A Lot of Bull

The word bullfighting usually conjures up images of flashy matadors and red capes.  Not in Okinawa.  Here the bulls actually fight each other.

Mano a mano

Having studied abroad in Spain, I was familiar with traditional Spanish bullfights.  Matadors were big celebrities there.  They wore fancy outfits and stabbed weakened, helpless bulls to death.  I never thought it was very fair.  The Okinawans came up with a better idea to even the playing field - let bull battle bull.

Even though I knew the bulls battled each other, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect when I went to my first fight.  The bull ring is pretty simple.  It is a round, dirt pit surrounded by open-air, stadium seating.  We walked in on a bullfight already in action.  The two bulls were head to head, snorting and pushing each other as their trainers cheered them on.  In fact, the trainers appeared more animated than the bulls themselves.  I read that the trainers raise the bulls from calves and treat them like loving pets.  At all times, the safety of the bull is a primary concern.  If a bull is accidentally gorged or injured in the process of a fight, the match is ended immediately.  Essentially, they love their bulls and it shows.

I love you, man

Throughout the fight, the trainers stand alongside their bulls and yell what I can only assume are words of encouragement.  I tried looking up in my dictionary one word they yelled repeatedly and I think it means "fight!".  As they yell, they stamp their feet wildly (sometimes barefoot - please note that bulls often poop with reckless abandon while fighting) urging their bull not to give up the fight.  The winner is determined when one of the bulls tires and gives up, running away from the other bull.  The victor is then donned with a blanket over the back and bandannas wrapped around each horn.  A lucky boy or girl from the audience then gets placed on top of the bull's back to celebrate while the loser bull slinks away with his head hanging low.

To the victor goes the spoils

There were about 10 fights that day all following the same format.  What makes it interesting is the unpredictability of the whole spectacle.  Some fights were over quickly, some lasted up to half an hour.  One fight ended before it even started when the bulls made it clear that they had no interest in fighting each other.  They sniffed each other and then walked around the ring casually while their trainers looked embarrassed.  They'd rather go smell the flowers. 

There's also the risk factor involving the people in the ring with the bulls.  There are multiple assistants for every trainer who take turns stamping their feet and yelling at the bull.  I guess it's tiring work.  But this means there are a lot of people in the ring at any given time that could potentially get gorged or trampled.  It almost happened once when a loser bull was running away and a trainer wasn't paying attention.  It amazed me, however, how tame the bulls were around the people.  The trainers wouldn't think twice about jumping out in front of their raging bull after the match to tie on the bandannas.  I suppose the bulls love their trainers as much as their trainers love them.

Below are two quick videos I took with my phone.  Note how loud and animated the trainers are in the first video.  In the second, you'll see how the bulls are introduced to each other for their battle (and you'll see a trainer fall down - bonus). 

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