Portuguese Style Bloodless Bullfighting in California

Bloodless bullfighting is a style of bullfighting which originated in Portugal and adjusted to accommodate the laws of the United States.

Unlike the classical Spanish style bullfight, the Portuguese-style bullfighting (also known as Portuguese tourada, corrida de touros or tauromaquia) in Portugal, does not involve killing of the bulls in the arena, but some blood is drawn to slow the bull down.

Bloodless bullfighting in California is Portuguese-style. Artful and yet skillful, bloodless bullfighting evolved so that the Portuguese people can enjoy part of their heritage and culture in the United States.

The difference between bloodless bullfighting in California, and the bullfighting in Portugal is the use of hook and loop fasteners. To keep this sport "bloodless", one inventive Portuguese came up with the idea of using "Velcro". A large piece of Velcro is placed on the back of the bull, while the other end is placed at the tip of the banderillas, a long stick/spear, with tassles or some kind of a decoration around it. This mechanism replaced the banderillas which possessed the 3-inch nails/barb used in the classic Spanish style of bullfighting. In Portugal, they use the banderillas, but with smaller nails/barb to slow the bull down.


1 History

There is some history about Portuguese bullfights. One influential deciding factor for not killing bulls in Portuguese bullfights was the Battle of Salga, on the island of Terceires. This battle, also known as the Battle of the Bloody Sea, occurred on July 5, 1581, when a fleet of ten Spanish ships anchored off the shore of Terceira. Early in the morning on July 20, the Spanish sent their army in to invade. About mid-day, as the fighting still seemed indecisive a friar named Pedro thought of the idea of driving a 1000 wild cattle toward the Spanish lines. The strategy was a success, driving the Spanish back to the beach in an attempt to reach their ships. Almost all of the invaders were killed or drowned in their attempt to flee, hence the name Battle of the Bloody Sea.

Much later, in 1836, Portugal deemed the killing of bulls to be immoral, and passed a law banning the public killing of bulls. However, this law only lasted one year. The second time a law was passed prohibiting the public killing of bulls was in 1928.

Death bullfights were made legal again in 2002 by the Portuguese Parliament, saying that it has been a social tradition. In the past, when the Portuguese government deemed it illegal to kill the bulls, there was a great social outcry to legalize it again. In 2002, there was again a social outcry, but this time to keep illegal the killing of the bulls.

The tradition of bullfighting (corrida) originated in ancient times as a pastime of cattle-drivers, similarly as the rodeo of american cowboys. It was so immensely popular that it became the Spanish national sport. Its tradition is alive to the present days.

2 Opening ceremony

Opening ceremony of a Portuguese style bloodless bullfight in California
Opening ceremony of a Portuguese style bloodless bullfight in California

The ceremony (called the cortesias in Portuguese) starts with all of the performers and participants entering the arena, including the bandaleiros (helpers) and Pustals (bull herders), with the sounds of a Filarmonica (band), playing a march or a paso doble.

Here is the order of entrance during the ceremony, as well as the fundamentals of a Portuguese style bloodless bullfight:

2.1 Forcados

Forcados do Sul de California attempting to grab the bull
Forcados do Sul de California attempting to grab the bull
  • First are the Forcados... eight men who line up in the middle of the arena to grab the bull while it is charging towards them. The front man calls out to the bull, getting its attention to charge towards him, to perform a pega de cara or pega de caras (face catch). The front man secures himself on top of the animal's head and is quickly aided by his fellows who surround and secure the animal until he is subdued.
  • The name forcado in Portuguese means "pitchfork" (a long stick with a u-shape steel at the top), which the forcados use to carry in their hands when appearing in the arena. Traditionally, the pitchfork was used to help ward off the bull from the king and queen.
  • The Forcados wear a costume similar to the style of a matador, but are not flashy and as decorative and bright. They wear a black knee pants, bolero style jacket with slits in the armpits (for movement), white socks, brown leather shoes, and a green & red hat (looking almost like an elf's hat). They also carry with them a pitchfork inside the arena during the opening ceremony only and not while they grab the bull.
  • Forcados are not professionals like bullfighters, because there is no formal training or certification to become one. Although, they take their craft very seriously and everything must be done the traditional way (from entering the arena to how the bull is grabbed).
  • Modern day Forcados range from students to professionals.

