Spanish Bull Fighting Rules

by Michael Monet

Bullfighting is an ancient Spanish art form still practiced today. The fights consist of three acts, each performed within the confines of formal rules. Through each act, the fighter, call a "torero," is at real risk of being gored by the bull's horns or trampled beneath his feet. If the bull is successfully hooked three times on each shoulder in the ritualistic dance, he is killed with a single sword pierce to the heart.


The bullfight starts with the "passeilo." Each member of the bullfight enters the ring, presenting themselves to the president as well as the audience. There are two members called "alguacilillos" who ride in on horseback and ask the president for the keys to the pen where the bulls are waiting. The door is opened and the bulls enter the ring. There are two bulls to every bullfighters. There are three bullfighters total. Toreros, or bullfighters, work with the bull through the fight, but the matador is the captain of the team and member who eventually kills the bull. The fight occurs in three formal stages called "tercios."

First Tercio

In the first tercio, the bullfighter is armed with a "capote," a cape that is mauve colored on one side and yellow on the reverse side. The ring where the bull and bullfighter meet is covered in sand. "Aficionados," or students of bullfighting, watch closely to judge whether the bullfighter is obeying the rules and etiquette of bullfighting. The bullfighter holds the capote up to his chin. The bull is distracted by the crowd in the arena and at the end of the first tercio all members exit except the matador.

Second Tercio

At the start of the second tercio, two members of the bullfight called "picadors" enter on horses. When the bull sees the horses, he has an instinct to clear them out of the arena. Picadors are armed with a lance that pierces just like a bull's horns. The matador and picadors attempt to protect the horses that the picadors are riding. While protecting the horses, the picadors may pierce the bull a few times with their lances, but they may not severely injure the bull, as this is considered "ruining" the bull before his final tercio with the matador. When the picadors exit, "la suerte de banderillas" begins. The matador may place his own banderillas into the bull or this step can be done by members specifically termed banderilleros. Banderillas are brightly colored ribbons attached to barbed dowels. The dowels must be placed in the bull's flanks near his shoulder blades. Placing them improperly could result in the matador or banderillo being gored by the bulls horns. The matador or banderillo is allowed three chances to place six dowels properly.

Third Tercio

In the third tercio, the bullfighter wears a "suit of lights," pink socks and black slippers. The matador and the bull are the only two in the ring, and at the end of the third tercio one of their journeys will end in death. The matador must perform a few formal moves, including "passes" and a "natural." The bull passes the matador several times in front, and then the matador forces the bull to pass from behind him to the front in a natural. The natural is the most dangerous move because the matador's entire back is exposed to the bull until it is successfully brought around with the distraction of the matador's cape. After the natural, the crowd shouts "ole!" and the bull is taken to an area where he rests before being killed. The matador gets the bull to lower his head by bringing the cape across his knees, then pierces the bull's heart with the "muleta," or killing sword, bringing on instantaneous death.

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