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Monday 18th of December 2017
1201 14th of June 2012 by laura 14th of June 2012
Photo (CC) flickr: karlman72
A torero’s tale

With Catalonia’s ban on bullfighting having taken effect at the start of 2012, meets a former bullfighter in Madrid whose passion for the sport runs deep

“You don’t just want to become a bullfighter, you have to feel it. All bullfighters are born with this passion; they know it is their calling,” reflects Lalanda Sanchez. His thoughts take him back to his childhood—now in his late 50s, he began training at La Escuela de Tauromaquia de Toledo when he was seven years old, and always had his mind set on pursuing a bullfighting career.

            The training was vigorous, entailing long periods of running as well as exercises to strengthen arm muscles. “You run so that you learn to control your breathing, which is extremely important when you are in the ring with the bull because you must stay calm at all times,” he explains, “The arm exercises are vital because a bullfighter’s cape can weigh as much as 13 pounds.” Bullfighters also learn about the mentality of bulls, as knowledge of the animals is considered essential in order to defeat them. “You must be able to understand the bull and what it might be thinking,” continues Sanchez, “The profession demands constant attention and practice. You always need to be physically and mentally prepared. You never stop learning.”

 

College and knowledge

Anxious to become a professional, when he was 18 years old he moved to La Escuela de Tauromaquia de Madrid in the Casa de Campo. Most of his friends continued their studies, but Sanchez felt college was unnecessary for him. “I already knew that bullfighting was what I was meant to do,” he says. Since then, the system has changed and it is now obligatory for aspiring bullfighters to attend college first. Sanchez believes the change is a good thing. “Nothing is guaranteed in this profession and anything can happen. A degree can provide a good back-up plan.”

            He thinks bullfighters must have a different mentality to an average person, as they cannot fear the bull and must remain extremely confident and calm in high risk situations. He adopted the attitude of feeling superior to the animal, knowing the bull’s intelligence did not compare to his. “My mentality is noble, in the sense that even though the bull is an enemy, you don’t have to see him as an enemy because he is irrational and you are not. To achieve your goal you have to try to communicate with him and sense him, so that he cooperates. This is the art of bullfighting.”

 

Away from home

The demands mean that many bullfighters do not succeed, and even those who do may have a short career. Their families also feel the effects as their loved one puts his life on the line. Sanchez was often away from home, and his wife would not watch his bullfights because she found them too stressful and frightening. It was especially difficult for her after they had children, as she was frequently raising them by herself and reassuring them that he would return home safely. “The family often suffers,” Sanchez admits, “and even though bullfighters’ families eventually become accustomed to the lifestyle, they still carry the fear that something is going to happen.”

            It should be no surprise that bullfighters suffer wounds. Sanchez had eight major injuries during his career and his legs are covered in scars. His worst and most painful injury, being gored through the knee, was also his last. Although he was able to return to the ring after many operations and a long healing process, the incident severely affected him. “After that incident I was never the same. I wasn’t as sharp and it [bullfighting] was more physically taxing,” he confesses.

            After 18 years as a torero he decided to retire at the age of 36, but the change wasn’t easy. “The bull requires you to be very alert and active,” he comments, “and since we spend the majority of our lives training, it is hard to break from that mould.” He took up teaching at La Escuela de Tauromaquia de Toledo, where he had learnt the sport himself, and for the last 20 years has been guiding young bullfighters. Despite a decline in interest in the sport, there are still many young boys continuing to enroll. “We have a large group right now. However, it is a very difficult and demanding profession, and not all will make it.”

 

Individuality

He compares toreros to artists because they must add their own personal flamboyant accents to their performances to keep the audience’s attention. “Bullfighters are like painters. All painters paint, but each has their own style. Similarly, even though all toreros fight, we fight in different ways. We each have our own methods. No two toreros are the same. They endure the hardship because it is what they love and what they are meant to do. We are born with this feeling of knowing what we are supposed to be, and we all feel a passion deep inside.”

            At present, bullfighting is struggling amidst controversy. There are accusations of animal cruelty, and it seems that it has lost its appeal for many Spaniards. Sanchez rejects these accusations, and describes a bullfight as a special ritual where everything serves a vital purpose. He never feels guilty about killing a bull. “It is the torero’s duty to kill the bull, and to do it well. This is the grand finale of the show. I understand that animal cruelty is wrong, but you must be able to distinguish some animals from others. A bull is for bullfighting, not to fatten up and eat. It is meant to fight and show its spirit. It is a noble, majestic animal that fights until the death, and so it is incomparable to others. Those who want to defend the bulls do not understand them and their purpose. Bullfighting was born in this country. It is Spain’s passion and for those who don’t want to understand it, well that’s their problem, but that is the reality.”

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