2.2 Matadores

Matador Jose Luis Angelino
Matador Jose Luis Angelino

Then enters the Matadores (professional) / Novilleros (amateur), meaning "killer", and one that bullfights on foot. These are the men wearing skin tight pants and a bolero jacket called a "Suit of Light" (traje de luces), along with pink socks. Very similar to the Spanish matadores and most who come are from Mexico.

  • A professional bullfighter is one who gets paid.
  • A true Matador is one who takes their "alternativa" (a ceremony to become a professional).
  • Prior to being called a Matador, an amateur bullfighter is known as a Novillero (or a becerrista).
  • The Suit of Light is the Matador's costume, worn since the mid 18th century.
    • The garment is made of silk with intricate designs, and adorned with gold sequins.
    • Anyone can wear the "Suit of Ligths", but it is frowned upon by professionals and aficionados if the person wearing it has not taken their alternativa. It's a "right of passage".
  • The Matador's assistants inside the arena are called "Banderilleros". They are toreros, skilled like the Matadors, but they are not professionals.
    • They wear the "Suit of Lights" called the pasa maria, made of silk, but the adornments are in silver and not gold. The gold sequins is reserved for a real Matador.
    • The Banderilleros job is to strategically place the bull where the Matador or the Cavaleiro tells them to. They also distract the bull while the Matador or Cavaleiro position themselves in the arena.

2.3 Puastal (bull herders)

Puasta/bull herders
Puasta/bull herders
  • Then come the Puastal (bull herders), the men who bring the bull from the pen to the arena. These are the people who work very closely with the Ganadero (bull breeder) and they also do most of the preparation of the bull before an event, like tying the leather wrap around the horns (for the Cavaleiros and Forcados), and sometimes cutting/filing the pointy tip of the horn for the Matadors. Then they place and glue the Velcro on top of the bull's back.

They range from students to professionals.

2.4 Cavaleiros

Cavaleiro Vasco Taborda, Jr. with a black Lusitano named Indio during an opening ceremony of a bloodless bullfight
  • The Cavaleiros (rejoneadores in Spanish style), are the horsemen who enters the ring mounted on magnificently trained horses. They are dressed in a Portuguese-style costume that are the traditional 18th century attire, while the Rejoneadors (Spanish-style) costume consist of a bolero and leather chaps.
  • They are the main performers of a Portuguese style bullfight, exhibiting on horseback the technical movements and the extraordinary ability of the horses, along with their skill and bravery.
  • Fighting on horseback is a central feature of Portuguese bullfighting.
    • Horseback bullfighters are frequently members of old aristocratic families

2.4.1 Cavalos

an Azteca horse (Quarter horse x Lusitano mix breed)
an Azteca horse (Quarter horse x Lusitano mix breed)
  • Centuries ago, Spanish Andalusians and Portuguese Lusitanos were the only breed of horses used and specially trained for the bullfights.
  • These horses are usually skilled in dressage and display their art in the arena.
  • Movements of a Lusitano are not so strong and the back is a little bit more flexible - that is the best part of the Lusitano and you can sit on them better.
  • Lusitanos are better at the high movements of dressage, piaffe, passage, pirouettes and not so good competing in the extended movements. In canter they are good, they are wonderful with flying changes.
  • In modern days, it is acceptable and common to crossbreed horses to find the perfect breed and improve the performance of a bullfighting horse. Other breeds include Arabians, Quarter Horse, Aztecas, and Thoroughbreds, just to name a few.
  • Here's a few examples of what breeders have discovered as potential for cross breeding: Aztecas (Lusitano/Andalusian x Quarter Horse), Anglo-Arabs (Thoroughbred x Arabians), and Arabs x Lusitanos are just a few that are becoming well-known in the mainstream, due to the strength and speed that each produces. This is also done because the fighting bulls are becoming stronger and faster.

