The spectacle of bullfighting pits a man against a charging bull. The bullfighter, called a matador, faces the bull in a large dirt-filled arena that is usually surrounded by spectators. Aided by a group of apprentices, called the cuadrilla, the matador goads the bull into charging at him. A bullfight usually features three matadors, each of whom fights two bulls. The bulls are of a distinctly savage breed especially trained to attack humans. A bullfight is relentless. If a matador is injured, another replaces him, and the bull is killed at the end of each match. To followers of bullfighting the contest between man and beast demonstrates human skill and courage as does no other sport. However, many people believe bullfighting is barbaric and inhumane.
The contest begins with a colorful grand entrance by the participants. The actual fight starts when the picadors, who are horse-mounted members of the cuadrilla.
They fend off the bull's charges with sharp steel-tipped pikes, called pics. They weaken and anger the bull by piercing its neck and shoulders. Then come the banderilleros, named after their banderillas, or decorated barbed sticks. Clutching a stick in each hand, they rush the bull on foot and plant the barbs in the animal's neck, weakening and angering the beast even more.
Finally the matador comes in for the kill. Brightly dressed, he uses a sword draped with a cloth, called muleta. After a number of intricate passes with the muleta, during which the matador must work extremely close to the bull, the matador sights the bull along his sword, runs forward, and plunges it in, aiming for the half-dollar-size spot between the shoulders. If the sword enters correctly between the shoulder blades, it severs the aorta, or great artery, and the animal dies almost instantly.
A crowd-pleasing matador may be awarded one or both of the bull's ears or its ears and tail. An exceptionally fierce bull may be honored by having its body paraded around the arena. The one thing that sets the Spanish apart from most Europeans living beyond the Pyrenees mountains is their national spectacle of bullfighting. Every city and most towns of any size boast a bullring, where the crowds cheer their favorite but jeer the inept matador, or bullfighter, as he faces his large-horned adversary. Many Northern Europeans are critical of bullfighting and condemn it as a cruel blood sport. Most Spaniards, however, do not see it this way. To them bullfighting is an exciting test of bravery, skill, and grace..
Although bullfighting has been described as inhumane and has been little practiced outside the Iberian peninsula and the Latin America, its defenders say that it is too much ingrained in the culture of the participating countries to ban. Therefore, it appears that bullfighting will be around for years to come, even though it may be limited to a few small countries.