What It Takes To Become A Bullfighter

Imagine you're standing in the middle of a ring, ready to face down a beast. You have your trusty cape and sword. The crowd is cheering. No, you're not about to wrestle The Mountain from Game of Thrones; you're a matador and about to meet a bull.

Bullfighting remains controversial, but it is a tradition in Spain and Mexico. And it takes a lot to learn how to survive while a rampaging bull charges at you. There are different kinds of bullfighting. There's the traditional, flashy one in Spain, and then there's the scrappy one you see in rodeos in the United States. It takes an insane amount of bravery — some might say stupidity — to enter that ring.

Children interested in a career as a matador can enter a bullfighting school, reported El País. In 2018, there were 50 bullfighting schools across Spain and around 10 or more in France, Mexico, and Colombia. Combined, there are 1,200 students studying bullfighting. It's not just boys, either; there are a few girls who enter the academies. They all have in common the confidence, bravado, and, yes, bravery, to stand alone in the arena.

The minimum age to be a professional is 16, but children in training can begin trial runs at 14. Some kids managed to skirt around age limits and began fighting at 11, said The Guardian. Before the advent of matador academies, most would-be bullfighters just ventured into the ring on their own and hoped for the best.

It can get expensive when they graduate

Becoming a professional matador, who aims to kill the bull, or toreador, who just wants to fight the bull, is not cheap. Euros presently are worth $1.21 US, says the XE Currency Converter, and students pay 20 euros every month, but the whole kit and caboodle can set them back. The cape is about 300 euros, and the sword is a whopping 1,000 euros. Imagine the dry cleaning bill, too, just to get the blood out of those fancy boleros they wear.

Students are expected to stay in top physical shape at the schools, so there are workouts they have to go through. Then, they go ahead with a simulated bullfight, with a trainer holding horns and pretending to be the beast. The schools also claim they teach students values like strength, and compassion for the animal.

Of course, bullfighting is as much an art as it is an exceptionally dangerous and bloody sport. Most bullfighters frown upon schools since they teach a uniform style, so students have to develop their own signature if they want to be famous. 

According to How Stuff Works, when the student is ready to face a trial run, they're first matched up against a small bull that's around a year old. These bulls are bred for the arena and are easier to work with than older ones. Once the would-be matadors are past the training stage, they can begin entering higher levels of competition.

It's not as lucrative as before

A professional matador or toreador will be in the arena with an almost full-grown bull that weighs up to 1,000 pounds. If they succeed in their goal, the matador or toreador is recognized by a senior matador. Only then can they face a four-year-old bull and get ready to live the life of a traveling professional.

Being a famous matador is lucrative; most can earn hundreds of thousands of euros for one appearance. But very few become professionals, let alone stars. These days, even celebrity bullfighters have started to feel the pinch. Juan Jose Padilla, a famous Spanish bullfighter, told Vice that the global financial crisis hit the industry hard. People are also less willing to watch other people kill animals for sport. Padilla said it's harder to attract audiences these days, which of course, affects their salaries. Some cities in Spain, citing the cost of subsidizing the events in a financial crisis, have also banned bullfights, cutting opportunities.

The students at the matador schools know their careers will be short. So, just like when they face a bull, they also know that to become a bullfighter, it's not only bravery they need. They need to understand that they will be injured; it's part of the job. There will be people who think they're cruel for needlessly killing an animal. They must understand there will come a time when they can't fight the bull anymore.