Top Menu

Recortadores: A Nonviolent Alternative to Bullfighting in Spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

The yellow sand was drenched in blood as the sun began to set over the red bull ring in southern Spain. The famous May feria in Córdoba had ushered in the traditional wave of bullfights every afternoon, and my friends and I decided to join in. Several years earlier I witnessed my first bullfight upon arriving to study abroad in Salamanca, and I suppose the passing years had dulled my memory of this gruesome tradition.

The crowd hushed as the torero clad in tight sparkly pants straightened his back and inched closer to the bull. Directly in front of the panting animal who was cowering against the burnt red ring of the arena, the famous bullfighter lifted his sword and pointed it directly between the eyes of a massive bull. Giving a yell, he charged forward he slammed the thin sword in the back of the bull’s head for the death blow.

recortadores bullfighting spain

In theory, a bull should die immediately, but that day, and pretty much every time I’ve seen a bullfight in Spain, live or on TV, that never happens. Putting down my camera and covering my eyes, I try to hold back tears as the poor bull sinks to his knees and slowly dies. As the horses drag the dead bull off the sand floor of the bullring, I think to myself, never again.

For me, there is nothing noble, brave or majestic about bullfights anymore in Spain. It’s just a show, an act, and ultimately torment and death. Whatever glory or honor there was in the days of Hemingway and Goya, nowadays is lost.

As the torero proudly holds up one the bull’s furry little ears to the roaring crowd for approval, I can’t help but think back to a book my mom read to me when I was little: Ferdinand the Bull. Poor Ferdinand didn’t want to be in bullfights; he only wanted to sit in a field and smell the flowers. No more bullfights for me, only flowers. Did you read this book growing up?

recortadores bullfighting spain

In September during San Mateo, Logroño’s big week-long festival, once again the bullfights arrived in town. While many of my friends scrapped together the cash to catch an afternoon corrida de toros, I firmly and politely replied, with a “hell no, I’d rather sit through a Twilight marathon.” I was not about to witness a few more Ferdinands kick the bucket.

While the fiesta mayhem started to build, I began to notice posters around town advertising a bullfight called Recortadores with a charging bull, and a man all in white flying vertically over him. Specifically, someone had cut and pasted a Mariano Rajoy’s face on it (Spain’s Prime Minister).

Intrigued, I pestered a few of my local buddies about it who vaguely described it as bullfighting acrobatics. Even more intrigued, that night one of the bars was showing recortadores on TV in the Basque Country. Holy crap, it really was bullfighting acrobatics! Nudging my friends, I pointed up at the screen, “do they kill the bull?” Laughing, they replied that the bull isn’t injured or harmed at all. Basically the recortadores do tricks and jumps over and around the bull in competition. Ok, this I had to see.

recortadores bullfighting spain

Dragging my friends H and N with me to Logroño’s local Plaza de Toros, we grabbed cheap tickets, a liter sized cup of beer and a bag of sunflower seeds, and headed inside. To my surprise the bullring was only about a quarter full; I guess people are much more interested in death and gore than they’d like to admit. Don’t you think bullfighting acrobatics sound much cooler?

Adjusting my pañuelo, the typical festival bandanas worn around the neck in northern Spain, we grabbed seats close to the front; I had no idea what to expect. About a dozen young men walked out on the sand, all wearing white athletic clothes and running sneakers. None of the flashy, gaudy crap traditional bullfighters wear; these were manly men. Perking up in my seat, I forced myself to pay attention as they were introduced – walking in with a cocky swagger, number 6 was my favorite.

recortadores bullfighting spain

My mouth literally dropped open in astonishment over the next hour or so. To begin, they bull is let into the ring while several guys on the same team get it to charge and them and they run from it. After a few minutes, a lone recortador stands straight as a pin across the ring from the bull and calls at it so it will charge him, head on. Nobody is carrying any props – no capes, no swords, nothing. Just man versus bull.

With my hands covering my mouth, I watched as a deadly 1500 lb animal ran straight at this guy. At the last second, the recortador threw both arms in the air, deftly twisted to the side and arched his back while the bull brushed by him, with maybe an inch or two between his back and the bull. Talk about brave!