2.5 End of opening ceremony

After everyone has made their way in and around the arena, one by one, they go to the front and center of the ring, where they ceremoniously salute the presiding official-the director of the bullfight, starting with the Cavaleiros and ending with the Puastals (bull herders).

3 Bullfight

Director of a Bloodless Bullfight in Artesia, CA
Director of a Bloodless Bullfight in Artesia, CA

A typical bullfight has 6 scenes with 6 bulls, giving each performers 3 bulls each. Usually, the line-up is listed as follows:

  • Scene 1, Act 1, Bull 1: Cavaleiro
  • Scene 1, Act 2, Bull 1: Forcados
  • Scene 2, Act 1, Bull 2: Matador
  • Scene 3, Act 1, Bull 3: Cavaleiro
  • Scene 3, Act 2, Bull 3: Forcados
  • Scene 4, Act 1, Bull 4: Matador
  • Scene 5, Act 1, Bull 5: Cavaleiro
  • Scene 5, Act 2, Bull 5: Forcados
  • Scene 6, Act 1, Bull 6: Matador

Notice how the Cavaleiro's act is immediately followed by the Forcados without changing bulls. Usually, the intermission occurs in between the 3rd and 4th bull, allowing a 15-30 minute break for all of the performers and attendees to either get something to eat or stretch their legs.

Once a bullfight is in session, it is with respect that the noise level is kept at a minimum, and the audiences do not stand up or run around. Doing so will distract the bull and could result in serious injuries to either the performers or the crowds in the stands. It's not often, but it can happen, where a bull will jump into the stands causing harm to people.

4 Filarmónica (band)

The bands (Filarmónica) provide traditional music during a bullfight. Such styles include a Paso Dobles Taurinos, Marchas/Marches, and Pecas de Concerto/ Concert Pieces. It can motivate the bullfighter to do better as well as add excitement to the crowd [citation needed].

5 Performances

5.1 Scene 1, Act 1: CAVALEIRO

Cavaleiro going toe-to-toe with a fighting bull
Cavaleiro going toe-to-toe with a fighting bull

The Cavaleiro is always the first act of a bullfight. He enters the gates and waits for his opponent to hand him his first banderilla that he will fight with. This is a respectable gesture wishing him good luck. He then rides around the arena, showing off the horse while exercising at the same time (like stretching out before running). He will then dedicate his bull to either the bull owner, horse owner, the director, or someone whom he feels like honoring that moment. He hands them his hat and then gives the signal to the director that he is now ready to fight.

The fight starts when the bugle gives the signal to open the gates of the pen, and thus the first bull is released.

Without going into too much of the details, this is where man and horse both exhibit their skillful movements, while the bull shows his bravery and gives a good fight. The bandarilheiros are also in or partially inside the arena waiting and watching, in case the Cavaleiro needs him. Sometimes, the bull is not as cooperative where the expertise of a bandarilheiros is needed. Most often, the Cavaleiro prefers to do the work themself.

The Cavaleiros objective is to place several banderillas (short and long VTS/lances) on the bull where the Velcro has been placed (starting around the shoulder and extending towards half way of the back). It's almost like target, except everything has to be done just right. The first horse used is skilled for a Saida. The first part is where the Cavaleiro observes the bravery and movements of the bull. The cavaleiro will place around 3-6 lances and will then change horses. At this point, the Cavaleiro should already have an idea how the bull works and charges and can then determine which horse he will use next.

An exceptional Cavaleiro gives the bull the advantage by allowing it to initiate the charge first. A head-to-head action occurs until the very last second, while the horse dodges the impact of the bull by sidestepping and wrapping itself around the bull.

