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Bullfighting Ritual

Bullfighting in Spain

The Bullfight is an important tradition in Spain although at the same time the most polemical. Find out more information about bullfighting ritual.

The modern corrida is highly ritualized, with three distinct stages or tercios ("thirds"), the start of each being announced by a trumpet sound.

The corrida starts with a parade called paseíllo in which the participants enter the arena to salute the presiding dignitary.

Stage 1 - Tercio de Varas ("third of lances")
In the first stage, the bull enters the ring where it will be tested by the matador and banderilleros with the required tanda ("series of passes") using the capote. During this phase the matador observes the bull's behavior, how it charges and its ferocity.

Next, two picadores enter the arena armed with a long lance or varas and mounted on large heavily padded and blindfolded horses. When the bull attacks the horse the picador stabs just behind the morillo, a mound of muscle on the bull's neck. The manner in which the bull charges the horse also provides important clues to the matador regarding which side the bull prefers. If successful, the combination blood loss and the force exerted by the bull to lift the horse up with its neck and horns will strain the bull enough to cause it to hold its head lower during the following stages of the bullfight. This is a mandatory step in the corrida which makes the bull's charges less dangerous and more reliable, enabling the matador to perform.

Stage 2 - Tercio de banderillas (“third of flags”)
In the next stage, the tercio de banderillas, the three banderilleros each attempt to plant two banderillas, or sharp barbed sticks, into the bull's shoulders. The banderillas further weaken the bull but also anger it, cause it to make more ferocious charges. Sometimes the matador places his own banderillas.

Stage 3 - Tercio de Muerte ("third of death")
In this stage, the matador re-enters the ring with a red cape or muleta stretched over a wooden dowel in one hand and a sword in the other. From the moment the first pass is performed, the matador has a total of 15 minutes to kill the bull.

The matador will perform a series of tanda, different series of passes all with specific names that make up the faena, or entire performance with the muleta. The faena ends with a series of passes in which the matador attempts to maneuver the bull into a position to kill it with an estocada, or the thrusting of the sword between the bull's shoulder blades and through the heart. A clumsy estocada can raise loud protests and destroy the whole performance.

If the matador is unsuccessful in the estocada, a descabello must be performed in which the matador uses a verdugo sword to lower the bull's head by pricking its nose and then delivers a quick thrust to the back of the bull's neck with the intention of severing its spinal cord to kill it instantly. If the bull does not die immediately a coup de grace s performed by a puntillero or cachetero in which a dagger is used to completely pierce the spinal cord.

The bull's body is then dragged out by a team of mules or horses. If the residing official is impressed with the animal, it may be drug around the arena as an honor. Very rarely, a bull may be granted an indulto, or pardon for an outstanding performance. The indulto is requested by the public by waving handkerchiefs before the estocada and must be approved by the president. If pardoned, the bull will be symbolically freed by the matador, which is a great honor. The bull will never fight again as no bull with any experience can ever be used more than once because they learn from experience and thus would be too dangerous.

If the matador has performed particularly well, the crowd may petition the president to award the matador an ear of the bull by waving white handkerchiefs. If his performance was exceptional, the president will award two, and in some rings a tail can also be awarded. If the matador won at least two ears during the corrida then he is eligible for salida en hombros, to be carried out on the shoulders of admirers.

Bullfighter Gorings

Bullfighting has gotten much safer over the years, especially with the introduction of padded protection for the horses and special medical surgical units for the toreros. For toreros, the most dangerous part of the corrida is when they perform the estocada. With no protection, one error can cost life of the matador. Cogidas is the word used when the torero is “gored” by the bull.

Bullfighting Controversy

Bullfighting has generated controversy in many parts of the world, including Spain, Portugal, Peru, Mexico and Ecuador. It was even recently prohibited in Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain. Supporters argue that it is a cultural tradition and an important source of tourism while animal rights advocates consider it a blood sport that tortures both bulls and horses.