A guide to traditional bullfighting techniques

A guide to traditional bullfighting techniques

Bullfights are a quintessential Spanish tradition, and they are deeply embedded into the Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona. Throughout the bullfights, the bullfighters, or toreros, use several techniques known as passes in order to control and weaken the bull while adding an artistic flourish to demonstrate their confidence.

Here are some of techniques that you'll see in Pamplona this July:

1. Verónica Pass: This is a fundamental, two-handed technique, in which the bullfighter stands in place, while moving his cape from one side of his body to the other, causing the bull to charge past him. Frequently, this move is repeated several times, causing the bull to charge back and forth until the series is ended with a Media-Verónica Pass. This move was named after St. Verónica, who is believed to have wiped sweat from Christ's brow. In Christian iconography, she is represented holding her cloth with both hands from the two top corners, just as the bullfighter holds his cape. Watch a video here.

2. Media Verónica Pass: The Media-Verónica involves a diagonal sweep of the cape across the torero's body, resulting in a half-circle motion that requires the bull to turn quickly. This move is a type of recorte, which is a move that forces the bull to stop his charge, ultimately leading him to stand motionless while the audience applauds the bullfighter for the series of passes. Watch a video lesson here.

3. Natural Pass: Another staple move, the natural pass sees the torero directing the bull with a single-handed flourish. Since the bullfighter does not use his sword to spread his cape during this move, the bullfighter's entire body is exposed in front of the bull.

4. Chicuelina Pass: In this pass, the matador stands sideways to the bull, holding his cape with both hands. As the bull charges, the matador turns quickly in place, making the cape wrap around his body while the bull charges past him. Watch a video here.

5. Gaonera Pass:  The gaonera pass requires exceptional skill. It starts with the bullfighter holding the cape behind his back with both hands. As the bull charges, the torero swings the cape to one side, causing the bull to run past him. The bullfighter then repeats this move to the other side. This move was invented by the acclaimed Mexican bullfighter, Rodolfo Gaona, in the early 20th century. Watch a video here.

6. Muleta/Faena Passes: During these passes, which are done by the matador with a red cape in the final act of the bullfight, the matador aims to position the bull for the final "Pass of Death." With calculated maneuvers, the torero leads the bull through a series of passes, culminating in the final estocada. Watch a video here.

7. Pass of Death (Estocada): The culmination of the bullfight, the pass of death demands unwavering precision. With a single thrust of the sword through the bull's back, the torero aims to cut the bull's aorta. A successful bullfight will see the matador execute this maneuver with lethal accuracy on his first attempt. If the matador takes several attempts without killing the bull, the crowd may express their disapproval by whistling, which is the Spanish equivalent of booing. Graphic Content Warning: Watch a video of the estocada here.

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