5.2 Scene 1, Act 2: FORCADOS

A Forcado group grabbing a bull
A Forcado group grabbing a bull

After the last bull has been fought by the horse rider, he will leave the arena and then the bugle will sound again, inviting the Forcados to enter the arena to attempt to grab the bull. They usually get only 3 attempts to make their grabs, but sometimes the director will offer leniency and allow them to continue for the 4th try. If the Forcados have not successfully grabbed the bull, then the audience will be very unhappy. Once they grabbed the bull, then it takes awhile to calm the animal down before they let go. During this time, you can see all 8 men tugging and pulling with the bull while the bull is trying to break free. Once they've subdued him, all but one let go, and the one that's left is hanging onto the tail while trying to get the bull to chase him in a circle. Once that's done, he then lets go and the crowd cheers him on.

The bugle sounds off again letting everyone know that they are done (successful or not).

5.2.1 Vuelta

The Vuelta of the Cavaleiro and Forcado with the bandarilheiros
The Vuelta of the Cavaleiro and Forcado with the bandarilheiros

At this point, if both the Cavaleiro and the Forcado (who made the grab) felt like they did good, they then walk around the arena (called a Vuelta) where the audience show their appreciation by tossing to them roses, candies, clothing, hats, and sometimes alcohol. Once completed, they go into the center of the arena thanking and taking their final bow to the audience.

5.3 Scene 2, Act 1: MATADOR

Matador exhibiting all 3 events of his act.. the Capote, Banderilla, and the Muleta/Faena.  NOTE:  at the time when this photo was taken, Matador Mario Miguel was a Novillero (amateur)?
Matador exhibiting all 3 events of his act.. the Capote, Banderilla, and the Muleta/Faena. NOTE: at the time when this photo was taken, Matador Mario Miguel was a Novillero (amateur)

The sounds of the bugle is heard and out comes the second bull, while the Matador has been waiting patiently to show his artful skill.

A matador is considered to be as much an artist as a competitor. The style and bravery of the matador is regarded as being at least as important as whether or not he actually kills the bull. With a bloodless bullfight, everything is the same, except the bull does not get kill, but is honored in the same fashion.

The whole procedure is the same as the traditional Spanish style, with a few exceptions here and there, namely what he uses at the end of his act. Due to the event being a "bloodless bullfight", there is no pardon given to the bull, where the bullfighter demonstrates each part throughout his scene.

5.3.1 Matador's performance Capote
  • The bull is tested for ferocity by the matador and banderilleros with the magenta and gold capote, or dress cape.
  • This initial section is called suerte de capote ("luck of the cape"). Here, there are a number of fundamental "lances" or passes that matadors make with the cape; the most common is the "veronica".
  • In the first stage, the tercio de varas ("Lances third"), the behavior of the bull is observed by the matador by the way the bull behaves in the arena and how he attacks the capes, when banderilleros play with the bull with their capes. The matador is particularly interested to know which horn the bull prefers to use, whether the bull charges in straight or curved lines, and whether or not the bull has eyesight problems (poor vision in one eye, for example, could result in unusual head movements). Sometimes, the bull will head for a particular part of the ring: a querencia, or territory. A bull trying to reach its ouerencia is often more dangerous than a bull that is attacking the cape directly. The matador will note the bull's peculiarities and then decide his strategy: how long the fight will last, which passes he'll try, how close he will get to the bull. Then the matador goes and confronts his adversary. If he performs with art and courage, he will be rewarded with an ovation. Banderillas
  • In the next stage, the tercio de banderillas ("banderillas third"), the Matador attempts to plant two banderillas (VTS/lances), on the bull's flanks. The placing of the banderillas is also the last chance to correct or fine-tune the charging tendencies of the bull. Sometimes, privilege is given to the two banderilleros to place the banderillas. In a traditional bullfight, if the bull proves to be extraordinarily weak or unwilling to fight, the presidente may order, to the disgrace of the breeder, the use of black banderillas. Because this is a bloodless bullfight, this part is not necessary. Muleta/Faena
Matador making a daring pass with his red cape
Matador making a daring pass with his red cape
  • In the final stage, the tercio de muerte ("death third"), the matador re-enters the ring alone with a small red cape or muleta in one hand and a sword in the other. This cape is stretched with a wooden dowel (as a batten stiffens a sail, and, in right-handed passes, the sword as well. Having dedicated the bull to an individual or the whole audience, he uses his cape to attract the bull in a series of passes, both demonstrating his control over it and risking his life by getting especially close to it. The red colour of the cape is a matter of tradition, as bulls are actually colour blind: they attack moving objects. There are a number of distinct styles of pass, each with its own name. The fundamental pass with the muleta is the "natural," traditionally meaning a left-handed pass with the muleta without the aid of the sword to prop it up.
  • The faena ("work") is the entire performance with the muleta, which is usually broken down into a series of "tandas" or "series". A typical tanda might consist of three to five basic passes and then a finishing touch, or "remate," such as a "pase de pecho," or "pase de desprecio." The faena ends with a final series of passes in which the matador with a muleta attempts to manoeuvre the bull into a position to place a banderilla (VTS spear) between the shoulder blades. The entire part of the bulfight with the muleta is called "el tercio de muerte" ("third of death") suerte de muleta ("act of muleta").