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

At each pass the bull made, I was sure one of these guys was going to get gored and trampled, but that never happened. All of a sudden, as one of the large bulls was charging a young guy, he ran back at it and instead of arching his back over the passing bull, he did a full front flip over top of him and proudly landed on his feet with his hands in the air. Holy hell! That’s not something you see every day.

Sometimes if they have a really hard time getting the bull to charge fast enough for a flip, a second guy will come out  with a flag and get the bull to chase after him while the other does a flip. One time they even set up a stool and a guy did a backflip over the bull (see my video below).

Bulls are smart and after a while, they don’t feel like running any more, which means that the recortador has to get closer and closer to him to goad him into charging. The closer you are to the bull, the less dramatic the pass is because the bull isn’t as fast. This also means that they can’t do any jumps over the bull because he needs to be moving quickly. We only saw a handful of flips but my favorite guy, number 6, won because of his brave (or ridiculously stupid) trick.

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

While most of the leapers stood on their feet the whole time, number 6 was channeling Hemingway and preferred to face death head on, ON HIS KNEES. Yelling the equivalent of, “hey ugly bull, your momma’s so fat not even Dora can explore her,” steam came out of the bull’s ears and he charged like no tomorrow (ok, I made that up). Still kneeling on the ground with a total death wish, number 6 started the charging bull down and then at the last second feinted right and leaned left as the angry bull swerved by kicking up sand. Now ladies, that is brave.

He did it again later on, sweeping the competition away. You couldn’t pay me to stand in a ring with a charging bull, let alone do it on my knees. After finishing their tricks, each group eventually gets on their knees in front of the bull and salutes him before he is chased off back into his pen. No blood. No death.

At one point, one of the younger, more daredevil guys climbed on the back of the bull which I had mixed feelings about. Ferdinand (I’ve named all the bulls Ferdinand) was tired because he had been charging and chasing 4 different guys and there was nothing anyone could do or say to get him to charge again. So the twirled him around by the tail so he sat down, and then one of the recortadores climbed on his back while he stood up. Though incredible to witness, I did feel bad because Ferdinand was clearly tired and done with these fools, but he wasn’t hurt or injured in the process.

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

Now having experience both the acrobatic recortes and regular bullfights (corrida de toros) in Spain, I can heartily say I do not understand how anyone could go see a bullfight when there is this alternative available. Over the centuries, bullfighters have achieved “hero” status in Spanish culture around the world, when for me, there is nothing heroic about them. By the time a torero enters the ring, the bull is so badly wounded and exhausted, he barely charges and is on the point of dying. For me, there is nothing heroic about killing a dying, injured animal. And that’s coming from someone who has her head firmly in the clouds and in the Middle Ages, when hunting was considered chivalric. Nope, not anymore!

These recortadores, stripped down in basic clothes without the pomp, drama, flair or costumes of regular bullfights are the real heros. Insanely brave or insanely stupid, it’s up to you, but there is no questioning your cojones when you are on your knees staring a charging 1500 lb bull in the face. All I can say is that these guys deserve a hell of a lot more credit than they’ve been getting. 

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

All in all, the recortadores were an amazing experience to witness. It still shocks me how little-known they are and how unpopular it is compared with regular bullfights. After over three years in Spain, and living in various regions too, I can’t believe I had never heard of the recortadores until this fall. The only downside is that it’s a lot harder to find recortes events in Spain, just note that it took me 6+ years to hear about them for the first time. According to the Wiki gods, it’s mostly practiced in Navarra, La Rioja (where I lived), northern Castilla and Valencia.

If you ever see a poster on the streets of Spain advertising the recortadores with Rajoy’s face glued on it, by god I urge you to go.

Have you ever heard of the recortadores or been to see one? How do you feel about bullfights? Would you go to a recortes now that you know it’s a nonviolent alternative to bullfights in Spain?

Excuse the video quality, I took this with my iPod.

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

recortadores bullfighting spain

, , ,

36 Responses to Recortadores: A Nonviolent Alternative to Bullfighting in Spain

  1. Trevor Huxham April 23, 2013 at 8:13 am #

    This was a really cool and informative post, Liz. I learned something about Spanish culture I had absolutely no idea existed! You’re right–this seems like a much more humane (and fun!) alternative to bullfighting, although I have to admit I’m not entitled to much of an opinion since I’ve never attended a bullfight yet.

