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  • © Jim Hollander

    © Jim Hollander

  • © Jim Hollander

    © Jim Hollander

What is a bull-fight?

A normal bullfight consists of three “tercios” and two “suertes”. In Pamplona there is an extra session which is the snack-break after the third bull

A normal bullfight is divided into three parts - first the "Varas" - where the cape is used to examine the qualities of the bull - second - the "Banderillas" - where the two assistants of the bullfighter attempt to play some darts on the bull's back. The final part is the fight to the death of the bull. In addition, there are two "suertes" - this is the cape work from the bullfighter using two distinct capes - one with a wooden stick as a bar on the cape. In Pamplona, after the third bull, there is the "suertes" (‘luck') of the snack-break, which is usually something more than a snack. Here the people eat and drink heartily and little attention is paid to what is going on inside the ring.

The very first movement is when two horsemen, in all their plumed finery, suddenly burst into the middle of the ring at a gallop. They turn aside in opposite directions and gallop round the arena on each side. When their paths cross the public give a loud OOH ! to acclaim the possible collision which never happens. (Just another of those eternal little rites of San Fermin !)

Then comes the parade of the bull-fighters and their entourage, and all the other people who will have some part to play in the event such as the "picadores" on their horses and carrying their lance, the "banderilleros" who are dressed like the bull-fighters but whose function is to run at the bulls and stick darts into their backs as a preliminary to the bull-fighters work. There are others similarly dressed- the "Peones" - but whose function is simply to play with the bull with their coloured capes so that the bull-fighter can watch the way that the bull charges and turns with his horns. The "Mulillas" also take part in the parade and these are the men and horses which will drag the body of the dead bull from the ring.

After they salute the balcony of the president, permission is given for the bull-fight to begin. The same ritual which has gone on for countless years. There are three bull-fighters and two bulls for each one. The order is fixed: the first bull-fighter fights the first and fourth bull, the second one will fight the second and fifth, the third will fight the third and sixth bull.

Each bull-fight has three standard movements, called "tercios"

The first "tercio" takes place as soon as the bull is released into the ring. The "peones" tempt the bull with their capes so that the quality of the bull charges can be appreciated. They will lead him over different sections of the ring so that his reactions can be carefully noted by the bull-fighter. Then the "Picador" appears with his horse and lance. He will pierce the back of the bull with his steel lance to weaken it and to tame some of his fierce energy. This is known as making a "puya" and is not popular with the crowd as they don't want the animal to be made too weak. On the other hand, the bull-fighter does want him to be weakened. The bull-fighter then plays with the bull with a yellow cape to learn more about the way it charges and turns.

The second "tercio" begins when the "banderilleros" take up their running position with a dart in each hand and they must run at the bull and stick these large darts, with a small steel hook at the end, into the back of the bull. There are usually three of these men who act in quick succession making a total of six darts in all.

The third "tercio" is when the bull-fighter uses his red and yellow cape held by a wooden sword. He carries out several different movements where he tries to dominate the bull. When the bull is sufficiently tired, he changes the wooden sword for a steel one and with this sword he will give the final "estocada" where he must bury the sword in a small area of the animal's back to kill him.

Once the bull is dead, the president of the arena decides if he will concede any award to the bull-fighter. If he has done everything well, the public acclaim him and appeal for an award (This could be one ear, two ears, two ears and the tail, depending on how well he has done everything). If the bull-fighter has been bad, the crowd will boo and hiss and the luckless bull-fighter will have to wait for another better day.

And the crowd await the second bull and hope for a better fight. And that's the ritual for all six bulls. And after that the show is over for another day.

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