In many respects, all you need to fight a bull is a bull. The ring, the cape, the cheering fans – that's all pretty much secondary. Without the cape, you'll probably lose though. Because what's fascinating about the muletta (as the red fabric is known), is that it's your entry into a bull's psyche. Bull's are instinctually wired to attack whatever is closest to them. When the matador moves his cape forward, he does it at an angle so that the furthest edge of the cape is closest to the bull. The bull feels most threatened by this smoothly approaching corner and charges the outside edge of the cape. This is the fundamental principle of bullfighting and it allows a well-trained matador to control a 1500 pound beast through the subtle angle of his muletta. It doesn't matter that it's red – that's for the audience's benefit. All that matters is the angle.
On paper it sounds simple, but when you get into a ring with a bull, maintaining a steady 15 degree tilt is the last thing on you mind. And, like people, bulls can be different. Some have uncommon instincts and don't give a shit about the cape or a silly fifteen degree angle. Every now and then, a bull comes along who won't fall for the old tricks. Every year, a bullfighter dies somewhere in the world, usually from a horn puncture to the groin.
On the upside, the top bullfighters
make a lot of money and are treated as demi-gods in
Spain and Latin America. You've got guys
like El Juli (above and to the left). With his
boyish looks punctuated by a scar at the corner of
his lips (where a horn tore his mouth open), he displays
absolute fearlessness in the ring.
Americans can hone their skills in San Diego at the California Academy of Tauromaquia, which claims to be the country's only matador training facility. Courses are conducted over the border between Tecate and Tijuana and can make for a life-changing weekend.