The bullfight is a spectacle in which people run in front of several fighting bulls or fight them on foot in an enclosed area constructed for that purpose, the bullring. It is the oldest mass spectacle in Spain and one of the oldest in the world. In the bullfight, several matadors take part on foot — usually three — assisted by their respective teams, consisting of three banderilleros or peons and two picadores on horseback. In total, twelve bullfighters on foot and six on horseback, who have to fight six bulls. The animals that are fought must be between four and six years old, must have passed a veterinary examination certifying their suitability, and must be killed by swordsmen who have received the alternativa as matador of bulls, that is to say, who are ‘maestros’.
Bullfights which do not fulfil these requirements, or in which the animals have not reached that age, are called novilladas. It is the bullfighters who are responsible for the strict compliance with the Bullfighting Regulations, answering to the authority, the President of the Bullring. They have to execute the different passes in accordance with a set order, and within a limited time. La lidia with each bull is carried out in three successive tercio: the tercio de varas, the tercio de banderillas and the tercio de muerte, and is spread over the area of the bullring which in turn is divided into tablas, the tercio, and the medios which corresponds to the central area of the bullring, but the three successive phases in which the combat unfolds are also called tercio: the tercio de varas, the tercio de banderillas and the tercio de muerte.
At the beginning of the modern tercio de varas, the bull gallops out of the bullpen and the matador normally stops it with the bullfighter’s capote, then moves it towards the picador in order to execute the pass. There follow the distractions of the peons to separate the bull from the horse, which is protected by the pad, and the distraction test, which is normally performed by the matador to test the severity of the punishment. Sometimes, the next matador in the order of the bullfight, to please the spectators or motivated by rivalry, performs an answering distraction, which he has the right, but not the obligation, to perform.
In the course of this third tercio, the matador, armed with the muleta and the sword, prepares the bull so that once it has accepted death, he can finish it off with the thrust, the culminating moment of the la lidia: “There is no paradise without a sword!”, as the bullfighting fans often say. There are three ways of doing it: the old way, in which the matador, immobile, waits for the bull to charge and uses the moment of crossing to plunge the sword in; al volapié, in which the matador, taking advantage of the stillness of the vanquished bull, falls upon the bull’s cross and sinks the sword in; and the encounter, in which matador and bull attack each other simultaneously. The death of the bull is assured, once it has fallen to the ground, by a dagger blow in the nape.
In this tercio the matador exercises his artistic skill in many and different passes with the muleta: pase alto, estatuarios, right-handed passes, chest passes, natural passes with the left hand, circular passes, trincherazos and, completing this series with fancy movements and dodges, notably the long cordobesa and the Belmonte-style al farol. The aficionados demand not only that these passes be executed with calmness, rhythm and control, but also that they should be linked, such that when one pass is finishing, the next in the series is beginning. These series are collectively known as the faena.