Afternoon in the Arena: Spanish Bullfighting

First of all, I just want to preview that there might be some graphic images sensitive to some eyes. It’s mostly informational and a look into a huge part of their culture.

Here are the basics.

Before the fight:

There are two types of corridas(bullfights):

  • Rejones: This is where the matador (main man) rides on horseback.
  • Normal Corrida: This is where the matador is on the ground running around the bull.

I saw my first bullfight in Madrid at the famous Las Ventas stadium and it was Rejones. It was a very good first experience and I enjoyed it because of the culture and the techniques. I don’t think anyone’s answer to why they like a bullfight is because the bull dies. It’s just the final act of the show. I didn’t really have plans to see another one, but when they opened the bullring in my town for the first time since 1908 and one of my previous students was the matador, I had to go. Yes, my 16 year old student killed a bull two bulls.

Things to know:

  • When you buy tickets you will have to pick a section sombra(shade) or sol(sun). The sombra tickets are going to be cheaper. The sunny seats aren’t terrible at all, just bring some sunglasses or a visor.
  • Bring a jacket or something to sit on. There are no comfy seats. In most cases, you are sitting on a cinderblock. Or you can buy/rent a cushion to enjoy the 2 hour fight more comfortably.
  • The bulls will die. And there will be blood. So if you have a queasy stomach, you might opt to see highlights on tv or youtube instead of the live time show.
  • Yes, I used plural bulls. Usually for each corrida, there are multiple bull fighters(mataderos) and they have two bulls each to kill.


1. Entrance. The bull runs into the ring and multiple fighters use the red/yellow cape to tire the bull out. Yell “Olé” when it’s a good pass. Or they run around on horseback.


2. Picadores. This is where they take a small lance and jab it right behind the neck to weaken the bull.

3. Banderillas. This is where they take larger lances with hooks at the end to further weaken the bull.


4. Tercio de Muerte (third of death). This stage, the matadero takes a red cape and a sword to do the final job. It’s not bing, bang, boom done. The matadero has to get a hold of the bull and find its tendencies. The bull does several passes under the red cape. When the matadero deems it ready, they plant the sword right into the back of the bull. Then they get the bull to do a few more passes with the cape to get it to fall down and eventually die. That part is fairly quick.

5. Waving of the handkerchiefs. When the bull takes it’s final breath, the crowd takes out their Kleenex or handkerchiefs and waves them in the air. Then the president of the bull association deems how good of a kill it was. They will signal with white handkerchiefs. If they put one, one ear is cut off the bull and the matadero throws it into the audience. If they put two white handkerchiefs, then two ears. And for three, they cut off the tail too!


Personal stories:

1st bullfight with my cousins. My cousins came in for the week and they surprised me with tickets to a big corrida in Las Ventas. Little did I know, my cousin’s wife didn’t know they killed the bulls. Much less that there were going to be 6 dead bulls at the end of the night. So we got some big glasses of tinto de verano and that soothed her a bit. Then a bathroom break for one of the bulls and we left early because it started to rain. But I’ll never forget my cousin’s commentary, we had great seats right up front, so he gave a play by play like we were watching a baseball game! Thanks Matthew and McKay for a first great bullfight experience!


2nd bullfight to watch one of my students be the bullfighter. Everything was going well and then one of the assistant older men was doing passes with the cape and the bull. There is a loud crash bang sound, the crowd gasps, and the man goes down. The bulls go back towards him and some other assistants quickly distract the bull to the other side of the ring. Four men pick up the wounded man and carry him out of the arena. I’m not sure who’s face went more pale: mine or my 16 year old student who had to continue to kill this bull. Probably one of the scariest things I’ve seen here in Spain or ever in my life. About 30 minutes later, the man walks back into the area and we can all see that he is fine. Thank the Lord! And with that experience, I think my bullfight days are done. I can successfully say I’ve seen two corridas and I’ve learned a lot culturally through the experience.


This kid is 16. BRAVO


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