    BTW do you think they put Rajoy’s face on the recortador because he’s associated with all the grief over the *recortes*, making him a recortador? hehehe

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:38 am #

      I didn’t make the connection til now! I bet you’re right!

  2. Ian April 23, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    Wow that is pretty impressive stuff to say the least. Equally impressive is that Ferdinand the Bull seems to be a universal book and a classic as well. Wee blast from the past

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:38 am #

      haha agreed!

  3. Vanessa April 23, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    I love it when people who are genuinely talented come up with creative ideas like this! Glad you’re supporting their art! :D A shame more people weren’t there–maybe soon though?

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:38 am #

      I hope! Gotta spread the word xx

  4. Antonio - costa tropical April 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    I agree with you, it would be far more entertaining to see the acrobatics rather than the killing of the bulls. I have lived in Spain for many years and the only time I have seen or heard anything about this has been by chance on YouTube. It was reported in the Telegraph just a couple of days ago that YouTube have removed videos showing bullfighting videos with scenes of gore.

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:39 am #

      glad I’m not alone

  5. Kaley [Y Mucho Más] April 23, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Somehow I think I remember you mentioning this before on Facebook/Twitter, but this is great! I’ve not been to a bullfight, and it’s sort of a “cultural” thing people think you should experience, but I’m still rather reluctant … this seems like a good option.

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:40 am #

      It really is! No death no blood, and it’s really interesting!

  6. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures April 23, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    I LOVE that there is an alternative!!! I think the real bull fighting is such a disgusting and horrific “sport.” I would love to see this in person, awesome shots!

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:39 am #

      thanks Andi!

  7. Olive April 23, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    This is still kind of mean on the bulls, but much better than the horrific bull fighting. I’d probably give both a miss, but be much more likely to go to this one!

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:40 am #

      Yeah I can see that

  8. Jessica April 24, 2013 at 12:00 am #

    Very interesting post! I totally understand your feelings about bullfighting. In Thailand, cock fighting is still pretty popular, and I was not a fan. People make all kinds of arguments about how it is part of Thai culture, but it still made me really uncomfortable. It’s not quite as gruesome as I imagine bullfighting probably is, but it’s still silly and cruel. The bull fighting acrobatics sounds like it would be kind of awesome to see, and it definitely seems like more of a “sport” since actual skill by the performers is required.

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:42 am #

      yeah you definitely have to be really skilled for this!

  9. amelie88 April 24, 2013 at 5:03 am #

    Wow that’s pretty cool! I saw one bullfight the first time I ever went to Spain back in 2004. One was enough and I swore never to go to one again. Last summer in Provence, I learned about “courses camarguaises” which also involves bloodless chasing the bull around the arena. These guys run around the arena trying to grab a rosette tied to the bull’s horns. It involves a lot of agility and speed, since some of these guys run up the low walls of the arena to avoid the charging bull. I visited a place where they raised cattle for these kinds of shows and they did a demonstration with a younger cow. He ran around a little but he seemed mostly confused as to what to do–clearly still learning the ropes!

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:42 am #

      interesting!

  10. Kay Dougherty April 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    This was fascinating! I went to a bullfight in Madrid many years ago and it made me physically ill! I would never consider seeing one again but this looks amazing! My sister and I are going to be spending almost 6 weeks in Spain this summer so we’ll keep our eyes out for one of those posters. Thanks for sharing!

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:43 am #

      try and see one if you can! They’re really interesting!

  11. Lauren April 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    I’m so glad you posted this! I can’t handle watching the bullfights; my friends were watching it once while I was visiting them in Spain and I made them turn it off, I just don’t have the stomach for it; they’re all Ferdinands for me too. It has always bothered me that the torero is seen as some kind of ‘hero’ for killing an animal that is ALREADY seriously injured. What kind of honor is that? While bullfighting may not be for me, I would love to see recortadores if I get accepted into the Auxiliares program this coming year. Sounds way cooler anyway :)

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:44 am #

      Keep it in mind!