6 Safety measures

A leather wrap is used to cover the bulls horns to avoid injuries on either the horse, Cavaleiros, and the Forcados. This only prevents "serious" injuries to the performers. Because this is a bullfight, getting hurt in the arena is almost inevitable, especially for the Forcados. A good horsemen will ensure the safety of the horse, otherwise, he can easily fall off.

For the Matadors, they sometimes file down the horns to make it more blunt and less harmful, but not too much or the bull loses his balance. Besides that, the fight for a Matador needs to be a little more challenging and exciting.

7 Ganadarias and fighting bulls

The bulls are bred as "fighting bulls" and specifically for bullfighting. They are also treated with respect and love by the Ganadarias (bull owners/breeders) who bring them to the fight. 15 minutes of fame and glory take at least 3 years for the bull to debut at an event. Due to the high intelligence of a bull, they can only be run once inside an arena because every minute, they are absorbing and learning the technique of what's going on. Each entertainer must be quick and savvy to do what he needs to do. Otherwise, they may lose the interest of the bull and/or the audience.

After the bull has done its deed, a group of cows brings him out of the bullfighting arena and back inside the pen. They are not killed immediately and their future is usually retirement in the pasture to relax, graze, and/or breed and then they eventually go to the slaughterhouse. It can take years before they are slaughtered. If the bull shows strength and bravery in the arena, then the Ganadero will use him to breed more of his kind.

Every year, each Ganadaria has a "Tienta" (or "tenta"), which is basically a mini-festa/bullfight. This is the time when the calfs and heifers are branded. Then a few baby cows are tested to see if they have what it takes to be a good fighting bull. This is done at the age of no less than 1-1/2 years old. Tientas are usually small and are sometimes "invitation only" parties, and occurs before the start of bullfighting season and sometimes after.

8 Azorean style

In the Azores, they practice a different kind of bullfighting, in addition to the traditional style called Touradas á corda (bullfight on a rope). This very special event is unique to the Azores, and has been practiced since 16th Century. From May to October there will be about 250 events on the Azores. The bull is let loose with a very long rope around its neck, usually at the main road in a small village. Before every bull is getting out of a wooden crate, there will be launched a small rocket which makes a loud noise. This signal indicates, that there is a bull on the street, and the game is ready to begin. The bull is guided by several experienced men, keeping a grip at the rope. The whole idea is, that the local young men now try to get as close to the bull as they dare, teasing the bull which is getting agitated. All this game is very amusing and dangerous, and in a way also an attempt for the local boys to impress the local girls.

After a while the bull is taken back to the wooden crate as it arrived in, and another rocket will be launched, announcing a break in the game. Now it's time to move around, have something to eat, a drink ( or several ), or leave the village.

Similar to the running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, but they use an umbrella to taunt the bull, while it is tied with a rope around the neck, held by the "puastals" on one end to keep it from injuring the people. This is done on the streets and not inside the arena.

In California, the same is practiced, except the bull is inside the arena rather than the streets.

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