasn’t defeated.. In a way, I miss them.. I used to follow them and spook the horses til they threw their riders (I know, a bit cruel, but if it saved a fox and no horses were hurt!) One (hunter) had quite bad head injuries.. did I feel bad.. NO.. I was just defending a living creatures right to be on this planet… Fox hunting will NEVER return. Bull Fighting will be BANNED (already is in most parts) Just because something is ‘centuries old’ doesn’t mean it’s right or should continue..

    Like I said before. I reckon some people must have be badly abused as a child and don’t even know what their own parents were truly like. Blocked it all out and take it out on animals instead… Shame really

  14. I know I do. Various causes actually. Mostly the innocent and or those that can’t voice for themselves. More of champ than you will ever be.. Now.. go chat with your parents. Ask why you are like this? (They must be so proud of you – or at least, that’s what they tells you)

    “http://www.manyvoicespress.org/”

  15. Just hearing they might be banning bullfighting in Mexico City at the Plaza Mexico soon, one of the world’s biggest bullrings. Hopefully this will spell the start of the demise of this disgusting so called ‘sport’ over the world! I’m fine with it if it’s something to read about in history books! Eat a steak whilst saying ‘I’m so glad this is dead!! hooray!’ as if… Philosophise all you want! haha. How dull is that listening to you – let’s pray for Mexico!!

  16. Sorry torture boy (TB™). I think I just used capitals saying ‘torture boy’ & they were omitted. I’ll let you carry on your studies of glorifying torture to whoever wants to read then lengths of torture you write so positively about…

  17. Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and
    say I really enjoy reading through your blog posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same
    subjects? Thank you!

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