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The blood and soul of Spain?Image: dpa - Fotoreport

Budding Bullfighters

Danny Wood (win)
June 19, 2005

Many regard bullfights as barbaric, but millions in Spain still see this contest between man and beast as an expression of tradition and culture. The next generation of bullfighters is preparing to enter the arena.


Nicolas Varon, 78, has spent most of his life fighting bulls or training bullfighters. He runs Madrid's bullfighting school on the outskirts of the city, where a dozen boys aged 12 to18 are practicing how to use the "banderillas," the colorful, long darts that are used to stab the bull around its shoulders.

The school has about 100 students, who spend four years practising the techniques involved in fighting a bull. It takes considerable dedication -- the boys and girls turn up after school as many as five times a week.

A nice body's important

They learn everything from presenting the flag, to stabbing the bull, to posing correctly. But Varon said there are other things that are equally important to become a good bullfighter.

Stierkampf in Spanien Frau
Outfits are tight for men and women alikeImage: AP

"Above all else enthusiasm, that's very important, also bravery, and that they really want to be a bullfighter, that they're ambitious," he said, adding that they have to have a good body as well.

"The outfits look so beautiful on a person with a good aesthetic," he said.

But why do these boys and girls want to risk their lives in front of a stampeding bull? Fran, a plucky boy of 15 tried to explain.

"I do it for the women," he said. "No, I love the bullfight and bullfighting. It's all about heart and soul."

The most beautiful thing in the world?

And the best bullfighters earn big money and are treated something like football stars.

"It can be the most beautiful thing in the world," Varon said. "I know that boys study to be architects, engineers or a lawyer or a judge. I say I'm a bullfighter. There's nothing better. The ambition, fame, the money the adoration of the public. It's mythical stuff, sensational. It's something that can't be equalled by anything else in the world."

Spanische Stierkämperin Elisabet Pinero
Young bullfighters start with young bullsImage: dpa - Bildarchiv

Some might suggest that surfing comes a close second. For one thing, at least you don't have to overcome the fear of facing a huge, raging bull -- or even a small cow.

Alvaro, 13, laughed when he talked about how terrified he was when he first had to face a small cow to practice. But he added the fear is something you get through. He's confident it will be the same with real bulls.

Near-death experiences

Stierkampf in Spanien Mann auf dem Kopf
More often, it's the bullfighter that lands on his headImage: AP

Sometimes bullfighters do get hurt, however. Jose Luis, one of the teachers and still a bullfighter himself, has nearly been killed on about four separate occasions. In one incident with a bull, he ruptured his spleen, in another fight a kidney. A horn has penetrated his chest. The latest disaster left him in a wheelchair, but somehow he's now walking again.

The bull on the other hand always lose sand gets killed at the end of a fight. But teachers and students at the bullfighting school really believe that they are part of the blood and soul of Spain.

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