  12. Sarah P | The Travel Spotlight April 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Hi Liz! I’m grateful there’s an alternative to bull fighting too! I actually didn’t realise that the bulls were killed in the ring until i visited Spain and the tour guide’s explanation freaked me out! Good to know there’s an alternative!

    On a side note, I just want to say how much i’ve been enjoying your blog! I’ve nominated you for a versatile blogger award! You don’t have to pass on the award but its just my way of letting you know i’m enjoying your posts! Details of the award on my latest blog post!

    Can’t wait to hear about Jordan and your post work plans! Rooting for you :)

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:44 am #

      Thanks so much Sarah!

  13. Virgil S. April 29, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    This Recortadores sounds really different, obviously you liked it, but can it replace so many years of tradition? In traditional bull fighting there is always a chance the Matador can be injured, but of course realistically the bull does not have a chance. It is brutal and it will be interesting to see if this new style of bull fighting catches on. By the way attending one bullfight was enough for me.

    • Liz May 16, 2013 at 1:45 am #

      It’s a dying tradition, just like bear-baiting. the Recortes have gone on for centuries, though I really hope they catch on as an alternative to the bullfights

  14. Jessica of HolaYessica May 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Very cool! I hadn’t heard of recortadores but they sound way better than bullfights, in my opinion. I would never go to a bullfight, but I might check out one of these.

  15. Cary May 14, 2013 at 2:23 am #

    You have such an amazing way with words and these photos are incredible. I love this humane alternative to bull fighting. Thanks for your efforts here! I will be back.

  16. Endri Hasanaj May 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    I can see that you have some Spanish genetic information from the way that described the world of the bullfighting in Spain. My wife is from Spain, whenever we visit Spain I always choose the bullfighting period in order to get some show.

    Cheers,
    Endri

  17. Allan Wilson June 5, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    Love it. More skilled and less callous. Hope to see more.

  18. Jon Stark July 24, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Great post.
    We are travelling the world like you.
    Last year we were in Spain and I ran with the bulls in Pamplona.
    Didn’t jump over any though.
    Jon

  19. Bernard July 26, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Most enjoyable article. My nephew and I had a drink in a bar in Seville earlier this year and watched the bullfighting on telly. He cheered when the bull won. Not the smartest move! The officials came down and shot it. I think the people in the bar had the same plans for my nephew!

    Keep up the good work.

  20. Ulka March 2, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    Thank you so much for your post! I have always despised the cruelty of bullfighting. My friends just posted their wish list for their honeymoon in Spain and I was so sad to see they listed bullfighting so I googled to find a more humane alternative and found your post. Thank you!!

  21. ThePaganSun March 14, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    Quite frankly, if you’re not a native Spaniard, Latin American, etc. than you really shouldn’t weigh in on what’s part of their culture. You don’t have to like or support bullfighting but calling it “silly” or whatever is VERY offensive. Would you like someone to call you and your culture silly if you like McDonalds or fishing (where the livestock are pumped with chemicals and hardly ever see the Sun and where the fish is hooked, flops about and slowly suffocates?) Or what about kosher and halal foods where the animal is bled out and then they don’t even eat the back half of the animal! Unlike Spain where almost every part of the bullfighting bull is eaten: tail, head, even its testicles! The kosher way is far more wasteful yet I don’t see hippies boycotting Jewish products?! I really despise the hypocrisy of animal lovers. There is far worse evil in the world: drugs, human trafficking, wars, poverty, genocides. And we better eliminate all those first before we seek rights for food. Plus, animals eat each other all the time. The natural world is not holding hands and Kumbayah. I’ve lived in Andalusia for two years and the bulls I see grazing looks happy, strong and well fed before being sent in the arena. If you’re not Spanish, don’t weigh in. Ban the injustices of your own country first!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Travel Scanner: Flirting in the air, Chinese hospitals, skateboarding in India and more | canada.com - April 25, 2013

    […] Recortadores: A non-violent alternative to bullfighting in Spain Bullfighting is a Spanish institution which is facing increasing opposition. It may lack the history and blood of the traditional man-versus-animal contests, but there is a non-violent version of bullfighting that pits daredevils against the mighty animals. This traveller reports.  Via @YoungAdventures […]

Leave a Reply